Lobel's Lucia

Today is Santa Lucia Day, which may or may not mean anything to you depending on whether you're Swedish. I'm not, but my husband's grandfather was, and we celebrate the day with Santa Lucia buns and books (I've written about Lucia and the Light by Phyllis Root and Hugo and Josephine by Maria Gripe here in other years, but somehow haven't gotten around to Kirsten's Surprise by Janet Shaw, from the American Girls Collection. Maybe next year). My son outgrew his starboy hat a couple of years ago, but my daughter still wears her (battery-operated) crown.

This lovely image of a "Lucia bride," wearing the traditional white gown and crown of candles, is by Anita Lobel, from Christmas Crafts: Things to make the 24 days before Christmas by Carolyn Meyer (Harper & Row, 1974). It's one of my favorite Christmas books, with international Christmas traditions and projects for every day. Some of them are a little dated (there's macrame), but many others have become our family's Christmas traditions, too: from making homemade advent calendars (December 1) to decorating a tree for the birds (December 23) and baking a chocolate yule log (December 24).

Lobel's black-and-white illustrations (and there are lots of them) are a big part of the charm of Christmas Crafts. I love Lobel's work any time of year, but at Christmas, don't miss her illustrations for The Night Before Christmas: A Victorian Vision of the Christmas Classic by Clement C. Moore (2000) and The Stable Rat and Other Christmas Poems by Julia Cunningham (2001). Come to think of it, A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Zeifert, with pictures by Anita Lobel (Knopf, 1986) is a Christmas story, too--and it's still in print. Happy Santa Lucia Day!

Caldecott Hopefuls: Building Our House

With a publication date of January 8, Building Our House by Jonathan Bean (FSG) might have been the very first Caldecott-eligible picture book I read in 2013. I had it in the house when my Mini Mock Caldecott Committee met later that month, and it was all I could do to resist sharing it with them. My fondness for Building Our House has only grown stronger with time, and this morning I had the pleasure of reading it again with my daughter, after she had a chance to discuss it at Caldecott Club (this one is run by her elementary school librarian).

Here's what we think: Part of what makes Building Our House such a satisfying book is the way it's made. As it should be, since the book itself is about building something to last. Everything from the trim size (taller than average) to the creamy, matte paper it's printed on speaks to this point. And the Author's Note includes vintage 1970s photographs of the Bean family at work on building their house, rounding out the reader's experience, too.

Of course, the illustrations themselves are full of satisfying details and subplots, continuity and change. There's also plenty to learn about construction, from setting the corners of the foundation by the North Star to machines and tools and good old-fashioned hard work. Check out Mom on the cover with a circular saw.

One thing we were curious about was the evergreen branch visible at the peak of the house on framing day (and for a few months after, until the cold rains fall). We did a little research: apparently, when the last beam is placed at the top of a building there is a ceremony called topping out--on skyscrapers, even!

I could go on and on (I sort of already have). Building Our House. It's our favorite.

[See Laying the Foundation for a Great Picture Book at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for so.much.MORE. Thank you, Jules and Jonathan!]

Caldecott Hopefuls: This Moose Belongs to Me

My Caldecott Hopefuls are picture books I like a lot, for various and idiosyncratic reasons, and not necessarily ones I think will win the award (although one can hope). Here's what I love about This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, 2012): the contrast between the grandeur and solemnity of the landscape backgrounds (many of them reprinted from paintings by 20th century American artist Alexander Dzigurski) and, well, Wilfred and his moose (as seen in the image above, which wraps around the covers of the book). Now that I think of it, this style of illustration--Jeffers's artistic borrowing--is especially appropriate to a story about ownership (see Caldecott criteria 1.c). Does this moose belong to me?

According to the copyright page, "the art for this book was made from a mishmash of oil painting onto old linotype and painted landscapes, and a bit of technical wizardry thrown into the mix here and there." In case you want to try this at home (yes, you do), Oliver Jeffers has helpfully made a video called How to Draw a Moose. We didn't have any landscape paintings lying around, so we drew our moose (meese? mice?) onto pages ripped from old National Geographics instead. Kind of like this:

Except at Macchu Picchu.