You know how, if I’m writing about more than one picture book, I should thematically tie the books together in such an expert manner that you will think, wow, what an exceedingly talented columnist she is, and now I want to go out and look up all these books about [fill in the blank here]!
You know, new children’s books about friendship, bickering, back-to-school, weapons-grade plutonium or the circle of life. (One of those isn’t like the others and quite possibly is not a popular topic in the realm of children’s lit.)
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on Hyewon Yum's 'First Day of Kindergarten.'
Well, I’m not going to do that today. There are two picture books coming out just around the bend in August that I feel are worth checking out, and that right there is the only unifying thread.
Except, come to think of it, each one is—in its own way—a little bit (or a lot) about finding one’s own way in the world.
First up, let me very enthusiastically tell you about David Mackintosh’s The Frank Show (Abrams), brought to us by illustrator and designer Mackintosh, born in Belfast but raised in Australia.
The young boy who narrates this funny tale lives with his parents, baby sister and Grandpa Frank. Frank is old, has a huge, ancient hearing aid, tweed pants, a blazer with patches on the elbows and ginormous, black-rimmed glasses. He practically yells when he talks, and he firmly believes the following: Things were quieter, not to mention tougher, when he was his grandson’s age; today’s music is just noise; doctors speak a lot of mumbo jumbo anymore; you can’t trust barbers; and these days there are simply too many gadgets and gizmos.
For show-and-tell the young boy has to talk about one family member for one whole minute, and he’s stuck with Frank. Lo and behold, it turns out that, as the boy learns at his presentation (complete with Grandpa Frank on display), Grandpa is, in point of fact, bodacious.
Sometimes, though, it’s easy to overlook the awesomeness of those with whom we live, especially the cranky, elderly ones.
But that summary doesn’t do this book justice. I highly recommend finding a copy for yourself so that you can pore over the funny details, soak in the humor (the things-were-a-lot-tougher-in-my-day spread had me in stitches), appreciate the very specific mood Mackintosh so successfully creates in this story, and delight in the illustration, lettering and overall design, all handled by the talented and overachieving Mackintosh.
The Insomniacs (Putnam) comes from debut picture book author Karina Wolf. Illustrated with pencil, charcoal and a computer by the brotherly duo (Ben and Sean) who go by The Brothers Hilts, it tells the story of a tight-knit family who must suddenly adjust to a new home, 12 time zones away. Needless to say, they have trouble falling asleep, once they get there. After observing their nocturnal neighbors—the furry ones that aren’t human, that is—they discover that the darkness is “full of life” and give night-time a try.
As someone who, on a daily basis, sees a midnight bedtime herself (What? There’s just so much I want to do), this book speaks to me. The shadowy, smudgy art—O! The bat spread is beautiful!—really stands out. Quite possibly every shade of blue makes its way into this book, though we see a fair share of yellow, given that, as the book opens, “The Insomniacs weren’t always a night family.”
These illustrations are my favorite kind—offbeat. This is a good choice for that young reader you know who has very much had it with cutesy, pink, glittery picture books. And if you only looked at the illustrations, yet didn’t read the book, you’d want to recommend this to Gorey fans. However, that comparison doesn’t make its way beyond the surface. There’s nothing Gorey-esque or macabre about the heart of this tale, one of a loving family finding their way in a new life.
Much like Grandpa Frank’s grandson finds his own way to a new understanding.
See how I tied those two books together? I meant to do that.
The Frank Show. Copyright 2012 by David Mackintosh. Published by Abrams. Spread reproduced with the permission of the publisher.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.