Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Double Dose Of Laughter

Regardless of your age, laughter can lift you up.  It can take an upside-down day, turning it right side up.  If you can share this laughter, the happiness it creates escalates.  Presently, it's a bit difficult to spread this form of joy with anyone other than those with whom you are sheltering or virtually, BUT . . .

When you think of authors and illustrators who make books filled with playful plots and comical characters, let us imagine they are there with us when we open the covers of their books.  As we laugh at their stories, it is as if they are laughing with us.  With this way of thinking, laughter is always shared.  Two April releases, graphic novels for younger readers (and readers young at heart), are welcome bursts of friendship and fun.

In the first title, Baloney And Friends (Disney Hyperion, April 14, 2020) written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, a crew of companions exhibit distinctive personalities.  It's their differences that make them dynamic.  None of them are without imperfections but together they form a flawless friendship.

A one-page full-color graphic in horizontal panels informs readers they will be enjoying a Get Started introduction, three stories and three two-page mini-comics.

Baloney + Friends
Get Started
(An Introduction Of Sorts)
I'm Baloney!
This is my book.
All about me!
And me, too!
Oh. Hi, Peanut.

In this back-and-forth conversational exchange, we meet Baloney, Peanut, a blue horse, Bizz, a black, white, and yellow bee, and Krabbit, a cranky purple rabbit.  Baloney tries over and over to present his book and friends to readers, but he is constantly interrupted.  When it finally appears as though he can proceed without delays, Peanut is missing.  When you have to go, you have to go. (a bathroom break)

In the first story Baloney's magic show and trio of tricks are loaded with misconceptions.  What Baloney predicts does happen, but certainly not by magic.  His friends' responses are varied.  These in contrast to Baloney's actions are comedy gold.

Avoiding what you fear and overcoming that fear is addressed with candor and humor in the second narrative.  In musings Baloney reveals his hesitancy. In chatting with his friends, they become aware of his concerns.  It's Bizz's questions and then understanding which propel Baloney to be his best self with victorious though hilarious results.

To close this trio of tales Baloney and Peanut have a heart to heart chat about those things which make you feel sad.  An effort to lighten Baloney's mood only serves to display the depth of his despair.  As this is acknowledged, Baloney steps forward as true friends do.  Heart to heart is an art best buddies learn together.

In between the three stories the mini-comics range in their focus.  We are present during an arcade duel for player dominance, a rare peek at a hungry hero's craving for cookies and a closing championing the power of good stories.  Endings are the best beginnings.

By giving voice to these four characters, Greg Pizzoli illuminates those qualities which make each individual unique.  It is their singularity which endears them to us.  In them readers will see their strengths and weaknesses.  In these three stories and three mini-comics, Greg Pizzoli, through his written words, allows us to understand the benefit of embracing the complete individual, even if they are a work in progress.  (I'm looking at you, Krabbit.)  Although, to be fair, Krabbit elevates the laughter factor.  Here is a passage of dialogue.

Come and see the marvelous . . .
the masterful . . .
the magical . . .
The One And Only

A magic show! (Peanut)

Oh fun!  (Bizz)

Whatever . . .  (Krabbit)

As soon as you see the front of the book case, you'll start to fall in love with these happy-go-lucky friends.  Well, there is a scowl on Krabbit's face, but that's pure Krabbit.  The wide eyes, in the case of this book, are the secret to the soul of these characters.  They want us to be a part of their story.  The title text, Greg Pizzoli's name, the characters and the silver starburst are varnished.

To the left, on the back of the book case, the foursome is featured in four squares inside a larger square.  Above and below them is text you might see on the flaps of a dust jacket.  There are also glowing endorsements from two other admired author illustrator voices in the children's literature community, Ben Clanton and Laurie Keller.  Several elements here are varnished as well.

In a pattern of darker orange on lighter orange is a series of drawings of the fabulous four in a variety of positions.  Every so often the words:

And Friends

are placed within the sketches. After this, prior to the title page, is a circle with the four friends and their names fashion a circular frame.  The title page is designed with a photograph of the pals.

Greg Pizzoli's panels shift in size to emphasize pacing and drama.  The color of the framing around the panels changes from white, to pale orange, purple, green, blue, black, royal blue, and red.  Sometimes the panels are outlined in a thin black line; other times the edges are scalloped or the image bleeds edge to edge.  Several times the characters appear outside a panel to designate their position with respect to each other or in reference to a memory.

Readers will recognize the masterful ability of Greg Pizzoli to create a range of emotions through his lines.  His facial expressions leave no doubt as to what his characters are feeling.  This is how we connect easily with the personalities.  This is why we love to laugh at their stories.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  Baloney is on stage dancing in his black pants, black bow tie and black top hat and holding his magic wand.  He is throwing a glass previously filled with ice cubes in the air.  They magically (with the use of a heater and hair dryer) turned to water.  In front of the stage Peanut is clapping and saying


Bizz utters disgustedly

Oh, come on!

And Krabbit, as you might expect says:


Their faces tell the whole story.

This book, Baloney And Friends written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, is a first-class graphic novel everyone will want to have on their personal and professional bookshelves.  Regardless of the number of times you read it, you'll find yourself either laughing or sighing more than once.  Greg Pizzoli makes books you want to hold next to your heart. At the close of the book four pages are dedicated to teaching you how to draw these characters.

To learn more about Greg Pizzoli and his other wonderful work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. Greg Pizzoli has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Greg Pizzoli has a YouTube channel.

In the first book in a new series readers get to meet two lovable animated animal creatures plus two of their friends.  Fox & Rabbit (Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, April 21, 2020) written by Beth Ferry with illustrations by Gergely Dudas is a gathering of adventures, one connected to the other, by friendship, fun and the letter F.  Each of the five stories is titled with three alliterative words.  The three words are a welcome to readers to participate.


 I see a whale.
Me too.
I see a
Me too.
Now I see a
Me too.

I just made that up.
I didn't really see a crab.
Stop copying me.

I wasn't copying you.  I was
just being nice.


In this first verbal exchange as Fox and Rabbit are lying on their backs gazing at clouds, we get an early glimpse into their personalities.  This duo sees and smells cotton candy which leads them to a fair. Immediately Rabbit wants to ride the Ferris wheel, but Fox is not excited.  Rabbit says he will win Fox a stuffed toy to hold when he rides the Ferris wheel.  Guess who wins all three games?  Guess who wins a stuffed toy lion?  Guess who ends up holding the stuffed toy lion when they finally ride the Ferris wheel at night?  Fireworks lead to a new name.  Rabbit still has to satisfy a yearning.  The result leads us into story two, but not without even more laughter at the expense of the late arrival of a turtle.

The next day, story two unfolds with an eager Fox ready for a day at the beach.  At every stage of this tale, Rabbit over prepares.  Fox presents the only thing necessary, a single item beginning with the letter F.  Rabbit stalls all day long about going in the water.  For every reason Rabbit supplies to not going in, Fox counters.  Rabbit eventually decides he loves the beach (and the water) a lot, so they stay for the sunset.  A gift floats to them in a bottle on the darkened water. 

The next day after weighing the pros and cons of their next trek into the unknown, Rabbit loads up a backpack and Fox carries a single item, a flashlight.  They have three geographic challenges with weather and fauna adding to the mix.  As they reach their goal, it's not what they expected but they learn some surprises are right in front of us all the time.

Sparrow, an already accepted foodie, steps in to assist Fox and Rabbit in their next endeavor.  As a guide Sparrow is the best.  Fox and Rabbit work harder than they thought possible all day.  Then there are days and days of watering and waiting.  When they see the outcome of their labors they are overjoyed until disaster strikes.  Forgiveness starts with the letter F and it's the foundation of friendship.

At the close of this first book of heartwarming discussions and feats, the charming companions watch a startling discovery grow.  From this a construction project and hours of time in the kitchen equal a backyard business.  Just when it looks as though this is a zinger, Sparrow turns it into a pleasant surprise.  As usual Turtle arrives at the end and the final line is the bow on this perfect present for readers.

As you read these five stories you can't help but think of all the fabulous fun (two letter Fs) Beth Ferry had finding words beginning with the letter F.  You can't help but wonder at the joy she felt creating the conversations between Fox and Rabbit.  Their banter is a linguistic delight.  They counter and contrast each other.  They question and answer each other.  They bring out the best in each other.

To tie the stories together, Beth Ferry frequently uses a phrase such as

Are you sure?
Sure as sunshine . . .
Sure as sand . . .

and the appearance of Turtle heightens the hilarity of each episode.  To enhance the personalities of Fox and Rabbit a cadence is established with repeating words and instances in their dialogue.  This is the glue that adheres and deepens their affection.  Here is one wonderful conversation of many.  Fox is speaking for most of the page.

Hurry up!
What's taking
so long?
The sun will be
setting soon.
Do you want to
pack the
toilet too?
Fred is getting 
I'm ready!
You're not bringing 
Oh, yeah.
Because flip-flops start
with F.

When you open the book case, on the right you can sense the total bliss Fox and Rabbit are feeling in the moment of being together in a field of dandelions.  This moment is extended in the image that begins on the spine and spans across the back.  In this picture the pale blue sky is filled with floating dandelion fluff.  Rabbit and Fox with Fred, the toy stuffed lion, on the ground are looking up as they stand in the same dandelion field.  Above them text like you might read on the front flap of a dust jacket is placed.  The characters, the title text and some elements on the back are varnished.

The opening and closing endpapers are pale blue.  For the initial title page dandelion fluff drifts on the same blue.  For the formal title page, the picture on the front is expanded, spreading over two pages.

Illustrator Gergely Dudas rendered these images

with graphite and ink and colored digitally.

Opposite each chapter page on the right, Fox and Rabbit are placed in a circle introducing readers to their following escapade.  Gergely Dudas places a series of small images on full-page pictures, places a series of panels on a single page, supplies wonder with full page pictures and generates his interpretation of the narrative with several series of wordless panels.  Most of the images are loosely bordered with a fine black line.

Readers will be fascinated with the combination of body postures and facial features on Fox, Rabbit, Turtle and Sparrow.  They convey a range of emotions.  The pacing is impeccable.  The humor is rich and true. 

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Fox and Rabbit are at the beach.  In a series of eight small square panels placed as two columns on a larger area of sand on most of the page beginning on the left, we are privy to a conversation and three wordless pictures at the end.

The conversation begins with Rabbit as Fox goes swimming again:

I'm going to dig for
treasure.  This was
a pirate 
beach once.

Call me if you find
something good!

And by good I
mean gold!

Or silver.

Or gummy worms.

As Rabbit digs with Fred watching next to the hole, we see less of his body until only his ears are above ground.  Then on the far right is a cutaway of that beach area.  Rabbit is way, way down.  He must have dug for a considerable amount of time.  This picture leads into another comedic conversation when Fox returns from a swim.

Between the chatting of these two friends, Sparrow and Turtle, readers know they've met the best kind of individuals.  Fox & Rabbit written by Beth Ferry with illustrations by Gergely Dudas is a book, whether placed on your personal or professional bookshelves, that will have the well-loved look in short order.  We readers are fortunate another title is set to be released this year. 

To learn more about Beth Ferry and Gergely Dudas and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Beth Ferry has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Gergely Dudas has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  The cover reveal for this book is hosted by Dylan Teut,  executive director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival at Mile High Reading.  Dylan Teut interviews Beth Ferry.  Betsy Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system, at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production, interviews Beth Ferry about this book.

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