Imagine Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer told in Family Circus comic strip style, Alice in Wonderland’s Alice as a rude fat brat with a Valley-girl accent, Little Red Riding Hood as a young woman who climbs into bed with the Wolf, or Harry Potter told as a comic without words, except for some exclamations and sound affects. Although these mega-popular “children’s” stories have already been recreated by illustrators, artists and filmmakers throughout the years, Graphic Canon presents them and 46 others with a fresh and twisted take by contemporary artists such as Dame Darcy, Lucy Knisely, Roberta Gregory, and World War 3’s Peter Kuper. From Aesop fables and Brothers Grimm tales to The Little Mermaid, Mark Twain’s “Advice to Little Girls,” The Oz series and Watership Down, this fourth volume of Graphic Canon brings us household children’s literature as we’ve never seen it before. This book of children’s literature might not be suitable for children! I would rate it PG-13.
To the Village Square – a photojournalist’s collection of anti-nuke images that span the last 40 years
Although the No Nukes slogan hearkens back to a louder, more passionate era of demonstrators of the 1970s, To the Village Square is a stark reminder that nuclear disasters are still happening, and that it still takes a village of voices – and images – to raise awareness.
Photojournalist Lionel Delevingne, who moved from France to the US in the 1970s, has been documenting the “No Nukes” crusade for almost four decades through his raw and striking photographs. His candid images of passionate demonstrators and disaster-stricken regions and their victims have been published in Vanity Fair, Newsweek, The New York Times, National Geographic, and many other publications. From the protestors of the Seabrook Station in Massachusetts to the disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, Delevingne has captured the emotions, devastation and unity brought about by the anti nuclear movement.
Pop-Up Op-Art is more a piece of 3D art than it is a book. With each turn of the thick cardboard pages pops a bold and modern structure created by paper artist Philippe Ug (author of Funny Birds and other high-end pop-up books). Although known for more elaborate pop-up masterpieces in his earlier books, here Ug constructs streamlined cube-based op-art pops that pay homage to the “father of op-art,” Victor Vasarely. Beautiful to look at, I only wish the book was quadruple the length.
Leif the Lucky – A gorgeously illustrated bio on Leif Erikson, the first European to set foot in America
Leif Erikson, the Viking explorer, is usually just briefly touched on in elementary school classrooms. But his rich story is a captivating one that any child – or adult – would enjoy. As a boy he moved from Iceland to icy Greenland, where his father established the continent’s first settlement. Eric grew up learning how to sail ships, throw spears, and catch sea animals for dinner. He played with baby polar bears and dreamed of adventures.
As a young adult Leif sailed to Norway and charmed the king with a Greenland falcon on his fist and a bear cub at his side. The king granted him permission to explore the west (Leif’s father had once seen a speck of something west of Greenland on an earlier exploration), and Leif became the first European to set foot in America (Canada) – 500 years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” it. Soon Leif’s relatives settled in this new land – for a while – until, well, I won’t give the whole story away, but let’s just say they were chased off the new land and forced to hightail it back to Greenland.
As soon as I laid my eyes on this book I was blown away by the stunning art: the bold popping colors on some pages, the beautifully shaded black and white images on others, and the saturated details and texture that all of the illustrations enjoy. And then I found out the book was first published in 1941 by Doubleday, created by the bohemian husband-and-wife team Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, who wrote 27 illustrated books in all (many of them tales about Scandinavian heroes and mythology). Leif the Lucky is one of three of their books to be reprinted by University of Minnesota Press, and I now need to get my hands on the other two (Children of the Northlights and Ola).
Leif the Lucky, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire
Dreamscapes of marching military eggs, animated skeletons, anthropomorphic insects and other phantasmic scenes
Mike Davis, owner of the well-known Everlasting Tattoo shop in San Francisco, is also a surrealist artist whose rich and dreamlike oil paintings look as if they’ve been plucked right out of the Dutch Renaissance. A cross between artists Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Davis merges beautifully realistic landscapes of lakes and snowflakes and silhouetted winter trees with scenes of animated skeletons, fighting rooster-headed men, anthropomorphic insects, marching military eggs and large human ears that spew blood-tinted waterfalls. Mike Davis, with its textured cloth cover, is a luxurious book that showcases over a decade’s worth of the painter’s work. And to think that Davis is a self-taught artist who didn’t start painting until he was in his late thirties – simply mind-boggling.
When we talk about George Washington, how many of us think about his dentist, John Greenwood, who crafted four sets of dentures during the first U.S. president’s career. Were it not for Greenwood, Washington may never have been elected as president sporting only one tooth in his mouth. And then there’s Amelia Earhart’s husband (after he proposed six times), publicist G.P. Putnam, who dedicated himself to Earhart’s career, using his connections, finances and skills as a publicist to help her rise to stardom.
In The Who the What and the When, 65 of celebritydom’s unsung sidekicks are celebrated with a one-page bio along with a striking image. What kind of artist would Andy Warhol have been without his influential mother, Julia Warhola? Would Charles Darwin have been credited as the father of evolution instead of his competitor, Alfred Russel, were it not for the public support of botanist and BFF Joseph Dalton Hooker? Would Lolita have survived the flames of fire without Vladimir Nabokov’s wife, Vera Nabokov? Following in the footsteps of The Where the Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science, each 2-page entry is written by a different writer and illustrated by different artist, making this book a fun, pretty and eclectic collection of fascinating mini-bios.
Written by pop-culture authors Buzz Poole and Christopher D. Salyers (who is also a toy camera collector), Camera Crazy is an attractively photographed collection of functioning toy cameras, which were popularized in the 1960s when the plastic 120 film “Diana” hit the market for only $1 a pop. Although always a hit with children, toy cameras have also been revered by collectors and photographers who welcome the artistic challenge of shooting with a plastic box that offers only a fixed focus and single shutter speed. From 1970s Mick-A-Matics and Gobots Cameras (1985) to Tamagotchi Cameras (1997) and Lego Digital Cameras (2011) – and everything in between – this book pays homage to over one-hundred of these cameras as well as many photographs produced by these “toys.” With a camera now included in every smart phone, I hope toy cameras don’t become a thing of the past.
Camera Crazy by Buzz Poole and Christopher D. Salyers
I haven’t recently run across a children’s book that has excited me as much as No Such Thing (see Cory's review here). Usually I see books for young children with either wonderful art but no real story, or a clever story with forgettable illustrations. But this is one grabbed me with both its utterly charming style and deadpan sense of humor.
It’s about a young girl named Georgia who keeps noticing odd things happening in her house – snacks disappearing from the fridge, objects vanishing or shattered on the floor, scribbled crayons on the wall – but the logical little girl is able to prove in each case that these things are caused by a pet or her brother or even a bird outside the house. I’ve noticed in other reviews that the moral of this story is that there really is no such thing as ghosts. Ha! Not so quick! Look deeper, at the Golden Book-style illustrations, and you will see the humor of it all. Without saying it in words, the message of the story is quite the opposite. But Georgia doesn’t know this, so all is good in the end. Author Ella Bailey is new on the scene of books and art, having just graduated from college a little over a year ago, but keep your eyes out – I think we’ll be seeing a lot more great creations from this talented artist.
No Such Thing by Ella Bailey
“Put information in the right visual form and your audience will immediately get the gist.” – Gareth Cook
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Open the pages of Cosmic Tourist and journey across the universe with 100 thrilling pit stops along the way. Your itinerary starts with Planet Earth, makes stops on the moon, the sun, a comet, Mercury, resting spots through the asteroid belt, and many other cosmic sites until you end up 13,700,000,000 light years away at “Infinity and Beyond.” Each stop offers spectacular photography and fascinating outer space facts that are written by the BBC’s “Sky at Night” astronomers Patrick Moore, Chris Lintott, and Brian May (who also happens to be the guitarist and founding member of Queen).
If you’ve often sat under the black twinkling canopy of the night sky and wondered… What is that mysterious glow on the night side of Venus? Or… Why is the Delta Cephei, which is 887 light years away from Earth, one of the most important stars in the sky? Or… What are those beautifully bright beaded interlocking rings that are floating 167,000 light-years away from us? … then it’s time to buy your passenger ticket, er, this visually stunning book, which will captivate you with space travel for many moons to come.
The Cosmic Tourist: Visit the 100 Most Awe-Inspiring Destinations in the Universe by Brian May, Patrick Moore, and Chris Lintott
For anyone learning how to speak Japanese, this is a fun illustrated “picture dictionary” with over 1500 words that will help build up your Japanese vocabulary. Designed like some of Richard Scarry’s classic books (What Do People Do All Day, Best Word Book Ever…) Let’s Learn Japanese is filled with colorful scenes, each with a theme such as the doctor’s office, the supermarket, colors, the zoo, clothing, etc, and each theme offers dozens of related, illustrated words.
At the end of the book there is an English-Japanese and a Japanese-English glossary and index so that you can look up a specific word when needed. I originally bought this for my husband and I to brush up on our vocabulary before making a trip to Japan, but now my daughter, who is interested in Japanese, pores over the pages as if she’s reading one of her favorite comic books.
Great Maps is a visual treat that begins with one of the world’s earliest existing maps – the Bedolina Petroglyph (1500 BC) – found in a valley in northern Italy that charts fields, livestock, and houses of its day. The book leaves us with a Google Earth map. In between are over 60 mesmerizing maps and charts that give us a glimpse of world views throughout the ages. Whether it was religious, political, or mercantile, each cartographer seemed to have his own perspective, which was revealed by the way he drew his map. Author Jerry Bretton fills us in on each map’s story, gives us a short bio on its cartographer, and zooms in on specific parts of each map to point out interesting details about it. Great Maps is as much an art book as it is an archaeological history lesson as it is a collection of the world’s most fascinating and significant maps.
Great Maps: The World’s Masterpieces Explored and Explained, by Jerry Brotton
The term bitter, when associated with food, has never whet my appetite. Bitter, like sour, leans towards the negative. “She made a sour face.” “He is a “bitter” person. Unlike sweet or savory (unami), I think of bitter as an acquired taste that does not easily enthuse. So when I ran across Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, I was intrigued. And I was not disappointed.
Bitter is one of the most interesting and exciting cookbooks I’ve ever read, with adventurous recipes that show us how to poach fruit in tea custard, boil mussels in beer, roast squab in dark chocolate, simmer pork chops in a coffee black currant sauce, can orange whisky marmalade, and whip up many other exotic dishes with unexpected food combinations. The book explains that not all bitter tastes are alike, and categorizes bitterness in five chapters: Born To Be Bitter, Liquid Bitter, Pungently Bitter, Subtly Bitter, and Dark, Forbidden and Very Bitter. And more than just recipes, this book is loaded with fascinating facts and anecdotes about everything bitter and beyond.
It’s no fun to write about a cookbook without first tackling a recipe, so for this review I turned to the Pungently Bitter chapter and fried up the Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Chestnuts dish (shown in cover photo above). With only five ingredients and a few simple steps, I ended up with a multi-flavored delicious lunch in less than 30 minutes. I never knew that brussels sprouts were considered bitter, and realize how unfair I’ve been in my prejudice against the world of bitter food. I now look forward to many more bitter adventures in my kitchen and on my table.
A few weeks ago while strolling through a farmer’s market in Los Angeles, I came across a vendor cart selling exotic plants that looked like they belonged on another planet. Masses of long green tentacles, feathery white shoots, and spheres of soft silver green spikes that looked like holiday sparklers drew me to the beautiful cart. The vendor told me she was selling air plants (tillandsias). Not very lucky with houseplants, I was hesitant to buy one, until the vendor explained how simple they were to take care of: give them some squirts from a spray bottle a few times a week. I bought two. Coincidentally, a few days later, Timber Press sent me a copy of Air Plants for a possible Wink review. Perfect timing!
Because air plants don’t live in soil or substrate and only need to be misted (or dunked a few times a week, as the book explains), caring for them can be as simple or artistic as you want. Strategically attach them to a screen, create modern art by perching them on wire cubes, craft a year-long wreath, use air plants as living hair ornaments, create a futuristic terrarium… A truly handy and fun read, with clear pretty photos and step-by-step how to projects, this book is not only a guide on choosing and caring for air plants, but also gives us amazingly creative ideas on air plant crafting and design.
by Zenaida Sengo (author) and Caitlin Atkinson (photographer)
2014, 224 pages, 7.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches (paperback)
The 1960s were a magical decade in the world of toys. Toy companies like Wham-O, Hasbro, Mattel and Kenner were churning out captivating toys faster than toy stores could keep them in stock. Toys like Lite-Brite, Etch A Sketch, Twister, Creepy Crawlers, Operation, Hippity Hop, Spirograph… and of course Kenner’s Easy Bake Oven (launched in 1963) were all the rage.
With an entertaining narrative, Light Bulb Baking explains how the miniature working oven got its start, dissects the oven, explains how a simple light bulb can bake a cake, and tells us loads of fun anecdotes and trivia about Easy Bake (such as the shelf life of Easy Bake mixes, the horrible burns caused by the 2006-2007 models, and the story of a 9-year-old Easy Bake Baker of the Year who won $5,000 for her Toffee Trifle Cake). The book, which is smartly designed with photos, diagrams and sidebars, ends with a bunch of award-winning recipes that make me want to dig out the old Easy Bake Oven I have somewhere in my garage.
Light Bulb Baking
by Todd Coopee
2013, 178 pages, 8.7 x 8.7 x 0.4 inches (paperback)
This beautifully illustrated picture book takes more than one read to take in all of the delightfully layered pages. At its first level, it tells a sweet story about an old elephant named Marcel who has almost forgotten his birthday, until thoughtful friends and his own reminiscence about his colorful past spark his memory. But the book doesn’t end where the story ends. Inserted into most pages are “index cards” marked with an elephant symbol that have interesting elephant facts, such as listing the differences between Asian and African elephants, describing how they communicate over long distances, and giving us figures on how much they weigh, eat, and sleep.
As if jumping from story to elephant facts weren’t enough, the book is also saturated with yet another layer: miniature encyclopedias on certain topics mentioned in the story. For instance, when Marcel is reminiscing about his days at sea, we get a page of “On the Sea” related word entries. We learn about clipper sailboats, longships, a nautical mile, and more. While sitting with Memory, my attention span was constantly challenged by these fun extras that kept beckoning me away. I finally gave in and read all of the sidebars first, and then eventually went back and read the actual story from beginning to end. Unlike some children’s books, which are ready to be recycled after the first read, this is an illustrated book for all ages that has real staying power.
The Memory of an Elephant, by Sophie Strady (author) and Jean-François Martin (illustrator)
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Pre dinosaurs, trilobites roamed the earth’s sea floors for nearly 300-million years before becoming extinct for unknown reasons.
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I’m a sucker for trivia, and Listomania is on my top-ten list of fascinating facts books. As the title reveals, the book is loaded with fun tidbits of information (over 1,200 of them) that are organized by lists. Most items or lists are explained in a short paragraph, and every list is playfully and boldly illustrated.
My top 10 favorite examples:
- 8 Awful Jobs in History (sperm collector, nitpicker…)
- 14 Cool Things to View on Google Earth (giant pink bunny in Italy, Mount Everest…)
- 10 Places on Earth that are Still Unexplored (Makira Forests in Madagascar, Lake Vostok in Antarctica…)
- 9 Extreme Abodes (house on a volcano, airplanes converted into houses…)
- 14 Beauty Queen Scandals (Spain’s Miss Universe chucked her crown out of a window, Miss England punched another beauty queen…)
- 18 Things that Fell From the Sky (colored rain, cows…)
- 8 Dastardly Ponzi Schemes (Charles Ponzi, Bernie Madoff…)
- 7 Things Made from Insects (red dye from ground-up cochineal bugs, antibiotic herbal remedy from cockroach brains…)
- 14 Unexpected Odds (117:1 that you’ll fly with a drunk pilot, 6,250:1 that you’ll be struck by lightning…)
- 10 Best Countries to be a Geek (US, Belgium…)
As a continuation of Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter, author Lloyd Kahn (former Shelter editor of Whole Earth Catalog) brings us Tiny Homes on the Move, which showcases 90 nomadic homes made from trailers, school buses, vans, trucks, boats, and even a tricycle. Each entry includes an essay by or about the home’s creator, who talks about why and how they converted a vehicle into a house. Each dweller has a unique story:
A corporate man in Manhattan quit his job three years ago to live a simpler life. He bought a camper van and converted it into his home, which travels between the desert and the beach where he can surf.
A struggling family with young children sold their traditional house and converted a 76-passenger school bus into a new home. “We desperately wanted off the bureaucratic treadmill and to get into a simple life.” The result is astonishing, with a colorful, clean, modern living space that looks more like a trendy pad in Manhattan than a house bus.
A woman who lost almost everything she owned in a house fire says, “It was almost like a burden lifted off my shoulders.” She decided to reinvent her life by living a minimalist lifestyle on a sailboat and exploring the world. With only 100 square feet of cabin space, she doesn’t miss a thing.
Although no two stories or homes are alike, what these people all have in common is their love of freedom and simplicity that their alternative housing offers them. Reading this book is inspiring and makes me examine ways in which I can shed some of the complexities that encumber my own lifestyle.
A few years ago my then 8-year-old daughter, Jane, started reading collections of old Nancy comic strips. I’d never paid attention to the strip and assumed it wouldn’t appeal to anyone over ten. But then I found Jane and her dad laughing out loud while reading Nancy in bed. “What’s so funny?” I asked. “Nancy logic!” they answered.
They pointed out Nancy logic to me: Nancy tries on a pair of thick-lensed glasses and shouts “Oh boy!” when she receives an ice-cream cone that’s almost as big as she is. Nancy’s aim is off to the right while shooting arrows so she paints an oblong target with the bull’s eye placed on the far right side. Nancy thinks leaving her coat on a chair brings her good luck, so when her aunt points at the chair and tells her to hang up the coat, Nancy hooks the chair on the coatrack.
Created by Ernie Bushmiller in the 1930s (and still running today by Guy Gilchrist), Nancy is about the mischief, charm, and naiveté of a young girl named Nancy, whose best friend, Sluggo, is a kind-hearted urchin from the wrong side of the tracks. Drawn in a simple, bold, and eye-catching style, Nancy is clever, hilarious, and a bit surreal. This volume offers over one-thousand strips that ran between 1946-1948, and although its title, Nancy Likes Christmas, suggests a holiday theme, only a handful of the strips revolves around Christmas. The setting is post World War II, but the gags, about the wishful and sometimes absurd logic that kids so often use, are timeless.
At first glance, I assumed John Kenn Mortensen’s ghoulish images were storybook illustrations that were originally drawn on large sheets of paper. Then I read his tiny introduction and discovered that these magnificent monster drawings are simply (and complexly) doodles on Post-it notes.
Born in Denmark, Mortensen is a director of kids’ TV programs, but in his spare time he enters a black and yellow world in which monsters loom over unwitting humans, and it’s hard to tell whether these monsters are hungry for human flesh or whether they just want some mischievous fun. A cross between Edward Gorey and Maurice Sendak, Mortensen’s art is both eerie and playful, dark yet adorable. Although I love the whimsical nature of his medium, it would be great to see what he could do with a few square feet rather than a few square inches.
In the early 1900s, wrapping paper as we know it did not exist in America. People “dressed” their gifts in tissue paper. But in 1917, the greeting card company Hall Brothers (which later became Hallmark) ran out of tissue paper right before Christmas.
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Without question, cocktails are the most fun and playful type of drinks on the menu, with their vibrant colors, toy-like swizzle sticks, plastic straws, paper toothpick umbrellas, swords of stacked fruit, and the exotic-shaped glasses that contain the concoctions. And yet – the cruel irony of it all – cocktails are off limits to children!
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I’m always amazed when one of my daughter’s friends comes to me and says she’s bored. As if I’m supposed to put on a pair of tap shoes and dance a jig for her. My daughter knows better than to say the B-word, but I can always tell when she’s at a loss for something to do by the way she lies limply across the arm of the couch, her head dangling towards the floor, her voice depleted of emotion. Next time this happens I will suggest Unbored (which, when she picked it up for the first time yesterday, didn’t put it down for almost an hour).
A collection of inspiring activities, projects, and articles on freeing up your creativity (by the authors as well as many other DIY experts, including an introduction by my husband Mark), Unbored offers a zillion ways to keep busy, stay engaged, and connect with the outside world. Start a band, make a zine, teach “your grown-ups” how to geocache, trick your friends into saving the planet, tell your politicians what you think, build a backyard fort, make a pet robot controller… The book is fun, instructional, edgy (create different colors of fire, take an adventurous gap year between high school and college, spray paint your bedroom walls, read banned books), and has insightful lessons on how to engage with life rather than allowing life to pass by like a boring television commercial. And as a parent, it’s nice to be reminded not to fall into the trap of smothering helicopter parenting, passive parenting (screens!), over-scheduled parenting, and all the other pitfalls of modern life that turn our kids into lethargic, helpless, unthinking slugs. Unbored belongs in every kid’s – and parent’s – library.
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I saw the movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes over the weekend and was amazed by its greatness. I applauded at the end with the rest of the audience. The acting, by both the humans and the “apes,” was superb. The revolutionary special effects – using “performance capture” cgi technology in ways never used before, created the most realistic digitalized characters I’ve ever seen. And the engaging and moving storyline with its themes on war, trust and humanity tied it all together into a perfect package. I love the rare science fiction film that surpasses expectations on every level, and this one hits every mark with incredible precision. So it was with great interest that I opened up Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films, a book that looks behind the scenes and explains the incredible ingenuity and talent that went behind the two latest movies in the Planet of the Apes franchise. With tons of photos that show how the effects were created along with a fascinating narrative that tells the journey of creating these films, this is a behind-the-scenes book that any Planet of the Apes or special effects fan will thoroughly enjoy.
See high-res sample pages from the book at Wink.