Tag Archives: sergio ruzzier

picture books in which the visual is vital

Picture books are books with pictures, of course, which is what makes them so special. And sometimes those pictures take on something extra special in a story.

Sometimes the words wouldn’t make sense without the illustrations. Sometimes illustrations enrich the story or add another thread to follow. They can give us clues. They can contradict the text so readers have an inside track on what’s really going on. And they can reveal something essential that would be invisible in the text alone.

Here are some examples in which the visual is vital to the storytelling.

Come see!




Lizard From The Park by Mark Pett is a wonderful example. See that boy with glasses in the bottom left on the subway? He’s a parallel to Leonard—he too has his own lizard. In the end, the two boys meet. But if you’ve been following the illustrations closely, you’ll be waiting for it.





Super Jumbo by Fred Koehler. This book hinges on the difference between text and images. Is Jumbo really as super as described?






A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, illustrated by Corey R. Tabor. You and the characters are in a dark, dark cave. Until an illustration reveals where you all really are—in your imagination. It’s a wonderful and surprising technique.




Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 4.16.52 PMThe Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers. This one offers visual clues to the mystery of where the trees are disappearing to. Like that bear over there!




Mummy Cat #11[1]

Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown. A mummified cat wakes up and reads a dark, devious history on the walls in this story in a story.





I Can See Just Fine by Eric Barclay. Another example of illustrations telling a contrasted tale from the text. Paige claims she can see just fine. But can she?





Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts. There is an adorable girl you might not notice the first time around, but she has the most important supporting role. She makes the whole thing sing (“Happy Birthday”).




The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski is about visual stories. So that fox may never get a mention, but he is integral nonetheless.





Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? by Eve Bunting and Sergio Ruzzier asks a question and it answers it. And you might too if you are very very observant.




1437632260025Night Animals by Giana Marino. Just follow the possum. It will tell you everything you need to know just by its eyes.





Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. A gem of an example in which we (and the dog!) know more than the characters. (Thanks to Heather for bringing this one up in a previous post comment!)





Be a Friend by Salina Yoon. The girl on the swing is someone to keep an eye on. I love how she subtly mirrors Dennis in earlier illustrations before she mirrors him for real.





It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee. The visuals are fun throughout here, but it’s the ending that they truly earn. You’ll see. It’s out of this world.


no-such-thing-bookNo-Such-Thing-5No Such Thing by Ella Bailey shows the reader stuff the main character can’t see. And I love that!





The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud. Keep your eye on the teacher. She just might show up as an integral part of this wild adventure.




a-hungry-lion-or-a-dwindling-assortment-of-9781481448895.in03A Hungry Lion by Lucy Ruth Cummins. This book is full of surprises, but there’s a visual clue as to the ending. Let’s just say, it’s hiding in plain sight.


Shout outs to other picture books with indispensable illustrations : Blown Away (the stowaway), Stick and Stone (origin stories on the endpapers), Nothing Ever Happens on My Block (oh but it does!), and There’s No Such Thing as Ghosts.


the-day-i-lost-my-superpowers-and-brief-thiefAnd also to the two I mentioned in a post last year on the power of visuals to tell the story.







Okay, what examples would you like to add to this list?



the room of wonders / creative process

1493573The Room of Wonders by Sergio Ruzzier

Pius Pelosi. That’s him on the cover. He’s a collector. Being a collector is his gift. He collects things that inspire him, even if they’re otherwise ordinary things. In fact, his collection is his life’s work. A work of art.

Pius has a room of wonders. 

“Pius’s entire collection was exhibited here. There was a baby’s shoe, a dried leaf that looked like a dog, a toy soldier who had lost his gun, a glass eye, a button, and thousands of other treasures.”


But the object most special to Pius is the one visitors find to be the most simple, the most boring. It’s a gray pebble. Eventually, Pius listens to what the others say about it. He throws his prized pebble in the river.


Pius feels lost. He empties his room of wonders. Nothing makes sense without that pebble.

Sergio Ruzzier is an artist. He was a Sendak fellow too. When he was a child, he’d pick up pebbles and rocks to keep in his pocket. His early creative influences are apparent in his work. As a kid, he read comics by Charles Schulz, E.C. Segar, George Herriman, and others.

“I knew I would have liked to be like them. At the same time, I was starting to appreciate medieval and early renaissance art, which I would see in museums and old churches. The two things combined made me dream that I could one day create my own pictorial universe. Once I found the materials that were right for me, pen and ink and watercolors, I began to build it.”

—Sergio Ruzzier

This book feels so much to me like  creative process. You start with this core thing that inspires you. You build up a collection or somehow expand it. Maybe people tell you stuff that doesn’t resonate with you, but you listen. Or you get lost all on your own, which is pretty easy too. Through comparison, through doubt, discouragement. Or maybe you just get plain old stuck. You let go of your pebble. You feel directionless and empty. You must find your pebble again! That thing that got you started in the first place.


images: Sergio Ruzzier

Sergio Ruzzier no longer has pebbles in his pockets, but he does have strategies for when a project isn’t flowing:

“Sometimes, if I’m really stuck, one thing I do is take walks, to try and clear my mind up. That can help. I also like to use tools that are beautiful, at least to me. My old glass pens and inkwell stand are very comforting, for instance.”

A lot of life  takes creativity, and not just the creative fields. Parenting,  jobs, teaching, solving problems, etc. We can lose our way with any endeavor. It’s helpful to have a so-called pebble of our own to remind us why we got on the path in the first place. To put us back on it.

773858I, too, take walks when stuck. There are a couple of picture books that I definitely think of as pebbles. And, then there’s one of my favorite creative memoirs: Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. Me and a million other people are big fans of his. (But to prove my devotion, I’ve gone to see him play banjo, and he’s amazing.)

“I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success.”

—Steve Martin









Thinking of this book helps me stay on my own creative path. It details his journey, which was made up of development, practice, and honing his craft. He started his career at 15 at Disneyland and went on to Knott’s Berry Farm and then lots of unpaid gigs at lots of clubs. Surely, he must’ve had a pebble in order to persevere. It’s pure speculation of course, but perhaps it was his arrow through the head he became famous for. Or his banjo, which he used in his act and still plays today. Or maybe it was something we could never guess. Maybe even a tiny gray pebble in his pocket.


14950031The Room of Wonders is sadly out of print. So if you can’t get your hands on it, I recommend Amandina also by Sergio Ruzzier. It’s captivating. Plus, he’s got a brand new book out too: Bear and Bee!! I agree with the reviews!

Okay, guys, what’s YOUR pebble? A book, an object, a memory, a ritual, a piece of music you revisit? Do share!

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