Monday, April 30, 2007

A rambling review of Annette Simon's work

I don't know about you, but just a glance at a work by Mondrian eases my mind. The symmetry. The straight lines and bold colors. Mondrian inspires a calm like no other and calls me to get organized, to make order from the chaos of life.

While I'll never achieve the perfection of a Mondrian painting, I find bold, clean design cleansing and uplifting.

I'm also a huge fan of graphic design using text. (This image to the right reads "Mayakovsky" from left to right and "for the voice" from top to bottom.)

So imagine my joy when I received two picture books in the mail from author/illustrator Annette Simon.* Simon uses graphic design and clean, bold symmetry to great effect in her picture books.

Annette Simon's This Book is for All Kids, but Especially My Sister Libby. Libby Died is told from the point of view of five-year-old Jack Simon, whose younger sister has passed away. It begins, "Did you hear me? She died. And when you die, you don't even have to get chicken pox."

Jack's continues his story, wondering about what it means to be dead (do you eat?) and what if he had died instead. He asks his mother what he can take with him when he goes and what it's like in heaven. Libby Died is a heartbreaking book to be sure, but one that is completely honest in expressing a loss from the point of view of a five year old.

Simon's use of text in Libby Died is brilliant. When Jack's questions are more insistent, text is larger, sometimes extending off the page. When Jack is more speculative, or following his thoughts tangentially, text trails off and becomes smaller. Bold colors and simple graphics are used throughout the book, giving Libby Died an emotional punch and a direct honesty. Libby Died will be much appreciated by children, who, however unfortunately, are dealing with a similar situation. It's a brilliant book--the best one I've read for children on the topic of death.

Simon's 2002 mocking birdies tackles a more cheerful subject--what kids today often call "copy-catting." One bird (in brilliant Mondrian blue)^ says "you" and another--in red, but of course--repeats "you." Soon there's a cacophony of "you"s and "stop singing my song" and songs that are blue or red. As the words become busier, Simon's graphic text alters--to smaller and overlapping words. When they can no longer be separated, the words become purple.

The purple singing attracts a purple mocking bird and eventually the most egregious mimic of all--that's right, the copy cat himself.

mocking birdies is great fun to read aloud, especially to the three- to six-year-old audience. They know all about copy-catting, so this book hits home.


* (Since blog reviews and objectivity are subject to much speculation and criticism at the moment, let me say that I review approximately 10% of the books I receive directly from authors.)


^ My copy features primary blue and red, rather than the lighter blue in the image above.