Category Archives: their picture book life
In this”their picture book life” installment, I bring you the wonderful picture books of Duncan Tonatiuh, award-winning author/illustrator. In my mind, his books expand the boundaries of the form by using new, unexpected story techniques, something I absolutely love and admire. His books ask questions directly of readers and bring the past right into the present and into kids’ lives. They experiment and enlighten. And they always do so in Tonatiuh’s distinctive illustrative style, which is inspired by “Pre-Columbian art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex.”
He’s lived in both Mexico and the U.S. so many of his books explore Mexico’s history and influential figures, as well as Mexican culture in the states.
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras (2015). Perfect for learning about Day of the Dead, this book explores the life and art of Posada and how he developed his skeleton or skull calaveras drawings. It also expands boundaries of the picture book form with sections that outline specific artistic processes and funny calaveras poems interspersed within the story. Its many layers are supremely effective.
“I try to make books about things that I’m passionate about
–social justice, history, art…”
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (2014). I’ve blogged about this title a couple of times before (here and here) because I think it’s so terrific and important, particularly because I live in California. It tells how the Mendez family fought for equal, integrated education in a case that preceded Brown vs. Board of Education by ten years.
“I think kids are extremely intelligent.
But I think that sometimes we don’t give them the credit they deserve.”
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (2013). This allegorical story follows a young rabbit who desperately misses his father and sets out to follow and find him by undertaking a treacherous journey. The author’s note in the back matter sheds light on the true experiences of undocumented immigrants who cross the border in search of a better life.
“As I spent more time away from Mexico,
I began to miss things that were around me when I was a kid.
I also became interested in issues that affect people of Mexican descent
on both sides of the border.”
(From The Horn Book.)
The Princess and the Warrior (2016). The combination of text and art really shine in this riveting story and I dare you not to tear up at the end.
Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin (2010). Tonatiuh’s first children’s book in which two cousins, one in the US and one in Mexico, exchange letters and learn about one another’s lives.
“I think it’s very important for children to see books where they see themselves.
When they see a book where they see their culture represented
and different things that they can identify with, I think they are much more motivated to read, to write and,
just in general,
to realize that their voices, their stories are important.”
Diego Rivera: His World and Ours (2011). A biography of Diego Rivera followed by a fascinating exploration of how he might portray our world today and encouragement to readers to make their own murals, inspired by Rivera’s legacy. This is something Tonatiuh does brilliantly with non-fiction: invites the reader directly into the story to participate and imagine how it might affect their own lives.
DANZA! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México (2017). I adore the illustrations of all kinds of dance and performances in this one! Ami, dancer and choreographer, is known for creating “ballets based on the folkloric danzas from the different regions of Mexico.” Her company still performs in Mexico City as they’ve been doing for fifty years.
I hope you’ll check out Duncan Tonatiuh’s books!
You might also be interested in my last Their Picture Book Life on Kyo Maclear.
I’m so happy to share the picture book life of Kyo Maclear today since she’s one of my very favorite writers. Her one-of-a-kind work has a simultaneously intellectual and daydreamy quality. In my view, she embraces the unexpected—whether that be taking inspiration from historical figures to taking risks—in the best way and never underestimates young readers. In a word, she’s brilliant.
“‘My picture books start with text and image. I weave an ‘art script’ into my text manuscripts because my stories are visually driven, but these art notes are always open for interpretation by the illustrator,’ Maclear explains. ‘The word-image dynamic is so enmeshed in my books and often so amplified by the metaphoric intuition and intelligence of the illustrator, I find it hard to separate one aspect (or intelligence) from the other. By the end, the collaboration is pretty seamless.'” (From the CBC)
From Kids Can Press:
“Kyo now resides in Toronto, where she shares a home with two children, a cat, a musician and a lot of books. In addition to writing, she likes to listen to music, watch old movies, do yoga, make art and play around in her bright, open kitchen… As well as writing for children, Kyo is a novelist and a visual-arts writer.”
“‘When I visit schools, I meet a lot of kids who are first-generation immigrants and I see myself in them,’ Maclear says. ‘Many of these students have super-strong linguistic skills (often serving as interpreters for their families, as I did for my mother). Yet, if asked, many of these verbally dexterous, multilingual kids would not imagine themselves as future writers.
‘I think it would be a great public service to explore how children’s linguistic hesitance (both in reading and writing) is tied to experiences of migration, social marginalization, and a dearth of role models. There are children with amazing verbal/narrative imaginations who are simply not finding their way to the language-based arts. And I believe that’s a loss for our literary cultures.'” (From the CBC.)
“Her first children’s book, Spork, a delightful tale of a mixed-identity kitchen utensil, was inspired by the birth of her first child, and Maclear’s own dual British-Japanese heritage.” (Link to feature/quote here.)
This one is inspired by the relationship between Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell, and a different spin on Bloomsbury. It’s for anyone feeling upside down and not themselves.
Two friends (one of whom is named after Julia Child) whip up a feast filled with sweetness, wonder, and imagination to remind busy, worried adults of what they’re missing. A couple of years ago, Lyndsay from Coco Cake Land made the chocolate almond cupcakes from the book for this blog! Check it out!
A book about journeying, wishing, and kindness. And I made a craft for this one at the start of this year—a picture book wish tree for classrooms or families. Come see!
A lyrical picture book full of the most wonderful language and the truest of feelings.
A family of list makers, fabulous lists, fantastic references, and one unexpected guest. I love this book.
This super clever book includes a bird who watches humans a la birdwatching and who notices a change in the land where it lives. A story of coming together over a common observance and care for the world. The wordless spread is especially arresting.
A delightful story in three parts following Yak and Dove’s friendship, the ups and downs of opposites with a special bond. Altogether charming.
You can find all Kyo Maclear’s picture books on her website.
A special shout out to all the talented illustrators she collaborates with as well!
You can see all my “Their Picture Book Life”posts here.
And here’s the one I did on the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
“I am flattered when people ask me how I know so much about how children think and feel. Although I have never had children of my own, and cannot say I had a particularly marvelous childhood, perhaps I can say I am still like a child myself. Part of me, I guess, never grew up.”
—Gyo Fujikawa, found here
Gyo Fujikawa created over forty children’s books (wrote 46 and illustrated 9) and they have sold well over a million copies. She was born in 1909 in Berkeley, California. Fujikawa attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and also taught there. During World War II, she was able to avoid being forced into an internment camp because she was living on the east coast. Her family in the west was sent to camps.
She worked for Disney. She designed six postage stamps. Her initial foray into children’s books was illustrating A Child’s Garden of Verses in 1957. She was a pioneer in terms of being paid royalties rather than a flat fee for her artwork. She died in 1998 at the age of 90.
And, notably, she was one of the first children’s book creators to illustrate children of a variety of races in her work:
“She is often credited as the first children’s author to depict a multiethnic cast of characters.”
(From her LA Times obituary.)
You can see her influence in many picture book illustrations today.
Utterly appealing to children, Fujikawa’s books feature playfulness, friendship, lots of adorable animals, and the joys of daily life.
You can see a whole list of her timeless books over on goodreads.
I’m giving away one copy of Gyo Fujikawa’s Little Library, a delightful set of four mini board books: Hug Time, Animal Time, Play Time, and Friend Time. They’re ever so sweet.
Simply leave a comment below to be entered to win!
(Ends March 20 at midnight PST.)
You might also be interested in Mary Blair’s picture book life!
Allen Say. Where do I begin? Grandfather’s Journey was the book that introduced me to Say’s work. It hit a nerve because it’s about home and the absence of home. All Say’s books are rooted in a certain time and place. In specificity. They are beautiful, realistic watercolor paintings accompanying unadorned text. They are straightforward and they always seem true. They have compassion for their characters. They reflect on the past in a way that is satisfyingly bittersweet.
Say deals with culture in such a fluid, loving way. Culture and place are things we can leave and return to, things that will always be with us no matter where we travel or how we change. We can return to a culture or adopt parts of a new one. We can have two cultures simultaneously, always with our hearts leading the way.
Nature. Generations. Japan. California. Immigration. Family. Duality. Kindness. Moments of beauty and connection.
This is a book I fell hard for, long before I was immersed in picture books as I am now. It was a gateway for sure! Three generations. Two places. Journeys back and forth. About the book, here, Say remarks: “it is essentially a dream book, for the life’s journey is an endless dreaming of the places we have left behind and the places we have yet to reach.” Also, the way Say portrays light in these pages is incredible.
“Painting is a kind of writing, and writing is a kind painting—
they are both about seeing.”
A story of a dream of visiting a Japanese Internment Camp. A bad dream that ends with hope.
“Most people seem to be interested in turning their dreams into reality. Then there are those who turn reality into dreams. I belong to the latter group.”
A story of adoption in which a girl who questions why she isn’t with her “real” family eventually adopts a new family member of her own—a stray cat. It’s heartbreaking and poignant.
Another favorite. This one encompasses so much, as chronicling one specific life does. Alice loved music and dancing, but so many things got in the way. World War II and being an enemy in her own country, building a farm and a life with her husband, colorful fields of gladiolas in the desert. And then, after a life lived, a husband passed away, Alice can finally dance.
A celebration of Japan’s tradition of “paper theater,” an old form of storytelling that requires presence and attention (and, fittingly, one might say is a relative of picture books).
Erika is an American who sees a print of a tea house in Japan and it guides her through life. She travels there to teach after college and meets a Japanese man who drinks coffee like an American, not tea. This is part of Say’s brilliance—the way he deals with traditions. You can find new ones and discover old ones whether they “belong” to you or not.
Masako is also called May. She moves to Japan and finds herself a foreigner. In San Francisco: “At home she had rice and miso soup and plain green tea for breakfast. At her friends’ houses she ate pancakes and muffins and drank tea with milk and sugar.” In Japan: “They called her gaijin [foreigner] and laughed at her.” But then, she finds a way for herself.
This is a story of a father and daughter, a daughter who doesn’t feel quite at home with her name, Yuriko. But, in line with the themes Say returns to again and again, she comes home to her name, to herself, to her identity—as Japanese-American, as an artist, as herself.
This is Say’s illustrated biography and it also gives the backstory of where some of his stories came from. He was a boy who loved comic books and had to prove himself to his father who didn’t believe in him. He was so independent that he had his own apartment at the age of 13. But he found a sensei, and that made all the difference. In a way, the whole book is a tribute to his teacher and he even describes it in the afterword like they wrote it together. Like his stories and fiction, Say’s memoir brings tears too.
“I wasn’t a good student. It was depressing to count the years before I could be a cartoonist.”
A sequel to Drawing From Memory, this memoir picks up when Say arrives in America at the age of fifteen in 1953 and, once again, is very much on his own but in a new land, California.
“A panic came over me. But the singing crickets calmed me a little—they sounded just like Japanese crickets.”
Remarkably, he manages well in a place where he doesn’t know the culture or language well and, to some, is still seen as an enemy. There are kindnesses of a few strangers in addition to his own determination despite a father who is not just unsupportive but cruel. His own drive and talent carve his way. The most amazing part is the end, where you find out Say’s mother had been born in San Francisco and that’s where Say heads after his high school graduation. There’s that connection with his mother from the first book coming back around and that duality from all his stories. His mother had told him, “Let your dear chid journey,” a Japanese saying. He journeyed. All the way to her other home.
Because I love sharing books, especially by creators I admire, I’m giving away a copy of THE INKER’S SHADOW! Simply leave a comment on this post about Allen Say’s work to enter!
(Open to U.S. only; ends Sunday, March 20 at midnight.)
Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a prolific picture book writer. By reading her books, you know she is someone who loves language. You also know she is someone who likes to PLAY with language. She explores words and phrases in the most inventive ways. But those words and phrases are doing something else too. They are making us smile the kinds of smiles that recognize something true.
There’s a little bit of Ruth Krauss‘s understanding of a child’s mind in Krouse Rosenthal’s voice. There’s silliness. There’s smart. There’s hope.
She’s collaborated with Tom Lichtenheld, with Jen Corace, with Scott Magoon. She has done projects like The Beckoning of Lovely. She’s been a guest DJ on my favorite local radio show. She is full of creativity combined with joy.
Come see some of her books!
Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld. In which unseen characters have an argument about what animal they’re looking at. It’s a wonderful way to play with the idea of different and many and varied visual interpretations of the same thing.
this plus that, illustrated by Jen Corace. This one looks at life as a series of non-literal math problems. It teaches as it plays and explores. Some examples of its wisdom: “good days + bad days = real life.” “Practice + practice + practice = mastering.”
Spoon and Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Scott Magoon. The first, a book about longing to be something other than what you are and discovering that being you is pretty cool. The second, a book about finding your independence in order to be an even better companion. And don’t worry, they’re both hilarious too!
Little Pea, Little Oink, and Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace. Each of these is a little animal with a problem every kid can relate to—in reverse. Little pea must finish his sweets! Little Oink must mess up his room! And Little Hoot’s greatest wish is to go to bed early. A way to play with the stuff littles have to do.
I Scream, Ice Cream by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Serge Bloch; The OK Book and Wumbers by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. The first explores “wordles” that sound the same but mean different things. The second takes the idea of OK and makes a character out of it. The third? A gr8 book of word-number brain teasers for the math and language arts crowds.
Exclamation Mark, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. You don’t have to love punctuation to get a kick out of this smart, funny book. The real story is in finding joy in who you are.
Awake Beautiful Child, illustrated by Gracia Lam. This gorgeous book, just out from McSweeney’s, is a child’s day told through A-B-C phrases only Amy Krouse Rosenthal could write and illustrated with Lam’s retro/pastel/inviting artwork. Artful Book Creation!
I have to admit: this is my new favorite AKR book! There’s a sheen to the pages that perfectly complements the magic of the text. First, a boy, then a girl, scenes of home and life all told in three word phrases: “Afraid But Courageous.” “Always Be Curious.”
You just have to see and read it to know how truly special it is. And as a bonus, kid readers are encouraged to hunt for all the things portrayed in the book that start with A, B, or C. Apples on the table! Cactus in the bedroom! Blocks on the floor!
And like all McSweeney’s kids’ books, the jacket folds out to a large-sized poster.
I’m giving away one copy of Awake Beautiful Child to celebrate AKR’s picture book life!