Books by Stefan Czernecki

RAINBOW SHOES by Tiffany Stone
Released: Feb. 15, 2013

"Stone and Czernecki's text and illustrations are in perfect harmony. Consistently surprising and equally delightful. (Picture book. 3-6)"
Bouncy verse and clever illustrations help teach kids ideal mix. Read full book review >
HOLY MOLÉ! by Caroline McAlister
Released: May 1, 2007

Incorporating details from Mexican legends, McAlister offers a version of a story that explains how molé, a blend of chocolate, chili peppers and spices usually served on turkey, was created. The tasty dish was probably eaten in Aztec times, but several tales connect its origins to religious brothers or sisters preparing food fit to serve a Spanish viceroy. In this version, the friars scurry around, chopping chilies, cutting chocolate and grinding cinnamon. Carlos, a fictional hungry kitchen boy, tries to grab a falling bun and trips the legendary character, Brother Pascual, as he carries the ingredients for many different sauces and desserts. The unlikely combination of chocolate and savory spices falls into the turkey pot, and the rest is culinary history. The funny, economically told story would be easy for children to retell or dramatize, but Czernecki, who usually does a fine job illustrating folktales, depicts Carlos as a cartoon-like character with a tiny sombrero perched on his head. While stylistically in keeping with the brothers, the bishop and the viceroy, all rendered in bold simple shapes on bright white backgrounds, Carlos looks like a throwback to the touristy images of Mexican peasants of earlier decades—what a shame! (author's note with sources) (Picture book/folktale. 6-8)Read full book review >
LILLIPUT 5357 by Stefan Czernecki
Released: March 1, 2006

"Bippity Zippity Beep Beep Beep." Every morning robot Lilliput 5357 wakes up at eight, winds himself and goes out to play. One day, big, bad bully robots with bad attitudes storm the playground. These baddies literally break up Lilliput's friends. Now where will he play? He hops into his Rocket Racer and zooms off in search of a new playground. The dump is too stinky, and the carnival is too spooky. Thank goodness, the friendly Astro Guys appear in their flying saucer and send Lilliput to a wonderful planet full of robots ready to play. Adults might find it a bit disconcerting that Lilliput's reaction to the decapitation and dismemberment of his playmates is, "Where am I going to play now?" However, storytimers will adore this onomatopoeia-filled paean to retro wind-up toys. The digitally manipulated photographs, created by an international team of artists, are mixed with brightly colored Japanese characters on white backgrounds for an eye-catching treat. Prepare for repeated readings and I-Spy-type audience participation. (Picture book. 2-6)Read full book review >
ZIGZAG by Robert D. San Souci
Released: Oct. 1, 2005

Czernecki's patchwork illustrations make a bright and busy visual impression, but can't quite carry San Souci's bland, predictable tale. "I'm just special," insists Zigzag, the new cloth doll, to which the other dolls in the store jeeringly respond, "You're just ugly," and push him off the shelf into the trash. Out he goes in the morning, on a journey that ends, of course, in the arms of an adoring little girl. Depicted as if made from many small patches of gingham and other patterned scraps, and with a stitched zigzag mouth that, natch, curves into a smile at the end, Zigzag is plainly intended to stand in for any child ostracized for physical differences. But the theme has seen so many more spirited treatments, from "The Ugly Duckling" on, that this one is unlikely to make much of an impression. (Picture book. 5-7)Read full book review >
FOR SURE! FOR SURE! by Hans Christian Andersen
Released: Aug. 1, 2004

The hens who overhear a chicken's innocent remark about losing a feather—and then pass the information on from one bird to another—do not recognize their own tale as, in true "telephone" fashion, it evolves into a story about how five lovesick hens killed themselves by plucking out all of their feathers and then pecking each other. "Spread the news!" Sadly, this retelling of Andersen's "There Is No Doubt About It" falls far short of Janet Stevens's touchstone but out-of-print version: It's Perfectly True (1988). The clichés and asides used throughout the retelling are distracting, taking away from, rather than adding to the progression. Large font emphasizes some of the dialogue, but the placement and design of the layout seem disjointed and forced. Czernecki's bold and vividly colored graphics are definitely attention-grabbing, but not enough so to redeem the retelling. (Picture book/folktale. 4-8)Read full book review >
THE SEA KING by Jane Yolen
Released: Dec. 1, 2002

Combining several elements of Russian folklore, the authors create an engaging tale using old motifs in new ways. A king spares an eagle he was going to shoot; the eagle speaks and promises to be useful, offering the king two boxes that he's not to open just yet. He does, of course, and when the enclosed livestock run amok, the sea king, Morskoi Tsar, gathers them back, making the king promise to give him "that which you do not know is in your house." The king returns home to find he's promised his baby son, born while he was away. When the prince is claimed, he has a few adventures with the iron-toothed Baba Yaga and the sea king's daughter Vasilisa the Wise, who with her sisters is sometimes a bird. The sea king sets the prince to three tasks, which he accomplishes with the help of Vasilisa, a relationship sure to end in marriage. The bright, deep colors of Russian folk art, particularly the nesting dolls called matryoshka, inform the pictures, making pleasing patterns. Because the faces are built on these geometric forms, expressions are limited to a grimacing smile or a turned-down comma for a frown. Lots of folkloric elements neatly combined and pictures bright enough for group reading create a nice addition to Yolen's huge canon both singly and with collaborators. (Picture book/folktale. 6-9)Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 2001

In her debut for children, Hughes crafts a convincing tale to explain the storyteller's art and its transmission from one generation to the next. Tea-stained pages provide the backdrop for Czernecki's (Huevos Rancheros, not reviewed, etc.) heavy, black-ink line drawings which depict Aziz as he enters the marketplace with his aging father. There to sell carpets, Aziz collects stories instead. "If you do not help me," says his father, "who will provide for me when I am old?" Despite his best intentions, Aziz fails to make any sales. Then, one day, the storyteller approaches: " ‘Will you trade your donkey for this enchanted rug?' " he asks. When the storyteller explains that the carpet, into which "all the stories of the world are woven," will allow him to support his father through storytelling, Aziz agrees to the trade. But when his father voices his disapproval Aziz returns to the market to find the storyteller and undo the deal. Unsuccessful, Aziz does the only thing he can: he unrolls the carpet and rests. To his surprise, the carpet unravels story after story, crowds gather, and coins rain down from the heavens. Even his father hears his stories and joyfully accepts Aziz's new vocation. Hughes draws the story to its natural conclusion as Aziz travels westward and eventually passes the carpet along to a younger storyteller, just as he was instructed to do so many years ago. It's a good yarn, the only flaw being the design: modeled after Arabic lettering, the stylized print—accented and punctuated in red—strains the eye. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
PAPER LANTERNS by Stefan Czernecki
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

Those time-tested attributes of a good student—listen quietly, watch carefully, practice persistently—get unforced cultivation in this tale, but it's the lanterns that steal the show. Old Chen is coming to the end of his working days, but as yet he has no one to whom he can pass on his cut-paper lantern-making shop. His apprentices simply don't have the magic in their fingers the way Old Chen has. When a young boy, Little Mouse, starts to visit the shop, enthralled by the lanterns, Old Chen sees the fire in his eyes as they rest upon the fine lanterns. Little Mouse follows the rules: he listens, he watches, he practices at home each night with scraps from the shop, where he has been taken on as a broom boy. Then comes the day when his skills are tested—a snowy day when Old Chen's hands are too cold and brittle to work, but a big dragon lantern is due for the annual festival. The apprentices don't have the right stuff, so Little Mouse pulls it off with flair, and the shop has found a new master. The low-key patter of the text supports some highly stylized, candy-bright artwork, with each of the text pages graced with a painted example of handmade cut-paper lanternwork. Enlightening. (Picture book. 3-8)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2000

Czernecki's stylized art, all clean, simple lines and saturated colors, creates a strong visual impact, but the muddy accompanying story will leave readers utterly confused. The sun shines and the stars sparkle at young Jehan's smile, until one gray day she misplaces it. Her father and other residents of Baghdad bring in fire breathers and sword swallowers, then artists from distant Italy and China, all to no avail. Finally a wise hoopoe bird flies off to search the world for someone who can bring her smile back, and returns with a youth who sets her to scraping a blank wall. The wall begins to glow: ". . . its beauty had always been there. It had just been waiting for her to uncover it. Jehan began to smile." Oh, of course. Alrawi bases this on a passage from Sufi mystic Rumi's Mathnawi, but perhaps something was lost in the translation. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
THE HUMMINGBIRD'S GIFT by Stefan Czernecki
Released: April 28, 1994

Inspired by the Tarascan Indian custom of weaving delicate straw figures for holidays, this tale explains how the people of Tzintzuntzan, Mexico, learned to make them. A drought has reduced Isidro and Consuelo's crop of wheat to spindly straw. Concerned for the hummingbirds that flock in their village, they make tiny, brightly decorated pots resembling flowers and fill them with sugar-water for the birds; only then do they worry about their own children. The grateful birds show them how to weave lovely figures of straw, which they sell at the Day of the Dead festival, earning money for food. The economic logic here is flawed (only one family seems to be affected by the drought), but the story makes a showcase for handsome stylized art featuring intense colors and traditional motifs; best are the photos of straw weavings by Juliana Reyes de Silva and Juan Hilario Silva, which also enact the story. Note. (Picture book. 4-9) Read full book review >
THE SINGING SNAKE by Stefan Czernecki
Released: April 19, 1993

When ``Old Man'' promises to make a musical instrument in honor of the creature with the most beautiful voice, Snake cheats: Jealous of Lark's song but unable to imitate it, he captures the bird in his throat. Though the voice now expresses anguish, the other animals are impressed by its beauty, and Old Man names Snake the winner. As promised, he does make an instrument that looks like Snake—a long, straight horn; but, meanwhile, Lark scratches Snake's throat so that, even after he lets her go, his voice is forever harsh—while the other animals, disgusted with his perfidy, refuse to speak to him. Czernecki illustrates this nicely balanced retelling of an Australian pourquoi tale with glowing illustrations in jewel-like tones, incorporating stylized aboriginal motifs in his striking, decorative designs. (Folklore/Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
PANCHO'S PIÑATA by Stefan Czernecki
Released: Sept. 14, 1992

As little Pancho—dressed as an angel—leads his village's Christmas Eve procession, he hears the cries of a star impaled on an ancient cactus and frees it with his long staff. Years later, after a life of toil enriched with a happiness that dates to this experience, he memorializes it by creating the first pi§ata, in the shape of a star. The story here is unexceptional, but it serves to showcase customs surrounding the pi§ata and the posada; the well-designed illustrations, in the vibrant colors that characterize Mexican art, are decorative and appealing. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >

When food grows scarce, generous old Katerina feeds her hen, Nina, her flower seeds; in the spring, Nina produces extraordinary patterned eggs, initiating the custom of decorating eggs for spring festivals. The story is overlong, and its telling, while smooth, is bit clichÇd; however, the richly decorative illustrations, employing stylized figures and folk-art motifs dramatically displayed on white ground, make this an attractive addition to holiday collections. Read full book review >