Original artwork from The Animals' Conference
Along with attending the Canada Reads debates, I crammed quite a bit of sightseeing into my three days in Toronto. One of the highlights was my tour of the Art Galley of Ontario, known affectionately to most as “AGO.” There I was delighted to find Animal Tales: Beasts, Toys, and Fables from the AGO Collection, an exhibit that features original picture book illustrations, toys, and other artifacts that celebrate “the timeless appeal of picture books and the magic of visual storytelling.” Hear, hear!
One aspect of the exhibit in particular caught my attention. An entire room is devoted to Walter Trier’s original illustrations from the 1947 title, The Animals’ Conference, written by Erich Kästner.* It’s the first exhibit I’ve seen (outside of children’s museums of course) that was designed with the young viewer in mind. All artwork is hung at a child’s level and, instead of being academic in tone, the wall labels re-create The Animals’ Conference’s story in a simplified form. By walking around the room, you can “read” the book. A stuffed elephant and tiger, colorful block seats, and an art board are placed in the center of the room, resulting in a cheery, welcoming place for families. A truly excellent approach and a good example for libraries that want to create kid-friendly spaces.
Unfortunately, I can’t find any photos to illustrate the room arrangement for you. I guess you’ll just have to make the trip to Toronto!
Fun fact: He’s also the author of Lottie and Lisa (1949), the inspiration for the Parent Trap movies.
This installment of “That’s A Children’s Book?,” or really, “That’s a book at all?” is credit, Ms. Jen Knoch. She seeks out inappropriate children’s books and this is her latest find.
This is the story of the Dogs’ Summer Ball, an affair so fancy, that all the dogs have to remove their “bums” (illustrated as cheery pink ‘o’s) to dine. Suddenly a fire breaks out and all the dogs have to grab whatever bum they can find, with no guarantee that they’ve grabbed their own. Ostensibly, this is an origin tale of why dogs sniff each others’ butts.
Not a question that needed an answer.
Sadly, I can’t find any images of the interior art for you. Those little pink ‘O’s, all hung in a line, are something to see.
I Know Here
Written by Laurel Croza
Illustrated by Matt James
Groundwood Books, 2010
On shelves now
Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature and the winner of the 2010 Boston Globe – Horn Book Award, I Know Here is the story of a young girl who will soon move from rural Saskatchewan to Toronto because the dam her father was helping to build is completed. The girl is scared of moving to a big city where she does not know anyone or anything. To help herself come to terms with leaving, the girl draws a picture of everything she knows and loves about her home. She plans to take this picture with her to Toronto to help her remember.
This touching book will speak to children, even if they aren’t familiar with the rural setting described. After all, moving house or traveling far away is a universal theme, no matter where we call home. Although the protagonist is in third grade, the book could appeal to teens as well. The book’s small size and longer text make this a better one-on-one read aloud for younger children. James’s sketchy, painted illustrations imitate a child’s drawing style and are a perfect partner for the text.
I Know Here would be a good inspiration for a writing assignment in school classrooms. Using the text as a model, have children describe the sights and sounds they love on their street. Perhaps they could illustrate their prose.
If you are presenting this book to teens, consider pairing it with Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, a similarly poetic description of a blue collar family, albeit an urban one. Mary Oliver’s poetry would also be a nice choice. I’m thinking in particular of “In Blackwater Woods” from American Primitive.
Reviewed from public library copy
Laurel Croza’s website
Matt James’s website