As we start this new year 2017 of writing and illustrating books, consider all the children of this earth. Universal themes underlie the best stories and though the stories and styles of art vary widely, all the best speak to the essence of every child.
For a number of years I have been collecting children’s picturebooks from other countries. Here are two that deal with familiar themes.
My sister-in-law Baiba and her husband Ron spent three fantastic weeks in Turkey where they bought a copy of Köpek Baliǧi Keskín by Hílal Üsküdar Gürbüz in cooperation with Psikolojik Danişman, which they have kindly given to me. I do not speak the language, nor do I know anyone who does, so my apologies if any of my extrapolations about the story are incorrect.
This bright and energetically illustrated story is about a shark wearing a yellow fedora who is lonely because the fishes, octopus and seastars nearby do not want to play with him. Perhaps it is that mouthful of sharp, pointy teeth evident when he smiles? In one image, there are tears dripping from his sad eyes which is humorous since he is meanwhile submersed in salt water. The pointy-toothed main character goes to a sage old shark for advice and is told a story that seems to be about a sinking fishing boat and an enormous whale. In that story seems to be a solution, resulting in a satisfying scene at the end of the book with everyone playing together. The need for friendship and fitting in is common to children everywhere.
The artwork is comprised of vibrant watercolor washes, dramatic scale changes, and good use of asymmetric areas open to the white of the page. Köpek Baliǧi Keskín is part of a series of books available through www.akademicocuk.com geared for ages 0-6.
Baiba and Ron also brought me a few Turkish coins that are destined to be used in Jenny’s Pocket Change, a non-fiction picturebook about American and world coins which I am working on in between other projects. I am grateful for their cultural input!
This charming book by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch, which I bought in Zurich, cleverly presents its theme on the cover. The theme/title: “Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat”. Egils translates this as “From small Mole, who wanted to know who dropped this thing on his head.” It seems that our hero stuck his head above ground to feel the warmth of the sun when something brown and shaped like a sausage dropped onto his head from above. The little Mole was quite insulted and determined to discover who was responsible for inflicting this turd upon him.
When a dove flew over, he asked her if she was responsible and she replied “I? No, why? I do it so!” and then demonstrated her white, moist type of emanation, some of which splashed onto small Mole’s foot. He then asked a horse, then a hare whether they had dropped this thing on his head and each repeated “I? No, why? I do it so!” then demonstrated their own droppings, complete with sound effects. When he asked the goat, she gave the familiar refrain, then what rained down looked to the mole a bit like chocolate truffles. The pig revealed his own personal, aromatic style. The cow also obliged by expressing her own voluminous effluvium, which inspired the small mole to feel grateful that hers was not what had landed on his head.
The small mole was still clueless about the perpetrator until he encountered two flies. They obliged him by sitting on his “hat” and taking samples. Their ubiquitous experience in dung revealed the culprit. It was a hound! Small Mole marched over to Hans-Heinrich the butcher’s dog. Small Mole climbed atop the doghouse. Then a small dark, sausage-like something dropped directly onto the hound’s head. The last page of the story shows small Mole escaping down into the earth, satisfied at last.
Like the intrepid Mole, this book is small – only 6” x 4 ½”. But it is not insignificant, as it is a humorous depiction of a most universal subject, drawn with artwork that is intimate and elegantly simple. The hand drawn text is readable and divided into the main story line, then in parentheses are descriptions of the sounds and smells of what is happening. Together the theme and story, lettering, art and design make the book larger than its size. As if the mini scale, droll artwork and intriguing cover were not enough of a marketing tool, the final spread shows a series of other books written by Wolf Erlbruch, also published by Peter Hammer Verlag. Altogether it is a nifty package.
Whether a story is about a misunderstood toothy grin or a quest for justice in bodily functions, it should speak to what makes us all human.The world is a marvelous place where universal ideas between creative people can build connections, to the benefit of children everywhere.