Another picture book roundup for lazy Sunday, so I can catch up on my reading (cramming a few more books into what’s left of March). Today’s roundup includes three award-winning books: Olivia, written and illustrated by William Falconer (Book #51 for 2009), Zen Shorts written and illustrated by John J. Muth (Book #52 for 2009), and A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen (Book #53 for 2009).
I’ve wanted an Olivia book for so long, but I rarely buy picture books for more than P100 at Book Sale so I had to wait until I came across this great P65 board book. Olivia is the latest addition to the list of my character-based collections – Madeline, Babar, Curious George, and Eloise.
Olivia (Caldecott Honor Book 2001) is the story of that now-familiar scribbly pig who likes fashion, art, ballet, and books — a very cultured pig indeed. This picture book has few words, and as the story is character-based, there is not much of a plot. It’s mostly an introduction to Olivia as a character, and the rest of the Olivia books tell the stories.
The illustrations, of course, make the book special (hence the Caldecott). Olivia’s peculiar appearance gives her instant recall — a top heavy pig with little spindly arms and legs, rendered in charcoal and gouache, looking like she’s been scrawled onto the page. Olivia is mostly grayscale (except when she gets sunburnt at the beach), with the occasional spot color (usually clothes), and the simplicity emphasizes her comic appeal — she’ll have you in stitches with the visual humor that appeals to all ages.
There’s something very French and chic about Olivia (and not just the name) that delights me, because it’s unexpected from a pig character. The book is great for a budding fashionista — Olivia, and her family dress up in decidedly French styles – maillot swimsuits, striped shirts, turtlenecks, opera gowns, sailor dresses and dark shades. Her cultural tastes are also French, from Degas (there’s a Pollock too, though) to ballet, and Callas.
Next on the lineup is Zen Shorts (Caldecott Honor 2006), which I actually read a couple weeks ago for the Flippers’ Japanese book discussion. I found my paperback copy at Book Sale for P60, and as soon as I spotted it, I knew I had to buy it.
Zen Shorts features a panda named Stillwater, who befriends siblings Michael, Karl, and Addy. Enclosed within this story are three Zen “shorts” – short stories from Zen Buddhist literature that challenge the reader to reexamine his or her habits, desires, concepts and fears. In the same way, Stillwater uses the Zen “shorts” (“Uncle Ry and the Moon,” “A Heavy Load,” and “Farmer’s Luck”) as gentle teaching tools for the three kids.
There are two illustration styles used in this book, a full-color watercolor wash for the main story, and a heavier pen and ink style for the Zen Shorts, a great juxtaposition of Western and Oriental techniques that mirror the realistic Western story framing three stories of Oriental philosophy. I like how this all ties together in introducing abstract philosophical concepts to kids, with Stillwater as the very huggable sensei, not to mention that it makes for a very engaging picture book.
The last book, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for the Innocent and Experienced Travelers caught my eye because it had both the gold and silver badges (Newbery Medal 1982 and Caldecott Honor 1982), and it was only P65 at Book Sale.
The book is about a fictitious inn owned by William Blake, which houses his fantastic creations, such as the Rabbit, the Rat, the Wise Cow, the King of Cats, the Tiger, and the Man in the Marmalade Hat. William Blake is also one of the characters in this collection of poetry that pays homage to Blake’s work.
Gouache paintings bring the poetry and all its vivid characters to life, with intricate architectural details. I love the tigers and the cats in particular, who remind me of my beloved Tabby, Tomas :) A beautiful book showcasing beautiful poetry, this is a great addition to my picture book collection!
My copies: Olivia, board book; Zen Shorts and A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, paperback
My rating: Olivia 5/5 stars; Zen Shorts 5/5 stars; A Visit to William Blake’s Inn 5/5 stars