Though I have my own favorite illustrators, it is always exciting to see new artists find their way into children's books—and it is a treat to find young illustrators who feel like old friends.
I'm a fan of letterpress and block prints, so my eye was immediately drawn to Kazuno Kohara's stunning illustrations in Ghosts in the House!. With orange, black and white three-color illustrations, Kohara tells the just-right bedtime tale of the little girl in her new (haunted) house. Luckily she is no ordinary girl; she is a witch who knows how to catch ghosts. Young readers will be fascinated to see what the heroine does with the freshly –washed ghost and will snuggle down in their beds with this decidedly un-scary Halloween book that works for any time of year. The woodcuts, with smiling girl and ghosts, sometimes flying out of the frames, are a charming introduction to this special kind of printing. Especially interesting is the way the artist seems to lay tissue-paper ghosts over the illustrations, gently obscuring the amusing scene underneath. I imagine many children will want to try this technique in their own artwork. Let's hope for more from this talented young artist whose vision seems such a delicious throwback.
When I received a copy of Hyun Young Lee's Something for School, I was immediately taken with the round child on the cover, fore-finger lifted to lips as if keeping a secret. Yoon's first day of kindergarten is ruined when the teacher divides the class, "Boys come here, girls go over there." Yoon lines up with the girls, but her classmates, seeing her pants and short hair, push her into the boy group. Frustrated, she crumbles to the floor in tears and cries and cries and cries, all the way through the class picture. Happily, Yoon figures out a way to show she is a girl without compromising, and things turn out well for her and her classmates. The very round, short-legged Korean children fairly bounce through kindergarten. These new illustrations, reminiscent of Taro Gomi (Everyone Poops, etc.), seem just right for today's child. This is a perfect book for children who are starting school.
The School of Visual Arts in New York City has a long, influential line of graduates (Gregory Christie, Lauren Castillo and Jonathan Bean come to mind) who have made their mark on children's books. Three new artists from the school have their first books coming out this fall: Shadra Strickland, Hyewon Yum and Tao Nyeu. It's amazing to think that each of these illustrators did their graduate work at the same school at almost the same time.
Bird is the poignant story of one young boy who uses the power of art to cope with the realities of his beloved brother's drug addiction. Zetta Elliott's tender, understated story of Bird and his older brother Marcus is illustrated with grace by newcomer Shadra Strickland. Capturing the tragic story with her own nuanced paintings and the pencil sketches of the young Bird, Strickland strikes the right chord between serious and joyful. Many spreads have pictures of birds—flying and free—that remind the young Bird that his brother, while no longer on Earth, is flying in Heaven. For Bird's brother has died after a lengthy addiction to drugs. Bird has a grandfather and then an uncle who help him cope and understand the incomprehensible. This is a story that needs to be told, and telling it with illustrations makes it more accessible to younger readers.
At first, Hyewon Yum's remarkable illustrations in Last Night threaten to overwhelm the wordless story of a young girl who retreats to her bedroom where she spends time romping with her stuffed bear. I was so distracted by the beauty and technical pizzazz of the linoleum block prints that I needed to look through the pictures a few times to take in the depth of the story. We start with an angry-faced girl eating her vegetables, and move with her to bed and eventually to the dream world of running away with her bear. The details that Yum is able to wring out of a challenging form—right down to the peeking shadows of moonglow on trees—made me feel that I was in the hands of a master. This paean to Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are will amuse young readers familiar with the story line and allow them to narrate the story themselves. Parents will have a wonderful feeling watching the young girl hug her mother at the end—forgiveness is that sweet.
Gorgeously oversized Wonder Bear has the same dreamlike quality of many wordless picture books. Silkscreened illustrations colored with a bright palette of blues and oranges, straight from Tao Nyeu's M.F.A. thesis, tell the story of magic seeds, a special bear and one ordinary-looking blue and red hat. From this hat come all sorts of wonders: creatures, bubbles in the shape of lions, even flying porpoises! This childhood fantasy of adventure in an oversized format will amuse the young reader as she "reads" the story over and over and discovers new details each time. At times the art reminded me of Wanda Gag's work, with its back lines and graphic elements, and at other times the imaginary worlds of Dr. Seuss seemed to be Nyeu's inspiration. These illustrations, simple and complex at the same time, offer much for the reader who revisits its rich world.