Hello Hello, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel, published by Chronicle Books, ISBN: 978-1452150147, ARC copy reviewed, book to be released on March 20, 2018.
The wow factor. That’s what Brendan Wenzel’s latest celebration of the natural world Hello Hello has throughout, but especially when you reach a double page spread that is filled with animals big and small. Against a spare white background, each creature manages to pop off the page and make an impression. And all of them have those Brendan Wenzel Eyes (I call them Wenzelian)–googly and warm and friendly (he truly has a unique, distinct style). His love for these animals is apparent. Although Hello Hello can be seen as a fun romp that finds similarities and differences between a vast variety of species, the message he delivers is sobering one: many of them are endangered, near threatened, vulnerable, or critically endangered. He invites readers young and old to try and save them.
The look of Hello Hello will remind picture book fans of his great Caldecott Honor title They All Saw a Cat. Rendered with all kinds of media (cut paper, colored pencil, oil pastels, marker, computer), the illustrations have a playful, inventive feel as Wenzel and his designer present cool, intriguing ways to present the always intriguing compositions. The first spread shows a white cat facing a black cat while the words “Hello hello” appear on the right hand side. A flip of the page and we see the words “Black and White” and a black cat joining a black bear and then striped animals. One little black and white striped fish swims on to the next page, continuing a feel of connectivity. Suddenly with a flip of the page there is a burst of color. The black and white fish swims up to a blue fish who is hovering over a lizard’s blue tail. The lizard’s red head is looking up at the red head of a bird. The bird’s green wing matches the green of the coral a nearby seahorse is swimming through. And so on. Wenzel meanwhile keeps the language succinct and simple and yet evocative: “Hello Color/Hello Bright.” One animal moves to the next page and we see new patterns. Some animals are Giant (“Hello Giant”) and some are Not (“Hello Not”). Hello Hello is the kind of fabulous picture book that grows in power with each read through. He takes unexpected turns with the language (“Hello Tongue, Ears, Hands and Nose/Hello Pattern/Hello Pose”). The animals all have a texture–you feel as if you can touch the page and feel the scales, shells, and quills (“Hello Whoa!”). The book takes on a zen feel, inviting you to slow down and examine the images, and to think about the beauty of each animal on the page. It’s a masterful work that’s fun…but with a message.
Also, I must add that the backmatter is excellent. A visual key to the animals appears and we learn about the status of many of them.