Two illustrators change up their style with Grandma’s Purse and If I Had a Horse

Grandma’s Purse, illustrated and written by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Knopf, ISBN:978-1524714314.

If I Had a Horse, illustrated and written by Gianna Marino, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, ISBN: 978-1626729087.

Two of the very best illustrators working today are Vanessa Brantley-Newton and Gianna Marino. And it’s a thrill watching them do something new with their sparkling just released works, Grandma’s Purse and If I Had a Horse. Both books seem so effortless as they create a warm, cozy mood, and yet as you examine the illustrations you discover that they are intricate, packed with striking details and memorable imagery.

Is there an artist who creates sweeter illustrations than Vanessa Brantley-Newton? I’m talking sweet without being overly cloying. She excels at humane drawings that show people connecting and bonding. Just look at My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay (written by Cari Best), Early Sunday Morning (by Denene Millner), or The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen (by Thelma Lynne Godin). In the delightful Grandma’s Purse, which she also wrote (she mostly illustrates works by others), a young girl, who also narrates the slice of life anecdote, asks her Grandma, aka “Mimi,” to show her the contents of her purse. Mimi lovingly cooperates, removing each object and explaining its importance. As a longtime fan of Brantley-Newton, I noticed something cool about the art in this book. It’s definitely very Brantley-Newtonesque, but she is changing up her style here. It’s a little looser, a little freer. Look at Mimi’s hair, which is like a bunch of scribbles. This gives the book a playful feel as Grandma discusses everything from the hairpins that hold her aforementioned hair together to the change purse her husband brought back from Japan ages ago. It all leads to a nice big surprise for the little girl, one that feels just right. Brantley-Newton creates pictures you can get lost in–the details on the green couch, that ginormous plant is slightly lopsided, the cute toys on the floor, and a cat smiling at us in most every frame. I doubt that there will be a more life-affirming family story out this year.

Gianna Marino is pretty much a chameleon as an illustrator. When you look at her comical cautionary tale Too Tall Houses, you notice that it’s very different from the melancholic whale bonding tale Following Papa’s Song or the slapsticky Night Animals. I love those books, and others by her, but I have to say If I Had a Horse may now be my favorite book by her. Done completely in silhouettes, the gentle book shows a girl dreaming of befriending a horse. We first see her holding out an apple to the creature. Each page turn shows him getting closer and closer to her. He munches on the apple, and she hugs him and then starts riding on him. Okay, this description might sound mundane, but yowsah, just look at the art. Those colors bring out all kinds of emotions, showing the horse and girl not agreeing in some spreads, but then reconciling. The spare text can be applied to any friendship with its ups and downs. What’s interesting about the book is its a story about conquering fears without being overly preachy. The shadows create moods, and the moods create images that stay in the memory long after you close the book.

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