a list of…five books you don’t actually read

Art & Max, illustrations, and a few words!, by David Wiesner

All five books today are brilliant stories, carried along by pictures rather than words.  The first one is about a sober-minded artist and walking-disaster friend.

So…Art is an artistic iguana.  A serious portrait artist.  He is all set up in the midst of the arid desert, with a gramophone playing (Pink Floyd),palette, easel, paints, model.  Very serious.

Max is a highly-enthusiastic gecko.  Friend to Art.  Well…he considers Art to be his friend at least.

As Art concentrates on some last, perfect touches on his painting, Max whooshes in, gushing over Art’s work, clamoring for the chance to paint, interrupting…annoying…demanding help choosing a subject!!!  “What should I paint?!”

In exasperation Art suggests that Max paint him.  So…Max does.  He literally.  Paints.  Art.

Suddenly Art is a Crayola-colored iguana.  A very upset iguana.  Max goes to great lengths to remove the electrifying paint job from Art’s scaly body, with numerous, extraordinarily surprising results!  In the end, let’s just say Seurat would be proud, and Art has greatly expanded his ideas of style and technique!

Humorous, imaginative, very clever book by a multiple-Caldecott-Medal-winning illustrator.  Wiesner’s book explodes with paint, enthusiasm, cause-and-effect, and happiness.  Delightful!

The Tree House, created and illustrated by Marije Tolman and Ronald Tolman

This is a magical tree house.  A triple-decker, perched in the branches of a towering tree which rises, curiously enough, out of the sea.

First to arrive and inhabit this tantalizing space is a great white polar bear, who glides through the icy waters on the back of a whale, and clambers onto the wooden-plank platform.  Next, a honey-brown bear arrives by boat.  As these two settle in, with picture books, milk, and toast, the seasons change, and soon a pink mist of flamingos arrives.  As well as a rhinocerous, two pandas, and a peacock.  More animals arrive, including a bear in a jolly balloon-ship.  The seasons keep winding by, and when the air is filled with snowflakes, and the full moon glows in a winter-blue night, the two bears are again left alone, to perch on the tippy top of their glorious tree house and silently take it all in.

Marije Tolman is a Dutch illustrator, and her father is a sculptor, painter, and graphic artist.  This book was originally published in the Netherlands.  And — why is this? — it has a distinctly European feel to it.  Perhaps it’s the clean lines and use of space…Anyway, it’s a visual pleasure, whispering imaginative thoughts through wonder-filled pages.

Leaf, ideas, sound effects, and pictures by Stephen Michael King

We start out with a little, shaggy-haired boy.

Mummy seems to think he needs a haircut.  Horrors!  Escaping the dreaded shears, our pal dashes out of doors, dives into the shrubbery, when…flutter…flap…toink!  A cheery red bird drops a seed on his head.  A seed that sprouts.  Happiness and glee!

The rest of the day, our boy and his faithful dog nurture that little sprout, shielding it from the sizzling sun, and making supreme efforts, with numerous failures mixed in, to properly water it.

That night, our  boy has actual nightmares about his sprout’s well-being.  Nightmares of giant sprout-munching caterpillars and toothy, sprout-gobbling plants.  But the worst of it is that Mummy has her scissors out again next day and choppity snip clack, off goes his brown mop and the little green sprout along with it.

Sadly, our boy plants his sprout-and-hair clump.  But happily, it grows!  As he grows into a lanky young man, the dear sprout grows into a glorious, sturdy tree, until we reach a very happy, and here-we-go-again ending.

Capricious, spritely, wordless tale with an intuitive grasp of what matters to children.  Stephen Michael King is an Australian artist whose skippity-doo-dah characters will tickle the fancy and funny bone of many young children. 

Lights Out, created and illustrated by Arthur Geisert

It’s a prickly problem for a young pig:  his parents say 8:00 is lights out time, but he’s afraid to go to sleep in the dark.  What to do?

Not to worry!  This little piggy invents a Rube Goldberg-esque Light-Turning-Off contraption that will not fail to amaze and delight you!

Making use of cords, pulleys, ramps, magnets, and wheels, to be sure.  But also a pendulum, top, and cascading dominoes, a tricycle and toy truck, broom and garden hose, bellows and Slinky, baseball bat, hack saw and bag of sand.  Good gravy!  By the time everything has swung, rolled, bumped, tipped, snipped, poured, and poinged, the ingenuous little pig is fast asleep, when click! out goes the light.

Fantastic!  Geisert’s wildly imaginative invention will inspire TinkerToy-Lego engineering feats, as surely as it will entertain curious minds.  The ink-and-wash, mechanically-detailed illustrations amazingly lead us from one tripwire to another all the way through this creative escapade.  Great fun!

Sector 7, another wordless book by David Wiesner

The place:  The Empire State Building, New York, NY
The occasion:  School field trip
The weather:  Heavy clouds and fog

While one schoolboy is bumbling through the thick whiteness enveloping the observation deck, he encounters a mischievous, playful cloud.  The cloud invites the boy on a ride across the skies, and they wind up at Sector 7 — a sci-fi cloud-making factory suspended in air.  Huge propellers keep it afloat; mammoth funnels poof out clouds according to the blueprints and specifications issued by the Assignment Station.

Problem is, the clouds are sick and tired of the same old shapes.  Round and fleecy has become boring.  They’re longing for an utterly new look.  The schoolboy goes to work, drawing elaborate sea creatures — puffer fish and octopi; spiny, stripey, finned and tailed.  The clouds are delighted!  But the technicians in the Assignment Station — not so much.  They send the schoolboy back to Manhattan on a cheerful cloud taxi, where he is just in time to rejoin his school troop.

And what of the poor clouds?  Are they relegated to same-old, same-old once more?  You’ll have to look it up and see.

This is a Caldecott Honor book by the man with the effervescent imagination, David Wiesner.  Fantastical, absorbing, and a clear storyline without a single word.  Brilliant!

Amazon links for these titles:
Art & Max
The Tree House
Lights Out
Sector 7 (Caldecott Honor Book)