Tag 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.
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!
Taro Gomi is a Japanese picture book creator whose works have spread across the world and into many languages. He has hundreds of books under his belt.
They’re distinguished by his one-of-a-kind visual and verbal style that makes for colorful, playful books.
More like games sometimes than books, Gomi invites us to engage with patterns and things out of place, questions and mind tricks. Gomi’s books are simple and smart and so much fun!!
Some of my favorites?
My Friends/Mis Amigos (1989;2006).
A girl learns things from what’s around her: animals, books, teachers, and friends. It has a bit of an I Can Fly quality and a super sweet ending.
Spring is Here (1989;1999).
This one features all the seasons with that calf as star and has a wonderful zooming in and out quality.
Everyone Poops (1977;1993).
While everyone poops, not everybody loves this book. But I do.
Here’s Gomi’s insight into its origin:
“…I got [to the zoo] before it opened, so most of the cages weren’t cleaned yet. There was a lot of poop around. It was a cold winter morning, and steam was coming out from each pile as the morning sunshine streamed down on it. It was such a vivid scene. I was so impressed that on my way back home, I made up my mind to draw a book about poop. However, when I brought a draft of Minna Unchi to the publisher, the editors had an argument about whether or not to publish it. But there was one woman who loved the book and convinced the others to do it. When the book was published, I received an incredible response from children who said, “I look at poop, too.” I think they were so surprised and happy that some strange man drew a book about poop–something their parents had scolded them not to talk about. But they had also seen this weird thing coming from their bodies. Or, if there was a baby at home, they’d seen poop in its diapers. It was a funny, curious, and interesting thing for them. One boy who loved the book sent me cards entitled “Today’s Poop” almost every day for six months. There were many kids like that.”
Santa Through the Window (1995).
I love this one because of the non-traditional Christmas colors—hot pink instead of red. And for the way Gomi plays with the idea of Santa making mistakes. Gomi is always questioning the status quo and making us think, as he does with the guessing game aspect of this book.
Who Ate It? (1991).
This is a book but also a game. You are asked who ate the cherries and then shown a picture of elephants. But if you look closely, one of them has a cherry-stemmed tail. It’s delightful! (And it shows Gomi’s ability to challenge and amuse perfectly.)
I Lost My Dad (2001;2005).
A lift the flap book that follows a boy looking for his father in a shopping center and all the red herrings he sees instead.
Play All Day (2010).
Gomi has many doodle, scribble, and activity books. This one has the extra special element of characters and worlds you can punch out and create your own stories with.
You might be interested in my last Their Picture Book Life installment too: Ruth Krauss!
Or my 15 fabulously interactive books for kids featuring one of Taro Gomi’s!
Ruth Krauss (1901 – 1993). She was a woman who understood children. You can tell from her books. She knew how to truly be imaginative in her writing, to be limitless, to be playful.
But her words. Her stories. Come see!
Open House for Butterflies (1960), pictures by Maurice Sendak.
Krauss’s work is often defined by being non-linear and non-story like and this is a great example. It’s a text that flows Edward Lear-like and is totally free from convention. And yet there is substance along with charm. It acts, I think, the way a child acts, going from this to that without apology, making observations, sometimes sweet and sometimes silly. Oh and it’s subversive too, showing us how children know more than we think.
A Hole is to Dig (1952), pictures by Maurice Sendak.
Another collaboration with Sendak and my very favorite book of Krauss’s (and one of my favorites ever), it’s like the prequel to Open House. It’s a magical perspective on the world.
Ursula Nordstrom wrote in 1964:
“Yes, I think A Hole Is to Dig was something new. It came from Ruth Krauss’ listening to children, getting ideas from them, polishing some of the thoughts, exploring additional “definitions” of her own. It really grew of out children and what is important to them. (A brother is to help you.) Some of the definitions seem quite serious to children but those aren’t the ones the adults smile over and consider “cute.” For instance, “Buttons are to keep people warm.” Adults think oh isn’t that darling, but it makes perfectly good sense to children. “A tablespoon is to eat a table with” seems a pretty dumb joke to adults, but it knows most children out, they think it is so witty. A Hole Is to Dig was the first of all the Something Is Something books, and has been mushily imitated ever since it was published…”
“Dogs are to kiss people.”
“Hands are to hold.”
“A Hole is to dig.”
“Toes are to dance on.”
“Eyebrows are to go over your eyes.”
“A hole is to look through.”
The Backward Day (1950), pictures by Marc Simont.
A boy decides it’s backward day and dresses accordingly, underwear on the outside of his pants. He walks backwards, he says “Goodnight” instead of “Goodmorning.” One thing I love is how his parents play along with it and engage the idea instead of mandating something different, something normal. Krauss is nudging us to accept kids’ invitations to playfulness.
The Happy Day (1949), pictures by Marc Simont.
This is a book about the mice and snails and bears all waking up from winter. They sniff and smell and run and then, on the last page, they all get a wonderful surprise. That’s it! And it’s that good.
I’ll Be You and You Be Me (1954), pictures by Maurice Sendak.
This is a compilation of poems and bits of text, all of which have to do with friendship. A girl who loves a stuffed elephants. Siblings. A tree and bugs. All kinds of camaraderie.
The Carrot Seed (1945), pictures by Crocket Johnson.
This is a classic for a reason. It was ahead of its time and still so timely. A perfect book for anyone who needs to persist, especially despite naysayers. It also shows Krauss’s honesty about the world yet demonstrates a belief in possibility.
To Ruth Krauss and her imagination! Do you have favorite of hers, one that’s listed here or not?
You may also enjoy my post on Mary Blair’s picture book life!