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Horn Book reviews of ImPress’s inspirations

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New small publisher ImPress adapts children’s books for grown-ups (without any of that embarrassing kid stuff). Here’s how The Horn Book Magazine reviewed the original titles.

brown_mr tiger goes wild star2 Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
by Peter Brown; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary     Little, Brown     48 pp.
9/13     978-0-316-20063-9     $18.00

Mr. Tiger walks upright and wears a top hat and a handsome coat with a bow tie, fitting in with the rest of society. But his orange fur provides the only spot of color in the very drab, very proper community, and Mr. Tiger is bored: “He wanted to loosen up. He wanted to be…wild.” And so, Mr. Tiger drops to all fours and for the first time looks happy. As he gets progressively wilder, roaring and shedding his confining clothes, the town animal-folk are appalled and banish him to the wilderness — which, he decides, is “a magnificent idea.” This is a book made for storytime, with its bold mixed-media illustrations that work almost like a storyboard moving left to right, and a plot with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Children, who get tired of grownups and their requests for proper behavior, will relate to the proud joy Mr. Tiger clearly feels when he is free to be wild, and also to his eventual feelings of loneliness. The happy ending, almost a reverse of Where the Wild Things Are, includes everyone discovering the fun of being at least a little bit wild. SUSAN DOVE LEMPKE

From the November/December 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

bryant_right wordstar2 The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
by Jen Bryant; illus. by Melissa Sweet
Primary    Eerdmans    48 pp.
9/14    978-0-8028-5385-1    $17.50

Apt language and ingenious imagery combine to tell the life story of Peter Mark Roget, creator of the thesaurus. A solitary, though not unhappy, child, Roget spends his time keeping lists and ordering the natural and cultural wonders he finds in abundance. He studies to become a doctor, teaches, joins academic societies, raises a family, and continues to capture and classify the universe, eventually publishing his Thesaurus, a catalog of concepts ordered by ideas, in 1852. Bryant’s linear telling follows Peter closely, expressing his curiosity, sensitivity, and populist spirit in language that is both decorous and warm. Clever book design and visionary illustration add layers of meaning, as images come together in careful sequence. On the cover a cacophony of iconographic ideas explodes from the pages of a book. The opening endpapers arrange these same concepts in a vertical collage that recalls spines on a bookshelf. The title spread features the letters of the alphabet as stacked blocks, as a child manages them, and from there the pages grow in complexity, as Roget himself grows up. Sweet embellishes her own gentle watercolors with all manner of clippings and realia, corralling the pictures into order according to concept, number, or color. A timeline and detailed author and illustrator notes follow the narrative, with suggested additional resources and a facsimile page of Roget’s first, handwritten book of lists. And the closing endpapers, with the comprehensive classification scheme of the first thesaurus, fully realize the opening organizational promise. THOM BARTHELMESS

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

barnett_samanddavestar2 Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
by Mac Barnett; illus. by Jon Klassen
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
10/14    978-0-7636-6229-5    $16.99

This adventure starts innocently enough: “On Monday Sam and Dave dug a hole.” The boys (indistinguishable save the color of their hats and Sam’s ever-present backpack) are fueled by chocolate milk, animal cookies, and a desire to find “something spectacular.” Alas, Sam and Dave unearth nothing, coming close to — but just missing — the precious gems that dot the subterranean landscape, and oblivious all the while. Eventually the chums stop for a rest, whereupon their canine companion, digging for a bone, inadvertently causes a rupture in the dirt floor underground that leaves the explorers falling “down, down, down,” only to land in what appears to be their own yard. But upon closer inspection, this house isn’t quite the same as before; a number of subtle differences go undetected by the hapless duo, but observant viewers will certainly take note. Barnett’s well-chosen words (“Sam and Dave ran out of chocolate milk. / But they kept digging. / They shared the last animal cookie. / But they kept digging”) and plentiful white space support readers. Klassen’s cross-section illustrations provide a mole’s-eye view of the underground proceedings, extending the spare text with visual humor. As in his previous books, Klassen shows an uncanny knack for conveying meaning with the subtlest of eye movements. How fitting that the wordless final spread features a knowing look between the dog and a cat familiar to Klassen fans; all that’s missing from the trippy conclusion is the theme music from The Twilight Zone. Mind-blowing in the best possible way. SAM BLOOM

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

novak_bookwithnopixThe Book with No Pictures
by B. J. Novak
Preschool    Dial    48 pp.
9/14    978-0-8037-4171-3    $17.99    g

Novak (from television’s The Office) goes meta in this very funny text-only picture book. On crisp white pages, in a large black font, readers and listeners get clued in: “Here is how books work: Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” Chaos ensues. Listeners will be tickled by hearing adults say ridiculous things — “I am a monkey who taught myself to read” — and then whine about it, as directed by the text: “Hey! I’m not a monkey!” They’ll be rolling on the floor by the time the whole thing devolves into shouting about a hippo named “BooBoo BUTT,” then puffed up with pride as their talents are praised: “The kid I am reading this book to is THE BEST KID EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.” The comic pacing and foolproof theatrics ensure a wild and silly trip through the pages for everyone. While there are no illustrations, there are plenty of visual cues to keep the pages lively. Dynamic design, judicious use of color, and varied typeface and font size all work together to bring personality and expression to the story. We’ve seen a lot of excellent wordless picture books recently; here’s a good one that reverses that trend. JULIE ROACH

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket The Dark
by Lemony Snicket; 
illus. by Jon Klassen
Preschool, Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.
4/13    978-0-316-18748-0    $16.99

Leave it to Lemony Snicket to craft a story personifying “the dark” — an idea all too real and frightening for children afraid of what lurks in the shadows. But they will find a kindred spirit in Laszlo, a scared boy living with the dark in a big house. Though the dark occasionally resides in the house’s hidden places and outside every night, “mostly it spent its time in the basement.” When the comforting glow of Laszlo’s bedroom nightlight goes out one night, the dark comes to visit and speaks to Laszlo: “I want to show you something.” So Laszlo, with his trusty flashlight in hand, follows the dark’s voice downstairs. Though the mood is ominous as the dark lures Laszlo into its basement room, a page of narration about the dark’s function serves to break the tension before the bright, satisfying, and funny resolution. With his command of language, tone, and pacing, Snicket creates the perfect antidote to a universal fear. Klassen’s spare gouache and digital illustrations in a quiet black, brown, and white palette (contrasted with Laszlo’s light blue footy pajamas and the yellow light bulb) are well suited for a book about the unseen. Using simple black lines and color contrasts to provide atmosphere and depth, Klassen captures the essence of Snicket’s story. If you’re reading this one at night, be sure to have your trusty flashlight handy — just in case. CYNTHIA RITTER

From the March/April 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Journey
by Aaron Becker; illus. by the author
Primary     Candlewick     40 pp.
8/13     978-0-7636-6053-6     $15.99

In the tradition of Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (rev. 10/55), this wordless story shows a bored young girl  living in a monochromatic world who is able to draw herself into other worlds with the help of a red crayon she finds on her bedroom floor. Unlike Harold, the worlds she enters into are lush and detailed — a deep green forest with blue hanging lanterns, an elaborate castle with an intricate canal system for transportation, a multilevel steampunk airship carrying ominous soldiers, and a walled city in the desert. There are dangers she avoids by drawing herself new forms of transportation, including a hot-air balloon and a magic carpet, and she gets pulled into a rescue mission involving a purple bird, which eventually leads her to a door in a palm tree that takes her back to her own world and to a boy with a purple crayon she had never even noticed outside her apartment building when the story began. He, it seems, had been searching for the purple bird. There is much to pore over in the watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations, and when the boy and girl ride off together at the end on a tandem bicycle with one red wheel and one purple wheel, readers will want to follow them. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

From the September/October 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

willems_don't let the pigeon drive the busstar2 Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
by Mo Willems ; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    40 pp.     Hyperion
4/03    0-7868-1988-X     $12.99

Facing the title page, an amiable-looking bus driver addresses listeners directly in a speech balloon: “Listen, I’ve got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks.” A reasonable enough request. The caveat? “Oh, and remember: Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!” If story-hour listeners (and beginning readers) haven’t already had their curiosity piqued by the silly title and opening endpapers — with said pigeon picturing himself behind the wheel — this appeal from the driver will hook them for sure. And he’s not talking about your garden-variety flighty pigeon. As soon as the bus driver walks off the copyright page, the brazen bird gets right to the point: “Hey, can I drive the bus?” Willems’s animation background (on Sesame Street and the Cartoon Network) is used here to good effect. Clean, sparely designed pages focus attention on the simply drawn but wildly expressive (and emotive) pigeon, and there’s a particularly funny page-turn when a well-mannered double-page spread with eight vignettes of the pleading pigeon gives way to a full-bleed, full-blown temper tantrum. Assuming that young listeners will take on the role of limit-setting grownups and not identify with the powerless but impertinent pigeon (“What’s the big deal!?” “No fair!”), this well-paced story encourages audience interaction. In fact, like the wide-eyed pigeon, the book demands it. By the end, the pigeon has moved on—to dreaming about driving an eighteen wheeler. And that’s a big 10–4, good buddy. KITTY FLYNN

From the July/August 2003 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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