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Archive for January 28th, 2015

Tiny cover

by Sam Juliano

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are…

It is human nature for one to wish what they are not.  Kids always think in terms of big.  Many want to be taller, some want to be much stronger, others want to be anything other than what they are.  The most famous wisher of all started his life as a wooden puppet, and his hankering was to become a real boy.  The funny thing about wishing though is that if it were possible to actually happen it would eventually leave this advocate for change none the happier for forfeiting the very special and unique qualities before the transformation.  The life cycle is always the same.  Kids want to become adults, and are all to willing to bypass the formidable years to achieve equality with parents, relatives or some others they idolize.  Young ones try to emulate the behavior and mannerisms of adults, and fantasize of being different, usually in the most extreme manifestation.  Invariably, when they do get older they regret that their childhood wasn’t longer nor better appreciated.  It is a lesson they learn too late, but as kids would never understand this concept.  Wishing is usually harmless, but the consequences of avarice has been well noted in the literature.  A royal flounder repays a kind fisherman for letting him off the hook, but repeatedly granting his wife a series of wishes.  Prodded by her greed, he wishes (and gets) a cottage, castle, servants, and queen of the realm, but when his wife asks to be God, they are returned to their poor shanty.  In W. W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw a bid for a lot of money leads to unspeakable tragedy and a macabre conclusion. (more…)

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hug cover

by Sam Juliano

There is a serious strain of juvenile obsessive-compulsive disorder being played out in Scott Campbell’s irresistibly effervescent The Hug Machine, but it is not one likely to fan the flames of dysfunction, especially the kind that could adversely affect the recipients.  No, this kind of behavior has its heart in the right place, and the consequences are benign.  The theme is human intimacy, that even extends to inanimate objects, one that extols the virtues of wearing your heart on your sleeve, and publicly displaying what many keep to themselves.   The first time I actually saw The Hug Machine was back in early October.  A bunch of copies were stacked in the main window display at Manhattan’s Books of Wonder, the ultimate showcase of children’s literature and picture books.  The creative exhibit included some set pieces from the book, in what is really a natural for this kind of promotion.  This kind of extreme behavior makes for a visually alluring presentation.  Wanting to purchase two other books that day -I did- I figured I would wait until the following week to return for The Hug Machine.  Bad move.  By then they were sold out.  A desperate stop a few blocks away to the Strand saved the day, and initiated my special attraction to this fabulous pink lemonade picture book.  Campbell, who collaborated with Kelly DiPucchio on Zombie in Love and its sequel, was the sole creator of this one-note Valentine’s Day picture book that never once diverts from its central purpose. (more…)

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baby tree cover

by Sam Juliano

The past year in picture books has yielded some of the most daring and  mature themes yet explored in this generally restrictive terrain.  The first openly transgender picture book I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings takes a pointed look at the confusion of a boy who possesses the mind-set of a girl, and the lovely Canadian work Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant explores the courage it takes to be creative and different, in this case a boy wearing a dress.  Then there is a book titled Outlaw Pete by Bruce Springsteen and Frank Caruso, that is so godawful in concept and theme, that its creators are now trying to say its target audience are adults.  Right.  A book about an infant who robs banks in his diapers.  In any case, the boldest book of any in 2014 was written and illustrated by one of children’s literature’s most renowned artists, Sophie Blackall.  A strong contender in last year’s Caldecott race for the sublime illustrations she crafted for The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olsham,  the artist’s Chinese ink and pastel watercolors bring a sumptuous life to a theme that must be delicately broached to win the seal of approval from the teachers and parents who would oversee this book’s reception at home and in the classroom.  Blackall’s virtuoso use of colors in finely bordered vignettes are a perfect fit for the aesthetically pleasing arches paper used for this book.  The austerity of The Baby Tree’s subject is negotiated with visual disarmament that accentuates the boundless joy of familial addition, rather than a more muted conscription of how to deal with the birds and the bees.  No author or illustrator to date has brought such effervescence to this sobering subject, nor has so effectively sidestepped the implications of the reproductive process. (more…)

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