Mathilda and the Orange Balloon by Randall de Sève, wife of New Yorker artist Peter de Sève, with pictures by the magnificent Jen Corace is a rare picture book. Celebrity Authors take note: This is exactly the kind of book you are trying (and failing) to write when you take pen to hand, or fingers to keyboard - a story about believing in one's self and the limitlessness of imagination.
I almost feel like I shouldn't reveal any of the plot of Mathilda and the Orange Balloon at all because it is so pure and simple wonderfully told that it deserves to be discovered on one's own. And, as I mentioned above, the theme is a common enough one in picture books. But, don't let this dissuade you at all. As someone who has been reading picture books for decades now, out loud and to myself, I find that I am still amazed by the author who can tell a complete story and convey a unified idea, in a matter of sentences. Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are is often noted for this quality, as is Kevin Henkes' masterfully simple A Good Day, which every child under the age of four should own.
But, I will take on the challenge of sharing the plot of this book without giving it away while at the same time, hopefully shedding some light on what makes it great. Mathilda the sheep lives in a grey and green world where her flock mates, as sheep are wont to do, all have an attitude to match their monochromatic surroundings. You know, however, that there is something special about Mathilda because she has a bell tied around her neck on a lovely ribbon, perhaps signifying her sense of determination, wonderment and joy, like many toddlers I know. These qualities allow her not only to appreciate the orange balloon that floats by her (let loose from the fairgrounds we see in the distance?) but to run with it, both literally and figuratively. Well written by de Sève, Mathilda and the Orange Balloon is equally well illustrated by Corace. Corace's artwork brings the words to life, but also tells a story that goes beyond the text. And, Corace's illustration style is perfectly matched to de Sève's writing style - both are simple and elegant, yet rich and satisfying.
Ever since I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Little Pea, which was also the first picture book Jen Corace illustrated, I was hooked - both by the illustrations and the topsy-turvy story. Thankfully, this dynamic duo has written two more thematically similar books - Little Hoot and Little Oink. But, Corace's illustrations and artwork are so deliciously imaginative, both familiar and mysterious, cozy and a bit threatening, and always beautiful. I just had to include some of her independent work here...
Finally, Randall de Sève has written two other picture books, Toy Boat, richly illustrated by Loren Long and The Duchess of Whimsy, illustrated by her husband! Toy Boat was a great story time book last summer and I was thrilled to see a photo of the model for the toy boat of the title, crafted by Loren Long's brother! I am truly impressed, both by , Randall de Sève's writing talents and the artistic talent that she has been paired with. I would love to know exactly how an author is matched with an artist!