The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert

Small and square, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life (Beach Lane Books, 2014) by Lois Ehlert is actually bursting with images and inspiration drawn from the picture book maker's long career. It's unmistakably Ehlert, down to the round typeface of the main text (I think it's Century Schoolbook) and the handwritten notes (in place of the sans serif labels used in most of her books) adding another level of detail. Maybe a little messier, though, since The Scraps Book is all about process (and, Ehlert tells us, "I'm messy when I work"). In words and images, she shares where her book ideas come from, how to make a storyboard, the art technique of collage (often using recycled or natural materials), a recipe for bird treats...The Scraps Book is stuffed full of interesting things to inspire young (and not-so-young) readers, writers, and artists, right where they are. 

Instead of a bibliography, there's a double-page spread of Ehlert's book covers at the end. I was surprised at how many of them we had read and remembered: Planting a Rainbow, Eating the Alphabet (the IJKL page was our favorite, followed closely by the letter Pp, which got two pages), Waiting for Wings, and Feathers for Lunch (a good choice to read alongside The Scraps Book, which includes a series of spreads showing how Feathers for Lunch went from idea to finished book).

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau was a toll collector for the city of Paris when, at the age of 40, he decided to become an artist--a famous artist. Michelle Markel's picture book biography The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau (illustrated by Amanda Hall; Eerdmans, 2012) begins with that surprising decision. Her precise and poignant text balances Rousseau's love of nature and growing confidence in his own work (he was self-taught) with his lifelong desire for critical recognition.

Poor Henri! No sooner does he paint something we might consider a masterpiece(The Sleeping Gypsy, The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope, and The Dream are referenced in the text or in Hall's illustrations) than the experts say mean things about it: "They say it looks like he closed his eyes and painted with his feet."

But Rousseau keeps painting. Eventually, near the end of his life, younger, more well-known artists befriend him. One of them, Pablo Picasso, even throws a banquet in his honor (that's Picasso with Fernande Olivier on the right; a key at the back of the book identifies the other historical figures in the illustration below).

At last, and over one hundred years later, Rousseau's paintings hang in museums around the world. [There are three on view at the National Gallery; I'm excited to see them after having read the book.]

Amanda Hall's illustrations, rendered in watercolor and acrylics, really capture the feel of Rousseau's work, from the lush foliage and flowers to the faces of people and animals. In an illustrator's note (there's also an author's note, but sadly no sources), Hall writes that she "decided to break the rules of scale and perspective to reflect [Rousseau's] unusual way of seeing the world. For some of the illustrations, I drew directly on his actual paintings, altering them playfully to help tell the story." My favorite example is this image of a tiger literally crawling out of the canvas as Henri paints:

The understated text reads, "Sometimes Henri is so startled by what he paints that he has to open the window to let in some air."

Aside: Kids might be interested to know that the jungle in the computer-animated movie Madagascar was inspired by Rousseau's work. My own kids were also interested to know that I had a cheap print of Sleeping Gypsy in my college dorm room.

It's still my favorite Rousseau.

The Nonfiction Monday Roundup

Hello and welcome to Nonfiction Monday at books together!  My contribution this week is Gifts from the Gods by Lise Lunge-Larsen [review coming later this morning]. Please comment with a link to your Nonfiction Monday post (and a brief description if you'd like), and I'll round them up here throughout the day.  Thanks for participating in this edition of Nonfiction Monday!

The night before (good morning, UK!)

Zoe at Playing by the Book reviews What Mr Darwin Saw by Mick Manning and Brita Granström in association with London's Natural History Museum.

Morning edition

Medea of Perogies and Gyoza reviews Japanese Celebrations for her first Nonfiction Monday post.  Welcome, Medea!

Also contributing for the first time, Tara of A Teaching Life reviews The Harlem Hellfighters, an account of the brave regiment who fought in World War I.  Welcome, Tara!

Jone of Check It Out reviews Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane Evans.

Gathering Books reviews The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss.

Jeff of NC Teacher Stuff reviews The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont.

Two reviews at Ms. Yingling Reads: a book about lost cities (Pompeii) and a book about vampires in Transylvania.

Shelf-employed is featuring some light reading today with 1st and Ten : Top Ten Lists of Everything in Football.

At Ana's NonFiction Blog, three articles from kids' science magazines featuring confused spiders, revealing bandages, and scuba spiders.  Congratulations, Ana Maria!

Roberta of Wrapped in Foil took a look at Cybils nominee Digging for Troy: From Homer to Hisarlik.

Anatomy of Nonfiction features Marc Tyler Nobleman on Heroes--Super and Otherwise with a review of Boys of Steel and interview with the author.

Wild About Nature reviews Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems by Avis Harley.

At Bookends, Cindy and Lynn review Every Thing On It by Shel Silverstein.

And Shirley at SimplyScience introduces Enterprise STEM, a new Rourke book by...Shirley Duke!  Congratulations, Shirley!

Afternoon update

Learn about animals through their ears, noses and tails in What Do I Do with a Tail Like This?, reviewed by Camille at A Curious Thing.

Kids' travel guides from Arcadia reviewed by Jennifer at Jean Little Library.

At The Fourth Musketeer, a review of Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz, a new nonfiction title for adults that's also suitable for high schoolers.

A picture book biography of an artist, just for books together's focus on art and artists: Jeanne at True Tales & A Cherry On Top features Diego Rivera: His World and Ours.  Thanks, Jeanne!

Jennie at Biblio File reviews Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and its Legacy.

Wendy at Blog from the Windowsill reviews Celebrate Hannukah. Welcome back, Wendy!

Good evening

Heidi highlights a series called Fall's Here at Geo Librarian.

The Nonfiction Detectives have a review of Balloons Over Broadway on the blog today.

Janet at All About the Books reviews A Wizard from the Start: The Incredible Boyhood & Amazing Inventions of Thomas Edison written by Don Brown, .

That's all for now!

Before They Were Famous for Nonfiction Monday

The latest entry in Bob Raczka's series of Art Adventures, Before They Were Famous: How Seven Artists Got Their Start (Millbrook, 2011), takes a look at the earliest known work of artists ranging from Albrecht Durer to Salvador Dali. Thank goodness for Paul Klee, whose drawing of a carousel (made at age ten; you can see it on the front cover next to a photo of a young Klee) looks like it might actually have been drawn by a child; because the early work of some of the other artists is already incredibly accomplished. Michelangelo, I'm looking at you.

Before They Were Famous gives kids a natural entry point into the lives and work of the seven artists featured. Each gets two double-page spreads, including one page of text about his or her childhood and apprenticeship or training in art, one example of his or her mature work, and at least one portrait, self-portrait, or photograph of the artist (another of Raczka's Art Adventures books, Here's Looking at Me: How Artists See Themselves, focuses on artists' self-portraits). Even the author photo is of Bob at age 11, although we don't get to see any of his early work.

Raczka shares the story behind the book in a guest post on the Lerner blog, in which he discusses the Picasso painting (made at age eight) that inspired him to look for the childhood artwork of other artists. Here is Picasso's Little Picador in the context of the book:

Raczka also talks about how hard it was to find at least one female artist to include (he ended up with Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi, whose earliest known work was painted when she was between the ages of seventeen and nineteen).  He says in the interview that would have loved to include this 20th century female artist, but didn't locate her early work in time.  Can you guess her identity?

[It's Georgia O'Keeffe, who made this drawing of an animal head when she was about fourteen.]