What We're Reading: January 2012

It just so happens this is the 1-year anniversary of my monthly "What We're Reading" series! As I write and write in my continuing quest for kidlit greatness, I shamelessly use my children as an excuse to read and read picture books and study them for my own gains. Mwaa-ha-ha-haaaa. I didn't intentionally set out to be a blogger or a reviewer, but I enjoy talking picture books and craft, so "What We're Reading" has been a decent excuse to examine the work of published masters and put my own thoughts and impressions to the keyboard. You can find my very first entry here, or use the blog archive at right to find other entries. Enjoy!

by Arthur Geisert
You can immediately recognize an Arthur Geisert book when you see it. First, every book he creates is not hand drawn or painted, but rather etched. Etching is a painstaking and time-consuming process that involves scratching the artist's designs through a wax coating onto copper plates, followed by a series of acid baths. The plates are inked and rolled through a press, and the final prints are then hand colored. The effect is distinctive and beautiful. Second, every Geisert book features pigs as the main characters. Lots and lots of pigs. I only recently came to discover Geisert's work, and once I did, I checked out every title in the library to show the kids. Though they loved them all, Lights Out seemed to be their favorite. The story is simple, and the most relatable to kids. A little pig is ready for bedtime, but doesn't want his light to go out until after he's fallen asleep. His parent's tell him "If you can figure something out--go ahead." So, we are then walked page-by-page (and wordlessly--another Geisert trademark) through an amazing Rube Goldberg machine-like contraption that winds in and out of the house and eventually turns out the light at just the right moment. Wordless picture books can be tons of fun. My kids were empowered to walk me through the intricate story, making the sound effects as they went along. Two thumbs... er, snouts... up. Side note: Unfamiliar with Rube Goldberg machines? Allow the awesome and innovative rock band OK Go to give you a crash course here.

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Illustrated by Scott Magoon
I have a soft spot in my heart for stories about inanimate objects. I love rooting for toasters and vegetables and tractors and such. Eventually, I might have written a story about a spoon, if Amy Krouse Rosenthal hadn't already done it so brilliantly. This little tale of a young spoon who yearns to be a fork or a knife is completely charming and perfectly crafted. My kids especially enjoy picking out which of Spoon's large family of ornate desert spoons and serving spoons are their favorites. Ms. Rosenthal has had her finger on the pulse of picture books for some time now and her growing catalog of modern classics is a constant source of inspiration. From the ingenius Duck! Rabbit! to the astoundingly constructed origin story of the alphabet in Al Pha's Bet, Ms. Rosenthal and her lucky collaborators are churning out some really fun picture books. And, I'm pleased to say that Rosenthal and Magoon are returning to the world of cute cutlery in a followup book to Spoon, titled Chopsticks. This pair of characters made a cameo in Spoon, and now they're off on an adventure of their own. Available January 31.

OH NO! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World)
by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Dan Santat
What do you get when you take inspirations from Godzilla, The Iron Giant, super hero comics and Japanese manga, Frankenstein, and Honey I Blew Up the Kid and then mash 'em all together with ultra-hip retro style? Total awesomeness. OH NO! is strong enough for a kid, but made for a dad. Set in San Francisco (which takes a major beating in this book), a feisty young girl puts catastrophic events in motion when her science project goes on a rampage across the city. Of course, the only way to subdue a giant robot is with a gargantuan toad in a smackdown for the ages. If that weren't enough, the end pages even contain detailed schematics of the girl's robot and other contraptions. Dan Santat's work here is primo. I find myself sneaking this book into every book pile when I sit down to read with the kids. This one's for me. Happily, the aptly titled follow-up OH NO! NOT AGAIN! is due out in June. Oh yes!