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Showing posts with label Scholastic Press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scholastic Press. Show all posts

11.20.2013

Turkey's Gift to the People (1992)

Retold and Illustrated by Ani Rucki

Berol Primacolor pencils

Scholastic Press

We're coming up on Thanksgiving, and this is a good one to read if you think Turkeys might be good for something other than eating. It's based on a Navajo story, though the form of it reminded me of the Lenape tale Rainbow Crow. In Rainbow Crow, the earth was about to be consumed by snowfall, but in this tale, a "wall of water" is headed towards the land, first spotted by the Crow, and all the animals must figure out how to escape.

I like the threat of impending doom, and it is great to see how the animals work together to escape. There is no single easy solution, they must all share ideas and use their abilities to ensure that they are all safe.

Mouse has the idea to hide in the giant reeds.

Beaver gnaws an opening in them.

Spider weaves a web so they can climb to the top of the reeds.

Wasp seals the opening back up again.

All of the animals are accounted for... excepting the Turkeys. Where are the Turkeys? Eagle goes gliding over the earth, seeing the oncoming tidal wave, but also the Turkeys, running for their lives.

"Hurry!" Eagle shouted. "You can make it!"

Later, safe and sound, the Turkeys explain, "You forgot the seeds."

Then he spread his feathers, letting the thousands of seeds that he and his wife had collected fall to the ground - the seeds the People would need to rebuild and survive after the flood waters receeded.

2.19.2013

Unspoken (2012)

Illustrated by Henry Cole

Canson charcoal paper with Staedtler Mars 4B pencils

Adobe Garamond Pro Regular

Scholastic Press

This is a startlingly beautiful work. I can't quote any of it, because, as promised by the title, all is unspoken. The narrative relies only on the artwork to carry it along. The temptation is to flip through it quickly, but there is too much texture on each page. There's hardly any white space, practically every square centimeter is filled, even the cloudless sky, let alone the plentiful wood, brick and earth.

It seemed to me this book was as much about the setting and the environment as it was with the story. The first several pages consist of the young girl's life on the farm. Watching soldiers marching by, feeding the chickens, hanging quilts. I got a real sense of the passage of time, and the entirety of this young girl's existence.

When the story comes into play, it is with subtlety and mystery.

Do you see the eye in the corn?

That eye is all that is ever seen. Unspoken, indeed. There are layers of invisibility, just as the young girl herself, is practically invisible to the soldiers and bounty hunters come to her parent's home.

"Because I made only the pictures," writes Cole, "I'm hoping you will write the words and make this story your own."


9.06.2011

Zen Ties (2008)

Written and Illustrated by Jon J. Muth

Watercolor and ink

Text set in 17-point Monotype Fournier
Scholastic Press

Three years have passed since Stillwater's last outing, both within the story and without. I'm a big fan of fictional characters who age naturally, and its a feat seldom attempted within children's picture books (Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny series notwithstanding). Stillwater is unchanged, so far as we can tell, but the three children - Addy, Michael and Karl - are no longer as young as they once were.

We also meet Koo - Stillwater's nephew - arriving by train as the story opens. So named such that a clever pun can be made exactly once, when he first arrives:

"Hi, Koo!"

I didn't get it the first time either, even after it quickly becomes apparent that Koo can only speak in the ancient form of poetry:

Uncle Stillwater!
summer! I have arrived!
seeing you brings smiles.

Koo is a panda as well, of course, much smaller than Stillwater and wearing a small, red bow tie, in contrast with Stillwater's red neck tie which he sports. Thus, "Zen Ties." Another pun.

In the afterward, Muth writes of the pun, "For me, it's also a gentle reminder that we are all connected and interdependent whether we recognize our neighbor's face or not. It is easy to believe we are each waves and forget we are also the ocean."

I see that sentiment being a breakdown of the Other, and I see destroying that concept as being one of the key intents of Muth's series. In the initial volume, Stillwater was himself the Other. Now that he has been fully integrated into the lives of the neighborhood children - as witnessed by a rousing session and beautiful two-page spread of Jump on Stillwater - the challenge is to integrate yet another Other. In this instance, the elderly Miss Whitaker.

"The Miss Whitaker who lives on our street?"

"That Miss Whitaker? She's really old and she spits when she talks! Every time we walk past her house, she shouts at us."

But Stillwater is  gently unmoved by their protestations. "She isn't feeling well and we must bring her something to eat. Miss Whitaker is a good friend. You will see."

I had thought perhaps that Miss Whitaker would represent another element of suburban Enlightenment, perhaps a former Buddhist teacher herself. But she is presented as an elderly woman living alone in a dirty, bare house, as crotchety as her reputation.

"Why on earth did you bring these children here?"

Stillwater is unfazed as always. "You look well today. We've brought you some nice soup."

I was disappointed that the character of Koo remains silent during the heart of the story, taking a narrative back seat as Mrs. Whitaker and the children each discover the ties which connect them. We last see him standing at the train station platform, hands folded and head bowed before his uncle. Stillwater tells him he can dispose of the paper cup which he has drank from for the entire duration of his visit.

"Nearing my visit's end," replies Koo with perfect pentameter, "summer now tastes of apple tea. I will keep my cup."


For more stories about Zen Buddhism, please click here!

8.27.2011

Zen Shorts (2005)

Written and Illustrated by Jon J. Muth

Watercolor and ink

Text set in 17-point Monotype Fournier

Scholastic Press

Ah, after having spent so much time with sundry plots to kill the Jews and traitors swinging from gallows and all that good stuff which comprises the story of Esther and Purim, how nice to instead take brief residence with a more Eastern ways of looking at things, with the Giant Panda Stillwater, as beautifully rendered by Jon J. Muth.

I was familiar with Muth from his work on the comic book series Moonshadow, and was pleased to see that he had made the transition to picture books. Zen Shorts is clearly a labor of intense love. Muth is not just telling us a story. He has something to say.

It was a happy coincidence that I found this one. Arlo and I had been at the Glenside Farmer's Market just a few weeks ago and listened to a telling of Zen Ties, the next book in this series. Everything about its simple narrative structure and the voice of Stillwater appealed to me, so I knew I had to find this initial volume.

In Zen Shorts, we are introduced to Stillwater, holding aloft a large, red umbrella in the backyard of three children: Addy, Michael and Karl.

"I'm sorry for arriving unannounced," he says. "The wind carried my umbrella all the way from my backyard to your backyard. I thought I would retrieve it before it became a nuisance." He speaks - the text tells us - with a slight panda accent.

It should also be mentioned that we're in the midst of what looks like classic white-picket American suburbia. All of the children are Caucasian. The fact that he is a large, anthropomorphic panda is not called into question.

It is these meetings which form the framing device for which the true meat of the story can be told, the so-called zen "shorts," stories within stories, told by Stillwater as teaching moments with the children.

In "Uncle Ry and the Moon," a robber (raccoon) breaks into an elder Panda's home. The Panda gives all he has to the bewildered robber, then later laments that he could not have given him also "the wonderful moon."

In "The Farmer's Luck," two rabbit farmers examine the meaning of luck, as good fortune brings bad fortune, which in turn brings forth good fortune compounded by more bad fortune.

"A Heavy Load," tells the story of two mice monks as they encounter a very haughty woman resting in a sedan chair, and how they deal with her insults.

"Zen Shorts are short meditations," Muth writes at the end. "Ideas to puzzle over - tools which home our ability to act with intuition. They have no goal, but they often challenge us to re-examine our habits, desires, concepts and fears."

Each story comes from Zen Buddhist and Taoist literature going back many centuries. Muth has repackaged them for a younger audience. I have to say though, for me, these stories are not the highlight of the book. I really enjoy the framing moments more, the watercolor images of the Giant Panda interacting with the children. I noticed he seems to grow and shrink picture to picture. When he first meets the children, he hardly seems imposing, yet when young Karl plays with Stillwater, he becomes large enough to allow the boy to jump and bounce and leap, being a silent listener to Karl's diatribe.

"Your uncle sounds nice," says Addy, after hearing the story of Uncle Ry and the Moon. "I don't think I could have given away my only robe."

"I know how that is," answers Stillwater. "But there's always the moon."

For more books on Zen Buddhism, click here!

5.04.2011

Young Zeus (2010)

Young Zeus by G. Brian Karas
By G. Brian Karas

15-Point Neutra Text Demi

Gouache and pencil on Canson Ingres paper

Scholastic Press

Do not judge a book by its cover, so they say. But I still do it - knowingly and often. The cover of this one looks eminently saccharine, does it not? The young, precocious child, holding aloft the lightning bolt, looking real proud of himself. I was pleasantly surprised. The text is rather thick with mythological nuance and detail.

"Throughout my research, I kept looking for the earliest accounts, and so largely drew from Hesiod's Theogony and The Library of Apollodorus," writes the author in a short introduction. He clearly did his homework, and it shows. This is no simple tale.

Young Zeus
"...Cronos had one weakness - the fear of being overthrown
by one of his own children. To make sure that could  never
happen, he ate up all his babies."

We begin with the ghostly form of the Goddess Rhea, floating through inky depths of space and time, toward the tiny Island of Crete, and there to keep her infant son, Zeus, hid from his murderous father, Cronus.

Zeus grows up alone, excepting for a she-goat named Amaltheia, and wishes more than anything that he had brothers and sisters to play with. So Amaltheia tells him the tale - a tale which begins not with his parents, Rhea and Cronus, but well before, with his grandparents, Uranus and Gaia and their many, many children.

In addition to Zeus' father, they had also given birth to twelve magnificent giants, known as the Titans. Then there were three Cyclopes (I appreciate him using this plural form of Cyclops) and three Hundred-Handers, alarmingly surreal and disturbing creatures with fifty heads and one hundred arms. These latter six monsters - due to the fact that they were monsters - were then unjustly cast into the Underworld. But more about them later.

Young Zeus

The story continues with young Cronus, at his mother's behest, taking up sickle in hand and battling and banishing his wicked father to the bottom of a deep sea. He then took his place upon his father's throne and commenced to eatin' his own offspring, lest they one day toss him into the same sea!

Karas even paints a nice picture of Cronus devouring one of his siblings, legs and bare bottom disappearing in his gaping maw. Quite a contrast to the cover art.

Young Zeus

Before everything is said and done, Zeus will poison his father, face dragons in a fiery, inverted underworld, and take part in a climactic battle between the enormous Titans, the Cyclopes, the Hundred-Handers, and a few dozen lightning bolts.


Young Zeus
"Enough!" shouted Zeus. "From now on, we do things my way."
"Who made you boss?"
"I did!" said Zeus.

Read my exclusive interview with G. Brian Karas.

Part of the Greek Mythology series

Links: G. Brian Karas, Scholastic Press
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