The Pyramid of Souls: Book 2 of the Magickeepers, by Erica Kirov, 163pp RL 4

With The Pyramid of Souls, Book 2 in the Magickeepers series, Erica Kirov continues the story of Nick Rostov that she started in The Eternal Hourglass. Nick had been living alone with his dad, the house magician at the rundown Pendragon Hotel in Las Vegas. Until the family of his deceased mother came for him. Once a pizza eating, school hating skate boarder, Nick is now a crystal ball gazing, sword fighting, school hating magician living with his mother's family in the amazing Winter Palace Hotel in Las Vegas where they are the magicians in residence for the most famous magic show in America. The only catch is, the magic they perform is real, not an illusion. Nick is happy to find he has a cousin, Isabella, who's magical talents allow her to speak with animals. However, he is much less excited about the Russian food he is forced to eat three meals a day, the Russian clothes he must wear and the lessons he must take to learn to read and write Cyrillic and speak Russian.

In Book 2, we find the family preparing for a convention of Magickeepers of various talents from around the world. In order to create the best show possible for the competition that will take place at the convention, the family has purchased Penelope, a performing elephant who was once part of PT Barnum's circus show. As with the first book, Kirov weaves historical instances throughout the book, presented as scenes that Nick witnesses while gazing into his crystal ball. In Book 2 we get glimpses into the lives of Alexander the Great, Edgar Alan Poe, PT Barnum and Sir Isaac Newton. Kirov threads the historical figures' experiences into the fabric of the lives of the Magickeepers and the relics that they protect from the evil intentions of the Shadowkeepers, headed by Rasputin and his daughter.

The Pyramid of Souls, the physical manifestation of Newton's Fourth Law (if you disappear in the real world, you must equally appear in the magical realm) is a Sanctuary of sorts, hallowed ground that the Shadowkeepers are barred from. When the pyramid is stolen from the Egyptian family that is currently guarding it, Nick and family jump into action. Again, Rasputin is after Nick, this time revealing that a prophecy has predicted that Nick will be his downfall. To avoid this, Rasputin blackmails Nick into joining him and the Shadowkeepers. What choice does Nick have? They have captured Isabella and Penelope in the Pyramid of Souls...

Once again, a spectacular cover by Erci Fortune graces this book, bringing this rich characters to life. Kirov's series is a wonder, filling a niche that is relatively empty right now in the world of kid's books - well written, detailed fantasy that is UNDER 200 PAGES!!! It seems like every author who pens a fantasy book for kids now feels compelled to make it at least 500 pages long! While Kirov's book easily could have been that long, the details and settings are so fascinating she must have been tempted to show us more of them, she has kept he books svelte and sweet and perfect for a reader who enthralled by magical realms but not quite ready for the heavier stuff...

Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass by Erica Kirov, 231 pp, RL 4

Although the story of a protagonist who discovers he/she has a special gift, a long lost family and/or that an evil force is out to destroy her/him upon turning a certain age (thirteen, usually) has been told many times, with Magickeepers, Erica Kirov manages to conjure up an adventure that brings together some unlikely people and places as well as historical figures to make the familiar feel brand new. Top it off with Eric Fortune's excellent cover art and you know you have something special in your hands.

The opening pages of Magickeepers finds Nick Rostov at the end of the school year with a report card full of bad grades, his thirteenth birthday right around the corner and dreams of a lazy summer filled with skateboarding, gaming and junk food. Nick lives in the Pendragon Hotel in Las Vegas where his dad is the (worse than third-rate) house magician. Nick's mom died when he was a baby and his Russian grandfather, her father, remains a part of his life, although often at odds with Nick's dad over how he should be raised. They all live in the shadow of the Winter Palace Hotel and Casino, home to the master illustionist, Damian, and the greatest magic show ever, which is booked three years in advance, despite the 4,200 seats in the hotel theater. The Winter Palace Hotel and Casino is built to look exactly like the official residence of the Tsars of Russia (until the last Tsar, Nicholas II and his family were executed in 1917) and there is a brilliant illustration, also by Eric Fortune, on the back of the book that shows a distinctly Russian building cloaked in a gentle snowfall with palm trees swaying in the foreground. For, in what tourists believe to be a bit of "Disneyland magic," the top floor of the hotel is always blanketed by a snowfall that melts long before it reaches the scorching pavement below.

When Nick's grandfather takes him out for a special surprise on the night of his birthday he wonders if they might finally be going to see Damian's show. Instead, he is driven out into the desert to Madame Bogdonovich's Magical Curiosity Shoppe where is is told to gaze into a crystal ball. Nick balks at first, but finds, when he relaxes a bit, a scene unfolding inside the glass in which an ancient Egyptian man is performing an illusion with swords - or is it? With this act, Nick's fate is sealed. Not only is Nick a "gazer," of which only one is born in each generation, but he is related to the great Damian and immediately and magically taken to live at the Winter Palace where he finds more kin, all of whom work in one way or another as part of Damian's "magic" show which, in fact, really is magic. As a Magickeeper, Damian has decided to live openly as a magician and perform shows that the public believe are the feats of a master illusionist. The rest of the family rarely or never leaves the top floor of the Winter Palace Casino and Hotel, their luxury home which is decorated to look like the inside of the real Winter Palace down to the china used at meals. I think that this is such a genius idea on Kirov's part and it makes for so many other fascinating plot threads.

Nick, who resembles a young Damian, is taken into the fold because the dark side of the Magickeepers family tree, the Shadowkeepers, are after him. Like Damian, they decide to hide Nick in the open and give him a part in the new show. In addition to having to learn his part for the show, which includes working with an Akhal-Teke horse that, like a camel, can go miles across the desert without water, Nick also has to learn how to work the real magic that is used in the show and passed off as an illusion. While doing all this, Nick must also figure out what the golden key that he wears hidden on a chain around his neck that sometimes burns and vibrates, a key that was his mother's and given to him by his grandfather on his birthday, goes to. And he has to learn to read Cyrillic and speak Russian so he can cast his spells. And defeat the Shadowkeepers.

Kirov is clearly bursting with ideas and, while I greatly admire her for keeping this book under three hundred pages and attracting a wider reading audience, this first book in the series easily could have been a 500+ pages. There are so many different plot threads and characters who are part of the story, including Harry Houdini, Rasputin, Anastasia, youngest daughter of the Tsar and character in Gloria Whelan's excellent work of historical fiction, Angel on the Square, as well as magical artifacts that have traded hands between good and bad and been won and lost in poker games over the years, that we don't get a Hogwarts-type experience in which we see Nick learning magic. We also don't get to learn much about Isabella, Nick's cousin who, like all the women in the family, has a magical way with animals as well as a white tiger, Sascha, for a companion. There is not much time to build up the suspense and tension for the battle between Nick and the leader of the Shadowkeepers, either. However, Kirov drops many clues to mysteries that will unfold and adventures that are to come in the next book, a sneak peak of which finds Edgar Allan Poe being visited by a raven named Miranda who recites a poem for him to pass as his own in exchange for his vow to hold something for safekeeping...

Don't miss book Two, Magickeepers: The Pyramid of Souls with another gorgeous cover by Eric Fortune and book Three, the final book in the series, Magickeepers: The Chalice of Immortality.


OH NO! Written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat

OH NO! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) is the latest picture book from Mac Barnett, with amazing art work by the incomprable Dan Santat. As with all of Mac Barnett's books (thus far...) there is a story behind the story. With his first picture book, written fresh out of college, Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, Barnett, who really knows his kid's books, was interested in taking the "theme of Nice Kid Gets a Giant Pet [which] has a venerable history" and taking a look at the consequences that come with owning an enormous pet, which is rarely done in this particular genre. As he said in his interview at 7 Impossible Things last year, "I thought, surely there’s a different story to be told here. And so came Billy’s ordeal, a nonstop parade of inconveniences and awkward social situations. This whale doesn’t talk. It doesn’t have a name. It’s not even mobile. This is not a fun pet. Even the ending, which leaves Billy feeling better, is not really a depiction of unalloyed happiness."

And, as Barnett shares in an interview this month with Betsy Bird at School Library Journal, "I wanted to write about a very particular kind of regret that only children can feel: a regret that is sincere but also usually less acute than the situation warrants. I'm thinking particularly of an episode at 826LA, a nonprofit writing center I used to run. I walked into the bathroom to find a kid who'd flushed many paper towels down a toilet and wrecked a 100-year-old plumbing system. He was standing in an inch of (thankfully clean) water, and he smiled sheepishly, apologized, and went back to the writing lab to finish his homework. It was a small step from that bathroom to ruined major metropolitan area, from the scatological the eschatological." I love this back story and the feeling that Barnett evokes in OH NO!, a deceptively simple story. (Read the whole interview for another really great story about what first inspired Mac to think about writing kid's books and how he got his foot in the door and which famous children's book author's kid he went to college with...)

But, really, I shouldn't write too much about this book. Barnett's inspiration and text are amazing, it is clear from reading his other books (and interviews with Adam Rex) he approaches creating picture book as a collaborative effort and, fortunately for us, he collaborates with some amazing artists who are also authors themselves. So, let me rave for a minute about the work of Dan Santat and what a spectacular book OH NO! is, from cover to cover, inside and out.

But first check out this hilarious video that Dan made (starring himself) to go with the book....

Disney Hyperion has pulled out all the stops to make this unique book even more special. The dust jacket is two sided, the interior revealing a fake movie poster for the book, which, it goes without saying, was inspired by certain movies of old. In fact, Dan has recently made OH NO! shirts with this very picture on them that can be purchased at zazzle.com with all proceeds going to support 826LA, the Los Angeles branch of a non-profit writing and tutoring center, 826 National, which now has seven locations all over America. The book itself is printed to look exactly like a well-used computation book, complete with coffee (or tea) rings on it! The endpapers reveal the heroine's blueprints for her robot, among other things, and have some brilliant diagrams and depictions of DNA chemical structure and copious notes.

The interior pages make you feel like you have jumped into a (badly dubbed) science fiction movie with translations for words from English to Japanese scrolling across the bottom of the page like a newsfeed. As the book opens, we see an anxious little girl with a serious grimace on her face. She walks through the streets of a decimated city muttering, "Oh no... Oh man... I knew it... I never should have built a robot for the science fair." From there, she grumbles on about the mistakes she made by giving her robot a "suer claw," "laser eye" and "the power to control dogs' minds." This sets Santat up for some brilliantly hilarious illustrations of dogs trying to be robots, with the requisite tinfoil helmet and cardboard box bodies. How does our scientist-hero stop her creation? With another experiment (gone wrong) of course! You will just have to read this spectacular book to find out what she comes up with!

After reading OH NO! before bed one night - my husband, myself, three kids (which includes two teenagers) and a big dog, were all cracking up. Besides being an all-around great book, one that prompted a weekend Godzilla movie marathon, Dan Santat pays homage to a comedian and one of his very, very funny bits about procrastinating on a science fair project that my husband and kids happened to be familiar with.

Brian Regan is a very funny, clean comedian and I just happened to find an animated clip of "Cup of Dirt" to share with you!


The Tin Forest and The Dragon Machine by Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson

Written by Helen Ward and illustrated by Wayne Anderson The Tin Forest and The Dragon Machine are by far two of my favorite picture books and both are available in PAPERBACK! The stories are magical and fairy tale like in tone, as are the illustrations. Both books create worlds you can get lost in.  And, the stories are short enough and the artwork so engaging that even the littlest listeners will sit still to hear either of these books read out loud.

The Tin Forest tells the story of a man who lived in a, "wide, windswept place, near nowhere and close to forgotten, that was filled with all the things that no one wanted." Surrounded by cast-offs, the little man tries to clear away the garbage every day, "sifting and sorting, burning and burying." Every night the man dreams of a lush world full of plants and animals, but every day he awakens to the same dull grey world. One day, he decides to build the world that he dreams of out of the refuse that surrounds him and, "under the old man's hand, a forest emerged. A forest made of garbage. A forest made of tin. It was not the forest of his dreams, but it was a forest just the same."

One day, a real bird lands in the midst of the tin forest and the old man is overjoyed. But, the next morning, the bird is gone. Soon, though, he returns - with friends!

The Dragon Machine tells the story of George who, when he looks out his window one rainy night, sees a dragon. The next thing he knows, he is seeing them everywhere! "Dragons perched on telephone wires and lurked in the trash cans." Soon, though, they are causing problems.

When George feeds them "some cookies and smelly cheese," they being following him everywhere and making trouble for everyone. George takes himself (and dragons) to the library to read the Encyclopedia of Dragons, from which he learns of a special place where dragons can live in peace.

George maps out his journey then build a dragon machine, hoping that the dragons who have imprinted on him will follow him to this new home like baby ducks follow their mother. Everything goes perfectly to plan, except for the dragon machine. George finds himself stranded in this new land - and alone! After a much needed sleep, George discovers that the dragons have all run off to find new homes.

But, George's parents notice that he is missing and they come to fetch him home. They are so happy to have him back that they bake him a cake and get him a dog, both of which look a little dragonish...


Iron Giant: A Story Told in Five Nights by Ted Hughes, illustrated by Andrew Davidson 78 pp RL 2

Published in 1968 and made into an animated movie in 1999, The Iron Giant, with illustrations by Andrew Davis, is one of the many books for children written by Ted Hughes, who was British Poet Laureate and husband of poet Sylvia Plath. Sadly, the companion to this book, The Iron Woman, is no longer in print.

A modern parable, The Iron Giant is the tale of how Hogarth, a farmer's son, befriends the giant and ultimately saves his life. Nobody knows how the giant was made or where he came from and he is seemingly terrorizing the countryside. When the farmers' attempt to bury the giant as a way of stopping him fails, Hogarth suggests feeding him scrap metal. When the giant emerges months later, causing an earthquake for Spring picnickers, Hogarth has another idea. Begrudgingly, the farmers and his father agree to it, insisting they will call in the army if it doesn't go as planned.

Hogarth leaves the Iron Giant happily well-fed in a junkyard where he can chew "on a greasy black stove like it was toffee" and Hogarth can visit him from time to time, making sure his eyes remain a "happy blue." All is well until the arrival of the space dragon, born from a star and as big as Australia and asking to be fed. The people of the earth refuse to feed the bat-angel-dragon and instead wage a futile war against him. Hogarth is sure his Iron Giant can defeat the him and a battle ensues. However, this is not the Godzilla vs. Megalon fight you might be expecting. The Iron Giant is both strong and smart and he figures out a way to best the creature and convince him to return to his more peaceful ways.

The Iron Giant is, as is always the case, a book that is different from the movie. Most likely, more people are familiar with the movie than they are with the book. I strongly urge you to seek out the book and read it to your children as a bedtime story, as it was intended. Despite the subject, it won't cause nightmares. Having been written in 1968, the tone is different than what kids see on TV, movies and video games today. The sparse, involving text makes for a hero that readers will love, and the suspense is sustained throughout the short story. While there is a definite message of the power of peace, it is a constant undercurrent of the story and never didactic.


Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan & Anina Bennet, 166 pp, RL 5

Boilerplate : History's Mechanical Marvel is a wonder of a book! I have to confess to being predisposed to robots in general and, with a houseful of historians, there was no way I could miss this book. The biography of "the world's first robot soldier" designed in 1893 as a prototype by Professor Archibald Campion for the self-proclaimed purpose of "preventing the deaths of men in the conflicts of nations, " Boilerplate follows the robot from his introduction into society to his final days. And, every steps of the way, the historical events that he takes part in are accurately and lovingly detailed (according to the historians in my house.)

As Sean G David, author of History Repeats: Lessons from a Gilded Age, notes in the forward to Boilerplate, "I first discovered Boilerplate while researching an article about Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. I kept running across tantalizing references to what seemed to be a mechanical soldier in original sources from throughout Pershing's career, starting in 1898."

The book begins with a chapter titled, "Professor Archibald Campion: An Inventor's Life - or - The Birth of Boilerplate." Archie and his older sister Lily seem to have their fates sealed for them by two events that took place in their early adulthood. In 1871, newlywed Lily's husband, a naval officer named Hugh W McKee, was killed in the Korean war. Shortly thereafter, their parents perished in the Great Chicago Fire. One of the things I love about Boilerplate , and what makes it a GREAT book for kids - boys especially - is that this "biographical" information is followed by three pages of factual information regarding the First Korean War and the Great Chicago Fire. In fact, historical information abounds in this book, possibly even outnumbering the brilliant fiction.

Boilerplate was unveiled on May 23, 1893 at the World's Columbian Exhibition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair. Above is a picture of Boilerplate and Lily on the roof of the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building as they gaze across the White City. Unfortunately, tragedies that surrounded the Exposition, from fires, small pox and the assassination of the city's mayor two days before the close of the fair, meant that the wonders of a mechanical soldier were overshadowed. As Lily noted in a letter to a friend at that time, "We have discovered a new irony of the modern age: In a place where everything is a wonderment, nothing is a wonderment."

In 1895, Boilerplate and Campion made their way to Antarctica where Archie Campion, with Boilerplate as his sled-puller, decided to make a solo attempt to reach the South Pole. Archie and Boilerplate also befriended the last Queen of Hawaii before moving on to African adventures with Boilerplate helping to build a rail line. Boilerplate and Campion manage to touch down on almost every significant world event of the day. From the Goldrush to the Panama Canal to a tour around the world on the USS Illinois. Archie and Lily, and therefore Boilerplate, became engrossed in the shocking lives of child laborers in 1911 with the hopes of convincing industry to build and employ robots instead of children to work in factories.

Finally, Boilerplate saw some action in the Spanish-American War as he fought right begind Teddy Roosevelt. From there he went on to fight in the Phillipine-American War and the Boxer Rebellion in China and the Russo-Japanese War where Boilerplate made supply runs that were too dangerous for humans. Boilerplate traveled through the Arabian Desert with TE Lawrence despite the fact that the sand was a constant danger to his joints before heading out to fight in WWI where he disappears while delivering food and water to the Lost Battalion in the Argonne Forest.

The last portion of the book follows the lives of Archie and Lily as they continue to be the social and political activists that they are. The final chapter of the book focuses on the mythologizing and memorializing of Boilerplate that went on in the decades following his disappearance. Early in his writing career, Jack London supposedly wrote a series of stories called, "The Boilerplate Tales." The "Boilerplate Rag" became a popular tune and several comic books and a failed Saturday morning cartoon starring Boilerplate were created. There is also a chapter on robots in history and the people (men) who invented them. Finally, the book includes a timeline and an index. Because of the time during which Boilerplate was part of society coincided with the rise of photography, there is ample "documentation" of his existence that makes the book infinitely readable for the younger fan of robots. For the older fans, oddly enough, it is the humanity of the story of this metal man that is most compelling.










The Clock without a Face: A Gus Twintig Mystery by Scott Teplin, Mac Barnett & Eli Horowitz plus faces by Adam Rex and numbers by Anna Sheffield

The Clock Without a Face, as a picture book alone, is AMAZING! I have spent hours poring over it just looking at the pictures. Which is what you are supposed to do with a picture book, right? Right. Unless it is a book from the wildly creative, innovative, envelope pushing (at least in the world of kid's books...) mind of Mac Barnett and the talented people he has a knack for teaming up with. Barnett is the author of the Brixton Brothers Series, the first of which, The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity just came out in paperback and the superb picture books Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, Guess Again!, and the soon to be released Oh No!. Mac's first three books are illustrated by the always amazing Adam Rex, who provides illustrations of the people (but not the places) in The Clock Without a Face. Oh No! is illustrated by another heavy hitter in the world of picture books and beyond, Dan Santat.

But, as stated above, Mac is not alone in this venture. Eli Horowitz, managing editor and publisher of the Dave Eggers' founded (Eggers is also the founder of the non-profit tutoring center for kids 826National) publishing concern McSweeney's (which also puts out the fabulous ad-free magazine Believer AND is the publisher behind the über-unique The Clock Without a Face) helped write the book. The incredible artist Scott Teplin, who provided the cover for the collection of art and essays, McSweeney's 27, as seen above, created the artwork for the rest of the book.

As always, the gals at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the fascinating blog about books where authors and artists stop by for a cup of cyber-coffee and a breakfast interview with Jules (and, in the past co-founder Eisha, who recently retired) are three steps ahead of me. On April 27, 2010, Scott Teplin stopped by for a chat that proved to be enthralling. Besides learning that Scott had a passion for disguises (you HAVE to check out his driver's license photo that kicks off the interview) and pyrotechnics, I learned about his career as an artist, his influences, work habits, that he and Eli Horowitz are working on a kid's ABC book, illustrations for which can be seen by at Alphabet for Alphaville, and (drum roll) a TOP SECRET black leather clue book....

Little Black Clue Book??? YES!!! This isn't JUST a picture book, like I said before I got sidetracked by all the mind blowing talent involved here... This book is a mystery, it's more than a mystery, it's a TREASURE HUNT and the clues to the buried treasure(s) are buried in the pages of the book. Those of you of a certain age might remember Kit Williams and his gorgeously illustrated picture book/treasure hunt Masquerade. For those of you who don't remember, Masquerade was a picture book with clues hidden in the text and illustrations of the story. The prize was the rabbit pin seen below. Apparently, woman who was in a relationship with Williams while he was creating the book was in on the secret location of the pin. Within a year of the book being published, she secretly teamed up with a third party who she helped to uncover the treasure and reap the rewards. If there are any hoaxes linked to The Clock Without a Face, though, I have a feeling that Barnett and rest of the gang will be behind it...

This time around, the jewel encrusted treasure has been designed by Anna Sheffield, who's designs can be found online and at high end department stores like Barney's and Le Bon Marché.

Now, the book! Gus Twintig, dear friend and confidential assistant to the genius detective Roy Dodge, is interrupted by a phone call in the midst of plucking the marshmallow shapes from among the crunchy bits in his cereal bowl. The cursed clock the Emerald Khroniker, has been burgled, and Gus needs to get to Ternky Towers, the home of Bevel Ternky, current owner of the clock, asap to help Dodge solve the mystery. Ternky Towers has thirteen floors, the top floor being the penthouse home of Bevel Ternky. As Dodge and Ternky investigate the crime, floor by floor, they learn that the other twelve residents of the Towers have been burgled as well. The floor plan and contents of each apartment serve as clues to the hiding places, for, "the twelve numbers of the Emerald Khroniker slumber underground, awaiting your sharp eyes and sharper shovels."

There is already a website for searchers to post their findings (or non-findings, as the case has been thus far.) There are some very entertaining reports about missing taco-night dinner, driving for hours and finding a pile of broken televisions deep in the woods - but no treasure YET! This is super fun and much has been made in other reviews about this being a low-tech venture in a high-tech age as well as where on the shelf, in a bookstore or library, this quirky tome will end up. Yes, it is a giant, pentagonal board book, and rightly so. This book is going to be toted all over the place, read and re-read and maybe even written in, at least by those who are true treasure hunters.

Now, I have to admit, I STINK at things like this. Remember Graeme Base's marvelous, gorgeous book The 11th Hour? I got that book when I was in college and I could not figure it out. Finally, I caved in and unsealed the answer packet at the end of the book. I am impatient and not observant in the right ways. HOWEVER, I have had a TON OF FUN picking out the cultural references in the story which may or may not have anything to do with clues to where the treasures are hidden...

First off is twelfth floor resident PK Quello, who happens to be an ALCHEMIST. Get it??? There is a very popular fiction author from Brazil named Paulo Coelho who's most popular book is titled The Alchemist. The fifth floor is home to the elderly oddballs Vera Mazel and Josie Grey. Mazel? Maysels? Grey Gardens? Albert and David Maysels made the 1975 documentary about the odd reclusive socialite mother and daughter and the estate home in East Hampton, NY that they never left named Grey Gardens. Is the number 5 hidden somewhere near East Hampton? I DON'T KNOW!! And then there is Krieger Manzarek who lives on the second floor. KREIGER??? MANZAREK??? THE DOORS??? Half of the Doors? Robby Krieger, guitarist, and Ray Manzarek, keyboardist, were members of the band fronted by Jim Morrison, The Doors. Is the number 2 hidden somewhere in LA?? Maybe near The Whisky night club??? And why is the character Krieger Manzarek so strange???

I dunno. Maybe I am just driving myself X-Files-like batty. Bring on the crazy sauce. But I'll tell you this, this book makes me want to write in ALL CAPS. This book makes me happy. And I didn't even mention the pink doughnuts, of which one is hidden in almost every apartment, I think. I love doughnuts...


Little Panda by Renata Liwska

Little Panda is the first ever picture book written and illustrated by the magnificent by Renata Liwska. Liwska is the illustrator of  The Quiet Book,  a brilliant must-buy. Little Panda is a story within a story, reminiscent of Jon J Muth's wonderful picture book, Zen Shorts, both for her use of panda bears and stories that teach. Little Panda begins in a playful way with a seemingly outlandish tale:

Just the other day, grandfather Panda was talking to his grandson. I'm going to tell you a story of a little panda and a tiger that flew,' he said. "But that's silly. Tigers can't fly," interrupted the grandchild. "How do you know if you haven't heard the story yet?" asked Grandfather.

The story of Bao Bao and his mother Lin Lin is what follows. Bao Bao spends his time climbing trees, playing chase and falling down, always under the guidance of Lin Lin. However, “Playing was not just for fun. It was also the way Lin Lin taught Bao Bao important panda lessons.” One day, when Lin Lin must travel far from home for bamboo for them to eat, she leaves Bao Bao asleep in a tree, which she warns him might be a bit too slender for a growing panda. This proves true when a tiger comes along and makes his way up the tree. Luck on the part of Bao Bao and springiness on the part of the tree combine to make a tiger fly!

I am enamored of Renata Liwksa and her storytelling skills, both visually and verbally. I have no doubt that she will become part of the canon of classic children's picture books and that in 20+ years, adults who loved her work when they were children will still be able to find it on the shelves of bookstores to read to their children. Liwska is very generous with sharing her creative process and, for those of you who have a creative bent, her blog Pandas and Such is a wealth of photos of her sketches as well as photos of her sketching - makes me want to run out and buy a(nother) Moleskine notebook and a mechanical pencil!!!

Also, Renata likes to make holiday cards, and there are some very adorable ones to take a gander at.

Besides being a talented artist, Renata is a talented crafter, as this little bear, Alberto, demonstrates.

Finally, Renarta Liwska is the wife of illustrator Mike Kerr and together they have a website called uwaga, which means "attention" in Polish, and features their works. Below is an illustration of the letter F by Mike.

Image of Letter F