Sunday, August 31, 2014

Holy Bagumba! It's Kate DiCamillo!

The kids, towing their grown-ups, began arriving at 6 p.m., determined to nab a good seat for the 7:30 p.m. program starring kid lit star Kate DiCamillo in the Takoma Park Community Center auditorium. By 7 p.m., most of the seats in the 150-seat auditorium were taken, and the room was humming with excitement. (To accommodate the crowd, we even opened an overflow room, with a live feed, down the hall). So, when Kate herself walked down the aisle at 7:30 p.m. last Friday night and took her seat on the auditorium stage, it was no surprise that the audience -- now overflowing into aisles and any open carpet space -- burst into applause.

Posing with Kate - note my "Holy Bagumba" button
 I had the honor and privilege of sharing the stage with Kate, who didn't want to do a formal presentation but instead had asked me to lead a conversation with her before taking questions from the audience. As she told me before we went onstage: "Karen, you're in charge. That's why I'm so relaxed!" Admittedly, I was less relaxed, having never before led a program attended by 200-plus people.  But I love Kate's books, and I had immersed myself in them and in her two Newbery acceptance speeches, for the past couple of weeks. Between this immersion method and the interview experience garnered in my previous life as a newspaper reporter, the onstage conversation between us flowed smoothly. I had a blast, and Kate told me later that she'd like to take me on the road with her!

Because I was on the stage and couldn't take notes, I don't have any direct quotes from the program. It was televised by the city of Takoma Park TV, however, and I'll update this post with a link to the televised version as soon as it is posted. Suffice to say that our conversation ranged from Kate talking about how she moved from Minnesota to Florida with no socks (and quickly went out and purchased some in the first cold snap) to what it's like to get "the call" about winning the Newbery Medal (in 2004 for The Tale of Despereaux and earlier this year for Flora & Ulysses) to her hilarious new book, Leroy Ninker Saddles Up.

Meanwhile, here are just a few "snapshots" from the memorable evening:

Snapshot No. 1: (courtesy of friend/neighbor Suzanna Banwell). Kids holding copies of their favorite books by Kate running down the hill outside the Community Center to get to the auditorium. As Suzanna said: "It gave me chills to see these kids so excited about books and an author!"

Snapshot No. 2: Kids thrilled to ask Kate questions, some of them so excited that they didn't listen to previous questions and answers, which meant that Kate answered the same question three times: "What inspired you to write Because of Winn-Dixie?" A veteran of kid Q&A sessions, Kate patiently responded each time, and in fact reworked her answer each time so that it didn't sound repetitive. (Short answer: During one of the coldest winters in Minneapolis, Kate was homesick for Florida. She also was without a dog, for the longest time ever in her life. So she decided to write a book set in Florida starring a dog.)

Snapshot No. 3: Kids asking questions I'd never thought to ask, helping us all to learn more about Kate and her writing. One example: "Why does Mercy Watson (star of the Mercy Watson beginning reader series) love buttered toast so much?" Kate responded by noting that, one day,  she was giving a ride to a friend, who decided to eat slices of liberally-buttered toast in Kate's brand-new (and much-prized) Mini Cooper. Irritated about crumbs and butter on the new upholstery, Kate asked her friend if she could put away her food until she was out of the car. Instead, her friend responded with a lecture on the merits of buttered toast. Kate, who had been struggling to bring Mercy Watson alive on the page, took that lecture and gave Mercy what is now her most famous characteristic: her passion for buttered toast.

Jon Scieszka, take note!
 Snapshot No. 4: A young library patron named Paulette asking Kate to sign a short story that Kate had written with Jon Scieszka, another kid lit star and the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. (Kate was named the fourth ambassador in January). The story is included in one of the Guys Read books edited by Scieszka. Kate signed the page on which the story began, and then gleefully crossed out co-author Scieszka's name. Paulette is now determined to come to our Nov. 21 event featuring Scieszka to see if he decides to take revenge by crossing out Kate's name.

Snapshot No. 5: Kate staying after the program to sign books until everyone in the line, which snaked around the auditorium, had their books signed. One of the last people to have their books signed was Frank, a custodian at the community center. Because he was working, Frank couldn't hang out in the line, but instead popped in at the last minute in hopes that Kate would still sign his book. Of course she did!

 Huge thanks go to Politics & Prose Bookstore, especially Kerri Poore, for having the idea to ask Kate to do a program on Friday, Aug. 29 before her headliner appearance at the Aug. 30 National Book Festival. Thanks also to the unflappable Jennifer Roberts, executive director of marketing and publicity at Candlewick Press, Kate's publisher. Jennifer made sure everyone could hear Kate speak and kept the book-signing line moving. Lots of "Yippie-i-ohs" to Kate the Great for coming to share herself and her stories, and for teaching us all the heart-touching new word of "capacious." Finally, thanks to all of the kids and their grown-ups who comprised our overflow crowd and made the evening so fun!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fun Times With Peter Brown

Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Peter Brown came, saw and conquered a crowd of kids and adults last night at my library, the Takoma Park Maryland Library. Peter read us his first-ever book (created at the age of six): The Adventures of Me and My Dog "Buffy". He told us how he's loved creating art since he can remember, and how he also loves to write -- a perfect combination for a picture book creator. He got us all to quack together (more about that later in this post). And he talked about the real-life inspiration behind his newest book, My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not).

Photo by Jeff MacMillan
"When I was a kid, I was a pretty sensitive little guy.... With my big imagination and the fact that I was a kind of sensitive little person, I had the feeling sometimes that some of my teachers were actually monsters disguised as people," Peter said. But it turns out, Peter added, that one of those "monster teachers" helped set him on the road to becoming an artist when she praised one of his drawings one day.

"She said to me, 'Peter, that is an excellent drawing," he said, adding that he was surprised but obviously pleased by her praise for his picture. The teacher was particularly taken by the fact that Peter had drawn in "one-point perspective," showing a road going off in a "vanishing point." It's a pretty complex artistic concept for a young artist, but Peter said that "I was doing it without even thinking about it."

Basking in the teacher's praise, Peter then was jolted when she told him that "this drawing is so good, I need to show it to the principal." As Peter noted last night, he was momentarily worried that he was going to be in trouble. Instead, once the principal saw the drawing, he agreed with the teacher that Peter should immediately be put in advanced art classes, jumpstarting his career as an artist. Added Peter: "Maybe that wouldn't have happened without my grumpy teacher."

Putting those two things together -- the fact that he saw some teachers as monsters and that one of them actually was nice and helped him get his start in art -- Brown was inspired to write My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not). The book begins with a young boy named Bobby attracting the ire of his teacher, Mrs. Kirby, for throwing a paper airplane. Bobby thinks of Mrs. Kirby as a monster because she "stomped" and she "roared" and she says: "No recess for children who throw paper airplanes in class."

So Bobby is aghast one day to find Mrs. Kirby sitting on a bench in his favorite park. As Brown writes: "Bobby wanted to run! He wanted to hide! But he knew that would only make things worse." So he sits down on the bench next to Mrs. Kirby. It's awkward for both of them at first -- one of my favorite moments is when Bobby raises his hand to talk to Mrs. Kirby, who tells "Robert, you don't need to raise your hand out here." But the ice is broken when a gust of wind blows Mrs. Kirby's prized hat off her head and Bobby is able to rescue it.

From that point on, the two become more at home with each other. Mrs. Kirby tells Bobby about how fun it is to quack along with the ducks in park's pond (that's when Brown led us all in quacking last night -- a highlight for the kids). Bobby, meanwhile, leads Mrs. Kirby up to his special spot high in the park's the hills. Their out-of-school friendship seems secure, but at school, they are still teacher and student, as Brown shows in the book's hilarious finale.

Clearly, the story is one that will particularly resonate with kids, as it did when Brown read it -- via the big screen -- at last night's program. And the kids got it right away, as Brown's illustrations, which initially show Mrs. Kirby as a green hippo-sized monster, soften into showing her in a more human shape as the connection grows between her and Bobby. As one young participant eagerly shouted: "She's not a monster anymore!"

Photo by Jeff MacMillan
The audience particularly loved the book's conclusion, where Bobby is once again in trouble with Mrs. Kirby for -- you guessed it -- throwing a paper airplane in class. As Brown said: "I love stories where the hero doesn't learn lessons. To be fair, though, Bobby learned a lot in this story. But he still can't sit still sometimes and just has to throw paper airplanes."

Brown's illustrations for the book were done in India ink, watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper, then digitally composited and colored. Some pages show two-page spreads, while others show numerous smaller illustrations where Brown uses speech bubbles, as in comics. It's a great combination of approaches that works just perfectly for the book, as does the fact that Brown leaves lots of white space, which further highlights the changing relationship between Bobby and Mrs. Kirby.

After reading the book, Brown then headed over to an easel, where he showed everyone how he drew Mrs. Kirby. Everyone was fascinated to see how Brown took some simple shapes (and a few not so simple ones) and put them together to create a truly memorable character.

Overall, Brown's presentation was a huge hit. As folks lined up to have him sign their books, one adult told me, "That was awesome!" And so it was.

A perk of my job is introducing talented folks like Peter Brown.
 Note: Big thanks to Politics & Prose Bookstore for arranging Brown's program. Thanks also to Lisa Moraleda of Little, Brown, for sending lots of goodies for last night's crowd, including My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not) buttons and stickers. (For more fun with the book, head to this activity kit on Peter's beautiful website, where you can also find out more about Peter, including interviews that he's done).


Thanks to my friend, neighbor and professional photographer, Jeff MacMillan, who came to see Peter, a fellow alumus of the Art Center College of Design, and took the wonderful photos you see on this blog. Finally, thanks to Peter for such an inspiring and entertaining evening!



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kate DiCamillo, Peter Brown and ... Jon Scieszka!

My library -- the Takoma Park Maryland Library -- is tiny but we're now pretty mighty, thanks to our great partnership with Politics & Prose Bookstore in nearby Washington, D.C. Because of that partnership, we've got a whole slate of amazing authors who will be coming to my library in the next couple of months.



First up -- tonight, in fact! -- is picture book creator Peter Brown, who will be here at 7 p.m. talking about his latest book, My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not). Stay tuned for a report on Peter's talk in my next blogpost.


Tomorrow, Friday August 29, Kate the Great -- Kate DiCamillo -- will be speaking in our auditorium (in the Takoma Park Community Center) at 7:30. Kate is one of the headliners at the National Book Festival on Saturday (August 30) at the Washington Convention Center. But we got her for Friday night, and she'll be talking about her newest book, LeRoy Ninker Saddles Up as well as her two Newbery Medal-winning books, The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses.



We've then got a raft of other authors coming, including Dork Diaries author Rachel Renee Russell, who will unveil Book No. 8 in the best-selling series on Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m., and many many more. I'll post the entire schedule soon for those who live nearby.




Finally, mark your calendars for the fourth weekend in November -- just before Thanksgiving. On Friday, Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m., we've got a triple threat: Jon Scieszka, Tom Angleberger, and Cece Bell. And to cap off that magical weekend, Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen will speak on Sunday, Nov. 23 at 1 p.m. about his newest book (written by Mac Barnett), Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.




Monday, August 25, 2014

Booking It In Savannah

I'm just home from a vacation in Savannah, Ga. a city with a stunningly beautiful historic district and a booming tourism business that's based on one of the best-selling American books of all time, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Folks flock to Savannah to see the locales where events in the book take place; it seems that you can get a tour -- including an evening jaunt in a specially-outfitted hearse -- anytime, day or night.

"The Book," as it's known in Savannah.
I wasn't there for the tours, as I prefer to do my own exploring. So, instead of jumping on the hearse or taking a nighttime ghost tour, my husband and I spent our week doing our own walking tours of each of Savannah's 23 squares, eating some great meals, and checking out the city's two great museums.

Jepson Center for the Arts, part of the Telfair Museum.
We visited the Jepson Center for the Arts, part of the Telfair Museum, which is situated in the midst of Savannah's historic district. One night while we were in Savannah, the Telfair hosted a reception -- open to the public -- to mark the opening at the Jepson Center of Deep River, an incredibly thought-provoking exhibit on the nature of freedom by artist/MacArthur Fellow Whitfield Lovell.

The other museum we visited was the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) Museum. Interestingly, the SCAD Museum was featuring an exhibit of the photographs of Savannah native Jack Leigh, including the one for which he became internationally famous: the cover photo of Berendt's book. But the exhibit focused much more broadly on Leigh's work, and contained many memorable photographs of the people living and working in the "low country," the coastal areas near Savannah.
SCAD Museum

This was all well and good, and I can unhesitatingly recommend a visit to Savannah, a quite sophisticated city that a friend recently called "the San Francisco of the South." In this blogpost, however, I want to focus on what a bookish city Savannah is. It begins, of course, with the fact that the city's tourism boom (going strongly for a couple of decades) is based on a book (as well as the movie made from Berendt's book). But Savannah also has several interesting independent bookstores and of our visit, my husband and I visited four of them.

The Book Lady Bookstore


The first bookstore, The Book Lady Bookstore, was just steps from where we were staying. It's a treasure trove of used books, as well as those specifically focusing on Savannah and Georgia history.  Here, I found a used copy of The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz, a book that I had been wanting to read because I am a huge Francophile. It was a bargain at $10, especially because Lebovitz included a number of recipes that I plan to ask my husband, the family chef, to try out. I also found a book, The Law's Delay, by one of my all-time favorite mystery writers, Sara Woods. She wrote more than 40 books featuring a character named Antony Maitland, an English barrister who is constantly "going beyond his brief" in the search for justice. I have read most of Woods' book,s but never this one, which was published in 1977.

A small taste of the Books on Bay series collection.
Next (bookstore) stop was Books on Bay, a "must-visit" bookstore for anyone who is a collector, or just a love, of children's series books like the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys. The bookstore is close to the popular (and heavily touristed) River Walk, but is enough off the beaten path that I would have missed it except that my friend Tom Swift -- his real name! -- had recommended it. I was so glad to find it and thrilled to spend time with the knowledgeable proprietor, Betsy Holt-Thetford.

Betsy Holt-Thetford
We talked about the Nancy Drew books, and I mentioned that because the books weren't considered appropriate reading for children by librarians when I was a kid in the 1960's, libraries didn't stock them. That meant that I had to use my allowance each week to buy the latest Nancy Drew. Betsy loves to talk with -- and take pictures -- of customers, so I found myself later that week on the Books on Bay Facebook page, with Betsy telling the story of how I had to buy all my own Nancy Drew books. I was then able to chime in with a link to a story that I wrote some years ago on the 75th anniversary of the Nancy Drew books. When I'm next in Savannah (our son is a SCAD student and so I'll be back!), I definitely plan to head back to Books on Bay.

E. Shaver, Bookseller
E. Shaver, Bookseller is a Savannah tradition. Located just behind the Savannah (DeSoto) Hilton, Shaver has an enviable location. Years ago, before I even had kids, my husband and I visited Shaver's and purchased mint-condition copies of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne. At that point, we were starting to think about having children; I had never read the Milne books, and my husband insisted that we needed to purchase and read them -- together. Two years ago, visiting Savannah as my son was considering SCAD, I returned to Shaver's and purchased Bruno, Chief of Police, the first book in a series by Martin Walker and set in the Dordogne region of France. The series has since become a real favorite series for my husband and me. On this most recent visit, I bought Letters from Yellowstone, an epistolary novel about a woman scientist working in the national park in the days when woman weren't allow to pursue such careers. In addition, I bought Woman in the Dark by Dashiell Hammet for my husband, a true Hammett fan.

Our final Savannah bookstore destination meant leaving the historic district and traveling to a strip mall along the main drag (Victory Drive). But Wiley's Book Exchange was definitely worth the brief drive.
 I bought a number of books, including a $3 copy of The Tale of Despereaux, the Newbery Medal-winning book by Kate DiCamillo. Kate is coming to speak at our library (in partnership with Politics & Prose Bookstore) this coming Friday evening, and I plan to ask her to sign my newly-purchased copy of The Tale of Despereaux.

One last literary note for Savannah: if you go, you must have a coffee or glass of wine at the Gallery Espresso, an atmospheric cafe located on one corner of Chippewa Square. Besides its great, central location in Savannah's historic district, Gallery Expresso features an array of delicious sandwiches and pastry. It's the perfect place to sit with a book.

You also might meet Chris Berinato, a friendly manager-type at the cafe whose passion is working on something called Seersucker Live in his spare time. The tag line for Seersucker Live is a real come on: "Part literary reading. Part talk show. Part cocktail party." Also, we weren't there for the latest Seersucker Live program, but Chris told us about a program he did a while ago with Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket. It's definitely worth checking out the YouTube video of that program, and it's just one more demonstration that Savannah is indeed a great destination for book lovers.




Monday, August 11, 2014

Best Books for Babies and Toddlers

Books and babies make a natural combination. Creating the best books for the youngest readers, however, can be difficult. The text (if there is one) must be short and snappy, and the illustrations should be straightforward enough for pre-readers to enjoy, and also detailed enough to keep their attention. In other words, creating what appear to be simple books for babies and toddlers actually is anything but simple.

One of the 2014 Best Books for Babies
 It can be just as challenging for parents and other grown-ups to find the best books to read to their babies and toddlers. There is, unfortunately, a lot of schlock out there in the marketplace, such as books that have way too much text for the youngest readers, books with illustrations that don't match the text, etc. In the dizzying array of possibilities, how can parents identify the best books for the youngest readers?

Fortunately, there's an expertly-curated "go-to" resource for parents: the Best Books for Babies list published each year. The list began in 1999 when a group of Pittsburgh-area librarians and children's literacy experts, including the late, great Fred Rogers, decided that there should be a resource for identifying excellent books for the very youngest readers. It's true that the Caldecott Medal (given to the best-illustrated book of the year) and the Newbery Medal (given to the best-written children's book of the year) are aimed at books appropriate for ages birth-14. But those awards rarely, if ever, actually focus on books for babies and toddlers, and in fact, generally skew towards preschoolers on up.

So Rogers and his crew decided to establish their own resource for parents of babies and toddlers. Each year, a group of experts year sift through hundreds of books to choose the 10 best for the youngest readers, and then publish that list as the Best Books for Babies. The project was originally sponsored by a nonprofit Pittsburgh literacy group called Beginning With Books, which closed its doors in 2008 due to budget cuts. But the effort has continued under the auspices of a trio of Pittsburgh groups: the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; the Fred Rogers Company; and the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children.

The three groups have created a dedicated website for their work; besides a list of the current winners, you'll find an archive of previous winners plus information about what makes a good book for babies and toddlers, and also tips for reading aloud to little readers.

Another great resource for choosing books for babies and toddlers is the Born to Read booklist created by the Association for Library Service to Children. And don't forget to talk to your local public librarian -- I'm often asked for book advice by new parents and am more than happy to share what I know. After all, I'm helping to create the next generation of readers!



Meanwhile: I've been looking at some of the latest crop of board books, and have pulled out just a small selection of favorites. (I'll be reviewing more board books in upcoming weeks). Here's a closer look:

Genius children's book creator Mo Willems has created board book versions of two books in his popular Cat the Cat, Who Is That? early reader series: Who Is That, Cat the Cat? and Who Flies, Cat the Cat? (Balzer+ Bray/HarperCollins, $6.99 each, ages infant-3). To accommodate younger readers, the original text has been abbreviated, but the board book versions retain the zany humor of the early reader books. Babies and toddlers will be captivated by Willems' expressive illustrations.


Author Mary Brigid Barrett riffs on traditional nursery rhymes with delightful results in Pat-a-Cake and All Fall Down (Candlewick Press, $6.99 each, ages birth-3). Take her opening lines of Pat-a-Cake, for example: "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake/CLAP, CLAP, CLAP/ Pat a pudding, Wibble Wobble/ Pat a puddle, SPLAT!" The merriment inherent in Barrett's text is matched by the gouache-and-watercolor ink illustrations by LeUyen Pham, who depicts a multicultural cast of kids and adults.

 
 Olivia, that irrepressibly bossy picture book piggy, relishes her new job as teacher in Olivia's A. B. C (Atheneum, $7.99, ages 1-3). For each letter of the alphabet, author/illustrator Ian Falconer offers one or more examples; of course Olivia plays a starring role in each one. And it will come as no surprise to Olivia's many young fans that the one example for "Q" is "queen" -- "Queen Olivia" that is. As always, Falconer's illustrations, many of them drawn from previous Olivia books, will elicit chuckles from both young readers and their parents.


Brightly-colored illustrations combine with a "lift-the-flap" format to make Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa! (Candlewick Press, $7.99, ages birth-2) a winner for the youngest readers. Babies and toddlers will enjoy mastering their animal sounds with this book, which was written and illustrated by Petr Horacek.

A group of toddlers spends a busy day together in Baby Animal Farm (Candlewick Press, $6.99, ages birth-2), written and illustrated by Karen Blair. The big attraction on the farm for the young humans are the baby animals, including a kitten, piglet and calf. And it's a helpful puppy who saves the day by finding a teddy bear dropped by one of the toddlers. The pastel-hued illustrations, done in lithographic crayon and watercolor, are charmingly simple, yet never cutesy.


 






Sunday, August 3, 2014

Caldecott Reading: "Go" by Chip Kidd

This spring, I was elected to the 2016 Caldecott Committee, an honor that thrills me, and also makes me a wee bit intimidated. Yes, I certainly know something about picture books, given my nearly 25 years as a children's book reviewer and eight years as a (second-career) children's librarian. But there's still so much to learn!

Our committee won't actually begin our work until January, as we will be reading eligible books throughout 2015 and awarding one of them the 2016 Caldecott Medal. So, like my fellow committee members, I've decided to use the intervening months to do lots of background reading. The Caldecott Committee manual includes a great suggested reading list, and our committee chair and my fellow members have recommended other books. In addition, there are three recent Caldecott webinars, which were produced by the Association for Library Service to Children.

Recently, I ordered some of the books on the Caldecott reading list from Alibris, and it's been fun seeing the books come in this past week. The books include: Lotus Seeds: Children, Pictures and Books by Marcia Brown (who is one of only two people to win three Caldecott Medals -- David Wiesner is the other one); Writing With Pictures by Caldecott Medalist Uri Shulevitz; Picture This: How Pictures Work by Caldecott Honor illustrator Molly Bang; Art and Design in Children's Picture Books by Lyn Ellen Lacy, and more. I've already dipped into a couple of the books, and it's clear that I'm going to have a fine old time reading them.

Over the next few months, I'll be posting now and then about what I'm reading to prepare for my Caldecott year. I've also decided to use this time as an excuse to read even more widely about art and graphic design -- something I've always wanted to do. I did take a year of art history, but it was through the specific lens of French art, as I was a French minor in college. As a result, my knowledge of other-than-French art history is pretty paltry. By good fortune, my son, who is an industrial design major at the Savannah College of Art & Design, is taking an online course in art history this summer. I've been borrowing his Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition and leafing through it just for the heck of it.  I also rediscovered a dense little volume that I bought years ago, Learning to Look: A Handbook for the Visual Arts, which is one of a trio of books that have been used in the Humanities 1 course at the University of Chicago. (The other two volumes are Learning to Listen and What Happens in Literature.)

 It's certainly fun to take such a wide-angle look at art and art history as I prepare for my Caldecott year. But I'm trying to do that as a "sidebar" experience, as it were, while spending most of my time reading the volumes most focused on picture books and the Caldecott criteria. With that in mind, I picked up Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design (Workman Publishing, $17.95, ages 10 up) by Chip Kidd, a noted graphic designer.  Go was one of the five finalists for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Award for Excellence in Non-Fiction, so I knew it would definitely be worth reading. Besides, one of the criteria for the Caldecott Medal states that "The committee is to make its decision primarily on the illustration, but other components of a book are to be considered especially when they make a book less effective as a children’s picture book. Such other components might include the written text, the overall design of the book, etc."

 So I figured it would be worth learning more about graphic design, about which I know little. Besides, the cover of Go was calling to me -- how can you resist a book where the title -- Go -- is designed to look exactly like that ubiquitous red-and-white sign that tells us to "Stop"? Besides the cover is printed on board pages -- just like a board book for little ones! -- something that I also found quite intriguing. But the cover was just the beginning of the delights of this book, which I found both educational and entertaining, and impossible to put down.



I learned, for example, about what exactly is graphic design and, perhaps more importantly, why I should care about it. Kidd's answer: "Because it affects you all the time. On average, every person in America is exposed to thousands of images a day, whether through advertising, television, the Internet, packaging, other people's tattoos, or t-shirts....Every single one of those things was designed by someone, a person whose job it was to decide what color it should be, where to put the type, what font to use, and how it should look. Whether it's the fine print on the back of a shampoo bottle, the colors on a box of cereal, or where to put the numbers on your remote control, there's a great deal of thinking that goes into the things you use, read, purchase, play with, and consume" The bottom line? "Everything that is not made by nature is designed by someone."

Kidd's book gives readers a tour through the basics of the one of graphic design, looking at major concepts like form, which includes things like color theory, pattern, symmetry, etc. Then there's the fascinating (to me) subject of typography (sans serif, anyone?) and, of course, the actual content. As Kidd notes: "If form is the last thing you consider when making a piece of graphic design, then content is the first.... Content is harder to figure out, but it's what you start with, and it dictates what form you design will take." For example, the fundamental question people may have when they are inside a place is "How do I get out of here?" Using a flowery blue script to spell out the letters on an orange background may look nice but it's hard to read. The typical "Exit" sign, meanwhile, uses straightforward red lettering on a white background, which makes it stand out and easy to spot -- a perfect case, Kidd says, of form following function.



Go was a blast to read, and I learned a ton of basic information about graphic design. Not surprisingly, the book is beautifully designed, and there are many illustrations to visualize Kidd's text. He also uses every part of the book, from the inside front cover to the copyright page to the inside back cover to convey -- both graphically and in written form -- more information about graphic design. Young readers interested in graphic design also will enjoy the 10 inventive design projects that Kidd suggests at the end of the book.

(Note: I used our library's copy of Go to write this review).


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tales from the Library: Raina Reigns!

It's easy to tell what authors are popular in the Children's Room at our Library. Just look at the multiple -- and dog-eared -- copies of books by Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame, Wimpy Kid wizard Jeff Kinney, Rachel Renee Russell, author of the Dork Diaries, Magic Tree House author Mary Pope Osborne, Erin Hunter, author of the Warriors books, and so on.
In our graphic novel section, however, it's Raina who reigns. That's Raina Telgemeier, author/illustrator of the uber-popular Smile (Graphix/Scholastic, $10.99 paperback, ages 8-12), a memoir of her traumatic dental experiences as a young teen. We've got eight copies of Smile, and our young patrons are lucky if they can find one on the shelves. It's been that way since the book was first published in 2010, and the popularity of Smile shows no sign of waning. Kids just devour the true story of how Raina endured major dental surgery and distress during her early teenage years as the result of a freak fall in which she seriously injured her mouth.
 
Smile, of course, is more than a dental drama; it provides s slice-of-life look at being a teenager, dealing with family issues, trying to figure out friends, etc. When I ask kids why they love Smile so much, they do talk about the trauma of Raina's dental issues, but mostly they note how they love reading about a "real" kid who deals with friendship and family challenges, just like they do. Smile won the 2011 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Teens.

Raina, who's married to fellow graphic novelist Dave Roman, decided to mix it up after Smile, publishing Drama (Graphix/Scholastic, $23.99 hardcover, $10.99 paperback, ages10-14) in 2012. I say mix it up because while Smile is a memoir, Drama is fiction, although Raina acknowledges that it is based on her own experiences as a drama geek in middle school. True to its title, Drama is filled with the drama of the pre-teen and teen years: who likes who, who's in and who's out, etc. Raina also tackles the issue of sexual identity, highlighting the way twin boys deal with their homosexuality. Again Raina says the twins are based on some very good friends of hers, twin males who dealt with this issue as teens.

While kids in my library like Drama, they -- like Raina's fans everywhere -- have clamored for a sequel to Smile. On August 26, they'll get their wish as Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, publishes Sisters ($24.99 hardcover, $10.99 paperback, ages 8-12). Raina says it's not really a sequel but another look back at her life, this time focusing on her often-fraught relationship with her younger sister Amara. I'll save my review of the book until I get a final copy, but suffice to say that my initial impressions from the advance review copy are simple: libraries, you'd better gear up for a run on this book. Young readers will readily identify with Raina's up-and-down connection with the sister she desperately longed for -- until Amara was born. Anyone who has siblings will find themselves in the pages of this book.

Meanwhile, while kids are awaiting the publication of Sisters on August 26, they are loving another graphic novel memoir,  The Dumbest Idea Ever (Graphix/Scholastic, $24.99 hardcover, $11.99 paperback) by Jimmy Gownley, author/illustrator of the popular Amelia Rules books. In his memoir, Jimmy talks about how he got the idea for Amelia Rules and then figured out a way -- with a lot of help from his parents -- to publish the first book in the series. Readers in my library are fascinated by the way that Jimmy broke into the graphic novel business, but they seem just as interested in his teenage travails, including his rollercoaster performance as a student and his friendship challenges. Jimmy does a wonderful job at honestly portraying his teen years, and that seems to really resonate with young readers.