One-Minute Book Reviews

February 28, 2009

Pat Cummings’s ‘Talking With Artists’ Series Lets Children Read About Their Favorite Picture-Book Illustrators and What They Do All Day

Any book in Pat Cummings’s three-volume Talking With Artists series would make a wonderful gift for a 6-to-9-year-old who loves to draw or paint. Each book is a colorful and often amusing collection of more than a dozen interviews (in a Q-and-A format) with well-known picture-book illustrators, typically supplemented by photos of their youthful and mature work and more. Vol. I includes Chris Van Allsburg and Leo and Diane Dillon; Vol. II, Brian Pinkney and Denise Fleming; Vol. III, Jane Dyer and Peter Sis. A winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, Cummings has a gift for getting artists to talk about their work in terms that will engage children. “I love what I do,” William Joyce says in the second book. “It’s like getting paid for recess.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

October 25, 2007

Why Does This Picture-Book Cover Work? Elizabeth Matthews’s ‘Different Like Coco’

The latest in a series of occasional posts that rate the covers of books recently reviewed on this site

By Janice Harayda

The covers of children’s books often fail for the same reasons that the covers of adult books do: They’re dull, clichéd or too pallid to stand out at a bookstore or library. Or they tell you too little about a book or, worse, aggressively misrepresent the contents. And if they’re about people – instead of one of those riveting topics like Let’s Read and Find Out About Flypaper or My First Book About Dandruff – they may stereotype their subjects as nakedly as all those pink covers on novels marketed to women in their 20s and 30s.

Elizabeth Matthews avoids all those problems on the cover of Different Like Coco (Candlewick, $16.99, ages 4 and up) www.candlewick.com, which combines a pen-and-ink drawing with the artful use of watercolors. This picture-book biography of the fashion designer Coco Chanel sports a witty illustration of its subject in a brown-black dress on a yellow background with the title in an interesting copper-colored script. And it works beautifully for several reasons:

1. It has real “pop.” Put Different Like Coco on any bookstore or library shelf and it will stand out among its shelf-mates because of its strong design. It doesn’t need the special effects that make so many books look more like toys – lots of glitter, metallic images and overengineering in the form of punched-out or see-through spaces.

2. The image of Coco Chanel points to the right, or to the pages instead of the spine. This is so basic that no critic should have to mention it. In most cases you want to focus children’s attention where it will encourage them to open a book (though there are some notable exceptions that succeed). But a striking number of picture books ignore such fundamental design principles.

3. The cover represents both the book and its subject accurately and nonstereotypically (without a sea of pink). Chanel designed simple, unfussy clothes with flair. This is a simple, unfussy cover with flair. Matthews’ art reflects the spirit of Chanel’s designs so well that you might guess the subject of her book before you read the title. But the cover isn’t so sophisticated that it will appeal to adults more than children. The comic exaggeration (and that dog) will take care of that.

Some people might argue that Chanel’s arms look anorexic. But in the context of the book, the pencil-slim arms are clearly intended as a stylistic exaggeration and also appear on women with bodies of operatic proportions.

The only other thing might strike you as odd about this cover is that Matthews’s name appears in a much smaller font than you usually see for authors of her caliber. That’s because this is her first book. The general rule in publishing is: The bigger the author, the larger the font for his or her name relative to the font for the title (though less so for children’s books than others). Stephen King’s name, for example, appears on his covers in a larger font than the title of the book. It’s a safe bet that as Matthews’s reputation increases, the size of her name on the cover will, too.

The original review of Different Like Coco appeared on Oct. 21, 2007, www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/21/. You may also want to read a comment in yesterday’s post (Oct. 23) by lisamm, who says perceptive things about this cover, including the Chanel has her head held high.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

May 10, 2007

How Does a Writer Develop a Style? Quote of the Day #23

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:06 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ernest Hemingway said that perfection of style is a writer’s road to salvation. But how does a writer develop a style? Here’s an answer from Tomie dePaola, who has written and illustrated many children’s picture books, the best known of which is Strega Nona:

“When I was a student at Pratt in the 1950s, studying illustration, I remember a fellow student asking one of our instructors, ‘When do we learn about style?’ ‘We won’t learn about style,’ he replied. ‘Style happens naturally. If you keep on working, eventually the way you can and want to express yourself will surface. Meanwhile, do the assignments, listen to the critiques, don’t miss your drawing classes, painting classes, design classes and by all means look at everything. Go to the galleries and the museums. Your own style will surface.’”

Tomie dePaola in “Voices of the Creators” in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), edited by Anita Silvey.

Comment by Janice Harayda:
Tomie dePaola may have been talking about illustration, but his advice applies equally to writing. Many writers try to “find” their style by imitating great writers. But you don’t find a style so much as release it, or allow it to emerge, in the way dePaola describes. If you keep writing long enough, you’ll see what your style is. Imitation may give you ideas about your style could be but won’t provide it for you.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 382 other followers

%d bloggers like this: