Icinori | Little Gestalten | 36 pages
Issun Bôshi: The One Inch Boy may be one of the most beautifully stunning picture books I have picked up in some time. I spotted it recently at the Asian Museum in San Francisco and knew it was a special book by the cover alone. The story is a lovely classic Japanese fairy tale about a very little boy, (one-inch tall) and his adventures after leaving home with but a needle for a sword, a soup bowl for a boat and a chopstick for a rudder. Tired of being adored for his petite frame, Issun sets out to gain a larger stature. Eventually, he outsmarts his enemy and grows in size and takes up with the Princess.
As beautiful as the story is, I cannot get over the illustrations of French illustrators Mayumi Otero & Raphael Urwiller (Icinori). From what I can tell, this design firm produces their own publications and the original French version of this book was produced by them. The illustrations are printed in four vibrant PMS colors with overlaying translucency producing even more colors. My guess is that they are printed either intaglio or silkscreen. The incredible and intricate printing aside—the illustrations are both magical and magnificent. Each spread is designed and masterfully exploits the (off) white of the paper and surprises us with outrageous scale and graphic portrayals. Each illustration combines deft distillation of forms but then juxtaposes them with incredibly ornate detail—especially in the foliage. Spread after spread, we are treated to fantasy worlds of red and blue trees and myriad hidden wildlife and flora. Each page is a story unto itself. The drawing skill is simply jaw-dropping.
Marianne Dubuc | Enchanted Lion Books | 64 pages
The Lion and the Bird is one of those very special books. In similar fashion as her book The Sea, Marianne Dubuc has told a story that embraces the passage of time through long pauses in dialogue and subtle illustrations. Twice as thick as a typical picture book, The Lion and the Bird is a bounty of visual delight. Marianne’s style shows an illustrator that loves to draw and is a master of texture, color and most of all restraint. Her renditions of the lion, the bird and the seasons (with pencil and paint) are both charming and elegant at the same time. Her sense of scale and space command every single spread. Turning each page greets you with a brand new view of the unfolding journey. It has a very cinematic nature of rhythm and pacing.
The story is about a friendship that begins as the lion takes in a wounded bird. Lion feeds and shelters bird and within a couple of wordless pages they become fast friends, (bird nests in lion’s mane). But eventually bird signals to lion that it’s time to leave. Marianne’s drawings of these moments speak volumes. The following pages will tear anyone up as they watch the sadness overcome lion. Without spoiling the surprise ending—let’s say love wins out.
The Lion and the Bird is the kind of book that will endure time and bring hours of thought and conversation about friendship, diversity and seasons. It is simply a beautiful creation—and my pick for this year’s Caldecott.
Written by Tyler Florence | Illustrated by Craig Frazier | Harper Collins 2014
Tyler almost blows it and forgets Tofu’s birthday. Panicked, he pays a visit to his baker to order up a birthday cake. As usual, Tyler’s curiosity gains him entry into the kitchen and then on to his imaginary travels to where all the necessary ingredients come from. Tofu tags along but not without his usual antics and thought bubbles.
It’s not until the eleventh hour that the baker learns that the carrot cake he is baking is for Tofu, not a human. So that not to poison Tofu, he dashes out another ‘dog friendly’ cake and serves it up to Tofu’s dog pals (both recipes included).
Like the others, this book was a lot of fun to make. The best part was drawing the various dogs and their party attire. Present is our whippet Penelope, Tyler’s terrier Jake, and Bud and Jan’s beloved corgi Turpin.
Rambharos Jha | Tara Books 2012 | Limited Edition | 28 pages
Waterlife is a very special book. It is fit for any child’s bookshelf or adult’s coffee table. Whereas there is no storyline in the traditional picture book sense, there is a story in its art and the making of the book. Illustrated in his version of the Mithila tradition of folk art, artist and author Rambharos Jha depicts several creatures of the water in 12 spreads. Each creature is accompanied by a few sentences describing its significance to his culture, his upbringing and his experience drawing it. Each of these briefs is rich with reference to a culture of symbols and motifs. Each one provides clues to the place that the creature has in Jha’s life and imagination. Collectively, they paint not only a picture of water life but the artist’s life.
This is my picture-tribute to a well-known fable from the ancient Indian story collection, Panchatantra. A crane visits a shoal of fish living in a pond. He warns them of an impending drought. He offers to save the fish, by carrying them away, one by one, to another pond with plenty of water and food. The fish agree. But very soon we realize what is going on…the fish become food for the crane!
This is a limited edition book that has heirloom written all over it. Each illustration is made of a patient compilation of fine lines, textures and patterns, colored in the most luscious and restrained palette. Each illustration exhibits a charming innocence while at the same time a commanding mastery of the medium. Jha’s technique of finely woven lines makes each illustration hypnotically undulate as if it were alive. They are screen printed by hand on a highly textured hand-made cotton paper. They are printed and bound in India. This is a perfect gift book for a 6-year old, college graduate, or retiree.
Dan Kainen and Carol Kaufmann | Workman Publishing Company 2012
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Safari is a book that operates on so many levels and serves so many curiosities. Your first pick-up of the book takes you into its magic — the photicular images of eight African animals running or doing their thing (designed and photographed by Dan Kainen). It’s a total experience for the reader as you control their speed by how fast you turn the previous page. This is a mechanical marvel that uses an old technology called lenticular photography but presents it in a brand new way. This was popularized with the book Gallop but brought to a whole new level in Safari. You can literally spend hours turning the pages and imagine yourself on safari watching these majestic creatures at close range. This alone makes this a book suited for kids as well as adults.
The second level is the story of the safari written by Carol Kaufmann describing her guided trip to the northwest corner of Masai Mara, Kenya. Carol vividly chronicles her days, the landscape, and the numerous sightings and encounters. She records much of the dialogue with Massek, her guide and others which helps put you in the seat next to her in the Range Rover. And it is a wild ride. There is no mistaking; she is borrowing a rare glimpse into this majestic and dangerous world.
The third level is the description of each of the eight animals photographed. Written with the same voice as her essay, she delivers myriad facts and specs with warmth, humor and empathy. For example, a rhinoceros is described as cantankerous, volatile, aggressive—and downright grumpy! Beneath her storytelling is one more level of info—a list of facts and figures if you considered stowing one of these beasts on your carry-on.
This is an amazing and marvelous book—in content, design and execution. You would expect it to be sixty bucks, but it’s not even close! It belongs on every kid’s top shelf and parent’s coffee table.