Thursday, November 17, 2011

Crazy Love

Remember what it was like to fall in love as a teen? The obsession? The inability to think about anything else? Interpreting every word, gesture and pause?

Well 14-year-old David Gershwin embodies those feelings. He just happens to be in love with Zelda, one of his psychiatrist father’s patients, in How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain. “She’s pretty in a scary sort of way,” according to David. “Like something you’d really like to touch but that will probably bite.” Zelda insists she’s from the planet Vahalal, and she’s on a mission to find her “chosen one” and bring him back with her. When she points him out on the Internet it’s… Johnny Depp.

Haven’t we all felt that the object of our obsession is from another planet? Or is Zelda schizophrenic (though the hero’s father insists, “No one is ever crazy, David”)? But then how do you explain her superhuman strength to slip out of unbreakable handcuffs and her talent for Space Splashing (“the ability to be at two points in space at the same time”)? David’s in love, and he sees what he wants to see, so as readers, we do, too.

The strength of Ghislain’s story is that he defines David’s psyche well, and because we never leave David’s head, we’re as invested in his mission to win over Zelda as David is. Zelda’s superhero attributes and David’s funny and obsessive viewpoint will hold the attention of even teens who don't think of themselves as readers.

This original take on an all-consuming crush will appeal to guys for its comics-humor quotient, and to girls because of Zelda’s feminist stance (and superhuman strength). Will the nerdy boy win over the otherworldly beauty? Read on and find out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Unlikely Friendship

To thoroughly enjoy The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, illustrated by Barry Moser, you must first accept that a cat (Skilley) could prefer cheese to a mouse

Once you accept that, you are in for a treat. There is in today’s London an inn called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, and although it was rebuilt after a fire, it stands in the same spot where Charles Dickens often dined and wrote. Dickens is the first to notice strange doings in one of his favorite taverns, and that Skilley seems to be catching and releasing the same mouse (Pip) over and over again. But he is not the last.

Various tensions emanate from the situation, and much of the fun of the novel is the discovery of who’s rooting for the mice and who wants them gone. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Adele, the mouse-hating barmaid, brings Skilley’s nemesis, Pinch, to “help” with the mousecatching. Skilley, attempting to hide from Pinch his friendship with Pip, accidentally hurts Pip. Skilley confides in Maldwyn the raven, and their illuminating discussion about how to repair the friendship could serve as a model for children experiencing similar circumstances.

As Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday approaches (on February 7, 2012), this book makes a terrific introduction to the Victorian writer, his humor (his writer’s blocks) and one of his favorite haunts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kindred Spirits

Melissa Sweet found a kindred spirit when she discovered the work of Tony Sarg. He stars in her picture-book biography, Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. They both design toys, for one thing. And they both need to play in order to do their work.

Melissa Sweet learned about Tony Sarg from her colleague at eeBoo Toys, where she works as a designer. She has often used collage in her artwork, as she did with her Caldecott Honor book A River of Words. But this is the first book in which she uses three-dimensional collage—actually incorporating the materials that Sarg himself would have used, such as dolls, yarn and spools of thread.

One of Melissa Sweet’s three-dimensional collages is currently at the Society of Illustrators (128 East 63rd Street, New York, NY 10065). It’s part of an exhibition of original children’s book artwork (150 pieces in all, from books published in 2011) and will be on display until December 29, 2011. The collages look terrific in the book, but they’re even more impressive in person, where you can see the level of detail, and the care Sweet took in assembling the components.

The other extraordinary coincidence is that the Society of Illustrators recently purchased an original illustration by Tony Sarg himself. It’s reprinted here courtesy of the Society of Illustrators, called “Busy intersection in small town,” c. 1928, created in India ink and watercolor. If you want to see just how much Melissa Sweet has in common with Tony Sarg, you can find out more in this interview (and also see some photos of her studio).

If you have a family tradition of watching the Macy’s Parade together, this book will make the experience all the more meaningful.