Oliver Jeffers: The Working Mind & Drawing Hand by Oliver Jeffers

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Before picking up this book, I didn’t know much about Oliver Jeffers. I had read a few of his picture books and would recognize his art style and signature handwriting in passing, but that was it. I have to tell you, though–this oversized deep dive into his artistic process entranced me and got me to check out every single Oliver Jeffers book.

I learned that in addition to writing and illustrating picture books, Jeffers also produces high-concept philosophical and political art that is displayed in galleries. I especially loved learning about a series of portraits he painted, which he would then dip almost completely in paint at a very small exhibition of around a dozen people. Those people would be the only humans to have seen the completed portrait, which now exists only in their memory.

This is a quick read, with far more pictures than words, but you could conceivably spend hours poring over the details in the immersive matte spreads. I recommend checking it out to see which details surprise you.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Darling by K. Ancrum

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Darling turns the classic Peter Pan story into a mind-blowing and fast-paced dark thriller.

New to Chicago, Wendy Darling is enticed out of her bedroom window by the sexy and sinister Peter, who invites her to a warehouse party. What follows is a treacherous adventure through the city where Wendy must navigate the shifting dynamics of a large cast of characters and their relationships to the protective and predatory Peter. Ancrum imposes the familiar elements of the Peter Pan story so thoughtfully and brilliantly into modern times–for example, the Mermaid Lagoon is a drag club and the pirates are the police force taking liberties with their power, helmed by ruthless Detective Hook.

The bright spark of dangerous glamor drew me into the story, but the ever-unexpected and continually rising stakes propelled me through to the end. Absolutely astonishing.

Available through the Bridges Library System

American Royals by Katharine McGee

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

With a fabulous cover and a premise like “What if America had become a monarchy with George Washington as its first king?” I was looking forward to seeing what this book had to offer. It ended up not what I expected and yet I was not at all disappointed.

We had four narrators: Bea, the duty-bound future (and first!) queen of America; Sam, the wild “spare” to Bea’s “heir”; Nina, Sam’s best friend who likes Sam’s twin brother, Jeff, but does not like the spotlight; and Daphne, the picture-perfect ruthless ex-girlfriend of Jeff who still has her eye on the crown. American Royals explores the concepts of duty, celebrity, and being true to yourself, all with witty banter, steamy romance, and wish-fulfillment glamor.

If you go in expecting a probing exploration of an alternate history, you will be let down–the American monarchy angle turned out to be merely fancy set dressing that didn’t penetrate into the fabric of the story. However, if you go in expecting less history and more histrionics, even the most hearty appetite for drama will be satisfied. This book is not going to change your life but it sure is fun.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC MCGEE)

Bartali’s Bicycle by Megan Hoyt & Iacopo Bruno

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

This picture book tells the remarkable true story of Gino Bartali, celebrated Italian cyclist and winner of the 1938 Tour de France who performed heroic acts throughout World War II but kept them secret for over 50 years.

As Bartali always said, “Good is something you do, not something you talk about,” and so he kept quiet the fact that he hid forged identity papers in the hollow bars of his bicycle, sheltered a Jewish family in his cellar, rescued POWs, and used his celebrity to cause diversions when necessary.

Iacopo Bruno’s vibrant illustrations play with color and shadows to convey the mood of a world at war and in Bartali’s facial expressions the reader can almost see his mental wheels and sprockets churning a plan to fight injustice. Gorgeous and inspiring.

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E HOYT)

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renee Treml

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

In this silly graphic novel mystery, Sherlock Bones is the skeleton of an Australian bird who lives in the State Natural History Museum. When a giant blue diamond goes missing, Sherlock is on the case, assisted by his partner Watts (an inanimate stuffed parrot) and Grace (a street-smart raccoon interloper). The reader is also invited to assist in the case, as visual clues are cleverly sprinkled throughout the panels. The expressive art, slick humor, and way that Sherlock chats directly to the reader reminded me so much of the Bad Guys series. So far there are 2 books in this new series. Just plain fun.

Located in Children’s Graphic (J GRAPHIC TREML BK.1)

ABC Animals by Christopher Evans

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t know when I say that there are A LOT of alphabet books out there. And a heaping ton of them are about animals. But even in that vast ocean of competition, this book is absolutely stunning.

Graphic designer and illustrator Christopher Evans uses a technique he calls “digital woodcut” and the resulting images blew me away. As he says on the back flap, the illustrations are “somewhere between an impressionist painting and a mechanical drawing.” From hard shells to leathery skin, the depth and texture he achieves with simple digital lines is incredible. My personal favorites were the wavy scales of the iguana and the soft, fluffy face of the alpaca.

Even beyond the breathtaking illustrations, I loved the elegant design aspects of the rest of the book. Each spread features the alphabet letter large and centered, comprised of textures and features seen in the corresponding animal, as well as a dynamic sepia silhouette of the animal, roughly to scale (the giraffe takes up most of the page, while the hedgehog is a small shape near the bottom).

A masterpiece.

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E EVANS)

Anonymouse by Vikki VanSickle & Anna Pirolli

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

This vibrant and thought-provoking new picture book expertly reveals how art can transform how we see and think about everyday places and objects. In it, a mouse equivalent of Banksy is employing neon paint and his imagination across the city to make his fellow animals laugh, think, and feel inspired.

The element that first attracted my attention was the color palette–an amazing blend of neutral browns alarmingly contrasted by NEON PINK (definitely all caps). But everything from Anonymouse’s clever signature tag (a capital A with whiskers and ears) to the humor (I laughed out loud at the raccoons–you’ll see) is brilliant. A perfect treat for adults and children alike.

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E VANSICKLE)

Modern Art Explorer by Alice Harman & Serge Bloch

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Let’s be honest. Modern art can be a little…difficult to understand. Like, we know it means SOMETHING but sometimes we lack the tools to even begin to make sense of it. That’s where this book comes in.

Each spread presents one work of art that was created roughly between the 1860s and the late 1960s, although a few more contemporary pieces are sprinkled in as well. Alice Harman does a wonderful job addressing each piece–first acknowledging what you may be thinking at first glance and then giving you a bit of insight into the artist’s history, method, and inspiration, all while maintaining a supremely conversational and entertaining tone. The text is supplemented by whimsical line drawings by Serge Bloch, which draw from the style of the artist being presented and increase the appeal of each page.

Modern Art Explorer takes an overwhelming subject and opens the door, welcoming you in so that you both want to walk around inside and feel like you belong. A huge task done well.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable & Stephanie Yue

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Katie the Catsitter is a charming middle grade graphic novel with oodles of humor and pep.

Feeling left out that her best friends are going to summer camp when she can’t afford to go, Katie seeks out odd jobs to raise enough money to attend camp for one week. After failing at many tasks, Katie lands a job catsitting the 217(!) cats belonging to her upstairs neighbor, Ms. Lang.

Despite Katie’s extreme affection for all things feline, this job proves challenging as 1) she learns that each cat has their own special skill (such as hacking, languages, helicopter repair, and fashion design) which they use to get into trouble and 2) she begins to suspect that Ms. Lang is actually the Mousetress, a super villain terrorizing her city.

I loved the overall playfulness and the uplifting exploration that good and evil may not always be as black and white as a tuxedo cat.

Located in Children’s Graphic Novels (J GRAPHIC VENABLE)

Birds and Their Feathers by Britta Teckentrup

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

This book is the perfect antidote to an overwhelming, overstuffed and overcomplicated world. The topic is simple: the feather. With her clean, textured illustrations and compact compartments of facts, Britta Teckentrup invites you to take a closer look at the art and utility elegantly condensed into this natural wonder.

As I read this book, I was constantly spouting unsolicited feather facts to my husband. Here is what I (and my husband) now know that we didn’t before:

  • While a new feather grows, it is connected to the bird’s blood supply but is disconnected once it’s fully formed and can’t be repaired (page 6)
  • Despite all the different size birds and feathers, most birds have the same number of tail feathers–12 (page 9)
  • Because of something called a “structural color,” the color of a blue jay appears blue from all angles, but if the feather is lit from behind it will appear brown! (page 17)

Which feather facts will you learn?

Located in Children’s Nonfiction (J 598.147 TEC)