Austinite Chris Barton entered children’s books in a big way when his 2009 debut, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani, garnered a prestigious Sibert Honor recognition from the American Library Association. His second book, Shark vs. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, imagines an increasingly goofy competition between two toys wielded by a couple of boys who stay mostly offstage. The train may win a belching contest hands down, but the shark would wipe up at the pie-eating contest. In a starred review, Kirkus summed up the battle: “It’s hard to choose; both are winners.”
Chris Barton, author of Shark vs. Train, took some time at the Texas Book Festival to tape an interview with Kirkus about how he worked with illustrator Tom Lichtenheld, some of his favorite books to share with his children and where his career is taking him next. See it here.
“A stunning achievement,” wrote Kirkus in its review of the spectacular and utterly refreshing behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a landmark 20th-century American work in Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. It took a team—two authors, an illustrator and an editor—to communicate so perfectly “the excitement and drama of the creative process” presented here.
Fairy tales are about reversals of fortune. A cinder-covered girl who cleans the hearth dons a gown and wins the prince. A pair of poor children goes into a forest and emerges with riches. But what about a poem that tells the points of view of both Sleeping Beauty and the “Wide-Awake Prince” who releases her from her spell? That’s what Marilyn Singer does with the poems in Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse, illustrated by Josée Masse.
Chiru, small, sheep-like animals in Tibet, have a unique plight—they cannot be shorn to use their luxurious wool, but must be slaughtered instead. In this arresting picture book, The Chiru of High Tibet, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrator Linda Wingerter handle this delicate topic with much care. Their lyrical text and ethereal illustrations chronicle the work of conservationist George Schaller, the first of several men whose heroism saved the species from poaching. Here, Martin talks about the bravery at the heart of this story.
One of the most offbeat and winning picture books of 2010, Bunny Days chronicles the misadventures of a flock of bunnies that lives on Mr. and Mrs. Goat’s farm. They by turn get splattered with mud, are sucked up into a vacuum cleaner and find their cottony tails lopped off! Tragedy? Not at all, not when Bear is around: He always “knows just what to do.” He pops them in the washing machine and hangs them out to dry, unzips the vacuum cleaner bag and blows the dust off the bunnies (and fixes Mrs. Goat’s vacuum) and re-attaches the bunny tails—“very gentl[y]”—with an old sewing machine.
“Mark Twain was a project I’ve considered for years,” says Barbara Kerley. “I remember being fascinated with him in college and ever since then hoping I could tell a story about him in a way that kids would find accessible.” When she discovered that Twain’s 13-year-old daughter Susy Clemens had written a biography of her father, she was intrigued; she knew from raising her own daughter that 13-year-olds “just tell it like they see it.” In this large-format picture book, Susy has a chance to “set the record straight” about her famous father. The narration is filled with quotes from Twain; miniature inserts of Susy’s biography, spelling errors intact (“He is as much a Pholosopher as any thing I think,” writes Susy), provide a glimpse of Twain as both parent and author.
British-born, Sydney-based collage artist and children’s author Jeannie Baker returns this fall with one of her most moving picture books to date. A day in the life of two families—one urban Australian, the other Moroccan villager—unfolds simultaneously in a uniquely designed pictorial brought to life by Baker’s vivid and intricate imagery and detail. Inspired by a holiday she took seven years ago in southern Morocco, the artist returned two years later to immerse herself in remote village life in the country’s storied Valley of the Roses. “I loved the differences I found between the Berber culture and mine,” says Baker. “What I see is the sheer richness of different nationalities and cultures, a richness that will no doubt diminish as our Western culture spreads. We really need to celebrate these differences and diversities while we can.”
They may be delightful, identical twins, but Ling and Ting have highly individual attitudes and approaches to life. With Ting’s sneeze and a barber’s errant snip of her bangs, readers can easily differentiate between the sisters until Grace Lin’s establishment of their unique traits in the tales that follow does the rest. A quintet of stories charts their adventures, and a sixth reviews the events of the previous five tales. Lin’s framed images heighten the humor: She begins each story with a fullpage scene-setter (such as a barber pole for the first and chef ’s hats for the third, “Making Dumplings”), and each chapter’s closing image often resolves the challenge raised in the vignette.
From this Caldecott Honor–winning duo (Song of the Water Boatman, 2005) comes another breathtaking picture book eight years in the making in large part due to its 4.6 billion-year-old subject—Earth and its hardiest creatures. Asked how a discussion of beetle wings with her biologist sister led to this brilliant evolutionary timeline of Earth’s survivors, ranging from 3.8 billion-year-old bacteria to mere 100,000-year-old humans, Joyce Sidman says that “the Big Question that led to the book was: Why do some organisms thrive while others die out?” Beckie Prange’s arresting hand-watercolored
When Rubina is invited to a birthday party, her mother is nonplussed: “What’s a birthday party? Why do they do that?” Different cultures, different traditions. Then Mother steps in it by requiring Rubina to bring her little sister, Sana, who makes a hash of the party and eats Rubina’s red lollipop party favor. “I don’t get any invitations for a really long time,” laments Rubina. Then Sana gets an invite, and the same demand is made. Rubina, though, serving as a cultural bridge, gently suggests that it’s not appropriate, and Mother relents. The payback? Sana gives Rubina her green lollipop favor. “Almost everything in this story really happened,” says Rukhsana Khan. “I told this story at a bookstore event. My older sister was in the audience. When I was done she said, ‘Wait a minute. You never gave me that big green lollipop!’ It’s too late to make it up to her with a lollipop, so I wrote her this story instead.”
The creator of The Snow Day (2009), which explored a preschooler’s pining to experience the pleasures of new-fallen snow, here taps into the contradictory feelings of a young rabbit with a strong bond to Mommy even through those first assertions of independence. Once again, a slightly downturned mouth and tilt of the ears ingeniously serve as indicators of the youngster’s shifting moods. Through a series of panel illustrations and full-bleed, sometimes wordless spreads, readers gradually learn what’s at the root of the protagonist’s anger. “Komako Sakai gives voice to the desires and frustrations of a young child’s life,” says senior editor Cheryl Klein. “We loved her winning portrayal of protest and reconciliation, one that both parents and children will cheer.”
Amos McGee may be a geezer, but he’s a content one—serene, if a bit pensive. Amos is a zookeeper and a friend to his charges. He plays chess with the elephant, sits quietly with the shy penguin and ministers to the nasal products of the rhinoceros’ allergies. When he must stay home one day with the sniffles, his chums take the bus to his residence and do unto him, in sweet reciprocation, what he has done unto them. The story is pared down to Zen simplicity, as friendship ought to be. In counterpoint, the artwork wows. The woodblock foundations carry forward the
This is no ordinary cookbook, not unless the latest editions of Fanny Farmer and Julia Child rhapsodize about puffy grains of rice metamorphosing into fishes and birds, or describe a runnel of milk from a bottle transformed, à la Ovid, into a splendid white waterfall. But that’s the sort of magical food-based realism in which Salvadoran émigré poet Jorge Argueta works, and that’s just the sort of thing that happens in the pages of his elegant, entertaining bilingual celebration of a favorite childhood treat. “I spent part of my life in a popular restaurant where flavors and words came together in a loving way,” says Argueta. “My mother used to make rice pudding for my brothers, sister and me. Behind the few words that compose this poem exists a universe of memories.”