Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘picture books for young people

RoseWishThingRose and The Wish Thing is not a typical picture book. The misty illustrations hold an air of the mysterious and are my favorite part of this brief story. As for the text, parts of it are straightforward and tell a universal tale of being new and alone. Other parts feel more abstract and even have details left out, which at times left me confused. For those who embrace Rose and The Wish Thing, the entire package will stir the imagination.

The watercolor spreads, intricately hashed with black ink, immediately captivate me. At the start, an abundance of muted shades of brown, orange, yellow, and green convey Rose’s deep loneliness. As Rose looks beyond her room and her house to worlds far away, a plethora of grays are added. While all these somber colors might conceivably create a sense of dreariness for some, I personally found that they instead invited me to feel Rose’s great turmoil as she unsuccessfully sought out the wish thing. Some pictures reveal what the wish thing is not. Others send Rose swirling into stormy skies and seas, as she searches for the wish thing, and inspire me to use my imagination. When Rose finally does encounter the wish thing, an abundance of brighter colors allow me to revel in her joy. The illustrations perfectly capture Rose’s inner emotional world.

RoseWishThing_InsertThe text is a little more problematic. On the positive side, it unfolds at a gentle pace, along with being simple and easy to read. Often there’s just one line or maybe up to three lines per page. Sentences are typically short such as in: “Everyone searched and searched.” The vocabulary is at an ideal level for being independently read too.

On the negative side, the plot at times feels incomplete or perhaps overly subtle. The plot begins with Rose being a new face in a new place. And as such she naturally feels alone. The problem is I don’t really understand what a “wish thing” is and why Rose is so intent on finding it. Readers are told the wish thing doesn’t have a name and given a list of familiar items which aren’t the wish thing. Yet even when Rose draws the “wish thing,” I don’t know what it is except maybe the equivalent of an imaginary friend? Or perhaps, even though her parents and her dog help Rose look, we aren’t really supposed to know what the wish thing is? Maybe we’re just supposed to use our imagination? I’m not sure, except in the end Rose not only finds the wish thing and also makes new friends.

My one reservation aside, Rose and The Wish Thing is a sweet and magical story. There’s plenty of dramatic and whimsical events. Even if one never figures out the actual identity of the wish thing, I can see imagine young people embracing this new concept into their vocabulary and even creating picture books about their own wish thing.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

CarolineMagerlCaroline Magerl spent the majority of her childhood at sea on her parents’ yacht. Born in 1964 in a small German town near Frankfurt, picture book author Caroline Magerl moved with her parents to Australia when she was two. Shortly afterwards, while the family lived in Sydney’s suburbia, her dad built a 45-foot yacht. Until Magerl was fourteen, the family sailed the east coast of Australia, and she attended more than ten different schools. At age sixteen, Magerl joined another yacht, crossing the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. Not until almost her twenties did Magerl settle to life on land.

Although her heart’s desire was to create children’s books, Magerl worked steadily as an artist. Drawing on her sailing experience, Magerl made a living as a cartoonist for a yachting magazine. In 2001, she moved and her husband moved to a village in the coastal hinterland of Queensland, Australia, and began painting and exhibiting fulltime. While staying busy time with sell-out shows, Magerl made important connections with art gallery owners. Then, in 2006, the family moved once again. This time, Magerl learned printmaking at from a master printmaker, and soon had a press of her own.

CarolineMagerl_BoatHer wish to create children’s books received a boost when she won the Children’s Book Council of Australia, 2001 Crichton Award, for best new talent in the field of Children’s Book Illustration. Tomorrow I’ll review her first children’s book, funded by a grant, Rose and the Wish Thing. The illustrations were exhibited at the Chris Beetles gallery in the United Kingdom. Save the date of my review: May 25!

Each time she wrote, Magerl sent me samples of her beautiful artwork. I have enjoyed my email exchanges with her, and hope you’ll also appreciate getting to know a little of her background through the below interview.

ALLISON: What about Australia would you show a visitor?

CAROLINE: That could make a long list, but I will show some discipline and say the far north of Queensland for a start. High hills covered in monsoonal cloud, rainforests, huge butterflies and amazing bird life such as cassowaries, with the Great Barrier Reef offshore. There is so much to see in that part of the country in terms of tropical scenery and wildlife.

Penguins at Tasmania by Caroline Magerl, Used with permission

Penguins at Tasmania by Caroline Magerl, Used with permission

The other place I love is Tasmania, the island to the south of the continent. I stayed in a historic lighthouse cottage a couple of years ago at the mouth of the Tamar River. At night, the headland came alive with Fairy Penguins traipsing up to their burrows to feed their young. That was a fabulous experience in a part of the country rich in extraordinary natural beauty and historic interest and I only managed to see the east and north coast!

ALLISON: You had the unusual experience of being raised aboard a yacht. What was the best experience?

CAROLINE: The sheer proximity to the natural environment impressed me deeply, partly because it was so unavoidable and frequently uncomfortable, but also because it was so stunningly beautiful.

Coming up into the cockpit at dawn to see a completely different coast after a night of travel was one of those experiences that had a lasting impact. On one particular morning, I recall emerging from below and asking Dad the names of two islands that I saw to the east. He told me they were called Moon Island and Bird Island. Both were just barren lumps of rock as if randomly hurled into the sea, with tufts of green clinging here and there on the otherwise scoured rock-faces. The sight of these places were all the stronger for being the first thing I saw after a long night of hearing the diesel engine thump-thump-thump and knowing miles of coast had slipped by in the dark.

CarolineMagerl_Boat2On a different note, living aboard offered a completely unique bathroom experience, one of which still brings a smile. We had a sea water toilet and on very dark nights, if I left the light off, it was possible to see the sparkling of plankton in the toilet bowl. These microscopic creatures are bioluminescent and so flash a cold greenish light, particularly when disturbed. One particular night, a tiny fish had been sucked into the toilet via the pump and I saw it go round and round the bowl like a tiny comet trailing its phosphorescent plankton wake. That experience was on a whole other level, for me!

ALLISON: You had the unusual experience of being raised aboard a yacht. What was the worst experience?

CAROLINE: The look on my parent’s faces one particular night, as we entered Crowdy Head Harbor. I was in the aft cabin below deck and my job was to read out the depth of water under the keel from the depth sounder. The sea was quite rough and the situation tense as we came close to the breakwaters on either side of the harbor entrance. Suddenly the stern of the boat was lifted high as a large wave swept under the yacht, and I saw the depth gage indicate shallow water under the hull. I looked up and glimpsed the alarm on my parent’s faces as they watched a wave, which was out of my view. We had passed over a rock or reef at the entrance of the harbor, which had caused the sea to heave up. That was one of the scarier moments of our boating life.

However, there was one worse thing, the week the yacht was sold and we moved off the Rosa-M. For all that it was a home which never stood still, the boat was the only home I felt connected to. It was awful saying goodbye to that triangular room and the life we had onboard.

ALLISON: How difficult was adapting to life off the yacht?

CAROLINE: Adapting to life aboard was strangely easy for me, in that it was genuinely interesting to live in a tiny triangular cabin at the bow of the boat. I was able to see the ever changing scenery through the portholes, day and night. I took less notice of the lack of hot running water, shower, any appliances such as washing machines and of course no phones. I am sure my mother felt these inconveniences more than I did.

Generally speaking, the fun of it all outweighed the negatives for me, but it left me with a bunch of odd habits. I did my laundry by hand right into my late twenties, and still cannot waste water for fear of empting the water tank.

Even when at last I moved ashore, I would find myself tilting a little whenever anyone came up the front steps of the house. That was because the yacht would always list over a bit when anyone stepped aboard, and I had an unconscious expectation this would happen even after a year living on dry land. My husband finally teased me out of that little foible.

ALLISON: What got you started in the business of making picture books?

Dreamt of Birds by Caroline Magerl, used with permission

Dreamt of Birds by Caroline Magerl, used with permission

CAROLINE: My family immigrated to Australia when I was two years old. My father had escaped the communist East Germany leaving his family behind. My Grandmother would send picture books to me from East Germany and these books had an enormous impact on me as a child. They were a window into the world we had left behind and also a window into my Grandmother, who I would not meet again for twenty years. I treasured the books from Germany, but was also deeply engaged with the literature I found in school libraries in Australia. I became convinced of the power of books to connect you to people and places.

As for my own picture books, I submitted work to publishers and art directors for nearly ten years. Then, in my thirties, after much effort I got my first picture book illustration contract. This book was presented with the Crichton award for best new illustrator of the year (Australia). After receiving the award and buoyed with a new found confidence, I rang every publisher I knew with the news hoping to drive home my advantage and get more texts to illustrate. As I waited on the line to be transferred to an art director at one major publisher I heard the secretary announce ‘a call from Mrs. Crichton’… Ouch! Things did get better from there.

ALLISON: How did a childhood living on a yacht shape your art and writing?

CAROLINE: Life onboard was a Spartan existence, we had no hot running water, a toilet which relied on manipulating various valves and pump handles, and a tiny portable television in a cheerful shade of orange. The yacht was 45 feet long but had little spare cabin space. I spent a lot of my time reading and drawing.

A great deal of the atmosphere of ‘Rose and the Wish Thing’ came directly from the experience of living on the boat. In one scene the Wish Thing is espied by Rose through a cardboard telescope. It bobs in and out of view in little circular images, which were inspired by the view out of my childhood round cabin porthole. Our yacht would swing at anchor and the scene outside passed by in a dizzying fashion, as if seen through a moving telescope; clouds, waves, distant shorelines. I used this device to add some suspense in illustrating the approach of the Wish Thing in the story, now you see, now you don’t….

ALLISON: What is your most memorable friendship experience?

CAROLINE: My friendship story revolves around a girl who lived on another boat. Christine and I met when we were both around ten years old, in a town called Bundaberg. Her family also lived aboard a yacht. We rowed between her boat and mine, and played in horse paddocks under the bridge with Christine’s beautiful dingo dog, Simba. When my folks sailed on to Townsville, Christine and I wrote letters to each other. Our paths crossed on a number of occasions and it was always a happy day when I saw her boat chug into harbor. The letters we wrote to each other became a habit for me… writing and illustrating, day to day events. I continue that same thing in my Illustrated Letters, as it feels entirely natural and reminds me of a wonderful time and a wonderful friendship. Christine and I are still in touch and she still has the most amazing devotion to her dogs.

ALLISON: The bond between Rose and the Wish Thing is a strong theme in your book. Why was this theme so important?

CAROLINE: As I was writing this story, I remembered how as a child I drew much strength when holding a particular toy. It had somehow been nominated to provide protection and courage. This is something I have seen many other children do and is heart-warming to watch, but also deeply intriguing. It occurred to me that there is something significant to be learnt from these fleeting relationships.

During the years of writing Rose and the Wish Thing, I happened to see a boy tenderly carry a kitten in the hood of his jacket. We were on a Melbourne tram and he kept his composure by gently stroking the whiskered face at his shoulder, all the while under slander from other youth sitting nearby. This incident was instrumental in shaping a part of the story, that of Rose carrying the Wish Thing in her hood.

Finding the Wish Thing was just the start for Rose, her courage was there all along, but now it was engaged. The world outside her door is after all the object and desirable end to the tale of finding the Wish Thing. It is the friendship that happens once a Rose finds her place in the world, which is the less obvious but true focus of this story.

California the Magic Island by Doug Hansen will appeal to readers of all ages. Part history and part myth, the structure hails from Arabian Nights in being a series of interconnecting short stories that cover a diversity of subjects. As for the illustrations, the vibrant poster like pictures possess a bold classical feel which well suit the overall larger-than-life style of California the Magic Island.

Hansen used a Spanish romantic adventure novel from five centuries ago about a Queen Calafia and her magical island named California, where “black-skinned Amazon women, ferocious griffins, and abundance of gold” surrounded her, to establish the basic elements of California the Magic Island. Then inspired by Arabian Nights, Hansen added the creative twist of having animals tell stories to save their home state from an angry queen. In blending these two pieces of literature, Hansen created an imaginative story that readers will return to again and again. With twenty-six adventures, ranging in length from 200 to 400 words, there’s a lot to absorb. One is unlikely to appreciate the richness of each and every story upon the first read. Whether to reread the story of the wild horses of Death Valley who will not be mastered by humans or a desolate and savage land, or to reread the story of a Gila monster forced to leave his burrow when Californians wanted running water but instead got a runaway river, or to reread the story of a ground squirrel with underground gardens, readers will want to rediscover a forgotten tale or revisit a favorite.

There are other merits to Hansen’s book too. Aside from the aforementioned stories are the magnificent illustrations. The first half consist of fantastical sequences of Calafia’s California, while the latter half incorporates realistic depictions of architecture, vehicles, animals, and people of America’s real California. Soaking up the atmosphere of the illustrations took me as much time as appreciating the stories did. But there’s still more to enjoy. Ten back pages are dedicated to providing information about the origin of the Queen Califia legend, additional details about each of the animals and the stories they narrate, and a note about the artist.

My complaints about California the Magic Island are minor. One, although I realize the stories were probably kept short to meet the attention spans of modern audiences, I think they could have run longer in length. The tales in Arabian Nights are well over double the size, running closer to 1000 words. Second, even though increasing the size of the print would make for a bigger book, I think the increased friendliness of a larger size would have been worth it.

California the Magic Island should appeal to readers everywhere. The introduction to this golden state’s history will be admired, as will the tribute to fantasy and myth. Hansen has created a treasure. Readers can only hope more gems will follow.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Doug Hansen picThe oldest of six children in an artistic family, Doug Hansen was born in California. He received both his BA and MA in art from California State University and was awarded the Dean’s Graduate Medal in the College of Arts and Humanities in 2001. He teaches illustration at his alma mater, California State University.

Hansen’s professional career as an artist developed during his 23 years as a staff artist in the Editorial Art Department of The Fresno Bee newspaper. He received the Fresno City and County Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Award for two published volumes of Fresno Sketchbook that collected hundreds of his pen-and-ink renderings of Fresno. Other highlights of his freelance career include: Fresno’s centennial poster in 1985 a collaboration with family members to complete the artistic work The San Joaquin River: Gravity and Light, which is installed in the Woodward Park Regional Library.

Mother Goose in California, an ABC book , was his first attempt at a children’s book. At Curling Up With A Good Book, He credits his editor at Heyday for instilling in him the confidence to write. As for what inspired his most current work, California The Magic Island, his publisher at Heyday suggested a California history book. In additional, Hanson was “reading some tales from the Arabian Nights at that time and the Scheherazade story inspired the twist of animals telling stories to save their home state from the angry queen”.

Thanks to Doug Hansen for answering a few questions about his life and his newest book. I’ll review California The Magic Island tomorrow. Save the date: May 11!

ALLISON: Have you always wanted to be an artist? Why or why not?

DOUG: I always have been an artist. From my youngest days I drew pictures.  Pictures in certain books fascinated me as a young reader – the more complicated the better. I always wanted to be the person who made those pictures, and now I am.

ALLISON: Who influenced your decision?

DOUG: My mom is an artist and has always encouraged and nurtured us. Out of six children, three of us have careers as visual artists.

ALLISON: What has been your favorite illustration project?

DOUG: I am perhaps proudest of my Mother Goose in California book. It was my first children’s picture book and I labored on it for years without even having a publisher involved. When it was ultimately accepted and published I felt like I had won the Golden Ticket from the Willy Wonka story.

ALLISON: Why did this project interest you?

DOUG: I love history, and I love California. Each book I complete reveals new landscapes, animals, and stories I want to tell. This book took me to new locations in the Golden State and allowed me create a series of little stories illustrated in an epic, luminous kind of way.

ALLISON: What kind of research did it involve?

DOUG: Heaps of research. My two decades as a newspaper artist at the Fresno Bee taught me that readers will notice if you get something wrong. Plus I am intrigued by the way things work and I have to understand everything from the brakes on a logging cart to the harnesses for a twenty-mule team. so I checked out piles of books, did lots of image searches on the Internet, and took road trips to many of the places pictured in the book. That was fun.

ALLISON: How did you tell an entertaining story but also make it fact-based?

DOUG: The key for me was to have the animals tell stories from their animal point of view. This compelled me to look at things with fresh eyes. The juxtaposition of an animal with a historic event (a pigeon describes the Tower of Jewels or a flying squirrel encounters a Pony Express rider) generated surprising storytelling dynamics.

ALLISON: Why did you decide to tell your story as a fantasy?

DOUG: It had to be a fantasy to get all those creatures from different times in one cave on the magic Island of California and – oh yeah – animals don’t usually speak in a language we can understand! Plus the legend of Queen Calafia just begged to be retold and how else could I account for those griffins?

ALLISON: What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators/authors?

DOUG: My advice is the sappy-sounding advice that aspiring illustrators and authors probably don’t want to hear: Write or draw the kind of book you have dreamed of, not what you guess might be in demand. Will it get published? Who knows – but at least you will have created something meaningful and personal and wonderful – a book to be proud of.

Anti-bullying books are popular today. Into the mix comes The Fox Forest Band from Lisa Lindman. The story is cute and contains a twist, while the watercolor illustrations are soft on the eyes and fun. The Fox Forest Band is a picture book with high appeal!

Once upon a time there was a forest and it brimmed with animals. There’s a bear, a mouse, a hedgehog, a rabbit, and a spider, to name a few. I challenge you to find the rest! These animals were happy, until one day a fog rolled in. This fog was no usual one, for an evil wizard created it. Everyone whom the fog touched would have their deepest fear whispered in their ear. It took an impish fox with a smart idea to save the day. His idea is just as unusual as the fog as well as being charming.

Each time I flipped a page, a new watercolor spread greeted my eyes. Quite fittingly, the backgrounds initially beamed bright colors but then quickly faded into dark murky ones and once again at the end radiated into light cheery ones. On the majority of pages, animals danced about, cowered, or otherwise filled the scenes. A few pages revealed the wizard, but only a few, because of course this story belongs to the animals who bravely defeat evil. The spider is one of my favorites. You’ll enjoy trying to find him in each and every scene!

What’s not to like about Fox Forest Band? Occasionally, the rhyme feels a little forced, as if Lindman’s word choice were driven not by what sounded most natural but what best rhymed. Consider this line: “Hooray!” the animals all cheered. “No more wizard to dread!” Also, while an ending shouldn’t feel belabored, Lindman’s struck me as abrupt.

Many of the Advanced Reader Copies of picture books I receive feel heavy-handed in the theme. Due to the creative solution that the forest animals find to defeat the wizard, The Fox Forest Band manages not to preach while also being an engaging tale. It will no doubt be read multiple times by its target audience.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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