Gaston

  • Author: Kelly DiPucchio
  • Illustrator: Christian Robinson
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers             Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 4 to 8
  • Perfect for: Anyone who loves a great picture book. Anyone who loves dogs. Anyone who loves a sweet story. Anyone who loves adorable artwork.

Gaston cover

Holy moly.

I could keep this post to just those two words because—holy moly—is this book good. But it deserves more, so I’ll start with that fact that I haven’t seen such sweet storytelling in a picture book in a dog’s age (ha!). But seriously, this is my new favorite picture book of the year so far.

As this beautifully told story begins, Mrs. Poodle is the proud new mama of four little puppies. Three of them, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo-, and Ooh-La-La, are clearly baby poodles. Gaston, the fourth pup, is clearly not a poodle. The author is very clever and funny in her way of not telling the reader outright that Gaston is different from the other pups, but rather, she writes, “Would you like to see them again?” and the artwork shows the puppies from different angles, showing how Gaston is clearly different from his siblings.

Gaston interior 1

Gaston interior 2

Then one day Mrs. Poodle takes her pups out to the park and she runs into Mrs. Bulldog, who has with her four pups of her own, Rocky, Ricky, Bruno, and Antoinette. And one of those pups is clearly not a bulldog. In fact, one is clearly a poodle.

Gaston interior 4

The mothers realize there has been a terrible mix-up and they agree to let the pups decide what to do to make the mistake right. The dogs go with what looks to be their correct family—poodles with poodles and bulldogs with bulldogs. But right away, they know something is wrong. “That looked right…it just didn’t feel right.” writes the author.

Each dog goes home with its new family, but things are not working out. Antoinette wants to do things that aren’t “proper” and Gaston doesn’t want to do the aggressive things that the other bulldogs want to do. The artwork on each page is filled with so many details, and for me a highlight is Gaston wanting to just read and sip his tea while the other bulldogs play with garbage. And Antoinette aggressively pulling apart a pink pillow and knocking down other dainty, pretty things like a vase of flowers is just the kind of addition to the story that make it more than just a good picture book, but a great one.

Gaston interior 5

Once the two families are back at the park the next morning, they immediately trade places back to their original mismatched families. But they stay in touch and help each other learn the ways of poodles and bulldogs. Gah! Gaston showing the other bulldogs how to be tender is heart-wrenchingly sweet.

Gaston interior 6

And the ending of the book…can we talk about how awesome this final spread is? It actually brought a tear to my eye because it’s so perfectly wonderful. The author writes, “And many years later, when Gaston and Antoinette fell in love and had puppies of their own, they taught them to be whatever they wanted to be.” The illustration shows a bulldog with a poodle tail and a pom-pom on its head, for goodness sake. And then there’s another puppy that has one bulldog ear and one poodle ear and the markings of both poodles and bulldogs. The illustrator gets major kudos from me for creating something so visually sweet and sentimental yet crazy funny at the same time. That scene is picture book perfection in my eyes.

Gaston interior 7

I could go on for days about this book. About how the pacing of the text is so wonderful. About how the story has such a great message, yet it’s not heavy-handed in any way, shape, or form. About how the colors are so vibrant. About how the different angles we see the dogs at adds so much humor to the book. About how happiness just exudes from the pages because of the infectious smiles on all those dogs. About how the family photos on the walls of the houses are just some of the background details that make reading this book so much fun.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could not fall in love with Gaston. Super highly recommended. In fact, the copy I read of this book is from the library, which sadly means that I have to give it back. But I love it so much that I told my husband that I think today should be named National Buy Your Wife a Picture Book Day because I really want to own a copy of it.

 

Bad Bye, Good Bye

  • Author: Deborah Underwood
  • Illustrator: Jonathan Bean
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt                    Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 4 to 8
  • Perfect for: Anyone with a child who is moving or who has recently moved. Anyone who loves a great artwork. Anyone who loves a well-told story.

Bad Bye cover

So, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the publication of this book because it’s illustrated by Jonathan Bean. I’ve featured his work on my blog before and you know how much I love his art. So I was especially interested in getting my hands on this new book because the artwork style in Bad Bye, Good Bye is very different from what he has published before.

And what a treat this book is. Deborah Underwood has written a seemingly simple rhyming story about a family that is moving and how that move is very, very upsetting to a little boy in the family, and then how that move turns out to end up not so bad because there are new, fun things to do in the new home.

The word choice for each stage of the story is just right. There are lots of “bad”s at the beginning, with other words that set the unhappy, uncomfortable mood for the trip away from home. As the story progresses and the car makes it way towards its new home, the words get brighter and smoother and happier. Once the family arrive at their new place, a sense of excitement abounds with lots of “new”s  and positive words.

Bad Bye interior 1

The artwork works on so very many levels. First, the weather from beginning to end matches the mood of the boy who is moving. At the first house, rain and dark skies fill his world as he has to leave the place he knows as home. Once the family gets on the road, the clouds start to get brighter and once they arrive at their new home, the family is surrounded by clear skies (even though it’s nighttime, there is still a cloudless, cheerful glow to the air).

Bad Bye interior 2

Bad Bye interior 3

Second, the surroundings from beginning to end match the mood of the boy. At the beginning, there is nothing but the hustle and bustle of moving men and the downcast look in the faces of friends who have come to say goodbye. In the car, the scene is filled with a crying boy, a sad pup, and worried parents as they cross a gray bridge, driving behind neutral-colored cars. Then as the family drives on, surroundings become brighter, with colorful clothing coming out from under darker raincoats, and a stay at a roadside motel provides clear blue water, a bright “vacancy” sign and a look of contentment for the entire family. Once the family arrives at their new location, it’s nighttime, but the brightness of the lights from inside the house shining out into the night, as well as the bright wallpaper, and clear night filled with lightning bugs fills the pages with warmth.

Bad Bye interior 4

 

Bad Bye interior 5

And yet another way the art works so well is through the depiction of the moods of the dogs in the story. I love how in all of Jonathan Bean’s books he shows emotions through the animals he includes, and in turn shows that animals have emotions just as people do! The dog of the family that is moving is loyal (he tries to keep the movers from taking a box from the little boy), he’s a good friend (he sticks by the boy when he’s sad), he’s sad to see his home go by in the car window, but then as things start to get rosier, he finds that he’s happy to meet other dogs and have a rest at the motel (where he can relax and lick an ice cube), and he helps to check out the new house with the boy to make sure it’s okay and not scary. And when the new house has a dog next door, both dog neighbors are super happy and show their appreciation to their families with big licks.

Bad Bye interior 6

Bad Bye interior 7

Bad Bye interior 8

The book is a great story to show that things really do turn out all right. Even hard, sad moves can turn out well because new, exciting things are around the corner even if you don’t think anything can compare to how things used to be. This is a well-written and artfully illustrated story and I highly recommend it.

If you’re interested in reading about and seeing how the illustrator went about creating the artwork for this book, the lovely folks at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast did a lovely interview with Mr. Bean here, where he shares his approach.

 

Froodle

  • Author/illustrator: Antoinette Portis
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press/Neal Porter                     Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 4 to 8
  • Perfect for: Kids who love a silly book. Anyone who loves birds. Anyone looking for a book that shows that even the most serious beings (be they birds or people) have silliness in them.

 

Froodle cover

This fantastic book starts out with a look at an ordinary backyard with a focus on ordinary pets, a cat and dog, giving their ordinary “woof” and “meow.” On the next spread, we see neighborhood birds giving their ordinary “caw,” “coo,” “peep,” and “caw”—until…little brown bird decides that she doesn’t want to sing the same old song. So instead of a “peep,” out comes, “Froodle sproodle!”

Froodle interior 1

Froodle interior 2

Black crow then steps in, the obvious leader of the neighborhood. He’s serious-looking and rule-abiding and the others obviously look up to him. Black crow gives little brown bird the staredown. But little brown bird persists and then says, “Tiffle baffle, just a little miffle!” Then all heck breaks loose in the neighborhood and the other birds start spouting their silliness.

Froodle interior 4

They all ask the crow to try letting loose, but he can’t and insists that there is no such thing as a silly black crow and flies away.

Then after some time of listening in to his friends, and realizing that silly can be okay, out comes a “Wuppy!” from the crow. The sparkle in his eye and his proud stance shows his happiness in being able to let loose a bit with his friends.

Froodle interior 5

Froodle interior 6

I think kids will love reading or hearing this book read to them because of the silly words. And while I love the message—that even the most stern-looking people (and birds) have a fun side to them—the book isn’t message-heavy but instead it’s just a fun read-aloud that will leave lots of kids giggling and it’s truly a great book just to look at.

The artwork is done in a mixture of pencil, charcoal, and ink and then colored in digitally. I love the effect the digital coloring has on the artwork because it adds so much texture to it. The grass and bushes on the opening illustration look like you could reach out and touch them and they would feel like real grass and a real bush would.

I love how the birds are drawn with a heavy black outline, which makes each bird stand out on the pages. Each birds’ respective colors really pop on the page against their thick outline. And their personalities shine through in how they are drawn (little brown bird looks innocent and sweet, while cardinal looks bold and daring).

Overall, Froodle is a book that feels fresh and new and will garner a lot of fans among young kids.