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Children’s Books for Earth Day 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF CHILDREN’S BOOKS 

FOR EARTH DAY 2023

 

 

 

The Tree and the River cover bucolic river scene with industry reflectionTHE TREE AND THE RIVER
by Aaron Becker

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, Foreward Reviews, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Connection

Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book, The Tree and the River, shows how humans impact a specific plot of vibrant land. The time-lapse process he uses is fascinating and powerful. Some of the imagery is fictionalized yet this doesn’t take away from the understanding that people’s cities, industry, and war wreak havoc on the land.

I like how the almost totally destroyed landscape can, with a simple acorn, reestablish itself, giving the book (and our world) the possibility that we can recover from damage inflicted.

Beyond the stunning illustrations, Becker did so much more: he prepared by constructing a scale model which he then slowly transformed with clay and wood over many months. The book was inspired by “the rich history of layered civilizations” in Granada, Spain. Be sure to peek under the dust jacket for an alternate image.

 

The Forest Keeper cover Jadav Payeng in forestTHE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Written by Rina Singh
Illustrated by Ishita Jain
(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

Rina Singh’s picture book, The Forest Keeper, introduces us to a tribesman from Majuli named Jadav Molai Payeng who labored in isolated anonymity for thirty years, growing a forest on an abandoned sandbar in a remote corner of northeastern India. He began in 1979 when the river burst its banks and left hundreds of water snakes to perish in the hot sun. When he sought help from elders and the forest department, he was told “trees don’t grow on sandbars” and was given a bag of bamboo seedlings. His diligence and dedication created habitats for a number of creatures in this 1,359-acre oasis—larger than New York’s Central Park.

The soft-focus illustrations by Ishita Jain bring India’s beauty alive. I particularly like the tiger, elephants, and dramatic trees filled with birds in the twilight.

This book reminds us that Earth Day truly is every day, and that one person can make a huge difference. Be sure to look under the dust jacket for a bonus image that reinforces this story’s humble beginnings. Read an exclusive interview with illustrator Ishita Jain here.

 

Water: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater cover children in village pumping waterWATER: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater 
Written by Catherine Barr

Illustrated by Christiane Engel
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Catherine Barr’s picture book, Water: How We Can Protect Our Waterways, is broken down into easy-to-follow sections from “The First Water on Earth” through “It’s Water Action Decade!” The facts are thorough yet explained simply. It’s mind-blowing that only 3% of all water on Earth is freshwater; three-quarters of it exists in glaciers and polar ice sheets. I like how each section has an item that relates to a specific place: “These girls in sub-Saharan Africa can go to school because they have a water pump and tap in their village.” This makes the issues feel real and connects us all around the planet.

Christiane Engel’s detailed illustrations bring the world and its water sources to life such as the polluted rivers in India and salmon leaping up a fish ladder in Scotland (because their migration path has been dammed). The brightly colored art is something kids can look over again and again, finding new things each time.

The “How Can I Use Water Wisely?” section at the end is conveyed in a fun, wraparound style. Suggestions include realizing that most everything we use takes water to make and visiting local lakes or rivers to discover the animals and plants living there—if we care about something, we’re more likely to want to help protect it. Taking a few minutes to better understand our water is time well spent.

 

Something Happened to Our Planet cover kids cleaning trashSOMETHING HAPPENED TO OUR PLANET
Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series)
Written by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins 
Illustrated by Bhagya Madanasinghe
(Magination Press; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

In Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins’s Something Happened to Our Planet: Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series), a young girl is worried about the far-reaching effects of plastics in our waterways. Encouraged by her family, she decides one person can make a difference so she starts an Earth Control group at her elementary school to make improvements in the cafeteria.

I enjoyed the illustrations by Bhagya Madanasinghe, especially the facial expressions of the unnamed main character. We feel the ups and downs these kids experience as their desire to help is met with setbacks.

Truly remarkable is the information provided in the Reader’s Note: facts beyond what’s found in similar texts, including a Q&A section to help parents answer hard questions posed by kids. While this section is huge, it’s manageably divided and the possible steps we can all take to mitigate climate change are surprisingly doable with suggestions such as reducing food waste, eating less meat, and using “art and music to give hope and remind others about the importance of nature and a sustainable planet.” This book is a must-have in classrooms, libraries, and at home. The publisher’s website contains several helpful downloadable pdfs.

 

Total Garbage cover kid sitting on trash pileTOTAL GARBAGE:
A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World

Written by Rebecca Donnelly
Illustrated by John Hendrix
(Henry Holt BYR; $21.99, Ages 8-12) 

Starred Reviews -Hornbook Magazine, Kirkus Reviews

Being able to “talk trash” in a way that’s engaging and even funny at times is quite an accomplishment. Rebecca Donnelly succeeds in her middle-grade book, Total Garbage: A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World. It is messy because we’re talking about the mountains of things we cast aside.

The text is guided by simple questions: “What is garbage, where does it come from, where does it go, why do we make so much of it, and how can we do better?” For such an overwhelming issue, the underlying message is hopeful yet does not shy away from the massive scope of this problem, acknowledging there’s no quick solution. Something we can all do is to buy less and use less, keeping in mind what it took to make that item and understanding that things don’t just go away because there’s not such place as “away.”

The book’s blue font is appealing and illustrations by John Hendrix add some levity. I would love to see informative and optimistic books like this one being used in classrooms because being oblivious about the garbage problem really stinks.

 

 

the day the river caught fire cover children watch flames on riverTHE DAY THE RIVER CAUGHT FIRE
Written by Barry Wittenstein
Illustrated by Jessie Hartland
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

In award-winning author Barry Wittenstein’s eye-opening narrative nonfiction picture book, children are brought back in time to the year of a moon landing, Woodstock, the Vietnam War, and the Stonewall Rebellion. But do they know that this was also the year before Earth Day was founded? Or that a big event that led to its creation was the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching fire?

Yes, the river caught fire and it wasn’t the first time! “Since 1886, it happened thirteen times.” Pollution from big industry covered the water in “a thick, gooey layering of sludge, oil, and sewage …” So when KABOOM! flames rose in what would ordinarily have been rather frightening, most citizens viewed it as no big deal. Only it was a big deal! Rivers are not supposed to burn. However, since the Industrial Revolution, rivers around the world were treated as dumping sites with no concern for the health of their inhabitants in the water or nearby.

Thankfully, Cleveland’s Mayor Carl Stokes made his voice heard. The “exploding river” even made it to the cover of Time magazine, but Cleveland was not alone. Fires on rivers were happening in other cities too. Ultimately, Congress passed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, though these are still under attack today.

Not long after, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day took place and more people made their voices heard. It was time to start caring for the planet we all call home. Earth Day is now celebrated around the world with a billion or more people taking part in hundreds of cities. The history of the fire and the lead-up to the first Earth Day is illustrated by Jessie Hartland in colorful gouache. The folk art style spreads will especially resonate with young readers with their warmth and whimsy. I cannot pick a favorite scene since there were multiple spreads I loved, particularly due to her depiction of people (Note: big hair lady on riverboat cruise).

53 years on, this important global movement continues with efforts to curb climate change and all forms of pollution. Seven pages of back matter include a compelling author’s note, a time line, reads and resources, and a black and white photo of an earlier Cuyahoga River fire in 1952. And though the Cuyahoga River eventually got cleaned up, and fish returned, that can easily change if enforcement of environmental laws grows lax and restrictions that help the environment get lifted. Wittenstein’s informative prose is a call to action that none of us can ignore.

 

Another Band's Treasure cover recycled instrument orchestra on landfillANOTHER BAND’S TREASURE:
A Story of Recycled Instruments
by Hua Lin Xie
Translated by Edward Gauvin
(Graphic Universe; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

Xie’s graphic novel debut was inspired by the true story of Favio Chávez, a musician and educator from Paraguay who founded the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura in 2006. To me, this quote at the end speaks volumes, “The world sends us its garbage. We give it back music.”

The story’s main characters are Diego, a musician and music instructor, his friend, Nicolas, a carpenter, and Ada and her younger brother Daniel. They come from a single-parent home, and they, like many of the residents in this poor village likely live hand to mouth. The kids find entertainment treasure hunting on the landfill while their mother would like them to contribute to the household. There is little excitement or motivation in the children’s lives. That is until Diego puts out a flyer offering music lessons. In hopes of helping the kids grow emotionally by exposing them to music and self-expression, Diego and Nicolas also hope this will keep local kids out of trouble.

The graphic novel is divided into seven chapters as the relationships with the students, Diego and Nicolas develop. At first, it’s only Nicolas who scavenges amongst the discards of the landfill for usable items to turn into instruments. Before long, as the kids’ pride in what they’re a part of blossoms, it’s wonderful to watch them start searching for potential musical instruments. Maybe this could be a drum, or maybe a violin.

When Diego receives an invitation from the mayor for the orchestra to perform at a musical event in Asunción, everyone is not only thrilled for a chance to visit the capital but honored at being recognized. So much so that Ada and Daniel tell every single person they meet heading home and shout it from the top of the landfill. “Hey, clouds! We’re going places!!” Of course, they’re a hit and so begins a journey to play concerts all over the world! In an epilogue, Daniel has grown up and now, when he is on summer break, he and other children from the first class come back to Diego’s new class to help out new students and return the kindness that changed their lives.

Seamlessly translated from the French original, this English version has almost no color. Executed in muted greyish-black tones, the art looks like pen and ink but may have been created digitally. The choice of color or lack of it conveys the dullness of life alongside a landfill. The only time color appears apart from the cover is when a guitar is made from an orange-striped paint can. This middle-grade graphic novel is a hopeful story and a beautiful tribute to the dream and dedication of Favio Chávez. Find out more at www.recycledorchestracateura.com.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Reads for Earth Day

 

No World Too Big cover children holding up EarthNO WORLD TOO BIG: 
Young People Fighting Global Climate Change
Written by Lindsay H. Metcalf 
Written by Keila V. Dawson
Written by Jeanette Bradley
Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

Climate Warriors coverCLIMATE WARRIORS:
Fourteen Scientists and Fourteen Ways We Can Save Our Planet
by Laura Gehl

(Millbrook Press; $24.99, Ages 9-14)

 

 

 

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Illuminating New Kids Board Book – You Are Light by Aaron Becker

YOU ARE LIGHT
by Aaron Becker
(Candlewick Studio; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

You Are Light board book cover art

 

Starred ReviewsKirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

In Aaron Becker’s You Are Light, the 16-page board book’s inspirational poem is integrated with twelve quarter-sized die-cut translucent circles. These brightly colored circles ring a flower-like sun. While beautiful on its own, the book literally illuminates when held to the light. With each page turn, some disks become holes (perfect for small fingers!), until the sunset subsides to a moonlit scene.

int art and text from You Are Light by Aaron Becker
YOU ARE LIGHT. Copyright © 2019 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

You Are Light’s rhyming text explains how light interacts with the world and, in conclusion, how “This light is you. And you are light.” This book will thrill young readers and be sought after repeatedly for its “wow” factor and because the simple words resonate upliftingly.

You Are Light by Aaron Becker int illus and text
YOU ARE LIGHT. Copyright © 2019 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Aaron Becker is the Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator of the Journey trilogy and of A Stone for Sascha.

 

 

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A Giveaway Celebrating Candlewick’s Ten Books in Time Magazine’s Top 100

 

WIN FOUR FAB BOOKS!!

 

Picturebooks1-giveaway.jpg

If you’re a regular reader of our blog you’ll know we review a plethora of picture books published by Candlewick Press, a leading independent children’s book publisher based near Boston, Massachusetts. Obviously one of our faves, Candlewick Press consistently offers top quality books for the discerning reader. Their big news is that ten of their titles have been included in Time magazine’s TOP 100 YOUNG ADULT AND CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF ALL-TIME, a list honoring the all-time classics, both old and new. Here are the six books that have been chosen for older readers: Feed by M. T. Anderson; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline; Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo; A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay; The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness; and Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci.

But, there’s even more great news: We’re thrilled to be giving away four of their excellent books for younger readers to one lucky reader!

Read about the four picture books selected by TIME and then enter our Rafflecopter giveaway below.

Children’s/Picture Books:

I-Want-My-Hat-Back-cvr.jpg I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Told completely in dialogue, this delicious take on the classic repetitive tale plays out in sly illustrations laced with visual humor– and winks at the reader with a wry irreverence that will have kids of all ages thrilled to be in on the joke.

GRWR: This bears repeating: I LOVE THIS PICTURE BOOK and could read it again and again. The same is true for Klassen’s follow up, This is Not My Hat. Your kids will agree. Klassen’s sweet, naive bear is in search of his hat and can’t even see the truth when it’s staring at him straight in the face, while atop the head of the creature who stole it. The kindly, good mannered bear makes his way through the woods encountering a fox, a bunny, a turtle, a snake, a possum, a deer and a squirrel, always asking after his hat. “Have you seen my hat?”  The animals’ replies are varied, but straightforward and clever, and all in a font color matching their design. Of course the culprit’s remarks are by far the crowd pleaser,

“No. Why are you asking me.
I haven’t seen it.
I haven’t seen any hats anywhere.
I would not steal a hat.
Don’t ask me any more questions.

recalling Shakespeare’s “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” When at last the bear realizes where his hat is, readers will note upper case letters signaling his displeasure, and more hilarity and surprises ensue. This read-aloud delight will tickle the funny bone of generations of youngsters. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

$15.99 U.S./$18.00 CAN – ISBN: 9780763655983 (Ages 4-8)

* A Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book

Note:  I Want My Hat Back is in their Top 25 to be voted on for Best of the Best ranking by popular reader vote:  http://time.com/100-best-childrens-books/

JourneyJourney-cvr.jpg by Aaron Becker

Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.

GRWR: Reviewer Hilary Taber said of Journey, “Pure imagination is Journey, a wordless picture book by Aaron Becker. Journeying through the world of this stunning picture book, the audience follows the adventure of a little girl who uses a red marker to literally draw herself from one world into another. Lonely and bored in her own home, the little girl retreats to her room where she uses a red marker to draw a secret, red door. This new world beyond the red door is filled with breathtaking landscapes.”

$15.99 U.S./$18.00 CAN – ISBN: 9780763660536 (Ages 4-8)

* A Caldecott Honor Book

Library LionLibrary-Lion-cvr.jpg by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Michelle Knudsen’s disarming story, illustrated by the matchless Kevin Hawkes in an expressive timeless style, will win over even the most ardent of rule keepers. An affectionate storybook tribute to that truly wonderful place: the library.

GRWR: Knudsen asked herself the question, what would happen if a lion walked into a library, and then ran with it! What’s so wonderful about this premise is that lion statues have always been the guardians of great library entrances I have known and they’re in front of the library in Library Lion, too. Hawkes’ warm, light colored, low key ’50s style artwork helps convey the supposed staid atmosphere of the library, but all that changes when a curious lion enters the scene. After he makes most of the visitors nervous, he ends up at story time and roars when it’s over. Youngsters will understand how he feels because who doesn’t love story time? But head librarian Miss Merriweather tells him, “If you cannot be quiet, you will have to leave.” As with many librarians, or children’s impression of them, it’s all about the rules. As long as the lion follows the rules, he’s welcome, in fact he becomes a regular and even makes himself quite useful. His tail dusts books while giving kids rides along the stacks of books. Miss Merriweather’s colleague, Mr. McBee, has more trouble accepting the lion’s presence in the library providing the tension in this very readable tale. When Miss Merriweather falls, it’s the lion whose ROAR alerts Mr. McBee to the accident saving the day. Sometimes, it’s clear, there’s “good reason to break the rules.” Notice the lion statues smiling before closing the book to contented little ones. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

$16.99 U.S./$20.00 CAN Hardcover – ISBN: 9780763622626

$6.99 U.S. /8.00 CAN Pbk – ISBN: 9780763637842

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Sound Book Bear-Hunt-Sound-cvr.jpgby Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Imagine the fun of going on a bear hunt-through tall, wavy grass (SWISHY SWISHY!); … and a swirling whirling snowstorm (HOOOO WOOOO!) – only to find a “real” bear waiting at the end of the trail! For brave hunters and bear lovers, a classic chant-aloud.

GRWR: It’s a beautiful day for a bear hunt. “We’re not scared.” Remember these three words because they get repeated over and over and their rhythm along with spot on sound effects make this one of the all time must-haves for any new parent’s home collection. Four kids, their dad, and the family’s faithful companion head out for some fresh air and a hike. They’ll traverse grass, a river, then mud, “Squelch Squerch! Squelch Squerch! Squelch Squerch! They go into a forest then emerge to see a snowstorm building and dark clouds blowing in. Kids’ll feel the frosty air as the mood begins to change. A cave is next. Oh, no! “We’ve got to go through it!”  What’s that? A bear?  A BEAR?  The group backtracks in record time and as they retrace their steps, they end up being followed by the bear all the way home. Parents and caregivers can quicken their pace when reading the last bit. Especially the part where the family leaves the front door open and goes back down to shut it, coming face to face with the bear looking through the glass until …. at last, everyone is safe upstairs under the covers!! Phew, that was close. My kids always wondered if maybe the bear gave the family such a big chase simply because he wanted some friends. Whatever conversation develops from a reading, all the better. That’s what makes this story a timeless adventure for the entire family. Plus, you can read it, and squelch and squerch to your heart’s content without ever having to worry about getting mud on a nice, clean floor.  – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Sound Novelty Book: $19.99 – ISBN: 9780763677022 (Ages 3-7)

ABOUT CANDLEWICK PRESS
Candlewick Press is an independent, employee-owned publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts. For over twenty years, Candlewick has published outstanding children’s books for readers of all ages, including books by award-winning authors and illustrators such as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Kate DiCamillo, M. T. Anderson, Jon Klassen, and Laura Amy Schlitz; the widely acclaimed Judy Moody, Mercy Watson, and ’Ology series; and favorites such as Guess How Much I Love You, Where’s Waldo?, and Maisy. Candlewick is part of the Walker Books Group, together with Walker Books UK in London and Walker Books Australia, based in Sydney and Auckland. Visit Candlewick online at www.candlewick.com.

GIVEAWAY

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Flora & Ulysses and Journey Giveaway

Enter our 1000+ Twitter Followers Giveaway

Win Copies of Flora & Ulysses and Journey!

Flora & Ulysses
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by 2014 Newbery Medal Winner, Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, Candlewick Press, 2013.

A huge thank you goes out to Candlewick Press for this fantastic opportunity. (Plus, read what DiCamillo’s publicist, Tracy Miracle, has to say about working with this two-time Newbery Medal winner.) Three contest entrants chosen at random will receive a set of two award-winning books, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (2014 Newbery Medalist) with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, together with Journey, a wordless picture book (2014 Caldecott Honor Book) by Aaron Becker.

Enter by clicking here. Include your name and address please. Remember to write 1000+ in the subject line. Contest ends at midnight PST on Tuesday, Feb. 18 and three winners will be selected and notified on Weds. Feb. 19, 2014. For eligibility, entrants must first follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Contest rules also available here. Good luck!

 

Journey by Aaron Becker
Journey, 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, by Aaron Becker, Candlewick Press, 2013.

 

“In addition to interviews with Kate DiCamillo, K. G. Campbell and Aaron Becker, we’ve been delighted to have both Flora & Ulysses and Journey reviewed on our site. So, it simply made sense to offer our readers a chance to share the enjoyment we’ve gotten from reading both these brilliant books. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t use this occasion to thank all our followers for their continued support. We love bringing our favorite books, authors and illustrators to our readers’ attention.”

Ronna Mandel, founder Good Reads With Ronna

“Working at Candlewick is an embarrassment of riches for any book publicist, honestly. There are too many wonderful books and authors, it can be overwhelming!

But working with Kate DiCamillo is a singular privilege that I can honestly say is one of the defining aspects of my career in publishing. Over almost a decade now, we have worked and grown together, and her books have continued to surprise and impress me at each publication. Not to mention, she’s a good person, and who doesn’t want to see a really, genuinely good person do well?

While no longer an underdog by any means, she’s still easy to root for. And I count myself among her biggest cheerleaders  — ever.”

Tracy Miracle, Sr. Publicist, Candlewick Press

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An Interview with Aaron Becker

PURE IMAGINATION,
An Interview With Aaron Becker

Headshot of Aaron Becker, author and illustrator of JOURNEY, Copyright © 2013 courtesy of Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA., 2013.
Aaron Becker, author and illustrator of JOURNEY, Copyright © 2013 courtesy of Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA., 2013.

Today’s interview with Aaron Becker, author and illustrator of JOURNEY (Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 4-8), comes to us courtesy of Hilary Taber and just before the naming of the 2014 Caldecott winner and honors announcement later today.

NOTE: At the time of posting we did not know that JOURNEY was named a 2014 Caldecott Honor Book. Congratulations to Aaron Becker!

Treat yourself and your children to one of 2013’s most talked about picture books, Aaron Becker’s JOURNEY. Though wordless, this colorful tale speaks to its readers in so many different ways, a big part of why JOURNEY will continue to bring immense pleasure to so many for years to come. Find out about Aaron Becker here with Hilary’s insightful interview.

Hilary Taber: Thank you for this interview, and thank you so much for the book as well. It’s gorgeous, so beautifully and wonderfully illustrated. My family has enjoyed it so much.

Aaron Becker: Thank you.

Hilary Taber: Congrats, too, on all the starred reviews! Horn Book Best of 2013, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book, so many accolades for JOURNEY. It must have been so fun to get those, and very affirming.

Aaron Becker: Yeah, it is and has been an amazing response. Like nothing I anticipated or was really imagining.

HT: Was your family delighted?

AB: Well, for sure. Totally, yeah … I mean, that’s something I always wanted to do … a children’s book, and to get to do one is delighting enough. And then people respond to it in ways I wouldn’t have even anticipated. It’s just very exciting.

HT: So, you have always wanted to write a children’s book or illustrate one?

AB: Oh, yeah. When I was a kid I made my own books … I wrote my own stories and drew pictures … it was one of my hobbies. This is my first book and I’m almost forty … there was a career in the middle there. I spent about a decade working as an illustrator on motion pictures.

Cover of JOURNEY by Aaron Becker. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker, from Candlewick Press.
JOURNEY. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

HT: Do you feel that your career in movies helped you as a picture book illustrator?

AB: It sure does. Certainly there’s the technical side of just learning the craft of telling stories through pictures. We do that in film and in books. So, there’s just a lot of technical stuff I learned – composition, how to lead the reader’s eye, where you want them to go – but it’s a different craft as well. So, there’s some crossover for sure.

HT: I have some familiarity through my family with film production. I read that you refer to the picture book as having sets in it. Are the main characters like actors?

AB: I know, I caught myself using that word (sets), I noticed that too. It’s how I think, only right now I’m working on the third … there are three Journey books … I do think in terms of film. In some ways I think that if films were easier to make, less capital intensive, and less time intensive, I’d be making short films, not books. The nice thing about a book is that the scope of the project can be taken on by one person … it’s easier for me to be just like, “Okay, I’ll work with an editor – you know, with an agent.”

HT: Do you feel that you had people in your past, family or mentors, or somebody that was very key or crucial to you becoming an illustrator today?

AB: It’s easy for me to think in terms of books I like, but my parents definitely were important. Especially my mom, she was very focused on feeding my interests. She bought me a pad of paper, she bought me markers, and she made sure I had trips to the library to get out my drawing books and stuff.  So, I was encouraged, but I wouldn’t say there was anyone around me doing this kind of work. It was my own interest for sure.

HT: It was your own journey.

AB: Yes, it was absolutely my journey.  I started working on this book just after my daughter was born, and I had lost my job with the film company … I had always wanted to do this children’s book thing, a now or never kind of feeling, all my cards on the table, just a “Hail Mary pass.” It definitely felt like a journey, especially because it took so long for the book to come out. You know, it was about a three year process from inception to publication, which actually isn’t long for a book. It seemed like forever.

Interior spread from JOURNEY. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
JOURNEY. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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Journey by Aaron Becker

Cover image of Journey by Aaron Becker
Journey by Aaron Becker, Candlewick Press, 2013.

Pure imagination is Journey, a wordless picture book by Aaron Becker (Candlewick, $15.99, Ages 4-8). Today’s review is by Hilary Taber.

Journeying through the world of this stunning picture book, the audience follows the adventure of a little girl who uses a red marker to literally draw herself from one world into another. Lonely and bored in her own home, the little girl retreats to her room where she uses a red marker to draw a secret, red door. This new world beyond the red door is filled with breathtaking landscapes.

First, blue lanterns in green trees filled with lights lead to moats. The moats in turn lead our heroine to a complex, gray castle. Here she sails through Venetian canals, past golden domes that point to a vast sky. When one mode of transportation doesn’t work any longer, the girl simply uses the magical red marker to draw one that will. She travels by red boat, balloon, and finally a flying carpet. Journey upon journey seems possible. Then comes the moment that the girl sees an elegant purple bird in danger of being kidnapped and caged for life. Suddenly, this imaginative exploration turns into a daring adventure to help a new friend. Every page makes you want to turn to the next to know what happens. Can the little girl save her new friend?  Where will this journey take her next? Will she ever get home again? Page after gorgeously illustrated page beckons the reader on.

This wordless picture book has stolen my heart with its detailed watercolor world, and has captured my full attention with all its adventure. Wordless picture books have a magical quality about them in as much as they are able to unite those who cannot read with those who can. Here is an equal playing field where an adult and child can talk their way through the pictures, discussing each page as they go along. Aaron Becker leads us on an imaginative trip well worth taking, exploring the powerful results of creativity united with inspiration and friendship. Of course, the famous Harold and the Purple Crayon comes to mind when reading Journey, but all you really have to do is open the book to look at the fantastic illustrations to see that Becker has made Journey into something entirely his own. Journey has been given starred reviews by Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist! Will this be a Caldecott winner? I certainly hope so!

We hope that the book trailer below for Journey will help you to discover this imaginative picture book for yourself:

 

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