Three remarkable picture books from McSweeney's: The Night Riders; Symphony City; Lost Sloth

The nice people at McSweeney's recently sent me a care-package with some of their children's picture-books to try out on my daughter. The three books they sent are each remarkable, each bold, and each wildly different from the others -- but all of them are extraordinarily beautiful, extraordinarily well-made and each of them prompted my five-year-old to shout "again, again!" when we finished them.

I'll start with The Night Riders, Matt Furie's small, wordless tale of a frog and a mouse who set out on a bicycle through an enchanted wood where they meet and befriend a dragon who takes them to the underworld to meet its goblin friend, who takes them through an abandoned city and out to sea. This book is about as weird as a story can be and still be a story, pure dream-logic, and it hangs together on the strength of the beautiful art, which is something between Beatrix Potter and Hieronymus Bosch. It's just weird enough to be a little scary, but that's just the pinch of salt that brings out the pure sweetness of the friendships and frolic depicted therein.

Next up is J Otto Siebold's Lost Sloth, a slapstick story about a very. slow. moving. sloth. who wins a five-minute shopping-spree but must first make it all the way to the store within three hours, a difficult trick for one such as he. Most pages feature a refrain like "Hurry, sloth!" or "Watch out, sloth!" that quickly became a call-and-response during our bedtime reading (it's a lot of fun to shout at books!). The art is a cross between Ren and Stimpy and Monkey Truck -- colorful, angular, pop-y, and very accessible, with loads of detail to pore over.

Finally, there's Symphony City by Amy Martin, which is something like a dream and something like a book. It's one of the most beautiful books I've ever held, with a spectacular, gold-foil-embossed cover that folds out into a giant, two-sided poster. It tells the story of a small girl who loses her mother's hand in the subway on the way to a symphony concert and wanders the city streets, finding on each corner the music of the world -- the birds on the subway platform are a flute; the rain patting on the road is a drum; the cats prowling and yowling are a piano. The McSweeney's editor who sent this to me called it free jazz in picture-book form, and I think that's very apt. The bold, simple, lushly colored paintings hint at, rather than tell, the story, and upon inspection only appear simple, hiding in their elegant spareness a complexity that captured both of us at bedtime.

Art from The Night Riders:

Art from Lost Sloth:

Art from Symphony City