June 17, 2013

Venice Beach

So today I’m going to break away from tradition and talk about a group of books that don’t really have a common theme. These are the books I bought in Venice Beach when I was in LA a couple of weeks ago, and I think they’re all so lovely and unique that I couldn’t wait to write about them later. The store, Small World Books (and I even got to meet the cat pictured there--so sweet!), had a fabulous children’s department that was filled with lots of surprises and books I’d never heard of before. It’s a great store to visit if you’re ever in LA (especially because it's right on the beach!).

First let's chat about Stephen and the Beetle by Jorge Luján and Chiara Carrer. From the moment I picked up the book I knew it was special. The book tells the story of Stephen, a young boy who comes across a beetle and decides that he should kill it. But as he raises his shoe he studies the beetle, who is going about its day, completely unaware of what is about to happen, and a major question pops into his mind: where is the beetle going and why? This prompts young Stephen to contemplate the meaning of life, realizing that if he kills the beetle it won't really affect his own day-to-day life, but he still will have taken a life away from the world. Stephen ultimately puts the shoe away and watches the beetle go about its routine. A seemingly innocuous story, it's a wonderful tale that begs the question how much is a life worth? It also makes me feel terrible for killing that gross spider the other day...

The illustrations are done in a collage style, making everything seem both chaotic and natural at the same time, a truly incredible blend that feels organic to the story, and the juxtaposition of the illustrations serve almost as contrasting viewpoints, one from the boy's eye and the other from the beetle's. It's truly a gem of a book.

Next on the list is Bear Despair by Gaëtan Dorémus. Again, this is another one I picked up solely based on the fact that the illustrations are breathtaking. Bear Despair is a wordless picturebook about a bear who wakes up to find that his precious stuffed animal (also a bear) has been stolen by a wolf. The bear chases and eats the wolf only to find that the stuffed animal has been thrown into the woods. By the time the bear gets there, though, a lion has picked up doll. The bear procedes to eat the lion as well, but again, not before the doll is thrown off a cliff and picked up by a bird. This goes on for a while (and the bear gets larger and larger, eventually eating an impossibly large octopus. But will he get his stuffed animal back? Read to find out!

The cross-hatching of the illustrations adds to the chaotic storyline and makes the story feel that much more immediate, like it's happening as we read it. And (I'm sure this goes without saying) but the colors are amazing as well--vibrant, deep colors that really bring out the surroundings.

Last (but oh-so not least) on the list is Hang Glider & Mud Mask by Jason Jägel and BrianMcMullen. Not to play favorites, but I think this might be...my favorite. McMullen acted as the author and designer of the book, and Jägel as the illustrator, and as a team I can safely say they are unstoppable. I know it's kind of cheating, but instead of writing my own description I'm going to include the one the illustrator and designer themselves because I have no idea how to put such an amazing book into words: 

"One lives high in the sky. The other lives deep underground. Follow Hang Glider and Mud Mask as they fly down and climb up to meet each other halfway—on the surface of the earth and in the center of the book. Hang Glider & Mud Mask is uniquely constructed with two front covers, two spines, and a Z-shaped binding that links the two sides of the story. Will you begin from the Hang Glider side, or flip the book around and start from the Mud Mask side? It’s your choice. (And since one half’s finale becomes the other half’s front cover, it’s hard to stop and put the book down.)"

Like I said: wow.

Here are the two covers:


And a look at how the eventually come together: 

Definitely one of my new favorite books of...ever, Hang Glider & Mud Mask is just the epitome of creative and unique design meets amazing illustration meets engaging story. Definitely worth reading and keeping in your collection. 

Venice beachingly yours,

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