Maybe it's because the kids are re-reading all the Percy Jackson books, or maybe it's because I'm re-watching Battlestar Galactica and half those characters are named after classical gods and heroes (my children are so much more highbrow that I am right now, it's embarrassing).
But whatever the impetus, I am on a deification kick right now. And just for the moment, just because these are the great picture books that have crossed my path recently, these are the effigies decorating my shrine:
Denise Fleming, Goddess of Pulp Painting. underGROUND came through on the New Books cart the other day, and have you ever sat down and really looked at one of Denise Fleming's books? Under good light? I had to look up what "pulp painting" was, and holy crap, THAT's why the colors in her books are so saturated, her textures so... mmmm... TEXTURE-y.
Because pulp painting involves like chewing up paper and pigment together (not literally, she's not, like, an insect or something) (she probably uses a blender) and then spreading it out in kind of a sculptural application of color. Layering can occur. Some scribbling later, after the reconstituted paper has dried.
But boy, what ends up happening is that the carrots seen growing down through the earth in this book? Are ORANGE. The big fat grubs in their little bean-shaped holes? Are WHITE. Purple shadows are PURPLE. And in a book with this much brown - velvety soft gritty black-red-tan unhomogeneous drifty striated BROWN - these hits of hot bright color just blaze, pulling the eye to a mole's claws or a robin's ventral surface. (I can't say 'breast,' I've been getting so much commentspam as it is.)
God of the Skinny Wrist and the Shy Eye: David Small. If my husband and I worked together as flawlessly as Sarah Stewart and David Small do... well I don't know what. The back yard wouldn't be quite such a mess, I can tell you that. This couple's newest collaboration is The Quiet Place. It tells a story of a little girl, Isabel, who moves with her family from a hilly town in Mexico to a factory town on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Just as in The Gardener and The Library, there is a sense of a shared vision in this book. Sarah Stewart writes it as a series of letters from Isabel to her Aunt Lupita back home, and David Small reads between the lines of those letters - just as, one suspects, Tia Lupita does - and pulls out the one gesture or expression or moment that conveys Isabel's loneliness, curiousity, happiness, or trepidation. Here is an artist whose compositional mastery, together with some color manipulation, guides the reader through the picture to all the important points.
Extra sniffly bonus - Isabel collects big boxes throughout the book, decorating them and making little houses for herself. When we finally see them all together (in a big beautiful fold-out spread thank you whoever at FSG approved that expense!), we see that Isabel has recreated parts of her hometown, including Auntie Lupita.
Incognito Artist of Aesop, Goddess Helen Ward might as well be old Father Odin traveling the world in disguise - she has no Internet presence that I can find. There are two Helen Wards who have web pages, but unless this Helen Ward sometimes masquerades as a much less talented artist, they ain't her. THIS Helen Ward has been steaming along, illustrating the 'Ology books, adapting Aesop. She imbues the fables with warmth, imagery, and a little humor, and illustrates them with gorgeous, sumptuous, seemingly Asian-inspired watercolors and ink. Every application of color is a world in itself, shaded this way or that, mottled with pigment artifacts, following the interior of a line like the enamel in cloisonne.
You will have seen Unwitting Wisdom: An Anthology of Aesop's Fables, but pick up the stand-alone The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse too, because you, and several children you know, just can't get enough of the saturated color fields, precise flora, and dancing rabbits of Helen Ward.
Eric Rohmann, God of the BIG FAT LINE. Have you seen Oh, No! by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann? Oh, yes, you have to! Everyone on Goodreads immediately leapt to the "Wait til I get my kindergarten class performing this out loud" conclusion. And the only problem with watching adorable children pretending to be a mouse and a sun bear and a slow loris pretend to fall down a hole and then all call out "Oh no!" would be... not getting to see the excellent Eric Rohmann illustrations. These are illustrations executed in a greeny earthtone palette, dappled with filtered sunlight and stroked with brushy highlights.
I like Eric Rohmann as much as the next sentient mammal (which is to say a lot), but this is his best work so far. The reduction print process used here creates a grainy, semi-transparent texture, and the overlapping layers look just a little like woodcuts.
While we're at it...
The Goddess of Seriously, Could This Woman Be More Accomplished? is clearly Candy Fleming. She writes nonfiction (Our Eleanor, The Great and Only Barnum, and oh, a little number called Amelia Lost). She writes picture books (Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!, Clever Jack Takes the Cake, and the winner of the award for Picture Book That has Made the Most People Cry, Boxes for Katje). She's also a witty and informative speaker, if you ever get the chance.
Ed Young, God of Knowing Which Technique to Use. Let's face it, Ed Young is the Zeus of this pantheon. Papermaking? He can do that. Collage, mixed-media? Check. Can he draw? Marvelously well. Economically. Often in silhouette, allowing his edge to express volume, mood - all those things that other artists have to draw in.
Found paper - wrapping paper, pages from magazines, sketches, and what look like book illustrations - are part of the visual landscape of Nighttime Ninja, a story that incorporates the high drama that plays out in a little boy's imagination with the domestic warmth that is his reality. It's a terrific little capsule of a story, one of the best I've seen that manages that Walter Mitty switch between the mundane and its interior analogue. It's worth remembering that many kids perpetually hover between these states, dreaming through tests of skill and complicated narrative, dipping back to speak with us when reality intrudes.
God of Nobody Told Me I Couldn't: Kevin Duggan. As the Crow Flies was written and illustrated by a husband and wife team - Sheila Keegan is an experienced author, Kevin Duggan is a fine artist whose nature-inspired work has been exhibited at places I like very much.
This book, his first work for children, features great colored pencils of architecture and sky, neat observations, and very fine composition, marred by rather poor faces and non-crow animals. Also there are some klonky rhymes rattling around in there. On the other hand (that's the third hand if you've been keeping count), this book contains probably the first instance of roadkill I have seen in a picture book.