It’s not 2013 quite yet, but it’s never too early to see what the new year will bring us in the way of picture books. Here are but two titles.
First up is the debut picture book from Jesse Klausmeier, Open This Little Book, illustrated by the great Suzy Lee.
The most helpful thing I can tell you is this: Go find a copy and experience it. The book’s official summary, as it appears on the copyright page? “Die-cut pages open to reveal different animals, each opening a book of a different color and reading about the next.”
What we have here is the picture book version of a set of nesting dolls. “Open this … Little Red Book,” the opening line instructs the reader. This “Little Red Book” is another book, nested within the larger one. When you turn the page, you see that you can read about Ladybug, who herself is opening a “Little Green Book” about Frog. And that book is ready and waiting for you to open it. Each book is smaller than the one that precedes it, which probably had publisher-type people scratching their heads when it came to the binding discussion.
But I’m so glad Chronicle Books did decide to bind and release this. And I don’t want to give too much away, but all these animal protagonists become friends. They may or may not befriend a “giant,” who may or may not be as mean as “giant” might sound to you.
Those expecting the kind of stark art seen in some of Suzy Lee’s previous illustrated titles (Mirror, Shadow) may be surprised by her colorful pencil and watercolor art here. This one is a joy for book-lovers of all ages and flies in the face of the notion of reading a book on a screen. And, in particular, it’s a picture book lover’s delight.
Evidently, when Neil Gaiman was in China years ago, he discovered that two of his picture books had been published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but not in mainland China. That’s because, in the Gaiman world, children don’t always respect their elders, sometimes they are wiser than the grown-ups, and sometimes they aren’t punished for their bad deeds. This is what he was told.
So, he set out to write a picture book that “even the Chinese can’t resist publishing.”
And that book is Chu’s Day, to be released by HarperCollins in early January and illustrated by the incomparable Adam Rex. It’s about a baby panda. And one very disastrous sneeze.
Mind you, the real star of the book is the build-up to the sneeze. “When Chu sneezed,” after all, “bad things happened,” as the ominous opening line tells us. The plot can be summarized as simply: Chu visits a few places with his family and finally sneezes. It’s in all the little details in between, as brought to vivid life by Adam Rex, where the fun lies.
Chu and his family visit the library, the diner and the circus. Rex populates this world, via his rich oil paintings, with a community of animals–the nonhuman kind. The elephant in his baseball cap sits aside the frog in his sweater, reading at the library. (My favorite detail is the mice, looking at the online library catalogs while sitting in the card catalog drawers.) At the Moby Diner, a giant whale mans the counter, and it seems the whole town is out for the circus, including a fish in a fish bowl and even a narwhal. (Observant readers will note the always stunned-looking snail in many spreads and even on the back cover. He might be slow, but he gets around.)
It is with great fear that his parents look at Chu at each location and ask, “Are you going to sneeze?” Each almost-sneeze gets its own spread: “AAH- AAAAH- AAAAAH-".... And for the first two sneezes, readers are met–after suspenseful page turns–with “No, said Chu.” Each aborted sneeze (and even the triumphant one) is laid out in abundant white space, Rex allowing the obscenely adorable Chu and the delicious tension to be the star of the show.
It’s that eventual circus sneeze, though, that rocks the town, not unlike a tornado ripping through their world. Best of all are the looks on the parents’ faces when it’s all said and done: the mother still wringing her hands and looking at her child with utter fear, and the father as if he’s had enough already.
You know how young children convulse with laughter when you pretend to be outdone by them? The hyperbolic fake confusion when you act as if you’re unable to find the block the child just hid is met with undiminished cackles of joy. This book taps into that. Don’t be surprised if children pretend to sneeze all the rest of the day and expect you to pretend to be blown away by it.
It’s wicked good fun (just what I’d expect from a Gaiman-Rex collaboration), the young child, figuratively and literally, turning the world of big people on its head.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.