Category Archives: PICTURE BOOKS +
My favorite thing about this picture book is the way it plays with expectations and perception and reversals, namely who is Alma and who is the beast. It might not be who you first assume! In fact, like the cover, this book turns what we expect from a fairy tale on its head. Plus, a shaggy forest containing a “plumpooshkie” butterfly—I mean, this world is as inventive and charming as a world can be.
If you’ve read Ooko, her first author-illustrator offering, you’ll know that Esmé Shapiro likes to experiment with perception, the unexpected, playfulness, hand-drawn type, and quirky yet gorgeous artwork where you can see the strokes and seep of watercolors and paint, all with a fantastical quality. (She also illustrated Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear, whose picture book life I’ve featured.)
And now…the trailer! Made by Esmé Shapiro, followed by an interview with the author-illustrator and some behind the scenes photos.
This Picture Book Life: How did you conceive of ALMA AND THE BEAST?
Esmé Shapiro: I always have believed that ideas land on our heads like little clouds. They have a mind of their own and we never know when they are going to choose us. The idea for Alma and the Beast landed on my head about six years ago in the form of an image. The image was of a little girl being surprised by a hairy being in her garden. It was a striking idea, and I wanted to unfold the story around it.
TPBL: What were you thinking about when you got the idea and began the process of creating it?
ES: Once the image came to me, I wanted to understand it more. The big thing I wanted to explore was, what did hair mean to me? This little hairy girl in the garden – who was she? I have always been fascinated with the symbology of hair. To me, it represents the side of ourselves that is more connected with nature and to our instincts. In Alma and the Beast I used hair as a symbolic device for our inner wildness, our untamed and true selves.
Originally, the story was told from the point of view of the little girl, who was frightened to see a bluish grey hairy girl in her garden. Eventually I started to question why I was telling it from the perspective of the little girl. I suppose I related to her right off the bat because she looked more like me. I felt it was important to challenge that impulse, because the little hairy being would be just as frightened to see the little girl. That’s when I decided to flip the story on its head and tell the tale from the perspective of the hairy girl. That’s when the fun started. What would her world look like? And how would that change in perspective challenge our ideas about what we expect from a picture book and from other people?
TPBL: What did you want to achieve or get across to readers especially in terms of reversals and perception?
ES: Kids and adults alike are often wary of people they don’t understand, when really if we just took the time to get to know them, we would find we are much more alike than different. We all just need to feel safe and most importantly, be loved for who we are. In Alma and the Beast, I wanted to show that empathy is a powerful tool that can bring us closer together in understanding each other. I think the reversal in point of views from the beginning helps hit this message home. It was important to me to show that, at first, Alma was imperfect in how she reacted to this strange human creature in her backyard. She even refers to her as “a beast.” But a conversation with the “beast” leads Alma to understand that this creature is really just frightened and far away from home. Alma’s empathic moment brings these two girls together, and eventually leads her on an adventure into friendship and understanding.
TPBL: Where did you find inspiration for Alma’s “hairy world”?
ES: I drew a lot inspiration from nature, especially willow trees, who seem to always have the best hair styles. That’s why I wanted a willow tree to be the portal between the two worlds, because they seem like they could belong in either realm. I started to see grass as the earth’s hair, and I thought about fuzzy moss and the thin lines on bark, too. And, of course underwater plants, like lanky kelp and stringy seaweed. I imagined that in the hairy world, the plants and trees are always a little wiggly. I tried to channel Mary Blair, and the strength of her landscape design for early Disney animations. I wanted Alma’s world to seem like it could possibly exist if we just looked long enough through the forest – perhaps in a bog behind a log.
TPBL: Please tell us about the process of making the trailer, which is wonderful!
ES: Thank you so much for your kind words! I knew from the beginning that I wanted to send Alma and the Beast into the world with an animated book trailer. The world just begs to be explored through sound and movement. But there was only one small problem: I don’t know how to animate.
So I tried to teach myself – but, boy, was that difficult! My instinct was to imagine the story as if it were a play. So I made a stage out of paper cutouts and created little paper dolls of Alma and the Beast. Then I took photos of it at a photo studio in the back of my friend’s shop. I spent a few days slowly moving the paper dolls across the stage. It took a long time and many bowls of soup to get through it.Then I brought the footage home and thought it looked wonderful, but it was really missing the hair moving through the wind. I taught myself how to draw on top of the photos to create a sense of movement.
Once I was finished animating some hair flowing in the wind and tiny squishy bugs, I had my incredibly talented friend Allyson make the soundtrack. Allyson has been very supportive of this hairy tale from the beginning and feels very close to it. So when I asked her to make the music for the trailer, I barely had to give her any direction. She used sounds from a really old-fashioned sampling keyboard called a mellotron. The recorded sounds are from people playing instruments in the 1950s. It gives the sound a really interesting texture. The result is a song that is equal parts whimsy and bizarre. In my mind, it carries you away to another realm: Alma’s hairy world.
We’re giving away a pair of books in honor of Alma and the Beast‘s release! Hop on over to my Instagram account (@writesinLA) to enter a giveaway for both of Esmé Shapiro’s author-illustrated books, Ooko and Alma! Come see!
It’s been six years of This Picture Book Life in July.
To mark the occasion, I’m giving away the six picture books above to one reader! (N. America only.)
Another by Christian Robinson (2019), a wonderful, curious, and wordless mind-bender in Robinson’s signature illustrative style.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson (2019), an incredible, jaw-droppingly gorgeous book the author describes as a “love letter to America. To black America.”
My Papi Has A Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña (2019), a portrait of a hometown and a family and change and what stays the same.
You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry (2018), a lullaby of a book to feel safe in any storm (and you can see the craft the illustrator contributed to a blog post last year here!).
How to Two by David Soman (2019), an inventive counting book that honors play and collaboration and inclusion.
It’s Time for Bed by Ceporah Mearns and Jeremy Debicki, illustrated by Tim Mack (2018), a bedtime book featuring Siasi, who would charmingly rather commune with Arctic animals than fall asleep.
I’m thrilled to be able to share the cover of STUDIO: A PLACE FOR ART TO START by Emily Arrow and The Little Friends of Printmaking with you today! This picture book is a debut for both author and illustrators and is coming to you from Tundra in March of 2020.
Studio might be best described as an ode to being you and finding your singular expression and space to cultivate it, and then sharing that with the world. It has bright, thoughtful, detailed, and exuberant art and feels like a truly kismet collaboration between text and visual story. It explores and honors creativity and making. (And it was written by one of my dearest friends.)
I give you…
the charming and truly eye-catching cover by The Little Friends of Printmaking!
Just look at all those different kinds of studios and makers on display! Even the title itself on that sign is in the very process of being made, which is such a brilliant thematic touch! There in the middle of the top row of windows is our main character, a bunny who we follow as they tour studios and see artists of all styles and stripes, soaking up the energy and options they might pursue. By taking a tour along with bunny, readers will get a chance to do the same.
And here’s one bonus spread from the inside as well!
In honor of Studio’s cover reveal, I asked the creators three questions each and they’re all giving us a tour of their studios, past and present! What a complete treat!
- What does a studio mean to you?
James: Art is a job, and the studio is the place where the work gets done. What having a studio means for me is the benefit of having a private, peaceful space where I can work out new ideas; a place where I can experiment and even get frustrated without feeling like I’m bothering anyone; where I can put down a project for the night and pick it right up in the morning, without having to put everything away. It’s the freedom to work the way you want to.
Melissa: The studio is the place where we make our work, but it’s also a place to be inspired. We decorate it with the kind of work that we like to see, fill it with books that we can reference, and houseplants and other trinkets that help make it a comfortable and inspiring place to be.
- What and where was your first ever studio?
James: First ever? The kitchen table or an elementary school art classroom would probably be the most accurate answer, but the first studio that really felt like my own was an out-of-the-way photo darkroom at high school. I finally got that sense of freedom and ownership you get with a studio because I could work there independently, uninterrupted, and play whatever music I liked. It felt great to be in charge of my own space, which is something I didn’t have at home.
Melissa: My first studio was a very similar situation! I had wanted to study oil painting in high school but there wasn’t place in my high school art classroom so my teacher lent me an underused storage closet that I could use as a painting studio. I had my own key, which felt very grown up. In retrospect, it was probably a terrible idea to let a teenager use solvents in an unventilated storage closet but I couldn’t have been happier.
From our studio in Milwaukee circa 2006-2008. We built and ran a community print studio and workspace in a Milwaukee children’s museum called Discovery World and worked on our personal work after the normal workday was complete. The work hanging behind us was from our students.
From our studio in Milwaukee circa 2008-2013. It was in the basement of our house and was our first non-shared studio (we had worked out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison print studio – our alma mater – before moving to Milwaukee to run the Discovery World Print and Publishing Lab).
- How did you approach creating the visual story for STUDIO after reading the text?
James: First, we felt it was important to create a visual story, independent from the text, with a strong through-line. That way, readers of all ages and skill levels could return to the book and enjoy it, even if someone isn’t there to read it with them. We also wanted to treat this as a true picture book of artists’ studios, showing as much detail and as many tools and supplies as we could fit in. That way, young readers could get a sense of the studio as a real place—and of being an artist as a real job that they could aspire to.
Melissa: As the characters go through the various studios, our thought was to show the little bunny getting progressively more comfortable among the community of artists and feeling more and more free to express themselves, and in the end, join the community of artists.
From our current studio circa 2014-present.
Next up the author, Emily Arrow, who you may already know from her music!
- What does a studio mean to you?
Right now, my studio means the place with:
my stack of books and notebooks
my sweet rescue dog
- What and where was your first ever studio?
Finding a space to be creative has been one of my favorite adventures for as long as I can remember. When I was about 7 years old, my piano teacher helped me record my own songs in her home recording studio she called “Squeaky Floor Studios.” I was in my happy place with headphones on, listening to the music and finally being able to step into the song with my own voice. Other special studios over the years include the recording studios where I’ve recorded my “Storytime Singalong” albums!
3. Tell us about the genesis of this story concept.
Because I believe creating art leads to peacefulness, I believe spaces that foster creativity have a special magic. I love visiting artists’ studios, dreaming up ideas about where I might create a music video, and finding the creative spark that can turn even an ordinary place into a studio space. A few summers ago, I decided to create my work in a shared studio space in Nashville. That cozy studio full of artists and illustrators was bursting with creativity, twinkle lights, and collaboration. Naturally, it became the “place for my art to start,” and I wrote Studio.
And here are all three makers of this book, together!! How special is that!
And finally, a giveaway! Simply comment below to be entered to win this pair of pins from The Little Friends of Printmaking. (N. America only; ends Friday, June 28th at midnight PST.)
Big thanks to Emily and to Little Friends for collaborating on this post—photos were provided by them. And to Tundra for book images!
I believe I met Bunnie from Brave + Kind Bookshop through Instagram. She was so generously supportive of my novel and when I found out she was starting her very own independent bookstore in Decatur, Georgia, I wanted to support her wonderful endeavor.
I cannot wait to visit in person someday, and I hope you do too!
Big thanks to Bunnie for sharing six picture book recommendations! Over to her!
I was at a point in my life where I wanted to turn a literal next chapter. A fit for my life and family. Something that would leave a lasting impact. I’d like to say I was not heavily influenced by Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail (1995), but it certainly planted a seed all those years ago.
So here am I now with my own little neighborhood shop around the corner. I’m grateful to get to curate a fun selection of kids books that I hope will inspire them to do something Brave, to do something Kind. It certainly makes me feel Brave and Kind to be a part of that.
As I look around the bookshop to finish writing I realize I have almost none of the books from below on the shelves currently because I can’t stop recommending them to our friends at Brave—HA!
I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Julia Denos (2011).
“Snip snip, sew sew, new shirt—hello!”
I love this book first because the illustrations are just so darn sweet. And the beautiful chocolate girl on the cover just melts me. My first born (of two) is a girl, Andie and we have had our share of favorite dresses. It’s a story about a girl who outgrows her favorite dress but finds a way (with the help of her creative and patient mama) to keep wearing it in different iterations. The story is centered and illustrated around days of the week and seasons and its sing-song nature spins a fun and loving tale of getting older, creating memories, and adjusting to change.
One by Kathryn Otoshi (2008).
“But One stood up straight like an arrow and said, NO.”
I read this to my son’s (Avery) 1st grade class and they got so into it. They couldn’t wait for me to read the next page! Its use of primary and secondary colors and numbers as characters proves a unique and fresh spin in this story about bullies and standing up for yourself and others. Blue is quiet, and Red is a hothead. One is about friendship and bravery and kindness and a staple on the shelves at Brave + Kind.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López (2018).
“Rigoberto. From Venezuela, your teacher says so soft and beautifully that your name and homeland sound like flowers blooming the first bright notes of a song.”
I’m partial to books that have diverse representation because I believe that everyone deserves (and wants) to see themselves in the stories they read (and watch too). We want to know that who we are and what we have to share with the world is good and enough. Even though we may look different on the outside with things like skin color, the things we eat or like to play, we are more alike than we know. This book’s cast of children is grappling with too poor, too shy, too different, or are they? The story celebrates bravery and stepping out to share your story even when you feel like an outsider. And what you may pleasantly find when you do.
How to Be A Lion by Ed Verde (2018).
“They say, a lion can’t be gentle.”
This is an inspiring and courageous story of Leonard (a lion) and his best pal Marianne (a duck) and how these unlikely friends conspire to show those who insist that a lion and a duck should not be friends, that there are many ways to be a lion and many ways to be a friend. Timely and charming, this story will open young readers’ eyes to the importance of trusting their intuition and how choosing kindness in the face of criticism might just change the world.
Dear Girl by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal, illustrated by Holly Hatam (2017).
“Dear Girl, Keep that arm raised. You have smart things to say.”
Oh my gosh I really think all the girls should have a copy of this and women too. Each page is a manifesto for all young girls as they consider what it means to trust and just be themselves. And that they are beyond amazing, just as they are.
Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, and Being Yourself by Matthews Gray Gubler (2019).
“For All the Rumples Everywhere.”
Let me start by saying, I was sobbing by the end of this story. Think, what every single one of us wants is to belong and feel loved and connected. And I believe that our differences are what actually bind us together. Rumple is really weird. One of his eyeballs is literally floating in mid-air the entire book. And his teeth are crooked and skin is green. But if we really think about it, we all have something about ourselves that we feel is weird. (I haven’t always had a gap in my front teeth but I’m starting to like it, I think.) I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read it yet, but there’s an imaginary friend made of old candy and spaghetti and at some point Rumple thinks it’s a great idea to wear a banana on his head to blend in. Its beautifully quirky illustrated pages coupled with its inspiring and important message make this the perfect gift for anyone at all including yourself.
Bunnie Hilliard lives in Decatur, Georgia with her Hubby, Two kids Andie and Avery, and dog Brodie. She’s a stay at home mom (with a few side hustles) turned newest shop girl on the block (7 months and counting). When she grows up she wants to be brave and kind.
This picture book is a celebration of generosity and community with striking, vibrant collage artwork. (And it just received a Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award for those engaging illustrations.)
According to Oge Mora in the afterword, “omu” means “queen” in Nigerian, and it’s what she called her grandma. She remembers: “When my grandmother cooked, she danced and swayed her hips to the radio as she stirred what was often a large pot of stew.”
Omu in this story is cooking too: a thick red stew for dinner.
The stew smells so good that it attracts visitors. Visitors from all over the neighborhood. Visitors who Omu shares her stew with. First, a little neighbor boy, then a police officer, then a hot dog vendor, and so on.
“KNOCK, KNOCK!” Each one is drawn to Omu’s door by the delicious smell.
“THANK YOU, OMU.” Each one says thank you after eating.
We as readers know that the stew cannot last forever, and it doesn’t. Omu has nothing left for herself. Instead of being a story in which the stew is magic and grows to meet the need, it indeed runs out. We are left feeling badly that Omu has doled out all her dinner.
But not to worry. Each visitor from earlier in the day returns, the whole lot of them, with gifts of food and company. Omu’s giving has not gone unreciprocated. In fact, they all have something to give her in return.
This beautiful tribute to Omu’s heart (and her cooking) ends with more giving. Giving back.
Big thanks to Little, Brown Young Readers for images!
I immediately wanted to do a collage paper craft when I read this book, and so in the spirit of the book and just in time for Valentine’s Day, I thought a thank you card would be perfect. Yours can say whatever you like, of course, but “thank you” or “I love you” seem fitting.
What you’ll need:
Paper of all kinds
Glue stick (or Modge Podge)
Start with a piece of construction paper or cardstock and fold it in half. The front will be the front of the card.
I began with the letters, choosing colors that matched the book cover, drawing them with pencil and then cutting them out. After that, from an assortment of papers, I chose the ones I liked or that corresponded to the book and started drawing shapes, cutting them, arranging them, and gluing them down. Hearts seemed in order for this craft, as did a skyline, a bowl of stew, and a home. Make whatever seems right to you!
Finally, write a note inside and share your card with someone you love, someone who’s been generous to you and who you’d like to give back to.