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Archive for Sunday, October 23, 2005

Author-illustrator team finds harmony

October 23, 2005

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Seldom has a writer-illustrator team continued to create work this felicitous.

Author Kate Banks and artist Georg Hallensleben have been producing top-quality picture books together for a decade, and judging by recent releases, they've found a very solid fan base.

Publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux has fostered their relationship, which has included multiple paperback reissues and hardcover releases within a year. It's hard to decide which of the three discussed here is the most appealing.

"Baboon" ($6.95) shows how a young primate learns from his wise, experienced mother. He makes many assumptions about life around him; she quietly points out the errors in his observations, and eventually they come to an agreement about what the world offers.

Rendered in muted earth tones, "Baboon" is a wildlife study that teaches children about animals and, at the same time, outlines the importance of interaction between all creatures. It also emphasizes the link between mother and child.

The narration is soothing, and the artwork has a relaxing effect. The dusky ending will lull children into calm dreams.

Another bedtime story, "And If the Moon Could Talk" ($5.95), celebrates the brightness of night. Hallensleben has taken every opportunity to use a strong palette, choosing to make the camels red when "Darkness swells into a colorful dream." The moon appears in virtually every picture, and on two wordless pages, a city full of buildings glows with lighted windows.

Banks writes that the moon could "tell of waves washing onto the beach, shells, and a crab resting." She juxtaposes a homey bedroom setting with cheery viewpoints of what the moon sees at faraway places. It's easy for children to visualize scenes themselves.

Impressionism permeates "The Great Blue House" ($16), which chronicles a year for a well-loved home. Filled with domestic minutia, the words evoke tranquility. As winter nears and the family leaves, "A cupboard swings open. A mouse is busy finishing off the last crumbs from summer."

Banks gives Hallensleben ample material for some Monet-like scenes. A cat makes its way through a snow-blotched landscape in front of the blue house. The mouse perches in a pair of rough-hewn boots. As spring comes again, a bird holds a scrap of cloth in its mouth, the paint of its wings spread thick and dense.

The warmth of family life, both human and animal, holds these books together. Children will find them beneficent as well as beautiful.

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