Abe Lincoln’s Dream

Lane Smith’s Abe Lincoln’s Dream invites us, with America’s 16th president, to travel through dreams and corny jokes, and to consider the state of the nation. In a tone that falls between the humor of his John, Paul, George and Ben (2006) and the reflective mood of the Caldecott-Honor Grandpa Green (2011), Smith’s latest picture…

Eat, drink, and be merry

Bumble-Ardy gets adopted by his Aunt Adeline after his “immediate family gorged and gained weight. / And got ate.”  When he throws himself a birthday party without her permission, Aunt Adeline threatens his guests: “Scat, get lost, vamoose, just scram! / Or else I’ll slice you into ham!”  On the next two-page spread, Bumble tells…

Speak, Topiary

The capacity to surprise is a sign of a true artist.  Though famous for his visual and verbal wit, Lane Smith has written a gentle, moving book about growing old. Grandpa Green has humor, but it relegates its sole joke to a footnote.  (After reporting that in fourth grade, Grandpa Green “got chicken pox,” Smith…

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The problem with a blurb from Neil Gaiman on a cover is that, invoking Gaiman, it inevitably diminishes the book by comparison.  This is not the book’s fault.  Gaiman is one of our most gifted contemporary writers.  Catherynne M. Valente may not be, but I wouldn’t even be thinking about the comparison if Gaiman’s endorsement…

Bow-Wow!

A dog.  A bug.  A walk around the block.  From this simple premise comes one of the great picture contemporary picture books — and, while we’re on the subject, great picture books, period.  With a spare, clean design and plenty of humor, Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash’s Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug (2007) is a pleasure…

Chris Van Allsburg’s True Story

His first non-fiction work, Queen of the Falls (2011) is also one of Chris Van Allsburg’s best.  Indeed, in some ways it marks a return to form.  After writing and illustrating a picture book each year for about 15 years, Van Allsburg stopped producing picture books for a while.  Following Bad Day at Riverbend (1995),…

Kadir Nelson Is the Best; or, When the Caldecott Committee Strikes Out

What makes an award-winner?  One of the best picture books of 2008, Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (2008) won neither the Caldecott Medal nor a Caldecott Honor.  The following year, Jerry Pinkney became the first African American to win the Caldecott Medal — “given to the artist of the…

The Trauma Games

War is hell.  If General Sherman (and, I expect, many others) hadn’t said it first, I suspect Suzanne Collins might have chosen those three words as a subtitle for her Hunger Games trilogy.  As its predecessors did, Mockingjay dramatizes the physical and emotional consequences of war.  It’s especially adept at displaying the scars invisible to those of…

It’s a Lane Smith Book

Comedy is hard.  Lane Smith makes it look easy.  I’m not going to reveal the punch line to his latest, It’s a Book, because I don’t have to: There are plenty of amusing moments along the way.  When the jackass asks, “Where’s your mouse?” Smith provides a wordless page in which a mouse emerges from…