Creepy Pair of Underwear!, illustrated by Peter Brown, written by Aaron Reynolds, published by Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 978-1442402980.
Peter Brown received a well-deserved 2013 Caldecott Honor for his wildly imaginative illustrations for Creepy Carrots!, in which he paid tribute to the shadowy images found in old horror films and Twilight Zone episodes. He continues this dynamic approach in the absolutely terrific sequel Creepy Pair of Underwear!. I can happily report that the title more than lives up to its predecessor’s witty, silly greatness. Aaron Reynolds’ prose crackles with a delightful mock-intensity that begs the reader to read it in the most mock-scary deep voice they can muster. Again Brown tips his hat to old-fashioned black and white films as his illustrations emulate camera angles: POV shots over the characters or from behind, images surrounded by borders with rounded off corners. Jasper Rabbit has returned, seemingly settled after his run-in with the horrifying carrots that made his life terrifying in the first book. While shopping in a store he sees a “glorious” pair of creepy, comfy underwear that he must have NOW! The underwear is green, with a Frankenstein face on front (and they look bizarrely hilarious when Jasper wears them). Of course the underwear ends up making life absolutely scary for our hero: glowing in the dark, shockingly returning when Jasper tries to dispose of them, and so on. I can already imagine that is going to make a great audiobook. I don’t want to spoil the ending but all I can say is it leads to a resolution that satisfies and makes sense. Throw in a fun reference to the first book, and you have a sequel will delight Jasper Rabbit’s many fans.
This Beautiful Day, illustrated by Suzy Lee, written by Richard Jackson, published by Atheneum, ISBN: 978-1481441391. At my library I will be running a mock-Caldecott program and I have been looking for possible candidates for discussion. When I read This Beautiful Day the first time I perked up, saying to myself “here’s a contender.” Then I looked at Suzy Lee’s bio and alas, I forgot that she does not qualify for Caldecott recognition because she was not born in and does not live in the United States (she resides in South Korea). This wonderful book joins the Sydney Smith-illustrated Town Is by the Sea as one of the most distinguished Calde-notts of the year. Now that I have yelled “NOOOOOOO” and fought off the urge to write to the Caldecott powers-that-be urging them to bend some rules, I will attempt to do Suzy Lee’s work here justice.
This Beautiful Day tells the simple story of three kids stuck inside on a gray, rainy day. However, they don’t let the inclement weather bring them down. One of them switches on a radio, music plays, and they start to dance. The dancing leads to joyful stamping and stomping, first indoors and then outside where they march through puddles. Waving their umbrellas with joy, they become even more euphoric when the rain stops and the sun shines. Their umbrellas float away through the air, towards the tree, and the kids, joined by friends, start defying gravity. What is striking about the book is Lee’s use of color (her illustrations are rendered in pencil and acrylics and digitally manipulated). The first spreads only have shades of gray as we see the children moping (the backgrounds are spare). When the radio is turned on, we see a hint of blue. Then as the music spreads, more blue appears. After they go outside, more color fills the page, becoming more prominent as the sun returns. Lee’s figures are remarkably fluid and expressive; she excels at conveying body movement. All the while, Richard Jackson’s spare yet energetic text adds an extra layer of warmth to the title.
This Beautiful Day emerges as one of the most hopeful books of the year, showing kids rising above a sad situation and embracing joy and community and a sense of fun.
Mighty Moby, illustrated by Ed Young, written by Barbara DaCosta, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316299367
I’m going to be blunt: Mighty Moby is one strange book (and I mean that as a compliment). However, when you go through it a second and third and fourth time (and beyond), you start seeing that it follows the patterns of many other children’s picture books about toys, imagination, and bedtime. What Ed Young, in full creative genius mode, and Barbara DaCosta, providing a text that cleverly reminds one of sea shanties, do here is take conventions and spin them into something wildly unexpected. I don’t want to spoil the big surprise at the end of this book (but I’m guessing I probably gave some if it away). All I can say is no other picture book this year has made me feel so wonderfully disoriented. At first we think we are reading a pared down picture book version of the climactic moments of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick with Captain Ahab and his sailors battling the huge whale. Young’s brilliant, abstract collages (he uses cut paper, photographs, string, and pastel) drop you in the middle of the action. You have to turn the book vertically for some spreads. One gasp-worthy page turn gives us a full view of the whale himself (“Shh! There he is,” the captain whispered and you’re like whoa! being anything but quiet). The magnitude of the animal is conveyed beautifully. All the while DaCosta’s energetic prose captures the terror and awe of this showdown. And then comes the surprise. Again, it’s a surprise I have seen in several other books, but here the surprise feels so fresh and new as if it had never been done in any previous title. The surprise is also a genre-flipper: we think we have been reading an adventure story but instead, we have been reading something else entirely. Just brilliant.
Boo!, illustrated and written by Ben Newman, published by Flying Eye Books, ISBN: 978-1911171058.
Wow, what a triumph of book design this is. With bold shapes and sharp colors and striking typography, Ben Newman’s Boo! is an artfully conceived romp in which, one by one, an animal brags about being the bravest creature there ever was. As each character speaks highly of itself, another shadowy figure approaches from behind and then screams “BOO” when we turn the page. I have done this book in story time and the children love guessing what kind of animal the shadowy figure will turn out to be. And I tell them to shout BOO! on the count of three and they love doing that. Each page turn offers a vibrant, hilarious surprise. The reaction of each character after it is startled is priceless. The beauty of the design starts on the cover with a mouse appearing under the two “O”s in the word BOO cut out in the shape of eyes. Flip open the book and we see that the eyeballs belong to a crocodile about to chomp on the mouse. When addressing the reader, each animal starts off with a greeting with an amplified, larger font, and in a nice touch, Newman changes the font for each character. To say this works in large story times is an understatement: the illustrations show beautifully across the room. Kids laugh, scream, and adore the surprise ending. It will forever be a part of my regular story hour rotation.