RENATO AND THE LION
Written and illustrated by Barbara DiLorenzo
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 5 and up)
HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY TO RENATO AND THE LION!
★Starred Review – Booklist
Barbara DiLorenzo’s historical picture book, Renato and the Lion, captures a young boy’s fondness for a stone lion. The story is set during World War II and Renato’s father cares for sculptures in a museum. When foreign troops arrive in Florence, he safeguards the art in brick enclosures. However, Renato’s beloved sculpture resides outside in the Piazza della Signoria where he likes to play soccer with his friends. Using some spare bricks, Renato tries to protect his lion too, but falls asleep while hiding from soldiers. The lion magically transports Renato home.
Years later in the U.S.A., Renato shares this tale with his granddaughter and soon after travels to Italy where he is reunited with his long-lost lion—a reminder that powerful connections with pieces of art transcend continents and generations.
DiLorenzo’s beautiful watercolor paintings bring Renato and the Lion to life. This visually stunning story enchants as it gently educates. The emotional resonance evokes a timelessness that will charm children with its quiet and heartfelt message.
Find more info about Barbara DiLorenzo by clicking here.
Written by Linda Ravin Lodding
Illustrated by Claire Fletcher
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
You don’t have to be a Francophile to fall for Painting Pepette, a charming new picture book by Linda Ravin Lodding with illustrations by Claire Fletcher. Journey back with me to 1920s Paris to meet the adorable Josette and her stuffed animal rabbit, Pepette.
Young Josette adores her plush pet Pepette, but realizes that among all the lovely family portraits hanging in the great room at #9 Rue Lafette, there is none of her beloved rabbit. Determined to change that, Josette heads to the most popular place for a 1920s Paris artist to paint, high up in scenic Montmartre.
There amidst the assorted artists’ imaginations, easels and colorful atmosphere, Josette crosses paths with Picasso, Dali, Chagall and Matisse. Each of these famed artists is eager to capture the likeness of Pepette in their own unique way. The only catch is that Josette feels the completed artists’ masterpieces do not quite convey the true Pepette she knows and loves. And naturally, Pepette agrees. Clearly the only thing left to do at this point is to paint the portrait herself!
Lodding’s use of rhyming words like Josette, Pepette, Lafette and even the family schnoodle, Frizette, along with un petit peu of French words make Painting Pepette a recommended read aloud story. Her selection of artists allows her to have fun with the little girl’s search for the perfect portrait painter. Lodding even includes a brief Author’s Note to explain the time period when these four famous artists painted.
Fletcher captures the essence of 1920s Paris in every illustration and introduces children to the unique artists and their signature styles. Picasso’s take on Pepette includes two noses and three ears. Dali envisions the rabbit as a variation of The Persistence of Memory. Chagall paints Pepette up in the clouds like a star, et bien sûr, Matisse employs a plethora of color on his palette, “But Pepette isn’t pink,” notes a disappointed Josette.
Together, Lodding and Fletcher have created a picture book that, after entertaining them, might very well inspire children to get out the water colors or acrylics and get into some serious portrait painting of all their favorite stuffed animals. Dabble on!
SWATCH: THE GIRL WHO LOVED COLOR Written and illustrated by Julia Denos
(Balzer + Bray; 17.99, Ages 4-8)
Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Coloropens with these compelling lines: “In a place where colors ran wild, there lived a girl who was wilder still. Her name was Swatch, and she was a color tamer. She was small, but she was not afraid.” The story delightfully weavesJulia Denos’s text with her vivid images. Ideal for children ages 4–8, Swatch is the first picture book in which Denos is both writer and illustrator, a task she accomplishes exceedingly well.
As we read on, we get to know this wild girl, Swatch, who dances with colors and does magic. She even learns that, with a little patience, she can hunt down the rare shades. Better still, the colors begin to come to her when called by name. Swatch establishes a reciprocal relationship with them. Until she decides to capture one. And bottle it up in her room.
This leads Swatch on a color-collecting spree. Her room soon overflows with trapped, restless hues.
On Swatch’s search for the last, elusive color—Yellowest Yellow—this color talks to her and asks Swatch what she’s doing. When the girl asks if it would like to climb in her jar, Yellowest Yellow politely refuses. She then acquiesces and watches as Yellowest Yellow unleashes its wild side, reminding our main character that colors should not be tamed. As the girl waits to be eaten, Yellowest Yellow surprises her by exhibiting other attributes of its personality. Together, the girl and the color soar.
While riding this explosion of Yellowest Yellow, Swatch realizes she must release the colors pent up in her room. The results are a masterpiece. Enjoy the beautifully bright illustrations and discover that, perhaps, wild things are better left untamed—whether these wild things are colors, little girls, or other forces of nature.
In the world of advertising, Dos Equis has introduced us to “the most interesting man in the world.” In picture books, author/illustrator Helen Hancocks introduces us to William, “international cat of mystery” and, arguably, the most interesting cat in the world.
In his swanky flat, where fine furniture, folk art, and books entwine, William is suddenly interrupted from vacation planning by an urgent phone call from Monsieur Gruyère, the curator of an art museum in Paris. We learn that the famous Mona Cheesa has been stolen, which incidentally carries a distinct similarity to da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with the exception of gourmet cheeses surrounding the central figure in the portrait. Even worse, this theft has occurred during National Cheese Week, when the museum has scheduled an exhibit in its honor.
When William arrives at the museum, the clues are few and any hope of solving the mystery far from reality. As William interviews the curator and jots down his notes, readers will be delighted studying the other works of art displayed on the museum wall. Adult readers, in particular, will be drawn to such familiar works as Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and Édouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass (to name just a few) and will immediately notice the hilarious ways Hancocks has altered the paintings to suit her feline and cheese themes.
Stumped by two confusing clues at the museum, a “small hole in the baseboard and a strand of red yarn,” William jumps on his scooter to visit his artist friends in the hopes they may guide him in the right direction. Unable to help, Fifi Le Brie and Henri Roquefort (yes, the cheesiness abounds!) invite the troubled detective to a gala at the museum where the winner of an art contest will be awarded a trophy and a year’s supply of cheese. Though he doesn’t know it yet, William has just received his most important clue.
Sitting in a café pondering the case, William spots a strange fellow dressed even more strangely crossing the street, his red scarf waving in the wind, the scarf carrying a loose thread curiously similar to the strand of yarn William picked up at the scene of the crime.
The plot thickens….and the suspense heightens, not only because of the mystery surrounding this new character, but because, through her illustrations, Hancocks invites us to solve the crime alongside William. Sitting on a bench, William pretends to read when in fact he is spying on the stranger through holes he has punched in the newspaper. We readers see the way the detective sees. Literally. And, like William, we stealthily follow the mysterious man down the street, through the park, and over the bridge. Just when we’re hot on his trail, the unthinkable happens: we’re trapped in the city’s busy traffic circle. Standing with William near the center fountain, we watch the shady figure slipping away. In this beautiful double page spread, children will love searching for the characters amidst the bustling mid city traffic.
Remembering his promise to his artist friends, William returns to the museum to learn that a “new” painting has been added to the art contest. Without a doubt, children will roar at recognizing the old aspects of this “new” painting. With William we review the clues, piecing everything together. Guaranteed, the end result will be more satisfying than melted brie on a freshly baked baguette!
Through Hancocks’ sophisticated character and bold, detailed artwork, readers will see how a seemingly impossible problem can be solved one slice at a time.
Spring is only a few short weeks away, and most of the country can’t wait to thaw out. In anticipation of sunshine and warmer temperatures, here are two picture books about different types of gardens.
In Lola Plants a Garden, young Lola is inspired to plant a garden after reading the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” poem. First, she conducts her research with books from the library. Next, she and Mommy make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers. Then they’re off to buy seeds and carefully follow the instructions on the seed packets. But growing a garden doesn’t happen quickly, and Lola has to wait. Not to worry, as Lola and her parents have plenty of ways to keep busy.
Lola makes her own flower book…She finds shells and some old beads. She even makes a little Mary Mary. Daddy helps Lola hang her shiny bells. Lola finds Mary Mary a special spot. It’s just perfect. And, before Lola knows it, her flowers grow and her friends visit. They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries…What kind of garden will Lola plant next?
This sweet book highlights the fun of getting back to nature and teaches the virtues of hard work and patience. Good things come to those who wait, and Lola must wait for her flowers to sprout and grow. With the help of her parents, Lola doesn’t dwell on the waiting and enjoys her time with related activities. I just adore the illustrations. They are bright with the little details that convey so much meaning. We know Lola is working hard on her flower book when we see her tongue stick out from the corner of her mouth. And pulling weeds isn’t easy as we can tell from Lola wiping her brow. I especially liked seeing how Mommy and Lola lean into each other as they make cupcakes. These touches are the illustrator’s mastery. The font is also spot on with just the right size and style (modern with clean lines) to help emerging readers identify letters and words.
In Marys’ Garden brings to life a true story of art and inspiration. Mary Nohl was a little girl in Wisconsin who loved to create, invent, and build things. Mary tried woodworking. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She won the first place prize in her industrial arts class for building a model airplane. This was unusual for the time, as girls were supposed to follow traditional paths. In fact, Mary was one of only two girls in the class. But Mary had an intrepid spirit and a keen eye for art. As she grew older, she traveled the world and drew inspiration from everywhere. One summer, her dogs, Sassafras and Basil, found driftwood on the lakeshore. Mary then began to hunt for more items—old keys, shiny rocks, feathers, cogs, combs, and on. She began to create. It took a long time to put together all the odds and ends and bits and bobs, but finally Mary was done. The creature was magnificent. She continued to create art piece after art piece in her garden and then in her home. After her death, Mary’s art is being preserved.
My daughters and I greatly enjoy this story. It shows a woman who follows her own path and mind. Despite society’s conventions, Mary Nohl kept true to herself and her muse. These are lofty concepts, but even young children can understand the idea that a person can do what she loves. Older children will hopefully take away the lesson that gender shouldn’t stop someone from achieving milestones and following a dream. The book ends with factual information and photographs of Mary and her garden.
The book’s art is traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers. Postcards, patterns, and writing are used as backgrounds for the main illustrations and offer a look at Mary’s creativity. The “creatures” (statues and creations) are unconventional but fun to study. They demonstrate Mary’s incredible imagination. There’s a lot to take away from In Mary’s Garden—creativity, inspiration, challenging society’s norms, being true to yourself—and it’s well worth the read.
Author/Illustrator Kelly Light has created characters who are both lovable and relatable in Louise Loves Art, (Balzer and Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins, $17.99, Ages 4-8). Truly a work of art, Light’s first picture book, Louise Loves Art, will leave you satisfied, and wanting more at the same time. With a sparse text, (only about 130 words), you’d think it would be difficult to tell much of a story. Fuhgeddaboudit! (Sorry. Fellow former Jersey girl, Light, must have brought it out in me). This is a story brimming with a child’s passion for creative expression as well as a tale of sibling dynamics.
As the title says, Louise loves art. She draws all kinds of things, a frog, a sailboat, and her little brother Art. Young readers will enjoy seeing her work displayed throughout the house. Art watches and idolizes his big sister, as she tries to create a masterpiece: a picture of her cat.
To be a great artist, you have to notice everything.
Wait–hold that pose! I will capture your cat-ness!
But while Louise is engrossed in finding the perfect place to display her pièce de résistance, she fails to notice Art, his attempts to get her attention, and “his own” creation.
Unlike Art’s inability to capture his sister’s eye, Light has no trouble getting our attention on and off the page. Frequently seen sporting red lipstick and matching eyeglasses, while on her book tour, Light told me, “Strong, by Lush Cosmetics, is the color of lipstick I like. Louise is a strong character.” Yes, she is, and with her primarily black and white and red all over style of artwork, Light makes that very clear. Using a black Prisma color pencil on vellum, scanning her drawings into the computer, and coloring them in Photoshop with “Louise Red” (also known as Pantone 1788), has her illustrations popping off the page.
Louise inspires her brother, and Light’s book encourages children across the country to pick up a pencil and draw. In a time when art classes are being cut or eliminated from schools, it’s good to shed a little “Light” on the subject.
LET’S BUILD BY SUE FLIESS WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY MIKI SAKAMOTO
IS REVIEWED BY MARYANNE LOCHER.
What’s better than the weekend? Spending it with your dad, especially when you’re building a clubhouse together in your yard.
Let’s Build, a picture book written by Sue Fliess with illustrations by Miki Sakamoto, (Two Lions; 2014; Ages 4-8; $14.99) shows us that having fun can sometimes be hard work, and that hard work can often be fun. From idea to finished product, a dad and his son work together as a team. The son picks the perfect spot in the yard, the dad draws up plans, then they both make tracks to the hardware store for supplies.
Here’s a handsaw,
bolts and screws.
Look! Some plywood
we can use.
There are opportunities to learn about safety when using tools …
Time to hammer.
Swing it now?
Wait! Here, let me
show you how.
… and about keeping your work area safe for pets. (No animals are harmed, but there are blue and red dog and squirrel paw prints all over the pages.)
Paint the outside
blue and red.
Oops! I dripped some on Dad’s head!
As in so many of her books, Fliess writes in verse, and in a meter that hits the nail on the head. Sakamoto uses acrylics and gouache then Photoshop to create the brightly colored illustrations that bring the story to life. Together, author and illustrator have constructed a solid picture book.
I’d recommend this book for anyone planning to build a clubhouse, fort, or playhouse with their son or daughter.
Here are some links to other Sue Fliess books we’ve reviewed.
I fell head over heels in love with this book from my first glance at the cover – the entire cover – so flip this book over after you have studied the image above. A little bear watches a feather dangling from a squirrel’s fishing pole, thus introducing the book’s first charming line: “Does a feather remember it once was … a bird?”
Gentle rhyming couplets draw the reader through a wondrous, daydreaming journey that touches upon memory as well as natural and philosophical transitions. Although that sounds rather high-falutin, the book is perfectly pitched to young readers as well as the young at heart, pushing at the edges of natural curiosity and whimsy. “Does a chair remember it once was … a tree?”
The illustrations are soft, lovely and endearing. Liwska’s details carry a tender repeating theme throughout the book, bearing the images from the “before” question to the “after” answer in captivating ways. Splashes of warm, rusty reds and nutty browns enhance the rich images perfectly sized to reflect the tiny kernel of the initial question on the left page to the broad imagining of its answer on the right.
Are you still curious about the back cover? Here it has become night, and our friend the little bear is now jotting his thoughts into a journal by the light of a firefly cloud. What do you suppose he is writing?
This is a quiet, cozy read perfect for the child whose pockets are filled with pebbles, feathers and other curious treasures. It is a lovely poem for little ones who often ask Why? How? and What if? Once Upon a Memory is a wonderful springboard for capturing snippets of childhood musings within the delightful journey of its pages.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.