"Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like [PictureBooksReview] are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers."
-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books
"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!
The story is based on the legend of Saint Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio, originally written in the Fioretti di San Francesco in 1390. In that tale, good ol' Saint Francis fearlessly approaches the cave of a fierce and bloodthirsty wolf which had been terrorizing a small mountain town in the far northeastern part of the Italian province of Perugia.
"I've always wondered what the story would be like from the wolf's point of view," Mark writes, and in so wondering, he fills in the whole of wolf culture, a culture in which oral storytelling is just as important as learning to hunt.
"It is better to be hungry with neighbors than it is to be well-fed alone," is one of the lessons passed down from elder wolf, but the central story? Simply thus:
"Humans don't just kill to survive. Sometimes they kill out of rage. And they don't just eat to survive; sometimes they eat when their belly is already full. They are violent and greedy. They aren't like any of the other beasts in the forest; they want to own it all.That is why we hide deep in the shadows and high in the mountains. We wait and watch. We live in fear."
The central wolf character was born all red, and is referred to as "Blood Wolf" throughout. The only explanation given is that she was born under the red glow of the Hunter's Moon. Narratively, it makes for a nice distinguishing characteristic and a kick-ass moniker, but it really affords Joel some awesome graphic opportunities. The stark contrast between the red wolf and the black eponymous gate works so well, it makes me wonder if Joel came up with it first, and Mark only then incorporated it into the story. Everything feels big and mythic and full of purpose.
In the story, Saint Francis is referred to as "The Beggar King." He is wise and saintly, and now that Blood Wolf has forsaken the teachings of her parents and terrorizes the small village, it is he who must make peace... not through any supernatural means - he has no mystical powers - but only wisdom. But even he falters when considering Blood Wolf's many questions about the inequity and injustice that she witnesses.
This is a fable with no easy answers. We are confronted with the greed and selfishness which seems inherent in all living creatures, yet must believe that they can be overcome. The story follows the life of Blood Wolf as she helps the denizens of Stonebriar in more ways than one, and even charts the years following her death and memorialization. She "tried to rule through fear, but learned to serve with love."
Three things to keep in mind:
1. I have just taken down my 'Review Policy' page. I am no longer accepting copies of books for review. This may change in the future.
2. I now have an index of titles I've reviewed, though I'm still working on prettying it up. Check it out!
3. Here's a beautiful picture by one of my favorite illustrators, Peter Sis:
You dedicated the book to your mother and grandmother. Did your grandmother live on a farm similar to the one in the story?
Τell me how the Greek financial crisis has affected you.
|My grandmother Athanasia and my grandfather Gabriel outside their mountain home.|
How has it impacted you as a picture book author?
|The view from my grandmother's house to the village of Santameri,|
|"Can you feel the branches whisper with the wind?"|
Illustrated by Luis F. Sanz
Hey, this is a really intriguing book, I read it twice through just to make sure I got everything. There's a lot going on with the design and the typography, filled with the mundane and the fantastic. A disheveled David Letterman makes an appearance, in the way our dreamscape tries to make sense of the day's events.
Lots of really fun vocabulary... A dreary dream of drooling druids... And the rhyme scheme knows no bounds:
A plane, a train, thunder and rain, police in the lane... Urp! Last night's lo mein.
He counts in his brain, the strain, the pain! (He's bursting a vein)
He's going insane.
On it goes until both Juan and the creature beneath his bed manage to find some shut-eye.
I was sent this book and asked to participate in Multicultural Children's Book Day. What, you may ask, is Multicultural Children's Book Day?
Illustrated by Charlotte Roberts
Xalien the Alien has crash-landed on Earth - in the rose bushes of three children, to be precise. They discover the fun alien, but cannot let on to their parents, because parents spoil everything! Better to dress Xalien like their hip, new friend and take her to the carnival, no?
Things don't always exactly add up, from one world to the next:
There was no such thing as a merry-go-round on Xalien's planet. Aliens raced slug-like creatures for fun. It was strange that humans chose to ride on plastic creatures, but Xalien had fun riding anyway.
It's a bit of a retelling of E.T. but for much younger readers. The children try their hardest to keep Xalien out of trouble and entertained, while the little alien herself is attempting to phone home for an intergalactic pick-up.
I'm sure the story will get a lot of laughs, and the illustrations are colorful and lively and filled with expression. This is the first of a series of picture books featuring the alien and her adventures. Michelle says that she 'draws her inspiration from nature and the environment, working these themes into her stories to encourage children to have an interest in and appreciation of our planet, in a fun, unique way.'
Illustrated by Angel Alvarez
Global Publishing Group
The monkeys are fresh out of coconuts, so how shall their baseball game continue? Further coconut replenishments can only be attained by riding on the backs of the crocodiles across the river... but why should the crocodiles do the monkeys a favor? It's not as though they're ever invited to play baseball with them!
A story of sharing and teamwork is really strengthened by the wonderful illustrations... each monkey and crocodile are drawn with such precise facial expressions and body language that they practically tell the story on their own. Very animated, and very engaging.
In the end, the coconuts are successfully procured and - as the title foretells - both the monkeys and the crocodiles are able to play together... but I liked the final twist on the last page which you'll have to get the book to see!
A Jump Splash Book
I thought it was interesting that I received two books almost back-to-back which both concerned trees. You will recall, last week I reviewed Chloe Bonfield's beautiful and whimsical, The Perfect Tree. This week, the book is The Tree Watcher, by Ohio teacher and artist Christopher P. Stanley.
He takes an approach which is at once both more realistic and more magical. The images for the story carry this duality... glanced at briefly, they seem quite photo-realistic... some of them almost look like actual photos. He captures the essence and details of different types of trees quite well. However, looking at them more closely, I see the slight unreality to them, the way the leaves swirl like wet paint.
The clouds and the grass have the same effect, like heat waves rising from the pavement, a desert mirage.
Illustrated by Joanna Scott
Young Amelie is very impressed! She announces this right up front, in case there was any doubt, but to discover by what exactly she is impressed, one must read on.
Amelie spends her days in the village farm with her yiayia - Greek for 'grandma' - and with all of the plants and birds and animals therein.
She is a bit trepidatious at first, but yiayia is there to comfort her and to show her the wonders of life in this small, Greek village.
The flowers, the hedgehogs, the birds feeding their young, they all contain wonder.
Finally, after a long and full day of gardening and eating delicious foods - like pink crusted biscuit cake - Amelie takes some of the treasures she has collected and forms a keepsake box so that she can keep the wonderful - and impressive! - memories.
The blue light and the hues of the rainbow
Running Press Kids
I found this to be a very beautiful, sweet story about a young boy's quest to find the perfect tree - though a bit sinister, a bit macabre, in the atmospheric-sense, which of course I liked. Chloe Bonfield enjoys silhouettes, and she employs them to great effect. The quest seemed epic indeed, and with each tree I felt I was being led to a different planet, a completely different environment.
The text makes it quite clear that Jack is not interested in hugging any trees. He has one mission and one mission only: to chop.
A perfect tree to hack! A perfect tree to stack.
But as he goes from to the next, he comes to realize that there are a great many other uses for trees. Trees can be used as shelters, as homes, as storehouses for the winter, as each forest creature he comes across explains and demonstrates until finally he declares:
"Every tree in the forest is perfect!"
The illustrations really transport the take elsewhere. Chloe is an illustrator and animator living in London, and this is her first picture book, published by Running Press right here in Philadelphia. Knowing now that she's an animator makes sense... I can easily imagine that silhouette scaling that textured and multi-layered mountain
Illustrated by Chiara Civati
The weather outside is frightful, and Mimi has the day off from school. Initially, she is excited to rush outside and make snow angels, have snowball fights... However, her mom still has to go to work of course, and so Mimi and her little brother, Danny are off to her grandmother's house - or, Nonni, as they call her.
I like those small details that fill in the minimalist world of the picture book. Too often, parents in picture books don't seem to actually work for a living, they're just always there when the story needs them to be, absent when they're not narrative needed. But with just a couple of sentences, part of the background of Mimi's life is sketched in with some realism.
A quick jaunt through the snowy city, and they've arrived at Nonni's. Now that we've seen a bit of the outside world, people walking with hats and mittens and earmuffs while large flakes fall all around, the interior of Nonni's home seems all the more warm and inviting, exactly the place you'd want to spend your snow day.The activity for the day? Yup, baking gingerbread men.
While Nonni preheated the oven to 325 degrees, Mimi measures 3/4 cup of brown sugar, packed it down tight, and poured it into the mixing bowl. Next, she measured 3/4 cup of soft butter, added it to the sugar, and blended them together until creamy.
|The author, at work|
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education
"Little Mimmy's excitement mounts as she helps mother prepare for the Sabbath and then daddy walks in the door."
I did find some images from various bookseller sites, but unfortunately, they shed little light on Little Mimmy's Daddy:
I can see Sendak has yet to fully come into his own. He was still just 21, hadn't yet developed the look and the style for which he will later be known. Nonetheless, something tells me he was having a lot of fun!