My rating: 5 of 5
One day a young boy awakens to a delightful surprise–lots and lots of snow! He can’t wait to get out of the house to play in it. In fact, much of the day is spent in the construction of a most excellent snowman. But the boy awakens that night at midnight to find something most wondrous–his snowman has come to life!
The Snowman is one of those delightful classic stories that just never loses its charm. I grew up watching this, and recently revisiting it with my 3-year-old niece (who, incidentally, also loves it), I found myself just as enchanted as when I was a child. The only words in this entire movie are in the introduction; other than that, it’s told entirely in pictures and music. And what pictures and music they are! The art is expressive, hand-drawn animation following the original picture book (also wordless) closely. It’s truly beautiful and charming. And the music is absolutely breathtaking and unforgettable. And the story itself is innocent and adorable while also being filled with and open wonder that you just don’t see nowadays. It’s nostalgically lovely. Honestly, I find myself unable to avoid comparing this movie to some of Studio Ghibli’s movies–in the fabulous music, the beautiful animation, the attention to detail, the way it looks at the mundane with new eyes, the wonder of the boy and the snowman’s journey, and the copious attention to nature that is given here. I love it and would highly recommend it to anyone; it’s entirely appropriate for even little children, but has a charm that may just capture the hearts even of an older and more jaded audience.
Directed by Dianne Jackson/Produced by John Coates/Music by Howard Blake/Based on The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
My rating: 5 of 5
An elderly man lives alone in a single room above an ever-rising sea, smoking his pipe and reflecting quietly. One day, he accidentally drops his pipe through a hatch in the floor, prompting an unusual purchase–a diving suit! And once the man has begun his descent through the flooded levels of his home, he finds himself remembering, reliving his life in reverse from times with his grandchildren to his daughter’s growing up to early memories of his wife. It’s no wonder he chooses to stay in a place so rich with memory, even if he must fight the floodwaters to do so.
Wow, speaking of floodwaters . . . I cried buckets in the short time it took to watch this anime short film. I cried at least as much on the second viewing, possibly more. It’s just that sort of story. The sepia-toned, granulated illustration style carries an immediately nostalgic feel. And the music is just perfect–beautiful and enchanting, reflective without being depressing. I loved that the entire short was completely without dialogue; no translation needed for the universal impact of the story. I also loved the way the story challenged my perceptions–I started out feeling sorry for a lonely old man and ended up nostalgically happy knowing that he had a good life, people who loved him however crotchety he may have been. Incidentally, I also liked the way the illustrations reminded me of Shaun Tan’s illustrations; it’s quite a nice and unusual style. Seriously, The House of Small Cubes is less that 15 minutes long, so there’s no reason to not at least give it a try. Highly recommended.
Written by Kenya Hirata/Directed by Kunio Katō/Produced by Masanori Kusakabe & Yuko Hata/Music by Kenji Kondo
Author/Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
My rating: 5 of 5
Inspired by a picture of a boat in the newspaper, the boy folds the page into a paper boat and goes outside to play with it. But look out! A storm is brewing. The boy and his boat weather the storm together, and he delights in the aftermath, splashing through puddles and floating his boat in a runoff river until it gets away from him, disappearing down a drain grating. Dejected, he returns home for a little TLC and a reminder that he can always try again with a new project–say, a plane?
Walking by the children’s shelf in the bookstore, I knew I had to own Float before I ever opened the cover. This wordless picture book is just beautiful in style, layout, and message from the front cover on. I love the art! The composition of the elements is extremely well arranged, and the contrast between the brightness of the boy and the drabness of his surroundings is quite effective. And I love how dynamic the motions seem in the pictures–that’s a really nice touch. I also love the story that’s presented; it’s imaginative and positive. The boy uses ordinary things to have fun, he gets outdoors and plays. And (this may be my favorite part) there’s an older male figure (father, big brother, it’s never really stated) who is clearly an important and caring part of the boy’s life–I think the snapshot of their relationship is just wonderful. There are too many books with absent or uninvolved parents and older family members; kids need the stability that comes from a present and engaged family. Also a fun extra–the front and back inside covers give diagrams to make a paper boat and a paper airplane so readers can get involved in the fun themselves! Float is a gorgeous book in so many ways; definitely recommended for readers of all ages.
Author/Illustrator: Nonny Hogrogian
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Cool Cat wanders into a dreary land, armed with nothing but a suitcase full of paints and brushes. Around him, the land is brown, full of litter, and utterly unappealing. But rather than just move on, Cool Cat decides to do something about the problem. He pulls out his paints and begins to transform his surroundings, bit by bit. And as he works, the other creatures living nearby catch on and start helping to make their home somewhere they’d want to live, somewhere beautiful.
Cool Cat is certainly a proactive and positive picture book. I think it would be a great discussion starter, something to encourage kids to take their own action to make the world a better place. I also think it’s wonderful that there’s this large-scale teamwork going on with all the animals taking their own parts to help out. Plus, the transformation from flat browns to brilliant colors is quite striking. So yes, on the whole, this is an excellent book. I guess I just find it a little challenging to my adult-logic: the cat’s painting this whole new world . . . on what exactly? It’s a little surreal, but in a way that’s just hard for me to accept. That, and some of the animal shapes are a little weird at times. Generally though, the art is quite nice–a combination of pencils and watercolors that’s somewhat sketch-like and unassuming, but pleasantly so. I think Cool Cat would be a great read-aloud and talk about book for children in the 3-5 age range who are just learning how to help and work together.
Author/Illustrator: Barbara Lehman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s always an adventure to travel by train, seeing new and unexpected places. But one day, a little girl gets even more of an adventure than usual. . . . The train is flagged to a stop, and she finds that all the adult passengers have fallen asleep. And what she finds when she steps off the train is nothing short of incredible. Hey, she even makes some new friends on this particular stop!
I absolutely loved reading Trainstop! My review here is likely to sound a lot like my review of The Red Book; I’m finding that the things I love about them are simply the author’s style, which is amazing. Yet each book is unique and surprising, which makes it even better. Trainstop is both adorably cute and surprisingly whimsical and imaginative. It’s really positive too–helping people (even when they’re really different from you), making friends, being open to adventure–those are the sorts of ideas that surface throughout this story. The art is very attractive: defined by solid, black lines, yet soft in those lines and softened further by the watercolor fills throughout. I also love the way Lehman tells the entire story through pictures–no words at all–making this a story with even greater universal appeal for all ages. Trainstop comes with high recommendations.
Author/Illustrator: Barbara Lehman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A girl finds a red book buried in a snowdrift and takes it along with her to school. When she opens it, she finds this red book is magic. It shows people and places across the world. Even better, it opens the doors to a delightful new friendship.
The Red Book was a delightful find. It’s completely wordless, yet is exquisitely expressive, living on the borderline between a graphic novel and a children’s picture book. The bold, dark outlines are reminiscent of graphic novels, solid and dynamic. But the coloring is done in a soft watercolor, and the pictures themselves are really cute. I love Lehman’s art style and color palette! The story itself is surprising but fun, simple yet imaginative. I would definitely recommend The Red Book, especially for imaginative kids who enjoy books with lots of pictures.
Author/Illustrator: Istvan Banyai
Things aren’t always what they appear to be. What looks like a random pattern may actually be a cock’s crest. What looks like a complete scene could actually just be a picture on a passing bus. Really, it all depends on your perspective, and changing your perspective could give you a completely different experience.
I found Zoom to be a unique “reading” experience. It’s completely wordless, and honestly it’s less a story than it is a snapshot of a moment in time, as seen from different perspectives. The book starts with an impossibly zoomed in image–so close up that you have no idea what it is. The each picture zooms out a bit, creating a vastly different scene each time . . . to the point where the earth itself is just a dot in the void. It’s fun to try to guess what things are ahead of the book, and I think the entire book is an interesting challenge to consider differing perspectives, to realize that what you see isn’t always all that’s actually there. The art itself is decent too (though not stellar), although the color scheme is a little odd, in my opinion. I think Zoom would be an especially fun for kids to enjoy the discovery throughout, although the experience would probably be meaningful for the adults reading with them as well.