December 16, 2018

Battle of the Books: P. J. Lynch/Sonja Danowski Illustrate The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Every year around this time, I like to take out some holiday classics to read over again. One favourite of mine is The Gift of the Magi, a short story by American writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1910) under the pen name O. Henry. First published in 1905, it has been enjoyed and retold for over a century. Selected here are two picture books that I simply adore and while they may not be the most recent, I feel they illustrate this love story in the best way. I cannot decide which I prefer so here goes my first Battle of the Books. In this post category, two books telling the same story will be weighed against each other. Since the text is identical in both books, this part is omitted in the comparison. Things considered are: visual appeal, illustrative impact, quality of print and paper, size and number of illustrations. The check mark () denotes my preference.

Book A
Book B
The Gift of the Magi Book A
The Gift of the Magi Book B
Illustrated by Sonja Danowski
Illustrated by P. J. Lynch
minedition 2013
Candlewick Press 2008
8.6" x 13"
7.8" x 9.4"

The cover is very beautiful with this close-up image of Della moping around on the couch staring at the pennies she has saved. I love the detail on the couch and Della's hair. The title above the image is easily noticeable.
B: This cover image is from the ending showing the couple in a loving embrace with a packaged gift on the table. The title is a bit subdued with the script type and little contrast to the background. There is a lot of emotion conveyed on their faces which works better with the story. Tie
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Opening the book displays a lovely art nouveau flower pattern on the endpapers. This rose image is used adjacent each picture; growing taller with every turn of the page. The layout of the book is more structured with text on the left side and picture on the right side of the spread. Script type is used for the text and white space used for overall framing. The illustrations use a muted palette that resemble colourized old photographs; the effect is vintage and elegant. 
B: This book begins with a view from Della's window. The poor neighbourhood is shown by the laundry line drying outside. Della is counting her pennies and looking distraught. The apartment and surroundings are better displayed. Warm browns and golden hues are used and a varied layout consisting of mostly full page images.
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Della slumps on a chair while her hair is being examined for purchase. Both figures are wonderfully drawn and the detailed background is superb. 
B: Mme. Sofronie looks much colder here with her pale face and stern look. There is movement and interesting figure placement but the background is a little bare.
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Della stares longingly through a store window and again great detailing in the background; this time with the buildings and added figures but Della looks a bit too fashionable for her budget and the illustration is similar to a previous one.
B: Della's joy shows through here by her expression and the busy streets filled with shoppers adds to the excitement of finding Jim's present. 
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Della is pictured with her newly cut hair and while I like seeing her use that old fashioned curling iron, the shape of her head seems off. It could be that I too miss seeing Della with her luxurious locks.
B: Della looks at her new hairstyle in the mirror trying to like it. The hopefulness in her eyes says volumes. 
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: The rest of the illustrations follow a similar pattern with great detailing however, some of the figures can look a bit stiff and posed; sometimes looking right at the viewer. This style may not work as well for a story that is written in the third person. Near the end, the couple is shown in an embrace and Della looking slightly happier.
B: There are more illustrations showing Della and Jim's interaction here. The exchange of gifts, the surprise looks and the emotional realization, all add significant support to the story. The facial expressions are lively and real with figures that carry natural body language. The book ends with a view of the cold winter night with the happy couple shown through a small lit window. 

The Gift of the Magi Covers P.J. Lynch Sonja DanowskiA: Tall format with twelve large illustrations on medium weight stock. Spot varnish for the title with decorative title page and end papers. A stylish and elegant looking book. My favourite illustration is the one selected for the cover.
B: Wide format with twenty illustrations of varying sizes. Embossed title on cover and medium weight stock. I don't have a favourite illustration for this book, they all carry the same weight but I do enjoy the city scenes; it adds to the coldness of the environment, making Della and Jim's love burn a little bit brighter and warmer. 
Do you agree with these comparisons?

November 29, 2018

An Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben Hoare - Illustrated by Daniel Long, Angela Rizza, Daniela Terrazzini

This mini encyclopedia of animals is a nonfiction book but it was too gorgeous to pass on. More than a hundred animals are featured, ranging from all six groups: mammals, fish, reptiles, birds, amphibians and invertebrates. Each animal is displayed in a spread with a paragraph or two of descriptions accompanied by a close-up photograph and smaller illustration. Did you know that king cobras don't hiss but growl like dogs do? Or that a newborn koala is the size of a jelly bean? This is some of the information presented and while short, the text is fun to read and focuses on the most interesting facts. Ben Hoare keeps readers engaged with his light and humorous writing, holding interest in this thick book until the last page.

The animal illustrations by Daniel Long are vector based graphics. It's clean crisp look juxtapose nicely with the accompanying photographs and visually aids in the guide where all the animals are displayed together. Angela Rizza's delicate illustrations of foliage and patterns decorate the end pages and background with quiet charm, adding elegance and softening the overall look. Daniela Terrazzini illustrates the covers with ornate images consisting of animal shapes and foliage. The image is stamped in gold on a teal background; the result is striking. This technique is carried along to the spine and often neglected back cover which includes a different illustration. To match the cover, the edges are gilded in gold. There are two different covers available for this book. The image on the left is US and Canada versions. The image on the right is for the UK version-I prefer this one.

Extras in the back include an illustration showing how the animals are related to one another, a glossary and a handy visual guide. Use the guide to search for a favourite animal or simply open the book to any page to be pleasantly surprised. A ribbon marker is included. This is essentially a reference book for children but can also be a coffee table book. Recommended for ages 7+.

Amazon | Book Depository
DK Children 2018
Hardcover 224p
8.8" x 11.2"
An Anthology of Intriguing Animals Daniela TerrazziniAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben Hoare

November 24, 2018

Alice Opens the Door Exhibit

The Toronto Reference Library is having an exhibit featuring: Alice in Wonderland. A curated selection from the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books will be on showcase, inviting visitors 'down the rabbit hole'. The exhibit includes an interactive wall display, books, costume designs, art, games and ephemera relating to this literary classic.
A distorting mirror and little red doors that can be opened to reveal hidden surprises, accentuate the gallery. Visit on weekdays to avoid the crowd and enjoy the free guided tour.
Alice in WonderlandAlice in WonderlandAlice in WonderlandAlice in WonderlandAlice in WonderlandAlice in WonderlandAlice in WonderlandAlice in Wonderland
November 17, 2018-January 27, 2019
Toronto Reference Library - TD Gallery, Main Level
Admission and guided tours are free. No registration is required.
Tuesdays at 2 p.m. (except December 25 and January 1)
Thursday, December 27 and Thursday, January 3 at 2 p.m.

The gallery is open during Toronto Reference Library's open hours:
Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sundays, 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information please visit: Alice Opens the Door.

November 20, 2018

You're Snug With Me by Chitra Soundar - Illustrated by Poonam Mistry

Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry have done it again! In their second collaboration, readers are transported from the tropical jungles in You're Safe With Me, to the cold arctic tundra with this complementary piece. Sheltered from the elements, Mama Bear and her two cubs share a cozy den while waiting for spring to return. Hidden from the world through the long winter, the cubs fill with curiosity for the land they have yet to explore. Mama Bear replies with encouraging words to comfort and nurture their independence. As the cubs discover the wonders of their home and themselves, Mama Bear fosters knowledge and respect for the earth and all of its inhabitants: "We're never alone in this world....We should only ever take what we need".

The illustrations are spectacular and undeniably "Poonam Mistry". Filled to the brim and dense with structurally precise shapes and swirls. There is little to no white space in the composition and yet it does not appear cluttered. Various arctic animals and sea life are presented as is the frozen landscape, all in a patterned design reminiscent of beadwork. The abundance of crisp snowflakes, ice crystals and stars add sparkle and opulence to an already luxurious display. The art is created with ink on paper and completed digitally. The book size and production is similar to You're Safe With Me with the addition of the silver foiling for the snowflakes on the cover; it's quite eye catching. Words, shapes, and colours, all work in perfect unison in this inspiring and cautionary tale for the future caretakers of our planet. Recommended for ages 4+.

Amazon | Book Depository
Lantana Publishing 2018
Hardcover 32p
9.75" x 9.6"
You're Snug With Me Chitra Soundar Poonam MistryYou're Snug With Me safe in denYou're Snug With Me first stepsYou're Snug With Me seaYou're Snug With Me rabbitsYou're Snug With Me earth on axisYou're Snug With Me whalesYou're Snug With Me restless inside

November 7, 2018

The Log Driver's Waltz by Wade Hemsworth - Illustrated by Jennifer Phelan

Anyone growing up in Canada in the early '80s will most likely remember this animated short, The Log Driver's Waltz. Based on a folk song by Wade Hemsworth, it was produced by The National Film Board of Canada to encourage national unity. The song is about a young woman who prefers a log driver over her many other more proper suitors. Driving logs along the river has made the young man light on his feet and the best dancer in town.

Acclaimed illustrator Jennifer Phelan has ingeniously recreated this film for the picture book, capturing all the charm and splendour that has made it a cherished Canadian classic. In her rendition, the log driver's moves are more balletic and graceful as the river currents flow with a contemporary flair. Cool pastel colours offer a fresh vibe as is the update to the log driver's iconic plaid shirt and toque. The additional scenes provide a practical and imaginative ending to an adaptation that is sure to delight a new generation of fans. Recommended for ages 4+.

The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan cover
Simon & Schuster 2018
Hardcover 40p
10" x 12"

Q&A with Jennifer Phelan

How were you approached for 'The Log Driver's Waltz'?
The Log Driver's Waltz stepping lightlyIt was a blend of luck and chemistry that brought me to this project. 
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan mooseMy first children's book was launching at the same time that my publisher was seeking an illustrator for The Log Driver's Waltz. I was very fortunate to have been top of mind at the right time. I'm not 100% on the exact arrangement but I believe the government granted special permission to Simon & Schuster Canada, historically a book distributor not producer, to create books provided they were works of Canadian culture. The Log Driver's Waltz had been a long-time favourite of Simon & Schuster's managing editor Patricia Ocampo and she asked me to be one of three chosen to audition for the role as illustrator. I'm pretty sure it was the in-person interview not the sample art, that tipped the scales. Within minutes of sitting down, it was obvious we had the exact same vision for this contemporary version. When Patricia called me later to offer me the gig, it was more like a marriage proposal. Something huge just landed in our laps.
Can you tell us a bit of your creative process? What mediums do you use?
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan getting readyIt's uncommon for an illustrator to experiment with different mediums across books but this book needed to be different than my last. Hey, Boy was done in ink, coloured digitally and was heavy on the white space to convey a passage of time. The Log Driver's Waltz required an abundance of foliage & fauna, we really wanted to capture the ruggedness of the Canadian landscape. I chose to bring in techniques I had been experimenting within my personal work (gritty watercolour pencil & toner transfers) to create a new style more appropriate for this story.
How long did it take to complete all of the many illustrations?
The artwork took place over about an eight month period but what took the longest was carefully planning out the narrative as storyboard iterations and mastering the fusion of two parts of myself: my children's book style and my personal work.
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan pleases girls completelyI adore the illustration showing the log driver with the waterfall behind him and leaves scattered about. The natural setting is beautifully captured. What is your favourite illustration here?
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan sitting on logsThe Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan work on the riverThat is also my favourite illustration! It was the first one I tackled once the storyboard was approved because I knew it would be the masterpiece of the book and I couldn't wait to see what it looked like. It took forever, had many iterations, and terrified me the entire time but it was worth every (future) grey hair! My second favourite is the cover illustration. This one was the quickest to do because I saved it for last and by that point I really understood the world the characters lived in. It was an effortless joy to make.
About the Artist
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan conductorI always wanted to be a children's book illustrator. I obsessed over my books as a child and traced my own copies. I went to college and university for illustration-six years! I didn't dive into the industry when I graduated because I still wanted to learn and experiment with my craft. As I sort of hinted at above, illustrators need to have a consistent portfolio and I wasn't ready to settle down with one style at that time. While renting communal artist space and painting during my mornings and evenings, I worked as a nanny for two families during the afternoons. The flexible schedule was amazing for my creativity and I ended up collaborating with one of the parents of the kids on a children's book. After a few years of noodling with it, we decided to self-publish (print on demand). An agent found our book and we had the good fortune of being acquired by Simon & Schuster shortly after. This agent was also the one who helped me land the Log Driver's Waltz gig and here we are! I'm no longer a nanny (though I miss the kids dearly!) and I now work as a designer at a small agency in Parkdale, Hypenotic. I still need the flexibility and my work is great about letting me craft my schedule to fit around personal projects.
Where did you attend school and how has that prepared you for a career in illustration?
I went to Dawson College and OCAD for Illustration. Both were amazing. College gave me process, passion and industry confidence. University taught me humility and to be a life-long learner. The transition from one to the other was rather confusing but I see now that I needed both for the long haul.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I'm doing the art for two interstitial animations and I'm learning how to do stop motion. I'm collaborating on another children's book too but we're still in the writing phase, so hopefully I'll have another interview with you in a year or so!
What are your plans for the future?
I'm hoping to introduce sculpture and sets into my future children's books, allowing more opportunities to work with my friends who do lighting, photography, and set building. I miss the communal culture of my old art studio but thankfully, projects are another way to bring passionate people together.

very special thank you to Jennifer Phelan for sharing insight from the artist, the making of this wonderful book and for visiting RedCapeTales. You are always welcome here and see you again soon!