Here is good news: My friend Cara has opened a shop! All the stompin' sweet Coney Island tattoo-inspired, graffitiesque baby and toddler clothes (plus a few toys, accessories and books) that she has been selling online at Urban Baby are now available for fondling in a bricks and mortar space. I stopped in last week and now I need all my (younger) friends to start having babies so that I can buy them Milkshake-inspired raggedy tutus and baby-sized Carhartts-like coveralls.
Anyway, Cara was talking about maybe doing a storytime in the shop, and wondered if I had any book suggestions. And you know? It's something I have always wanted to do - compile a list of picture books that are ALL hip and illustration-y and design-y. Picture books for art school graduates. Picture books for people who listen to college radio.
BUT. While it is not too difficult to quickly I.D. the books that make design consumers go "ooooh!" I want to be sure that Cara's storytimers have books that work out loud. Not too much text, art that reads from 6 to 10 feet away, and the opportunity to bust out funny voices or do some singing. There's a science to this stuff, you know.
So! Let's get down to it, boppers:
Dinosaur vs. the Potty. This new entry in Bob Shea's big bold "Dinosaur vs." series is, I think, even better than the original. Dinosaur goes up against playing in the sprinkler and a three juice box lunch, and STILL he is victorious against the Potty. Dinosaur wins!! Until he does not. Don't worry, there's a happy (dry!) ending, and plenty of opportunity to bust out your wrestler voice.
Hello Baby! by Mem Fox, illustrated by Steve Jenkins. One line of text per spread and giant illustrations of baby animal faces make Hello Baby! a textbook choice for storytime. Steve Jenkins's beautifully colored, textured paper collages make it a visual feast for crafty creative types who can't walk through an art supplies store without lusting after the Arches paper.
Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo by Ayun and Dan. When I first reviewed this book, I begged Ayun Halliday in my review to put it to music. She replied that she had been considering ukulele lessons, and so today, revisiting this title, I hunted around on YouTube to see if she'd made good.
No ukulele (she's a busy woman), but I did find THIS, a trailer for the book created by its illustrator, the freakishly talented Dan Santat. Dan's trailers are the very best. If that man ever got a tv show, that might finally talk me into getting cable.
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean. Not only is Pete the Cat a hip, colorful, boppity storytime book that is easy for even the littlest kids to interact with, it has an excellent 21st century D.I.Y. backstory too. Our hero, Eric Litwin, a.k.a. Mr. Eric, wrote and self-published this book in 2008. A video of two little girls reading it blew up on YouTube, and HarperCollins stepped in and snapped it up.
Pete's stoner logic (don't bother watching where you're going, because no matter what you step in, "it's all good") may irritate some parents, but the spectacle of the kids calling out, "Goodness, no!" when asked if Pete is upset about what's happening to his white shoes should more than make up for it.
Iggy Peck, Architect. Rhyming is always good in a storytime book, and this one has happy clever rhymes to go along with David Roberts's to-die-for thrift-shop-chic illustrations. I have said lots about this book... here.
Harold and the Purple Crayon. The original line book, the inspiration for the Long Piece of String, for Tommaso, Laura Ljungkvist, and Lines That Wiggle. And it's still kind of the only one that works as a storytime book. The great, quiet, epic story matches the visually arresting art, and that's no easy thing.
Jamberry by Bruce Degen. Classic storytime happiness: "Raspberry, Jazzberry, Razzmatazzberry, Berryband, Merryband, Jamming in Berryland." Totally fits with the retro roller derby vibe at Urban Baby.
Oh my gosh this list is getting long! But I'm not going to stop.
I feel a foot! by Maranke Rinck. Pattern and nice thick oil pastel colors on a deep black background make this happy retelling of the blind men and the elephant a visually vivid choice. My favorite is the little bat in striped pink socks.
and the train goes... Oh, william bee! I think you have to think about the Baron in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to get a mental image of the gay-90's / psychedelic-60's hybrid that is william bee's style. Or think Drummer Hoff. And like Drummer Hoff, this book lets the reader impersonate all different types of people and objects - "All aboard who are coming aboard!"
Circle Dogs by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. Here's pure geometric graphic love, stuffed full of onomatopoeia and weiner dogs. Great for babies!
Monkey and Me and Dogs, by Emily Gravett. Anyone who's ever tried to draw will give much respect to Emily Gravett. With her pencil and watercolors, she achieves a precise balance between description and expression. A dog leaping in the air is perfectly, accurately drawn - the way her muscles bunch in her chest, the soft pinky belly - but with a goofy expression that, while not wholly accurate, is totally dog. And both of these books are cute and you can practically sing them.
Grumpy Bird and Boo Hoo Bird. While they're laughing at your excellent eye-rolling and your best squeaky-gruff animal voices, you can be appreciating Jeremy Tankard's decidedly ready-for-their-blind-box-set cartoon animals.
Bruno Munari's ABC. Unlike most ABC books, you can actually work this one as a storytime book, pointing at the pictures to prompt participation, or just reading the words yourself. It's not a perfect ABC book, with confusing words like 'knot' and 'eye,' but Munari gets off with a warning because of pages like "W: Watermelon on a Wagon with a Wooden Wheel"
And this video is not of the ABC book, but man, does that set of transparent graphics look fun to play with!
More design- and art-conscious picture books can always been found on Julie Fortenberry's Children's Illustration blog, Ward Jenkins's posts on children's books and on the British design blog The Apple and the Egg.
Good luck to Cara and to Urban Baby!