Thursday, June 24, 2010

Toot and Puddle

The first time I saw the name Holly Hobbie on the book Toot and Puddle, I thought it was a mistake. Actually what I thought was “I had a doll with that name when I was young” and “I remember greeting cards with that character”. I thought the author had borrowed the name. Instead the author is the one who created the namesake character. Holly has been in the business of creating memorable characters for quite a while. I loved my Holly Hobbie doll but Toot and Puddle, the pigs living at Woodcock Pocket, completely stole my heart.

Toot and Puddle is actually a series of books. There are 11 stories so far and Holly does seem to be stopping anytime soon. Toot and Puddle are adorable pigs who share a house in the woods. Puddle is a homebody, content to bake and cook in the kitchen, wallow in a good bath, and play in the snow. Toot is a traveler, constantly seeking out new places and friends. The book follows the adventures of each during the course of a year. Toot’s story is told in the postcards he sends home to Puddle along with full page illustration of his adventures. On the other side, we get to watch Puddle enjoying his favorite parts of the season. So when Toot is spending winter in Africa with the hippos, Puddle is ice-skating and playing in the snow at home. Both are having a wonderful time, doing the things they love.

The story itself is very basic, often just telling what each character is doing. Toot’s story gives a bit more detail since his are told through postcards. The writing is wonderful on that account. The postcards sound like what people typically send on postcards. Puddle’s story is often told in little snippets. But you really don’t need the text for Puddle’s story. The images say it all. Holly’s watercolors are amazing! She manages to create lovable characters through her detailed illustrations. It’s the little things that make a difference in her art. Every part of the house is lovingly created and I was floored at how beautiful her images are. I want to live with Toot and Puddle. The house, the grounds, and Toot’s locations are created in adorable detail. There is a warmth to these places. Plus the characters themselves seem to radiate warmth and joy. We can see the obvious happiness on both of the character’s faces as they do the things they love. But we can also see the connection between the two friends. In only 32 pages we see two very different friends who have one of the strongest friendships I’ve ever seen in a children’s book. Whether it’s traveling to exotic destinations or just baking a soufflĂ©, these are some wonderful pigs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Quiet Book

The first time I saw the cover for The Quiet Book I knew I had to own it. I skimmed through the book in the bookstore but didn't have the cash to buy it. It was a tense couple of days before I could get back to the store and pick up my own copy. I was worried they would be sold out. I'll freely admit that I judged this book by its cover. And it didn't let me down. If you don't own a copy of this quiet, gentle book, you need one.

There is no true plot to The Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska. You'll note that their names don't show up on the front cover. Another example of quiet. In some ways the story follows a group of woodland creatures (focusing on bunny) from morning until night as they experience all the different types of quiet. Starting with "First one awake quiet" and ending with "Sound asleep quiet", this book touches on every inventive moment for quiet you can imagine. Each phrase is only a fragment but the words, combined with the illustrations, speak volumes. One of my favorites was "Pretending you're invisible quiet" as we see a little bear covering his eyes, as he stands next to the nurse who is getting ready to give the bear a shot. That is immediately followed by "Lollipop quiet" as we see the creatures who had to get shots sucking contentedly on a lollipop. The mix of words and images is perfect.

Liwska's illustrations are sweet, enduring, and beautiful in their own way. She uses pencil to create the characters, who have a bit of an unfinished quality, and then colors them digitally. This slightly rough look give her creatures their fur and feathers. I loved looking at the tiny lines that make up these charming scenes. Each character is imbued with tons of emotion. I felt so bad for moose at the beginning of the book, as we see her sitting on the stairs with the words "Last one to get picked up from school quiet". There are happy quiets and sad quiets and sweet quiets. But each quiet is captured beautifully.

Each page seems to have one side that is very simple, with lots of white backgrounds and few words. The other side is filled with images and a bit of a longer phrase. I'm not sure if it was intentional but I like the juxtaposition. One scene has a barber shop with a very sad little porcupine getting his hair cut off. The whole picture is filled with color and the phrase at the bottom is "First look at your new hairstyle quiet". This is opposite the same porcupine at home with his mother's concern at the haircut. But the words at the bottom are "Sleeping sister quiet". I could just imagine the hushed comforting. Such a tender scene. In fact all the pages are tender and sweet and gentle and quiet. A beautiful book. So wonderful. For me it was a must have.