elegant imports…picture books with an air of elsewhere

I love imported picture books. I’m drawn to them like a moth to a lantern.

from The Blue Hour by Isabelle Simler

Stylistically they are often marked by a je ne sais quoi air, something artistically, something conceptually, that is clearly not American…but what is it? Like that elusive spice I can taste but not name, that quality of sound I can’t articulate that distinguishes one voice from another.

from The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna

Sometimes I find picture book imports have a tone or idea that I’m unsure will resonate well with most American children. A vague resolution or melancholy quality that puts them just beyond the radar. Often, in these cases, the artwork is achingly gorgeous, the text subtle and thought-provoking. I wish I’d saved up those titles for a post full of picture books for adults because many of you would find them deeply satisfying. Alas, I plopped them back in the library return for you to find yourselves.

from Why Am I Here; illustration by Akin Duzakin

Today, though, I’ve got some lovely new imports to share with you. They may not work for kids who need superhero action and belly laughs. For more patient, curious listeners, check out these gems.

My Dog Mouse, written and illustrated by Eva Lindström
originally published in Sweden; English language edition published in 2017 by Gecko Press

This dear girl loves a dog named Mouse. Despite his old, slowpokey, waddlesome ways, she adores him. Loves taking him to the park for a picnic and a good sniff around. Loves tucking a couple of meatballs in her pocket for a mid-stroll treat.

What we readers don’t discover until the end of this gentle, ambling narrative, is that Mouse doesn’t belong to her. He’s the dog next door. “I wish Mouse were mine,” she tells us in the end. The last, wordless image makes me believe Mouse feels the same way about her.

Bittersweet and tender, a vulnerable peek inside a small person’s mind and heart. Ages 3 and up.

A Walk in the Forest, written and illustrated by Maria Dek
originally published in France; English edition published in 2017 by Princeton Architectural Press

This one hits all the right Orange Marmalade buttons with its lauding of free, inquisitive time spent out of doors, the quiet, unrushed elegance of the text, and the sumptuous color and line of the illustrations.

Maria Dek exactly captures the wonders of a forest ramble.

Magnificent and alluring for ages 2 to adult.

Professional Crocodile, a wordless book by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara di Giorgio
originally published in Italy; first U.S. edition published by Chronicle Books in 2017

Gorgeous illustrations tell this imaginative story in panels and full-page spreads that’ll knock your socks off.

Enter a curious world populated by people and animals going about their daily affairs with nonchalance. Cheetahs ride the subway right along with every Tom, Dick, and Harry. No big deal.

One crocodile wakes to his alarm and begins the day. Teeth brushing. Tie choosing. Long commuting. We follow his every move. Where is he going? What is his profession? You will be most surprised, and along the way mesmerized by the brimful, colorful city he calls home. Fabulous fantasy for ages 3 and up.

The 5 Misfits, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
published originally in Italy; first U.S. edition published in 2017 by Frances Lincoln Books

Every time a new Beatrice Alemagna title becomes available to us in the States, I get a little shiver of pleasure. Her unique artistry and unusual storylines always make me wonder what’s about to unfold.

This time, it’s a tale of five frankly-weird misfits. One fellow has four gaping holes aerating his entire midsection. One is folded in half. One, resembling an overripe bean pod, dozes off mainly. Another goes about upside down. And the last, a guy big as a Macy’s parade balloon, purple-black like a licorice jelly bean — well, he is so odd he’s “a catastrophe.”

And yet, they all manage to live together, with a splash of good humor to boot. Until Mr. Perfect in all his pompous glory and flowing magenta locks comes to tell them what’s what, take them down a notch.

a page from the French edition

The misfits’ response to his brazen criticism will surprise you and very much cheer you. A marvelous paeon to imperfection and the grace to accept one another’s flaws. Illustrated in iconic Alemagna style. Adults will love it; try it with kids ages 5 and up and see where the conversation goes.

Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets, written and illustrated by Pei-Yu Chang
originally published in Switzerland; English edition published in 2017 by NorthSouth Books

Here we have a fictionalized account of Walter Benjamin, who attempted to flee Europe for the United States during WWII with one mysterious suitcase.

Benjamin was a philosopher, threatened by the Nazis in occupied France. Mrs. Fittko, a member of the resistance, offers to take him along with a small group she’s guiding out of France into Spain. A perilous trip. Nothing extraneous can be brought. But here comes Walter with his suitcase.

What on earth can be inside of it?

This account, like Walter Benjamin’s life, ends mysteriously. No one knows for certain what happened to Walter or what was in his suitcase. But you will be treated to a lot of conjecture about its contents, and you will indubitably have your own wild guesses! Brilliant artwork and restrained text give this remarkable story just the right tone. An afterword tells us more about the impressive work of Mrs. Fittko. Ages 4 and up.