Our illustrator of the month for August is a weaver of worlds. As a cover artist, David McClellan draws you into the universe of a story before you even peek inside. You’ve most certainly seen his work before: If you’ve picked up The Guardian Herd series by Jennifer Lynn Alvaraz or The Magnificent 12 series by Michael Grant, for example, you’ll definitely recognize his majestic landscapes and charismatic characters.
What’s that in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superhero Dad! From bestselling author Timothy Knapman comes a soaring tale of a father-son duo that’ll put Batman and Robin to shame. Forged in partnership with illustrator and cartoonist Joe Berger, Knapman’s Superhero Dad celebrates the small moments in childhood that transform a normal father into an extraordinary figure.
This book reminds us all that it’s the little moments of presence that make a difference in your child’s life. Superhero Dad does all kinds of thoughtful, silly things with his son, from heaving the tiny family dog above his head a-la Lion King, to showing up in the wee hours to scare away the monsters. Time and again, Superhero Dad steps in to brighten his child’s day with simple, sweet-spirited acts of indulgence, like ice-cream pancakes for breakfast.
On the front cover, a small cutout carries huge symbolic weight. It presents Dad in full superhero accoutrements, demonstrating how his young son sees him: triumphant and courageous. The son appears in the bottom corner, cheering him on.
But once you lift the front cover, revealing the first page beneath it, you’ll see him as he is: a mild-mannered father, brandishing a heavily bandaged thumb, and sporting a red sweater instead of a red cape. The only things the two have in common are the father’s glasses and the son’s exuberant support.
Knapman and Berger transport you back to the childhood perspective of parents: infallible, incredible, and untouchable. This perspective reinforces a parent’s central role in a child’s life as a figure wearing many hats: friend, confidant, protector, playmate, and cheerleader. (Bonus points for the role-reversal in the last pages when Superhero Dad reveals that his superhero is his son.)
This book delivers a larger-than-life message disguised as its alter ego: a simple father-son bond. With great wit and sincere sentiment, Superhero Dad may not be able to leap buildings in a single bound, but it certainly can tug on your heart strings.
The ego of an artist is famously swinish, but in Nina Laden’s rollicking art-inspired story, swinish takes on a whole new meaning. With the introduction of barnyard versions of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, Laden pokes fun at pretension (Serial philanderer Pablo Picasso as a pig? Yes please!).
This surprisingly heartwarming story tells the tale of friends-turned-foes-turned-friends Pigasso and Mootisse. As is to be expected in any Laden book, it is overwrought with punny asides (which do you prefer: pork of art or moosterpiece?). Still, it retains a meaningful core message: that those with the most beautiful, creative minds are often plagued by doubt and insecurity, which inspires the thick outer shell and swinish ego of many an illustrious artist.
Laden is at home in the world of art, growing up the daughter of two artists and receiving a BFA in illustration from Syracuse. Her books are often informed by art and culture, and offer children an accessible entry into their own potential passions.
This book lays the foundation for a lifelong fascination with not just art, but also the complicated and compelling artists behind it. Laden’s complimentary illustration styles, leaning on Picasso and Matisse alternately, help to familiarize your child with their work, and the small biography section in the back contributes more context and answers any questions your young ones may have about the real artists.
At the center of this wildly entertaining story is a deep understanding of the artist’s condition. Pigcasso and Mootisse only begin fighting because they allow well-intentioned criticism to supersede a fruitful friendship. But isn’t that the tragedy of the artist? When you pour your whole soul into something, it’s difficult to find any objectivity, or to allow any vulnerability on the other side. Thankfully, Laden paints a fanciful and inspiring portrait of the beauty that can be achieved when ego is stowed and heart wins out.
Who was scared of the dark? Thought there were monsters in their closet? Dreaded bedtime at one point? Answer: practically everyone. Battling shadows was a war we all figuratively fought when we were young, and one that our ancestors literally fought for eons before fire and electricity.
Now, far removed from the epochs of nightblind prey, we still confront the leftover fear, justifiably inventing monsters to fill the void in the darkness. Stories can be the smoothest approach for engaging children with the monsters they face, offering them an avenue for understanding and a path towards conquering the reality of bad feelings.
Enter: Emma Yarlett’s spectacular Orion and the Dark. Yarlett, the bestselling author of the Nibbles the Book Monster series, weaves a sweet story of friendship and courage that centers on Orion and his struggle to overcome his fear of the dark. All the while, he is flanked by a cheerful, intensely un-scary embodiment of the very thing he dreads.
Yarlett tackles each child’s specific fear with equal consideration. Orion and the Dark play dress-up in the basement, send fishing lines down the bathtub’s ominous drain, and take turns jumping on and underneath the bed. After, the pair walk through town and find explanations for every odd sound that emanates from the darkness, whether it be the snore of Orion’s slumbering dad, the cry of a neighbor’s newborn, the tumble of a trash can, or the rumblings of an airplane overhead. Each concern is met with a wry marriage of humor and understanding.
The most charming facet of this book, though, is definitely Yarlett’s characterization of the Dark. Illustrated as an amorphous blob, The Dark is anything but menacing. In fact, the only thing the Dark wants from Orion is acceptance. By turning Orion’s fear on its head, Yarlett shows her reader that sometimes the only way to conquer a fear is to befriend it.
So put away the monster-repelling spray and switch off the night light: Orion and the Dark is a child’s first step towards overcoming a fear of the dark.
For a book that has sold a million copies and has been translated into more than twenty languages, Tashi does not enjoy much acclaim in the United States. In fact, this book is strangely under-loved on American book charts, but it’s number one in our hearts. Wanna know why? It was like this: Tashi instills a love for adventure in your child. His sensational stories pique a natural curiosity for the different cultures and customs of far-away lands, and offer an exploratory path through folklore.
Tashi means “auspiciousness” in Tibetan, which is a fitting moniker for a character that presages a fantastic series. Anna Fienberg and her mother, Barbara Fienberg, were once talking about Barbara’s childhood propensity for telling big, creative fibs. “The kids would crowd around, dying to hear the latest tales,” Anna says. “We began talking about a character like her – a character who told fantastic stories – and over many cups of tea we cooked up Tashi.”
Tashi, a small boy touting big adventure, is from a foreign, far-away land where every incredible, unbelievable, legendary character lives side by side. Throughout his adventures, he encounters everything from a Golem (a protector figure in Jewish folklore), to Baba Yaga (an enigmatic, often villainous creature featured in Eastern European legends). Our wiley hero balances the line between humor and danger so adeptly that the reader hardly notices that Tashi is in jeopardy until he cleverly twists his way clear.
Tashi is special partly because it was built on a common love for stories, born from a conversation between mother and daughter. This bond and experience is something that Literati aims to foster, as we believe every child should know the boundless delight of a sharing a beloved story. Not only is it emotionally rewarding, but reading with your child is an integral part of encouraging healthy brain development. Award winning illustrator Kim Gamble’s subtle illustrations shine too. The simple black and white pencil drawings leave a handful of details up to the imagination, giving room for your child to create part of the story too, just like Tashi.
Tashi is also a wonderful balm for reluctant readers. A character as vivacious as the come, Tashi is a loveable trickster with no shortage of cleverness up his sleeve. When it comes to introducing early chapter books, it is all about incorporating engaging characters, and Tashi is a rare gem: equipped with the charm and versatility to beguile even the most unenthusiastic reader.
Once you read the first book, we suspect that you’ll be voraciously craving the next one, and then the next one, and then the next one. The good news is, there are sixteen more under the Feinbergs’ belt. And while the stories themselves are each unique and fantastic, Tashi will always start his story the same way: it was like this….
Thought you knew Van Gogh’s Starry Night? Enough to tell the real painting from a forgery? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Taking twenty iconic masterpieces, illustrator Julia Durr creates “forgeries” for your child to detect. Go on, try it. We’ll be here when you come back–with all 23 differences.
There’s a reason everyone remembers Marzollo’s classic I Spy series, and it’s not just that they kept your kid quiet. Activity books are sneaky training grounds for improving attention and concentration. As your child hunts for differences, their brains light up and forging connections.
So, while your child searches for an extra window in Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel or a stray dog in Kirchner’s Brandenburg Gate, they will be reinforcing skills that are essential for mathematics, language, and other key areas. Children thrive on educational games. And this highly engaging book is a stepping stone for any reluctant reader.
Kutschbach has created over a dozen activity books inspired by artists like Monet, Salvador Dali, and Frida Kahlo. As a professional art historian and a mother, she is passionate about using books as a vehicle for introducing children to the art world.
Your child will encounter Seurat’s pointillism, the hyperrealism of the Renaissance, Monet and the Impressionists, and the explosive abstract art of the twentieth century. Because the world of art can be intimidating for newcomers, what better way to introduce your child than with a game?
The pang of rejection is a heart-wrenching feeling that we all know too well. The glow of doing something they told you you could never do, however, is a soaring, gorgeous creature of a feeling that warms your chest and stretches a smile on your face. And when your achievements fly in the face of those who told you it could not be done, there is an immense satisfaction to pulling it off.
George Ferris’s story encapsulates that feeling. Inventor of the eponymous Ferris Wheel, he encountered severe pushback and worrying doubt from many people, yet he never gave up on his dream. In Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, Kathryn Gibbs Davis imbues within her reader that same incredible power of never giving up on yourself.
Meant to be the American answer to Paris’s Eiffel Tower at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, the erection of the Ferris Wheel was a Sisyphean process. Ferris was met with continuous resistance, at first from the event’s supervisory architect, Daniel Burnham. Burnham called for something spectacular, telling his engineers and architects to “Make no little plans,” but was intimidated by Ferris’ idea and shot him down.
Ferris was not deterred, however. Instead, he worked tirelessly to recruit investors, gain the endorsements of fellow engineers, and rectify safety concerns. Finally, his plans received approval from the World’s Fair officials, but now, he only had four months to make it a reality, and was using $25,000 of his own savings (a huge chunk of change in 1893, and roughly half a million dollars in 2018). Now, riding on the shoulders of one man, were the hopes of the fair, the American reputation, and his own personal financial and social standings.
Of course, everything went wrong.
Construction began during one of the coldest winters Chicago had seen in years, and the weather conspired to form a three-foot-thick layer of ice on the ground. And below? A 20-foot-deep quicksand pit of all things! Locals spouted doubt, speculating that the wheel would never be finished and that Ferris was a madman.
The pressure mounted as June approached, but against the odds, Ferris finally pushed that boulder up the mountain. He completed construction on the wheel just in time, on June 21, 1893, and successfully awed fair-goers for the rest of the summer. Ferris’ original wheel ran successfully for more than a decade before retiring quietly to a scrapyard. Now, the Ferris Wheel is a ubiquitous sight, from carnivals in the American Midwest to the bustling urban hub of London, and has perhaps hosted the most first kisses out of any amusement park ride (a remarkable feat).
George Ferris won that victorious, radiant feeling when he pulled it off and wowed millions. Davis’ book gracefully illustrates Ferris’ achievement in a way that seamlessly betrays warmth and triumph. Mr. Ferris and His Wheel paints an empowering image of the incredible heights that can be reached with a healthy dose of faith,dedication, and imagination.
In Édouard Manceau’s Presto Change-o: Book of Animal Magic, nothing is quite what it seems. Clever designs on each page contain rotating parts, and every illustration can be transformed from an ordinary object to a playful animal. For example, take a gander at an innocent flower. Just a flower, right? Wrong. It’s a lion in disguise! But don’t worry; this lion has a big heart.
Manceau’s simple shape-illustrations and bright, basic colors let you and your little one focus on the magic at hand. And your child’s hands will be busy with the pivoting parts. Active hands make for active minds. They’ll have all sorts of fun, transforming pots to raccoons, and practicing their dexterity.
All of these dynamic illustrations are accompanied by clever text. The rhymes almost sound like magic spells, and the sweet verses are riddle-esque. Once the animal is revealed, your child can easily guess how the rhymes end, letting them engage in the text as well as the bold illustrations.
You’ll lose track of the time with this highly engaging book. Well, you might only lose your clock. Because … presto change-o! Now your clock is an owl. HOOdini’s done it again.
Life at the top of the world is buried in snow, filled with white fur, and covered with white footprints. It’s in this bleak climate that we first meet the young heroine of our story. And if at first glance our world seems dismal and gray, we’ll see that color can still be found in unlikely places.
Riffing on the idea of the Arctic as a blank canvas, this book’s appropriately named illustrator, Lee White, fills the pages with watercolor scenes of smooth blues and moody grays.
Dreaming of color, the young girl sits in the gray snow. One dark night, her grandfather leads her up the mountain side with friends and family who also hope for color. Before her eyes, the night sky erupts into a dazzling spread of vibrant greens, blooming reds, and radiant purples. The stale Arctic canvas is flooded with a spinning display of colors: the Northern Lights.
Inspired by the brilliant spectacle, she and her grandfather create their own beauty with watercolors. Their playful creativity ensures that the joy found on that mountainside endures, even as the aurora fades.
We all have an instinctive “biophilia,” or love for the living world. Author Danna Smith began her own affinity with the outdoors when she was a child, surrounded by the Wasatch mountains in Salt Lake City. Nature remains her biggest inspiration. It invites us all to take on the role of artist and fosters creative exploration.
Think you’ve got prickly in-laws? Think again. With relatives like Unclelus NotoCactulus and Grandma Melocata, Felipe’s family is stuffed with stuck-up succulents. They’re all about personal space at Cacti Manor. Well, everyone but Felipe; he just wants a hug. But his family is too stiff-stemmed to pay him any attention.
One day a new friend, a yellow balloon, floats into his life. (You can imagine how well that goes.) Felipe accidentally puts the balloon in the hospital, and the Cacti family name is dragged through the dirt. Since his family only cares about their reputation, Felipe uproots himself to find someone else who does care about him.
Felipe finds a solid friend, a little rock. Since they both have families that took them for granite, the two kindred souls become fast friends. The beginnings of their adventures (stargazing, tennis, and popping inflatable pools) are all captured in a scrapbook on the endpage. The illustrations are loose and emotive. No surprise, given Simona Ciraolo’s background in animation.
The lesson? We can all be a little sharp sometimes, but that’s no reason to build a terrarium in the desert and give up. What you need are friends who stick with you. Those kinds of friends rock.