Tomorrow Most Likely

Tomorrow Most Likely
Dave Eggers and Lane Smith
Chronicle Books

Dave Eggers has penned rhyming ponderings upon the possibilities of what tomorrow might have in store. None of us knows what the next day will bring but Eggers’ likelihoods are safe, reassuring, sometimes weird like this something that won’t rhyme

and sometimes totally delightful: ‘Tomorrow most likely / there will be a sky / And chances are it will be blue.’ … ‘Tomorrow most likely / you’ll smell the good smell / of an unseen flower you can’t quite name.’ … ‘Tomorrow most likely / you’ll pick up a stone / striped like a spiderweb or maybe a brain.’

In this bedtime story, his laid back languorous, rhythmic textual repetition provides both comfort and cheer –seemingly spoken by the mother from the title page bidding her child goodnight and in so doing looking forward.

Lane Smith holds up a two-way mirror to Egger’s contemplations with his mixed media images of a boy heading out through the door to wander around his urban environment encountering such oddities as a troubled big-eyed bug missing his friend named Stu; or that curved-beaked creature sporting a paper-hat, as well as envisaging eccentricities like eating the cloud-cone as he pauses in a flower-filled patch of green and then, clutching the cone, sings atop a rocky tower;

and closing with the boy now sleeping, dreaming of tomorrow, happy in the belief that because he’s in it, it will be ‘a great day.’

Touches of whimsy abound in this detailed urban landscape especially for those who know how to look for the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary.

Giraffe Problems

Giraffe Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books

Following on from their Penguin Problems, Jory John and Lane Smith present Giraffe Problems. The giraffe in question being Edward; his problem coming in the form of his neck. A neck that is too long, too bendy, too narrow, too dopey, too patterned, too stretchy, too high, too lofty: in short too necky. Said neck causes other animals to stare at him wherever he goes.

It’s not as though Edward hasn’t tried to improve matters; he’s adorned the thing with all manner of scarves and ties and attempted to hide himself away but without success.

Other animals have enviable necks so why is his the object of attention all the time? He has, assuredly, a long-lasting problem.

Then Edward comes upon a creature that is his polar opposite: Cyrus is a turtle but he too has a neck issue. “I’m basically neckless,” he tells the giraffe.

He also tells Cyrus of his yearning for and futile efforts to obtain, a lone banana dangling alluringly from a tree atop a distant hill. “I’ve felt like such a fool as I stretched my neck toward those greedy branches, only to be limited by my own physical shortcomings.”

Said fruit poses no challenge to Edward; in just a few seconds he causes the desired object to land right in front of Cyrus. (gatefold reveal).

Then it’s down to Cyrus to help Edward with his own neck issue. Is it possible that they can both end up feeling good about themselves – perhaps with the help of a small, strategically placed adornment?

Jory John’s entire wry, comical text is in the form of speech- monologue or dialogue – with occasional touches of bathos, and is perfectly complemented by Lane Smith’s retro style, textured artwork executed in earthy tones that cleverly captures the emotions of the two protagonists and showcases their distinctive patterns.

Courtesy of the John/Lane partnership we’ve visited Antarctica and Africa: whither next for animals with problems, I wonder?

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming
Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Two Hoots

Television writer/producer Chris Harris teams up with Greeenaway medal winner, Lane Smith in this riotous book of nonsense verse.
The first thing I should say, actually, it’s the second, is, take no notice of the title: Harris is telling enormous porkies; the only non-rhyming offerings are those made deliberately so.
In all there are over one hundred zany compositions, most of which will make you want to laugh out loud; almost all of which are illustrated; and every one of which is imbued with a sense of playfulness.

There’s wordplay in abundance: here’s the briefest entitled The Gecko, ‘If ever I find myself holding a gecko … / I’ll lecko.

Typography is used to effect, for instance when ‘d’ and ‘b’ have a showdown in The Duel ending up as ‘p’ and ‘q’. There are riddles, parodies of nursery rhymes, and, perhaps surprisingly – but then everything is pretty surprising in this book – some introspective verses: ‘I’m shy on the outside, but inside my head? / I’m not at all shy – I’m outgoing instead.’ …

The downright irreverent appears too: ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less travelled by … / Since then I’ve been completely lost. / Thanks for nothing, Robert Frost!

Author and illustrator even have a go at one another (possibly on account of Smith’s Alphabet Book visuals)

‘I must confess I don’t like my poems’ illustrator. They told me, “Lane is great!” but man, I really think I hate her!’ Harris rails (he can’t even get Smith’s gender right). But Smith counters with this portrait …

One poem that particularly spoke to the teacher part of me was The Secret of My Art reminding us of all the dangers of appearing to know about, or judge, children’s art. Here it is:

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my teacher declared.
“This drawing will get a gold star!”

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my father declared.
“Your talents will carry you far!’

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my mother declared.
“What a wonderful artist you are!”

Well maybe it is a beautiful whale …
But I was trying to draw a guitar.

A brilliant collaboration and definitely a sure-fire winner for those who already love poetry, but perhaps more importantly, for those who claim to hate it. A sterling successor to the likes of Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and Dr Seuss.Every classroom and home needs a copy.

A Perfect Day

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A Perfect Day
Lane Smith
Two Hoots
What makes a perfect day? Seemingly it depends on your perspective: for the animals in young Bert’s care, that’s certainly the case. For Cat it’s basking in the daffodil bed feeling the warmth of the sun on your back; for Dog it’s sitting in a cool paddling pool. Bird’s perfect day is a feeder full of birdseed and for Squirrel, there’s nothing better than a tasty corncob to nibble on.

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Life is pretty peachy in Bert’s garden on this day.
Enter stage left, Bear, an enormous hulk of a beast that comes lumbering across the garden (and the page) …

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totally sabotaging their idyll, and entirely unaware of so doing. It WAS a perfect day for Cat, Dog, Bird, and Squirrel: but now who is having the perfect day, full, after devouring the food of others, cooled by the water from the pool and dozing in the warm sunshine?

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And the perfect picture book? This one is surely a contender, (as was the author’s There is a Tribe of Kids). Lane Smith’s glorious textural illustrations are masterful in so many ways. They’re imbued with that sardonic wit of his; then there’s the way his ursine character takes centre stage, filling the spreads as he pursues his own pleasures, pleasures so satisfyingly portrayed through those blissful expressions; and the beautiful pastel colour palette. Added to all this, is the simplicity of the playful text with its equally satisfying repetition that is so perfect for reading aloud and for learner readers.
Yes, for me, this IS certainly a perfect picture book.

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Penguin Problems

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Penguin Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books
Being a penguin isn’t a barrel of laughs as we quickly discover in the first Jory John/Lane Smith collaboration, certainly it isn’t for the penguin narrator of this book anyway; we learn that right away when he’s woken from his slumbers by squawking from his fellow penguins. Nothing it seems is to this little fellow’s liking: he hates snow, the sun’s too bright and he’s extremely hungry. If the land’s not to his liking, the ocean’s even worse – too salty, distinctly lacking in fish, dark and decidedly chilly.

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Oh great. An orca. Oh great. A leopard seal. Oh great. A shark. What is it with this place?” he mutters as he becomes hunted rather than hunter …

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This fellow also has body issues; his buoyancy is faulty, his flippers tire too fast, his waddle is more of a wibble …

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and of course, he can’t fly. Then there’s the issue of look alikes …

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Enter stage right a walrus. His words of wisdom should go some way to changing Penguin’s attitude to ‘half full’ at the very least – some of the time anyway …

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This book exudes humour both verbal and visual but put together the result is sheer gigglesome comedic delight at every turn of the page. Actually, make that before you start turning the pages; the perversity of the cover and penguin’s litany of negativity on the front inside flap, set the scene for what’s to come.

There is a Tribe of Kids

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There is a Tribe of Kids
Lane Smith
Two Hoots
Connectedness is a longing that we all feel and it’s this need to belong that starts Lane Smith’s child protagonist off on a journey exploring the natural world through a day and a night, as he searches for that vital connectness. He begins on a craggy mountainside where we see him in the swirling snow, almost completely concealed among the TRIBE of KIDS. The kids leave him one after the other and our protagonist moves on and soon finds himself face to face with a penguin. This penguin takes him to a COLONY of PENGUINS that lead the lad in a merry dance and more

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until he finds himself plunging beneath the ocean where he mirrors the movements of a SMACK of JELLYFISH before being rescued by a POD of WHALES, seized by an UNKINDNESS of RAVENS and left alone on a FORMATION of ROCKS. Rocks from which he tumbles into a rubbish pile and thence, by some acrobatic manoeuvring, into a jungly GROWTH of PLANTS. There he has encounters with a whole array of marchers and musicians large and small …

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until a sudden torrential downpour halts him temporarily and he comes nose to nose with a caterpillar,

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and then …

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His wanting to connect however, drives him further until at nightfall we see him standing on a moonlit shore and thereon he sleeps till morning, discovers a trail of shells that lead him at last, to the where place he knows he should stay.

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A Place where he can be and belong: and there, let the wild dance begin …
Here, in this celebration of playfulness, acceptance, belonging and sharing is Lane Smith at his creative best and the whole thing is ingeniously built around collective nouns.
I urge you to get hold of a copy of this wonderful book and look, look and look again and then keep on looking. With its puns – visual and verbal – this is most definitely one to savour.

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