When Bronto, the young brontosaurus the title refers to, complains of a terrible stomach ache to his parents, he is put in "a special dinosaur ambulance" (a flatbed truck with a red siren on its hood) and rushed to the hospital, where he is examined by a doctor "so pale, you could see right through his skin":
"He must be a Paleontologist," whispered his mother.A paleontologist is, of course, a person who studies dinosaur bones, but an "ontologist" is a philosopher who studies existence and reality.
Is that what they were going for here? The doctor is a pale ontologist...? (I woulda had Bronto's dad shoot back, "Don't be silly, honey; he's obviously a pale oncologist." Ha ha ha ha ha ha!)
I don't know; it leads to a not particularly funny segue—"since you can see through my skin, I'd like to look through yours," the doctor says before taking an X-Ray of Bronto—so perhaps not.
What the doctor finds is a little boy in Bronto's stomach; dinosaurs and modern humans live side by side in this story and, apparently, when Bronto was eating a tree, he accidentally swallowed the boy climbing it and that much "meat" upsets his herbivore belly.
After running through their options, they choose the least dangerous and disgusting one, and the boy ends up with quite a story to tell...although no one believes him, since dinosaurs are supposed to be extinct, dinosaurs ambulances and hospitals notwithstanding.
Maloney and Zekauskas have a pretty grabby title, including an obviously, curiosity-stoking contradiction and, paired with the cover, it was more than enough to inspire me to give the book a look.
It's not a great book, although it does contain images and scenes I imagine a lot of children will find amusing—the one of Bronto sitting on a toilet springs immediately to mind—and is probably a good one to read with a kid.
The most striking image, for me, was that of a carnivore atop a heap of femurs and skeletons, holding a severed arm in one hand and chewing on a human being, it's contorted limbs sticking out of the sides of its jaws.
What I found most alarming, however, is that Bronto is specifically identified as a "Brontosaurus" rather than an "Apataosaurus,", but we've already got human beings and dinosaurs living side by side, and the latter with their own medical system, so perhaps that's not such a big deal in context.
I know that descriptions of Bigfoots and other big, hairy humanoids range in size, shape, color, toe-number and any of many other details, but the Sasquatch in writer Kent Redeker and artist Bob Staake's book bears no resemblance to any 'squatch I've ever heard of...and not simply because he wears a suit and rides the bus.
He's also green, and has serrated forearms, not unlike the claws of a praying mantis, although that could just be the cut of his suit. He does have long, somewhat ape-like arms, huge feet and a long stride, and a compact, neckless head that seems to sit directly between his shoulders.
It's the word "sasquatch" that the book is most interested in, however, and the way it sounds when juxtaposed against "squished" and another "s" word that comes at the climax. Senor Sasquatch wants to ride Mr. Bloblue's bus, but he doesn't like being squished on a crowded bus. Unfortunately for him, Blobule picks up a series of commuter monsters who are composite creatures with at least one large animal in the mix (Mr. Octo-Rhino, Miss Goat-Whale, and so on). (The cryptozoologically inclined might like to know one of these commuters is named Miss Loch-NEss-Monster-Space Alien, and she looks more-or-less like a sea serpent, albeit one with a flying saucer around her neck and a pair of antennae on her head).
Staake's expected flat, simple art rendered in jaunty, occasionally irregular shapes and brilliant colors power the book forward, and make even the repetitive nature of the story a joy for grown-up eyes to glide through; in addition to the crazy character designs, he fills the backgrounds with wonderful drawings of random buildings (the bus passes barns, haunted houses, department stores and so on) and, in at least one image, bus ads). The end pages featuring icon-like images of Staake's green Squatch wearing variously Crayola-colored suits as a sort of wall-paper or wrapping-paper pattern is beautiful too. Like, I actually woulnd't mind wall-papering a room with that exact pattern.
I imagine this is one kids would like being read, shouting along to—if I've learned anything from Mo Willems, it's that kids like shouting instructions regarding buses—but me, I came for Staake's art, which is always worth a look.
Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri's fun, funny books about dragons and their love of tacos opens with a kid who is a little more skeptical on the subject than I, however. Judging from his bedroom, full of dragon toys and books and what not, he is apparently something of a dragon expert, but, based on the look on his face (and his dog's face), he doesn't quite buy it:
Among these facts are that, as much as dragons love tacos, they don't like spicy tacos, as it sets off their flame breath, and, naturally, can ruin a good taco party, like the one the kid on the first page throws in order to make friends with some dragons.
Salmieri is a great taco artist and a great dragon artist. While his tacos are uniform in appearance, his dragons are not, and they vary widely and wildly, from your more-or-less standard fantasy dragon seen on the cover (red, horns, bat wings, tail) to some much more idiosyncratic dragons with unusual head shapes and other features.
His lines are super-thin, and his characters have spindly-limbs and tiny eyes, but, despite the relatively alien appearances of most of the characters in the book (there's one boy, one dog and a bunch of dragons), he communicates emotion quite effectively with the few lines he uses.
Scott Campbell, often referred to simply as Scott C., who illustrates Robyn Eversole's funny little story about the culture clash between Asian dragons and European dragons, or, more precisely, the story traditions around each type of dragon. Campbell is responsible for comics like Hickee Comics, the weird "Igloo Head and Tree Head" series form the Flight anthologies and the "Great Showdowns" online images that have since been collected into a book.
After a few pages introducing us to the two types of dragons and their differences—a prime one being that East Dragon and his family were pals with the Emperor, whereas West Dragon had to deal with the knights of a king—Eversole sets in motion the plot which brings the two dragons together.
Seeking to rid himself of the king's knights—which, according to Campbell's delightful illustrations, are something between infesting mice and unruly neighbor kids, all poking him with their tiny lances, jumping on his bed and breaking vases—by giving them a big map that takes them on a very, very long adventure that terminates in the East.
The story is charming, and has a nice little lesson in it, but Campbell's artwork offers plenty of pleasures to the most casual readers as well. The majority of the images are big, long ones, with each two-page spread of pages being filled with an illustration. Campbell's artwork is obviously quite abstracted, and light on certain types of details—dot eyes, little line mouths, if there are mouths, no noses, etc.—but each picture is packed with rich details and little, suggestive mini-stories to find and digest, thanks to how thoroughly he fills the big spaces with small drawings of the giant dragons, and tiny drawings of the much smaller humans.
The dragon party, for example, features some 70 characters engaged in nine different group activities. If you check out only one of the books in this post, it should probably be this one. Well, this one, or maybe the next one...
By the way, wile I've recently learned that dragons love tacos, it turns out they also love pizza:
Once upon a time, Willems re-tells us (as this is a story "re-told" by Willems), there were three dinosaurs who "for no particular reason...made up their beds, poisitoned their chairs just so, and cooked thre bowls of delicious chocolate pudding at varying temperatures."
Why chocolate pudding instead of porridge? Well, who would you rather eat, someone full of porridge or someone full of chocolate?
"OH BOY!" said Papa Dinosaur in his loud, booming voice. "IT IS FINALLY TIME TO LEAVE AND GO TO THE...uhhh...SOMEPLACE ELSE!"
The dinosaurs, having apparently read, or at least heard, the story of Goldilocks and the three bears before, have set a trap, hoping she'll come to their house, so they can eat her.
Eventually, Goldilocsk, a little girl who "never listened t warning about the dangers of barging into strange, enormous houses," sees the dinosaurs' strange, enormous house and barges right in, acting out the familiar elements of the story as best she can, given the circumstances (Dinosaurs, remember, are a lot bigger than bears).
Everything works out for the best...or for the worst, depending on whether we're talking about the Goldilocks or the Three Dinosaurs, and a Willems offers a very valuable moral...and a very valuable moral for dinosaurs.
Having called attention to Maloney and Zekauskas' use of the word "brontosaurus" earlier, I feel compelled to note that one of these three dinosaurs is not your typical Theropod, but looks like a weird composite, with the head of a Styracosaurus, a Stegosaurus-like spiked tail, sharp carnivore teeth and a bipedal gait. It's possible it's meant to be a Dracorex, but some of the details don't quite match up.
Of course, the third dinosaur is referred to as "some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway," and while I do watch dinosaur documentaries in my free time a lot, I don't think I've ever seen one specific to the dinosaurs of Norway, nor do I feel like googling Norwegian dinosaurs at the moment, as I still have a half-dozen more picture books to discuss.
That said, Willems is a great artist with amazing cartooning chops, and these particular characters continue to offer him the venue through which he does his most dynamic and expressive character work.
Stephanie Buscema's artwork, and I particularly enjoy the painted-looking texture of it—I rarely see an images of hers that doesn't look like I should be able to rub my fingertips over it and feel the grit of paint or the tiny little ant head-sized bumps of high-quality paper, but I've yet to find a picture book featuring her illustrations that I liked as a whole, rather than just as a vehicle for her art.
This one, written by Maggie Miler and Michael Leviton, comes closest.
The premise is teased on the cover, and thoroughly delineated on the first page:
"CONGRATULATIONS! Your house is now officially haunted!" the text on the next page reads, above a two-page image of a friendly-looking ghost flowing out of an open book in the hands of a surprised and delighted little boy. The ghost is of the eyes, mouth and sheet variety, although it has a purple ball-cap and red and orange-striped arms and hands on the sides of it's white, comma-shaped body.
Different children appear throughout the story, as do different ghosts; there's a boy ghost, which we see first, and a girl ghost, who accompanies little girls. The girl ghost has a bow instead of a ball-cap. Both genders wear what look like red Converse All-Stars (or a generic knock off) on their invisible feet; the boy ghost wears high-tops, the girl ghost wears, um, the other kind.
Because ghosts are invisible, silent and intangible, there's no way for a reader to prove that a ghost didn't come with the book, and the narrators do offer a few types of ghostly interaction:
If you shiver even though it's not cold, it means you bumped into your ghost...When you get the hiccups, it means your ghost is tickling you. When you yawan, it means your ghost is hugging you.
The text offers a few facts about ghosts, their virtues and their drawbacks, and suggestions on how to care for and play with your ghost, while Buscema's artwork draws various children going about their days with their variously ghostly friends.
Tad Carpenter's gorgeous Christmas book, Santa Claus suffers from a combination of seasonal affective disorder and post-holiday blues: After another successful Christmas, Santa Claus feels sad: "There were no toys to make, no cookies to eat, and no presents to wrap..."
Presumably feeling a bit empty and deflated after the biggest day of the year, Santa feels down, and while his wife, his elves and his reindeer all try to reason with him and cheer him up, nothing they say or do, no matter how true or how well-intentioned, seems to be able to shake him out of his funk. He just doesn't enjoy the things he used to enjoy as much as he used to enjoy them. It's a pretty good picture of what depression feels like, honestly, but Depressed Santa probably isn't that great a title.
And Carptenter's illustrations of a despondent Santa, his circle of friends and family all casting concerned looks his way, is heartbreaking enough as it is (The spread on page seven and eight, for example, shows Santa wearing the same expression he has on the cover, holding his head in his hands as he sits at a table littered with boxed-up Christmas decorations. A gingerbread man on his plate and a little snowman in a snowglobe look up at him with similarly worried looking face, and, off in the corner, unseen by Santa, an elf and a cat similarly sadly regard the once jolly old elf.
Santa gets his groove back eventually, without benefit of medication or therapy, and I won't spoil it, should you want to check the book out. What sold me on it was how powerfully Carpenter captured the two words of the title in the image he put on the cover. The art inside is fantastic.
Carpenter has a very cute design style, and his characters and art are all quite flat, with little depth or dimensionality. They look something like cookies, homemade Christmas card character or grade school craft projects, only with a professional polish. The art work is done atop a very grainy paper that looks like a particularly pulpy brown paper bag or, perhaps, cardboard, and there's an extremeley limited color pallette of white, dark brown, red and turquoise employed quite creatively to render the various familiar characters in striking and unusual ways (choosing red for Santa and the elves skin color, for example, which marks them as different from regular human beings, three of whom are seen on the first page with white, light brown and dark brown skin, without assigning these magical, shared-by-everyone characters a particular race or ethnicity).
It's really fine work, and now is perhaps the second-most perfect time to read it. The most perfect time would, of course, be somewhere between December 26 and January 6 or so.
He talks to some various monsters with prosaic names like Wayne and Martin, asking if he can borrow a sock, in broken, monster English:
"What need?"And so on.
"No sock. Just toes."
There's not a whole lot to Frank W. Dormer's short, simple, sweet story of a Socksquatch looking for a sock, but what is there is golden.
Leo Landry draws the cutest goddam ghost in Oliver, a little ghost who is planning a Halloween party for all of his spooky friends: Witches, skeletons, spiders, black cats and other ghosts, mostly. On Halloween day, when he's flying around passing out invitations, he drops one that falls into the hands of two little boys.
After greeting "Skully and Jake! The Spooky Bones band!" and the bats the two skeleton brought with them, Oliver hears another knock on the door and who should arrive but...
I love that image; how happy the kids look, how uncomfortable the pumpkins look and, especially, Oliver's blank, stunned expression. (I also love that one of the kids dressed up as a cow for some reason, instead of a more traditional generic Halloween costume).
Well, Oliver and his friends let the cow and jack-o'-lantern come in and dance and go for broom rides and a good time is had by all. So good, in fact, that he is invited to one of the kids' birthday parties!
Again, this is a very simple story, and there's not a whole lot to it, but the artwork and designs are just darling, and the expressions Landry draws on many of the characters cracked me up repeatedly.
There's a weird, but fun, disconnect between the nature of the story and they style in which it's illustrated, between the presumed audience and the stars.
"Monster Island was the home of all the Earth's giant monsters, and every day the monsters played on the island's sunny beach," the book begins, before describing the playful activities of Gigan, Megalon, Anguirus, Varan, Manda and Rodan (Only about half of whom I could match the name to the image of; say, IDW should put out a Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe style comic featuring all the Godzilla monsters).
"But not all the monsters played together," we are told, "One monster sat alone..."
Godzilla was the biggest, strongest, and toughest of all the monsters. Because he was so powerful, the others were afraid of him.Yes, I had the same problem in school.
That's where the story ends, so I don't know what happened next. I assume they all fight, kill and eat one another at some point.