I know, I know. There are a lot of penguin picture books out there. Nevertheless, here is the opening to PENGUIN vs. SUMMER, written by Yoshi (my eldest) and illustrated by Mika (my youngest).
Once there was a penguin who loved to read the weather section of the Daily Iceberg newspaper, but one day the headline read: “Today 40 Degrees Celsius! Heat Wave in the Arctic!”
When he looked out the window he saw penguins of all sorts running around screaming like crazy…
And Mika’s picture:
“But will the penguins be okay?” I asked Yoshi (noting Mika’s worried face).
“I’m not sure,” replied Yoshi (relishing his godly writer powers).
It is clear that Mika is hoping for some anti-climate change hero to swoop in and save the day but Yoshi isn’t ready to commit to a happy ending. (Given their recent push-pull dynamic I won’t be surprised if Yoshi ends up writing a dystopian penguin thriller. Of course, it’ll still have Mika’s bright yellow, blithely cheerful sun…)
I have many favorite children’s authors but Maurice Sendak will always have a special place in my heart. There is a wonderful essay by playwright Tony Kushner, which I think captures Sendak’s particular daring. There is so much kids lit that aims to shock or transgress by going for the vulgar or scatological. As Kushner points out, Sendak does something far more radical:
“Maurice, among the best of the best, shocks deeply, touching on the mortal, the insupportably sad or unjust, even on the carnal, on the primal rather than the merely primitive. He pitches children, including aged children, out of the familiar and into mystery, and then into understanding, wisdom even. He pitches children through fantasy into human adulthood, that rare, hard-won and, let’s face it, tragic condition.”
!Viva Maurice Siempre!
You can find the full essay (“How grim can it be?”) on the Guardian website.
Today’s New York Times “Sunday Book Review” features one of my favorite illustrations of Spork along with high praise for Isabelle’s work.
“Arsenault’s expressive drawings of an unhappy spork are instantly winning. With all the advantages of spoon and fork, how could this fellow remain unloved? But he just doesn’t fit in. (Some glowering forks, whispering and pointing, look like the mean kids in a school hallway.) The spork tries rounding himself off with a hat, then makes himself “more forkish” with a crown — until he becomes the perfect foil for just the right small chubby hand.”
I love all the tiny details Isabelle has packed onto every page. Every time I look I notice something new.
Yoshi and Mika, my two boys, have decided to write their first kids book. It’s called “Penguin versus Summer” and promises to be very entertaining. (I will post an excerpt soon.)
In the meantime, I thought I’d share a photo of them since they were/are the original inspiration for the book. The photo is a few years old but if you look closely, you’ll see a genuine spork in Yoshi’s hand. Mika is holding a spork doll I made for him.
And here is Mika’s portrait of spork. (Spork is the third one from the left. I’m guessing the one on the right is either a spatula or a cake knife?)
Spork has received a few very nice reviews in Publishers Weekly, Quill and Quire, ParentDish, and Kirkus Review.
I’ve never been one to give my kids gold stickers for their efforts, but I have to say it was lovely to learn from my publisher that Kirkus had given Spork a ‘starred’ review.
Here’s what they had to say:
“Children of mixed marriages are about to find an unlikely ally in their cutlery drawers. Spork stands out. With a spoon for a mum and a fork for a dad, Spork is simultaneously too round and too pointy to fit in. Time and again he’s passed over at the dinner table. That is, until the day a ‘messy thing’ joins the family and everyone sees that when it comes to managing its baby food only a true spork will do. While some picture-book tales have difficulty promoting the “different can be good” message without slipping into deep didactism, Maclear’s text feels nearly effortless. The inanimate-object identification also pairs brilliantly with Arsenault’s melding of mixed media and digital art. Against the mostly black-and-white images, the frenzied red globs of the baby’s food explode off the printed page. Immediate comparisons are bound to be made to Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Spoon (illustrated by Scott Magoon, 2009), but any good kitchen has room for both. A sublime little parable. (Picture book. 4-8)”
In case you’re wondering: just two more days until SPORK is out in stores.