Published on October 22, 2016 in the Raleigh News and Observer and Charlotte Observer
We live in a visual world and children, regardless of age, are drawn to books where illustrations take the lead.
Alphabet and number books are as much artistic vehicles as learning tools. Three stunning books inspire interaction and imagination.
▪ Kim Krans’ “123 Dream” (Random House) shows the wonders of nature as pen-and-inked plants and animals weave in and out of numbers from 1-20.
▪ On every page of “An Artist’s Alphabet” (Candlewick, all ages) Norman Messenger elegantly draws capital and small letters and allows viewers to determine relationships between the picture and letter images.
▪ A near wordless aerial alphabet in Benedikt Grob & Joey Lee’s “The Alphabet from the Sky” (Dutton, all ages) gives viewers an opportunity to find letters shaped by rivers, subdivisions and buildings all over America.
Images reinvigorate old tales in two books.
▪ Illustrator-writer Shaun Tan’s “The Singing Bones” (Scholastic, ages 7 and up) pairs 75 vignettes from Grimms’ Fairy Tales with whimsical, emotive sculptures that are as archetypal as the tales.
▪ Matt Phelan’s sets his “Snow White” (Candlewick, ages 7 and up) in early 20th century New York City. His passions for history and graphic storytelling seamlessly merge as he melds fairy tale characters with elements of the Depression-era and the Jazz Age.
The biggest proof of our visual world is the rise in graphic novels. They appear for all ages in all formats.
Three new graphic novels launched this year from First Second Books, one of this genre’s most noted publishers.
▪ Ben Hatke’s “Mighty Jack” (ages 6-9) cares for Maddy, his mute sister, while his overworked mother maintains two jobs. When Maddy speaks for the first time, Jack trades the family car for mysterious seeds that turn his background into a magical garden, complete with a dragon. Along the way, he meets a fearless female neighbor. Panels vary with full page spreads, all of the art is full of color and drama.
▪ Drew Weing’s “The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo” (ages 8-11) has three chapters loaded with comic-book style panels, jam-packed with adventures that follow Charles’ move to an urban setting in a run-down historic hotel. The chubby innocent white boy makes friends with Margo Maloo, a young brown-skinned mystery solver who is on familiar terms with ghosts, trolls, ogres and goblins.
▪ Faith Erin Hicks’ “The Nameless City” (ages 10 and up) has a setting reminiscent of ancient China. The city roils with angers and clashes of subjugated peoples. Kai, the son of a general, and Rat, a resentful street girl, unite in an unlikely relationship. Hick’s artwork expresses the immensity of the city, the menace and the emotional range of the two heroes.
▪ Finally, beloved graphic novelist, Raina Telgemier creates “Ghosts” (Scholastic, ages 9-12) the story of Cat and her family who move to a windy Mexican town to improve the health of her little sister Maya who has cystic fibrosis. The ghost-filled town piques Maya’s curiosity and Cat’s fearful protectiveness. The graphic novelist handles the heavy subjects of sibling stresses, loss, and grief with a breezy style.