Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fog Island

Ungerer declares his latest picture book a homage to Ireland. Set in a coastal town "in the back of beyond," The Fog tells an atmospheric tale of two children, a brother and sister, who become lost in a soupy fog at sea and must find their way back home.

Finn and Cara live with their parents in a cozy cottage. Their father is a fisherman; their mother manages the family farm. The children help out, tending sheep and cutting peat for the hearth.

As a surprise, one day their father presents them with a small rowboat--a curragh. He also warns them never to go near Fog Island, "a jagged black tooth" miles offshore.

But while out in their boat, a thick fog surrounds Finn and Cara, and strong currents pull them to the island. While exploring the eerie place, the children encounter Fog Man, "a wizened old man" covered from head to toe in strands of long, seaweed-green hair.

A genial host, Fog Man shows the children how he makes fog and promises to provide them a fog-free journey home the following morning. The trio spend the night singing songs and slurping shellfish stew. Although Fog Man is not around when Finn and Cara wake up, true to his word, the fog is gone.

After a eventful trip home--in which they lose the boat in a fierce storm and are rescued by fishermen--the children are reunited with their parents, none the worse for wear. They find, however, that no one believes their story about the Fog Man. But the brother and sister know the truth, and when Cara finds an extremely long strand of hair, they giggle in mutual appreciation.

The mist-colored illustrations are studded with intriguing details for young readers to wonder at. As they climb a steep mountain stairway, claw-like branches seem to reach out for them, adding to the scene's tension, and the jagged slabs of stones appear eerily human. Yet throughout their adventure, the children show no fear and prove themselves resilient. Ungerer's message of curiosity and imagination trumping fear is one that will resonate with many readers. It certainly did with this one.

If you'd like to hear Ungerer talk in length about Fog Island, I urge you to watch this YouTube video.

Fog Island
by Tomi Ungerer
Phaidon, 48 pages
Published: April, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Odd Duck

Theodora swims balancing a teacup on her head, enjoys mango salsa with her duck pellets, and exercises her wings every morning (yet never flies). Claude dyes his feathers strange colors, constructs crazy art projects in his yard, and spends his nights gazing at the stars. So which duck is the odd one?

Cecil Castellucci has written a touching and sophisticated graphic story about two friends who learn to appreciate the other's nonconformity. Readers see the story through Theodora's POV, from the day that Claude moves into the empty house next door--disrupting her routine--to their gradual realization that "even though they were very different, they felt the same way about most things."

Then one day as the pair waddle past a group of snickering ducks, they overhear one remark, "Look at that odd duck." Theodora and Claude each assume the comment was meant for the other. Their fallout drives them back to their respective houses and appears to end the friendship. But Theodora finds life isn't the same without her odd friend and ultimately comes to a realization about herself.

Books about friendship are big with six to ten year olds, the group this book is clearly aimed at. Young readers will find much to enjoy in the six short chapters. And the illustrations are a joy, with hundreds of details for readers to ponder in the duck universe that Varon creates. In fact, pairing Castellucci, best known for her YA graphic novels, with Varon (Robot Dreams) was an inspired choice. Both are rather odd ducks themselves (in the best possible way) and their collaboration is proof that birds of a feather flock together!

Odd Duck
by Cecil Castellucci
illustrations by Sara Varon
First Second, 96 pages
Published: May 2013

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight

The clever projects in this crafts book take art to the next level. What you make is important, of course, but what you do with your creation counts too. Aimed at elementary-age kids, Sneaky Art tempts budding artists to call forth their inner sneak, which for most will not be a problem. Each of the 24 projects uses everyday materials that are easily found around the house. Simple-to-follow directions allow kids to customize the project. Jocelyn then offers suggestions about where to place the projects for maximum effect.

Ideas for what to make and where to display the finished projects abound. Make a fractured face out of sticky notes and facial features snipped from old magazines and arrange them on a parking meter. Float a cheerful styrofoam boat in a public fountain. Click a flock of bright red bird silhouettes on a tree branch or a grocery store cart.

Many of these good-natured projects are designed to bring a smile to a viewer's face, like "Lucky Penny," in which kids glue a penny to a cardboard shape and then compose a cheerful message. The penny can be slipped into a friend's backpack or left on the sidewalk for a stranger to find.

Throughout the book, Jocelyn stresses the playful, surprising nature of sneaky art and cautions against creating anything that will damage property or cause hurt feelings. Sneaky art isn't permanent, something kids may have trouble wrapping their heads around. But as Jocelyn points out, "although it's hard to leave behind a treasure that you're proud of, you can always make another work of art."

If you'd like to check out some sample crafts from the book, including "Lucky Penny," click here.

Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight
by Marthe Jocelyn
Candlewick Press, 64 pages
Published: March 2013