Monday, February 12, 2007

Back Home with Mom: Two Forthcoming Picture Books by Steve Breen and Berkeley Breathed

From the mailbox come two new picture books by author-illustrators who have earned their accolades in other areas of the publishing industry.

The first is Stick, available March 1 under the author, Steve Breen. Breen earned a Pulitzer Prize as an editorial cartoonist and is the creator of the comic strip Grand Avenue.

Stick is a young frog who likes "to do things his own way," despite his fond mother's warning glances. When Stick's tongue latches onto a outsized dragonfly, he finds himself snatched from his lily pad and carried through a series of close shaves, including near-meal experiences with an alligator, a chef, and a seagull.

The text is minimal, allowing the choice illustrations to carry the story. In one scene Stick, towed by the dragonfly, zooms through a living room where a gaping old lady sloshes her coffee in amazement. (In a nice touch of humor, she sips her coffee next to a Tiffany dragonfly lamp!) Stick flies on through New Orleans, at one point chased by Chef Antoine wielding a cleaver, who aims to convert him into a tender frog leg entree, and at another point sticking his tongue to a model airplane which tows him back toward his wetland home.

At last Stick realizes that it's time to ask for help and recruits a heron to return him to his relieved mom and her cozy pad. Happy but hungry, Stick impulsively dines on a firefly and finds himself, to his mom's dismay, glowing brightly. Oops!

While the clever illustrations will provide the reader with several chuckles per page, the theme of the prodigal's return also provides a comforting read for the K-3 child.

Berkeley Breathed, who earned a Pulitzer and fame as the creator of Bloom County, Outland, and Opus, flips that theme in Mars Need Moms, to be published April 10. In this book Milo, who calls his hard-working mom "a bellowing broccoli bully" and worse, finally is sent to bed supperless with a final "I SURE DON'T SEE WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT MOTHERS!"

While he sleeps, a Martian spaceship lands with the mission of momnapping someone to manage the little Marslings, who grow motherless like potatoes out of the ground. Milo wakes just in time to stow away in a spare space helmet on the voyage to Mars. When Milo falls from the ship and breaks his helmet, his captive mom heroically races to give him her own helmet with an "I'll love you to the ends of the universe." Grasping the true meaning of momhood, the empathetic Martians return Milo and his mom to her bed, where Milo sleeps in her arms until morning.

Breathed illustrates the book with dramatic paintings, using light and shadow to great advantage, interspersing black-and-white comic-style drawings which focus on the action. The final page, with Milo snuggled with his lost and found mom, says it all.

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