Graphically Inventive Children’s Books

Most modern picture books feature children as central characters or animals who retain the characteristics of children.  This, however, is not always necessary to make a successful children’s book that may appeal to kids (and adults alike).  The following are three recent picture books that I have enjoyed which do not feature children nor animals as the protagonists.  All are beautifully illustrated and unique in their own way.


Eggers, Dave, and Tucker Nichols. This Bridge Will Not Be Gray. Mcsweeneys Publishing, 2015.

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This is the story of how the Golden Gate Bridge became the most famous bridge in the world.  Utilizing bold and simple cut outs, rather than photographs, was a great decision in adapting this true story to a concept that  becomes easy to relate to.  The focus here is in the fact that this bridge was designed differently than those which came before it.  The decision to have the bridge be orange was at first an unpopular and peculiar view.  With persistence from a number of creative people, the bridge became what it is today.  Like the Golden Gate Bridge itself, this picture book utilizes many design ideas that are not common for this medium.  The main character of this book is the bridge itself while the message is a celebration of innovation.


Ehlert, Lois. The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life. Beach Lane Books, 2014.

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This is a condensed retrospective and autobiography of one of the most well-known children’s book illustrators of the last forty years.  Ehlert’s books really stand out because of her combined usage of cut paper, photographs and real life objects.  Because of these objects her books have a tactile feel as though they truly were built upon nature, rather than by a computer.  In the “introduction” Ehlert warns her readers DON’T READ THIS BOOK (unless you love books and art).  This book is of course a celebration of a life dedicated to art.  What makes it interesting is that Ehlert gives us a peek through this scrapbook at her creative process.  She shows evidence that she didn’t choose art but that art simply chose her.  The narration walks us through the process Ehlert used to create such classic children’s books as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  We see sketches of her work, rough drafts of entire books, and materials/tools collected from life that she used to create her style.  If you’re fond of Ehlert’s previous books, this comes highly recommended.  If you are unfamiliar with her work , it will also provide a great introduction to a playful artist who retains an enthusiastic childlike vision of the world (without actually drawing children).


Savage, Stephen. Sign Off. Beach Lane Books, 2019.

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Sign Off is a book based on the concept of what would happen if the silhouetted graphics in road signs came to life.  It is a wordless book that takes this clever idea and brings it to full fruition with subtlety and humor.  The book begins with full page spreads of before and after scenes.  For example, in one spread, a car is parked in a handicapped spot.  In the following spread, the wheelchair leaps off the sign  and does a wheelie over the parked car.  Later in the book, the iconic images march off together leaving all their blank yellow signs behind.  They then proceed to dismantle the yellow of a traffic sign which through manipulation becomes the sun, giving them new life.  Even though it has no words, this story is as much about reading signs as it is about dismantling the codes behind their meaning.  The visual story reads well and is as an intelligent primer as any on visual literacy.


 

 

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Homework help and research resources

Tutor.com

Tutor.com is a free online resource offered through the Pinal County Library District.  You will just need your library card # to create a free account and get started.

Watch the following video to see what is offered by Tutor.com:

With Tutor.com you can:

  • Get one-to-one help every day from 1:00pm to 10:00pm 
  • Submit a paper for review
  • Drop off a math question
  • Take a practice quiz
  • Watch videos for math & english
  • Practice for the SAT and other higher education exams

Direct Link to Tutor.com

The Link can also be found on the Research tab of our website:

Pinal County Research Resources

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A video of some student testimonials:

 


 

Kids Info Bits

Kids Info Bits is designed for students in Kindergarten through grade 5.

It provides the following to help students with research and assignments:

  • Reference Content
  • Images
  • Magazines
  • News Sources

Watch this video to learn more about the database:

Direct link to Kids Info Bits

The Link can also be found on the Research tab of our website:

Pinal County Research Resources

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Gale Power Search

Gale Power Search is a great way to search many databases at once.  This is an excellent source for middle school students and up.

It provides the following to help students with research and assignments:

  • Reference Content
  • Full Text Articles
  • Academic Journals
  • News Sources
  • Opposing Viewpoints essays
  • Biographies

Watch this video to learn more about the database:

Direct link to Gale Power Search

The Link can also be found on the Research tab of our website:

Pinal County Research Resources

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*Download this free flyer as a reminder of our online homework resources

Picture Books – Some recent favorites

Negley, Keith. My Dad Used to Be so Cool. Flying Eye, 2016.

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This book is narrated from a boy’s point of view of his father.   Simple text shows the boy contemplating what his father was like before he was born.  In this case, his father was a punk rocker who rode a motorcycle!  The boy wonders if his father is still fun.  The answers are displayed in the gorgeous illustrations, rather through the words.  An amazing foldout spread displays a wordless scenes of the boy and father having a blast playing in a park.  This is one of the books where yes, the words are simple, but the pictures are bound to provoke emotional responses and conversation.  A quick read but perfectly designed and unique.


Peña Matt de la, and Christian Robinson. Carmela Full of Wishes. Putnam Juvenile, 2018.

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I love the illustrations in this book by Christian Robinson.  Think paint and cut outs akin to Eric Carle. Yet the subject of small town life in a seaside town with realistic characters set this style into a totally new context. De La Peña’s characters are working class with Spanish names and we see them in realistic setting such as the laudromat or a 99cents discount store.

It is Carmela’s birthday.  When she finds a dandelion, her older brother informs her that she can make a wish.  As she rolls through town on her scooter, Carmela ponders what her wish will be.  The wishes are displayed in a different art style, this time through bold, single color cut-outs.  The story is emotional, uplifting and displays a message of hope.  While this might not be the best choice for preschoolers, I do think this book has a lot to offer young readers.


Pizzoli, Greg. The Book Hog. Disney Hyperion, 2019.

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This is a perfect read aloud book.  It is funny and promotes reading and using the library in an entertaining manner.  Pizzoli’s illustrations are cute and remind me a bit of Mo Willems.  The Book Hog loves books and the images of him sniffing them and reading them on the toilet are hilarious!  The conflict here is that even though the Book Hog loves books, he doesn’t know how to read them.  When he discovers the library he finally gets some help from some new friends.


Rissi, Anica Mrose. The Teachers Pet. Disney-Hyperion, 2017.

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This is a very humorous book that would be great to read to a Kindergarten or first grade class.  Mr Stricter is an enthusiastic teacher who gets easily excited about the projects that he introduces to his class.  A typical science project of growing tadpoles into frogs goes amok when the tadpole unexpectedly turns into a hippopotamus named Bruno!

The children seem to be more aware of the inherent dangers here than their teacher.  As the hippo devours the classroom, the children decide that something must be done.  Unfortunately, before long, Bruno swallows Mr. Stricter.  The students devise a plan to free their teacher by making the hippo sneeze.  When Mr. Stricter is released through a “snot rocket”, he is not bothered and happy to have retrieved some lost homework.  The hand-painted cartoon illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this silly story that demonstrates team work and the cleverness of kids.

 

 

Preschool Storytime – New York City

It’s fun for children to learn about new places.  In a recent preschool storytime I read three new books that had New York City as a location.  Each story was unique but contained locations that were similar.  By the third book, children began to identify some of these places including The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty and the New York harbor.  All of these are inviting books that spark children’s imagination and curiosity about the real world.

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Mighty Tug by Alyssa Capucilli, published by Simon & Schuster Books, 2019.

The large format pictures of this book, sound effects and rhyme make this an ideal choice for reading aloud to a preschool group.  Beautifully modern cartoon illustrations by David Mottram give life to the boats in New York’s harbor.  The boats have faces, but still maintain a large degree of realism so that children are able to identify several different types: cargo boats, fireboats, as well as Mighty Tug.  Mighty Tug is the tiniest girl boat, but her hard work throughout the day proves that she is one of the strongest.  She works the busy harbor guiding ships, pulling barges and helping with rescues.  Familiar sites of New York City such as skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty are also introduced.


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Syd Hoff’s Danny and the Dinosaur in the Big City by Bruce Hale, Charles Grosvenor and David A Cutting. Published by HarperCollins, 2019.

Syd Hoff’s original Danny and the Dinosaur, first published in 1958 is a classic of children’s literature.  Hoff himself followed up the original with several additional titles in the series.  Hoff passed away in 2004 at age 91 after an extensive career as a cartoonist and children’s book author.   The spirit of Danny lives on.   In this new book, the three creators involved really emulate the spirit of Hoff in the look and feel of some of his best books.  The story is modern though in that it contains updated views of New York City as Danny and the Dinosaur visit such locations as New York City’s High Line and Rockefeller Center.


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In New York by Marc Brown,  Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

This inviting and informative guide to New York is a love letter to the city by someone who calls the Big Apple his home.  Reader’s may be familiar with Marc Brown as the creator of Arthur.  The prolific artist shows off a different side of his range of styles here.  The pictures are incredibly detailed yet still remain appealing to children.  Each spread shows off a different aspect of the city such as the subway system, the Empire State building, Times Square, Central Park, The Statue of Liberty and more.  Other aspects of the city, such as the diverse types of foods available, are also introduced.  Children will be able to identify objects that were introduced in the previous books read in this storytime such as the boats in the harbor and the High Line.  Even Arthur himself makes an appearance as a balloon in the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  This is another excellent read aloud choice with enough details to propel rereads.  Like New York City itself, each visit will allow the reader to discover something new.


Finally, children can create their own cities using stickers and coloring pages from a workbook.  In this case, I used the book Fold Out and Play! by Craig Shuttlewood published by Paragon Books, 2017 (see below)

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Talking Book Library

Did you know that the Arizona Talking Book Library provides free services to those in need?  They serve the following individuals:

  • Arizona residents with low vision, making it difficult to read standard print
  • Those who find it hard to hold or handle a print book
  • Individuals who have a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction

They provide:

  • Lending Library: including audio books and magazines; movies with audio descriptions; and Braille books and magazines by postage free mail
  • Loan of special equipment to play audio books
  • Audio and Braille book downloads (BARD)
  • Access to NFB-NEWSLINE® and over 300 newspapers and magazines by phone and online.

Applications are available online or at your local library.

Please visit the Arizona Talking Book Library  or the National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped website for more information.

You may contact the Arizona Talking Book Library over the phone:

  • 602-255-5578 (Phoenix metro area)
  • 800-255-5578 (Toll Free within AZ)

*The Pinal County Library District also has two readers (see below) that can be sent out to member libraries in order to demonstrate with patrons.  If you would like to borrow one, please contact us at pinallibrary@pinalcountyaz.gov

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Professional Development Collection

The Pinal County Library District houses an extensive professional development collection for library professionals.  These materials are available to request by staff or the public through our catalog here:

Below is a list of some recent acquisitions.  Please borrow them.

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Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book
(2019 Release)

by Andrew Faulkner (Author), Conrad Chavez (Author)

This book is the perfect course to learn everything about the latest version of Adobe Photoshop. Edit photos, draw digitally and become a stellar graphic designer!
Full color throughout with step by step instructions.


Writer’s Market 2019:
The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published

by Robert Lee Brewer

Have you written a short story, novel or nonfiction book? Don’t know where to start in terms of looking for a publisher?  This excellent reference guide will give you thousands of listings for publishers, agents and more! We also have the new edition for Children’s Writers and Illustrators as well.


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The Outdoor Toddler Activity Book:
100+ Fun Early Learning Activities for Outside Play

by Krissy Bonning-Gould

Get your toddlers ready for preschool and beyond with these fun and educational outdoor toddler activities.  This colorful book has over a hundred ideas to booster skills and creativity.


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The Kid’s Awesome Activity Book:
Games! Puzzles! Mazes! And More!

by Mike Lowery

Pure interactive fun between two covers! This is a great workbook that teacher’s may want to use with groups or to draw inspiration from.

Simple craft for children with Cricut

Cricut is the brand-name of a product range of home die-cutting machines used for scrapbooking and various projects.  These can be useful for developing craft programs in libraries for children, especially when you need multiples of a craft element.

Below is a simple craft I did at a preschool that accompanied a storytime related to gardening.  After looking at some wild illustrations of plants in picture books, I wanted to give the children a chance to create on their own.

The machine I am using is Craft Explore Air 2.  It is widely available at many retailers.

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I log into Cricut Design Space from my desktop computer via the internet.  I can also use Design Space from an app on my phone.  I can create a design on my own or I can choose from many templates or pre-made designs.  Because my topic was gardening I do a search for plant stems.

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When I find an item I like, I simply import this into the Design Space.  Once it is imported I copy and paste it several times so that I can have multiples of the same element cut onto my vinyl paper.  The vinyl paper is 12″ square and come in a variety of colors.

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I click on the “Make It” button in design space.  I am then prompted to load my vinyl paper using the design mat.  I connect my computer or phone to the Cricut with bluetooth.  There is also a material type knob on the machine which I set to “vinyl”.

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The cricut machine cuts out multiples of my stem that I will use in the project.  The stems are then easily peeled off of the sheet.

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I cut up the remaining scraps with a scissor so that the preschoolers can use these stickers creatively.

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I place the sticker stems on construction paper.  Below it I cut out some cre paper to represent grass and I fasten it down with double-sided tape.  You can let the children do this step too, if you like.

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I make twenty of these in various colors to bring to my preschool group.  I then supply them with the scraps and crayons in order to see what they come up with.  The finished result looks something like this:

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Picture Books on Gardening

It takes persistence, patience and teamwork to develop a healthy garden.  These concepts are beautifully illustrated in the following three picture books.


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The Curious Garden by Peter Brown.  Little Brown & Co., 2009

Liam is a curious boy who lives in a drab industrial place.   There is little nature to be enjoyed in his world.  One day he discovers some wildflowers along an abandoned rail track that used to run on a raised platform throughout the city.  He begins to care for the plants.  Eventually the garden grows, covering the railway with color and life.  When winter comes, it takes its toll and nearly destroys the garden. Quickly however, because of his previous knowledge gained, Liam revives the garden and inspires others to do the same.  Eventually the whole look of the city changes into a green and creative environment.  The illustrations in this book often speak for themselves with beautifully painted spreads, at times divided into panels.  They show a transformation of not just a city, but also of the heart.


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The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes.  Flying Eye Books, 2015.

In this imaginative and lavishly illustrated book a miniature gardener, smaller than a blade of grass, tries to tend the land.  He works hard but the size of the garden is overwhelming.  His efforts tending to a flower goes noticed by normal sized children in the real world.  They begin to tend the garden, not knowing the little gardener exists.  As a result the garden flourishes.  The story speaks to the value of beauty in nature, quiet partnership and caring for your environment.  The text is simple but the detailed artwork lends itself to an almost search and find feel where a reader can make new discoveries with each viewing.


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We are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines and Kids.  Illustrated by Julianna Swaney. 2019, Thomas Nelson.

The narrative of this book demonstrates how all great achievements begin with humble intentions.  It shows how a family’s interest in gardening began with an interest in a small potted fern in a hardware store.  When the fern dies, the family becomes interested in why and goes to the library to do some research.  In the process, they learn how to better take care of plants and their interest grows.  Eventually they begin planting a variety of vegetables and flowers, facing some obstacles along the way.  This is an inspiring and informational story told with a light touch in pastel-hued watercolors.


Here are some other resources on this topic:

Noir fiction makes its way to comics

The term Noir was first coined by French filmmakers in the mid-1940s.  It refers to the dark look and downbeat mood of many American crime and detective films that came out after World War II.  Some famous examples would be The Maltese Falcon (1941) or Double Indemnity (1944).  Noir fiction has its root in pulp fiction as does the hardboiled genre.  In hardboiled fiction, the protagonist is usually a detective.  Noir fiction is a slightly different type of crime story because the protagonist is either a victim or the actual perpetrator.  James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy B. Hughes, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Charles Williams, Harry Whittington and Elmore Leonard are some of the most well-known names in noir fiction.

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Noir fiction was a popular pulp fiction genre from the 1940s through the 1970s.  As its popularity began to wane in the 1970’s, it started to get renewed interest in the 1980s by way of Barry Gifford.  Gifford is a novelist and poet.  He is most well-known for his screenplays of the David Lynch films Wild At Heart (1990) and Lost Highway (1997).  In the 1980s he was the editor for the crime fiction publisher Black Lizard.  They reprinted many of the works by the aforementioned authors.

Later, in 2004, the publisher Hard Case Crime took over where Black Lizard left off. Edited by writer Charles Ardai the series recreates the look and feel of the paperback crime novels of the 1940s and ’50s. The covers feature original illustrations done in a similar style as those seen in the paperbacks of that time period by using such veteran artists as Robert McGinnis.  Hard Case Crime reprints classics of the genre by authors such as Donald Westlake.  It also prints brand new material by people like Max Allan Collins, Lawrence Block and even Stephen King.

In 2017, Hard Case Crime also began to publish comic books penned by many authors that they publish.  This includes Quarry’s War, written by Max Allan Collins and based upon the series that Collins created.

Collins is a long time veteran of comics in addition to being a well-respected novelist.  He took over the writing chores of the Dick Tracy comic strip in 1977.  He also started the first long-running female detective crime comic, Ms. Tree, in 1981.  Additionally, Collins wrote the Road to Perdition graphic novels that were used as the basis for the 2002 film with Tom Hanks.

Noir comics have never been bestsellers but they do seem to have a cult following among adults.  They have been around since the 1950’s with EC’s controversial Crime SuspenStories.  Those comics were the causes of a Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency because of their graphic depictions of violence.  This led to the industry’s self-censorship with the comics code.  Crime comics have been making a comeback though.

Most notable is writer Ed Brubaker’s collaboration with Sean Phillips.  The two worked together on various superhero titles but then branched off to create the series Criminal in 2006.  Like some of the most effective stories in the Noir tradition, Criminal was a series of books that explored the underworld usually from the criminal’s perspective.  The series was followed by the graphic novels Fatale, Velvet, The Fade Out and Kill or Be Killed.  They are now (2019) continuing work on the Fatale series.

Another fan favorite noir series was 100 Bullets.  It was published by DC comics Vertigo imprint for ten tears from 1999-2009 and lasted 100 issues.  The series was written by Brian Azzarello and artist Edward Risso.  It contained very detailed plots, mystery and stylized graphic violence.

Probably the most well-known noir comic book series for adults was Frank Miller’s Sin City which started its publication in 1991.  It was a black and white series (with occasional flourishes of color) completely written and illustrated by Miller.  The books were later adapted into the films Sin City (2005) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014).  The comic book series won multiple Eisner awards between 1993-1998.

If you enjoy Noir, or are looking for comics geared at a more mature audience, I’d recommend checking out some of these comic books for adult readers.  They are available to download via our Hoopla app.

Additional resources:

Superhero Women

Cute girl as superhero against decoration. Comic strip city them

In recent years many female prose writers have also taken up writing for the comics. It is interesting that many of these authors are writers for young adults.  This demonstrates how big companies like Marvel and DC are taking risks in order to try to appeal to a wider audience.  It looks as though they are now trying to reach a more diverse audience with stories written by women.

Female cartoonists have always been an important part of comics history.  However, in the past, women who worked in mainstream comics were a rarity.  Most well known female cartoonists worked in animation, comic-strips, or in underground/alternative comics.  Mary Severin was an exception, having worked on many of Marvel’s superheros early on.   Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti were well-known names in the 1980s/1990s because they were women writers/editors on popular mainstream titles such as Superman and The Uncanny X-Men.  Around the same time, Diana Schutz was an important editor at Dark Horse known for publishing popular titles such as Frank Miller’s Sin City.  Colleen Doran and Jill Thompson are cartoonists and innovators who began working for Marvel and DC in the 1980s and are still working today.

Since the early 2000s, with the success of the Marvel Universe movies, DC and Marvel began hiring many writers from outside of the comics world to script their titles. In 2014, G. Willow Wilson reinvented Ms. Marvel as a Pakistani-American teen-age girl from Jersey City named Kamala Khan.  Around the same time the popular young adult author Rainbow Rowell began writing a new version of Marvel’s The Runaways.

In 2006 DC tried its hand at appealing to an audience of teenage girls with a new imprint called Minx.  That line only lasted two years, as the books never quite found an audience.  One of the books published by Minx was The Plain Janes, a rare comic written by a popular young adult author.  Two volumes of that book, illustrated by Jim Rugg, were completed before the cancellation occurred.  A renewed interest in titles like this are evident in the fact that more than ten years later this series will finally be completed. Little Brown will be publishing an expanded version of The Plain Janes in 2020.

Last year DC announced that they would be creating two new lines aimed at a tween and teen audience with DC Zoom and DC Ink.  Many of these titles are scripted by young adult authors.  This list includes Laurie Halse Anderson, Kami Garcia, Melissa de la Cruz, Meg Cabot and Marie Lu.

It’s a powerful time for female creators and readers!

Here are some links to more information on this subject: