Wolf Erlbruch worked as an illustrator for advertising, but began a career in children’s books in the late 1980s. He does NOT shy away from deep, dark subjects! Like death. In children’s books. Of course, I love them.
And my favorite pieces of his illustration style are the way he captures gestures and his use of white space. Or the opposite, the way a figure will fill a page.
Here is a sampling of his work:
The Big Question (2004).
The actual question is never stated. Instead, we get answers from different people (and animals and objects) in this book. But it’s clear the question they’re all answering is, “Why am I here?”
The answer is different for each of them, for themselves and as it relates to a child asking a question like that.
A pilot is here “to kiss the clouds.”
A bird, “to sing your song.”
The stone, “simply to be here.”
And mommy says, “you’re here because I love you.”
Duck, Death and the Tulip (2007).
I know, dark right? That skeleton looking figure? That’s death. Death with a capital D actually. But I have to say, I love that figure. Creepy, yes, but not exactly menacing. That tilt of the head. The line of a smile where the jaws meet. There’s a friendly old woman quality to Death as Erlbruch portrays him.
The way both characters gesture is the wonderful thing about this book. Duck with its long neck, beak turned this way and that. The friendship that develops between these two.
They warm each other. Death is not cruel or threatening. Death is just there. Always there. For every duck.
“When you’re dead, the pond will be gone, too—at least for you.”
“Are you sure?” Duck was astonished.
“As sure as sure can be,” Death said.
“That’s a comfort. I won’t have to mourn over it when…”
There have been stage adaptations of Duck, Death, and the Tulip as well. Puppets! Here and here, for example.
The Miracle of the Bears (2001).
And now, from death to procreation. I know, right?! A bear wants to know how to become a Papa Bear.
Various animals give Bear many different answers (all wrong). In the end, he meets a girl bear. And he vaguely kinda sorts get the idea that that’s how he can become a Papa Bear.
Mrs. Meyer, the Bird (1995).
This is a book for a worrier. About a worrier. Mrs. Meyer.
But then Mrs. Meyer finds a baby bird who needs her help and she discovers what focusing on something else’s wellbeing can do for your own worry (e.g. occupy it).
She cares for the bird. And then, well I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say Mrs. Meyer flies!
Do you have a favorite of his? Have you seen Erlbruch’s books before? If not, enjoy the journey on which he takes you!
See other picture book lives I’ve spotlighted. (I’m going girl, boy, girl, boy, btw.)