Fabulous Book Expo 2019 in NYC

It’s always a wonderful time at BEA, and everyone at Holiday House made it even more special with a super fun breakfast party at their downtown offices, followed by a seriously long book signing line for WHY at the Javits Center.

A whole bunch of us authors in the amazing Holiday House library

A whole bunch of us authors in the amazing Holiday House library

Pictured: Stephen Savage, Neal Porter, me, Jason Chin

Pictured: Stephen Savage, Neal Porter, me, Jason Chin

Pictured: Jerry Pinkney, me, Sandra Jordan, Roxie Monro

Pictured: Jerry Pinkney, me, Sandra Jordan, Roxie Monro

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MR. BRIAN’S PICTURE BOOK PICKS

MR. BRIAN’S PICTURE BOOK PICKS

Picture book of the day: Why?–because Laura Vaccaro Seeger creates another poignant, thoughtful book

Why?, illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823441730, ARC reviewed, to be released: August 13, 2019

Anyone who has hung out with an inquisitive child will recognize and relate to this book’s scenario: a little rabbit (a stand-in for the child reader) keeps asking the bear “why?” about various situations. And yet Laura Vaccaro Seeger, the gifted two-time Caldecott honor winner, takes the seemingly simple situation and adds a poignant spin to it that elevates the work to another level. Although warm, her lovely watercolors never feel saccharine or cutesy. The animals emerge as pensive, soulful creatures, never cloying. Seeger makes them appear realistic even when engaging in anthropomorphic behavior (like looking through a telescope). I love Seeger’s approach to her topic. We don’t get the rabbit’s full question, only a “why?”. The bear’s responses help fill in the blanks, as do Seeger’s evocative illustrations. The questions start off as relatively breezy with the bunny wondering why bear waters flowers or why bear enjoys honey. But they grow in intensity, laced with a sense of melancholy. Soon rabbit bombards bear with a bunch of questions, and bear, when posed with a question about a dead bird, finally has to admit that they don’t have all the answers. It’s a surprising gut punch, a moment of vulnerability on the bear’s part. Sometimes elders don’t have all the answers. Seeger turns the situation around during the book’s final moments with the rabbit saying something that prompts the bear to ask “why?”. Although snow falls from the sky, the warmth of their friendship shines through. The final image is haunting and beautiful.

Booklist - Starred review for WHY

WHY?      (reviews)    BOOKLIST – May 15, 2019 (starred review)    By Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Illus. by the author Aug. 2019. 32p. Holiday, $18.99 (9780823441730); e-book, $11.99 (9780823442935). PreS–K   One of Seeger's great talents is distilling a child's concerns to their essence. Here the stand-in for the child is a sweet white rabbit who can be frisky and contemplative by turns, but what she does most consistently is ask the one-word question of the title. A shaggy brown bear with a remarkably expressive face is helpfully there to answer. What Rabbit is questioning never needs to be spelled out, because it is so simply depicted in the lovely, focused watercolor illustrations. As he waters flowers, Bear responds to the "why?" by saying, "Because flowers need water to grow." As Bear guzzles pots of honey, the reason is because it tastes good. And when he's lying against a rock, holding his stomach, it's because he "ate too much." But for some things, there are no answers. Rabbit spies a robin dead in the snow, and a sad Bear can only say, "Sometimes I don't know why." This celebration of friendship, which Seeger moves seamlessly through the seasons, gives children the opportunity to intuit that, while things change, there is also stability in love and relationships. A poignant ending reiterates that bond, which will be touching for children who like to ask plenty of questions and for the adults on whose laps they sit.

WHY?

(reviews)

BOOKLIST – May 15, 2019 (starred review)

By Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Illus. by the author Aug. 2019. 32p. Holiday, $18.99 (9780823441730); e-book, $11.99 (9780823442935). PreS–K

One of Seeger's great talents is distilling a child's concerns to their essence. Here the stand-in for the child is a sweet white rabbit who can be frisky and contemplative by turns, but what she does most consistently is ask the one-word question of the title. A shaggy brown bear with a remarkably expressive face is helpfully there to answer. What Rabbit is questioning never needs to be spelled out, because it is so simply depicted in the lovely, focused watercolor illustrations. As he waters flowers, Bear responds to the "why?" by saying, "Because flowers need water to grow." As Bear guzzles pots of honey, the reason is because it tastes good. And when he's lying against a rock, holding his stomach, it's because he "ate too much." But for some things, there are no answers. Rabbit spies a robin dead in the snow, and a sad Bear can only say, "Sometimes I don't know why." This celebration of friendship, which Seeger moves seamlessly through the seasons, gives children the opportunity to intuit that, while things change, there is also stability in love and relationships. A poignant ending reiterates that bond, which will be touching for children who like to ask plenty of questions and for the adults on whose laps they sit.

Kirkus - starred review for WHY

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WHY?
by Laura Vaccaro Seeger ; illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Age Range: 4 - 8

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KIRKUS REVIEW - starred review

A patient bear deftly answers most of a childlike rabbit’s many “whys.”

As the two friends perch with a telescope beneath a starry sky, the rabbit’s “Why?” garners a contextual answer: “Because they are very far away.” When the bear guzzles honey from three large jars, the inevitable query is met with “Because it tastes so good.” The turn of the page reveals a reclining, lethargic bear. “Why?” “Because I ate too much.” Seeger’s patterned text invites readers to tease out what the friends’ spare conversation leaves unsaid, scanning for clues among the pictures. Comic moments derive from the bear’s succinct responses: The rabbit, buffeted while hanging from a branch (“Wind…”), falls into the bear’s arms (“Gravity”). Seeger’s watercolors capture seasonal changes as nature’s greens yield to falling leaves and flurrying snow. When the rabbit contemplates a dead cardinal, vivid red against the snow, the bear, eyes conveying emotion, says, “I don’t know why. Sometimes I just don’t know why!” As the bear moves toward a beckoning cave, the rabbit begs the bear to stay—and it’s the bear’s turn to ask “Why?” A final scene shows the slumbering bear, the rabbit gazing from above, as snow falls. There are poignant echoes of Margaret Wise Brown’s The Dead Bird and Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman here.

Not all questions can be answered, but the communion of friendship lights much of life’s path. (Picture book. 4-8)

Amazing American School, Dubai!

What an incredible experience - sixteen days in Dubai, visiting the American School and speaking with librarians, teachers, and hundreds of children.

I was honored to spend time with the inspiring William Kamkwamba, and I am incredibly grateful to Natasha Pollock, Jason Roach, Julie Jones, Jennifer Baltes, Mara Ziemelis, and everyone at the American School for making my visit so memorable.

Here are just a few photos from this amazing trip:

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SCBWI Gala 2019

Such an honor to be a judge of the Golden Kite award this year, along with Wendell Minor and LeUyen Pham. Congratulations to all of this year’s SCBWI winners!

So inspiring to hear Sonia Sotomayor speak!

So inspiring to hear Sonia Sotomayor speak!

Pictured: Wendell Minor, me, James Ransome, Laurent Linn

Pictured: Wendell Minor, me, James Ransome, Laurent Linn

Society of Illustrators 2018 READING PICTURES

2018 READING PICTURES: The Artist’s Voice and Vocabulary in Picture Books

What a unique and utterly fun event! I was thrilled to see so many familiar faces and meet some new friends, too. And of course, what a treat to share the stage with the fabulous Susan Roth and John Parra. Much thanks to Cecilia Yung, Laurent Lynn, and Isabelle Warren Lynch for organizing an amazing event!

pictured: Susan Roth, Isabelle Warren Lynch, Laurent Linn, Cecilia Yung, John Parra, and me.

pictured: Susan Roth, Isabelle Warren Lynch, Laurent Linn, Cecilia Yung, John Parra, and me.

Blue tongues abound!

Blue tongues abound!

(Click here for link to the Society of Illustrators website.)

Below is a description of the event:

Monday, November 12, 2018
1:00 pm to 8:00 pm 
at the Society of Illustrators
128 East 63rd Street, New York, NY

Join us for an in-depth exploration of the annual Original Art exhibit, featuring the very best illustration in books for children this year.

Art directors Laurent Linn (Simon & Schuster), Isabelle Warren Lynch (Random House Children’s Books) and Cecilia Yung (Penguin Books for Young Readers) will lead a gallery talk of this spectacular show for an up-close examination of the works on view.

Illustrators Susan RothJohn Parra and Laura Vaccaro Seeger will share their behind-the-scenes decisions and discuss and/or demonstrate their creative processes in the intimate gallery setting of the Society of Illustrators.

The day will conclude with a book signing and an opportunity to chat with your colleagues, the illustrators, and the art directors over a delicious buffet dinner.

BLUE in the New York Times

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(Click here for full article.)

Picks of the Litter: Dog Picture Book for Every Child — and Grown-Up
If the state of the world or anything else is putting you in need of a good cry, I recommend Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s BLUE (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 32 pp., $17.99; ages 3 to 8). It’s another book that uses only two words on each page. This time the phrases all include the word blue — “chilly blue,” “true blue” — the better to show off Seeger’s thick, brushy art and die-cut holes, which are reminiscent of her Caldecott Honor-winning “Green.” Seeger walks you through the life span of a good dog belonging to a little boy who grows to be a man just as the dog passes into the great beyond. (It’s a tip of the hat, perhaps, to the folk song “Old Blue.”) The ending made both me and my husband cry. Our 8-year-old son seemed unmoved, but that may be because his first dog is still young. Still, his reaction tugged at my heart, making me realize that some day, he’ll come back to the book with sadder, wiser eyes. Tempus fugit, but especially, it seems, when you love a dog.

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BLUE in Horn Book's Calling Caldecott

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Blue

NOVEMBER 7, 2018 BY REBEKAH DUTKIEWICZ 

Texture and depth pulled me into Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Blue, and texture and depth are what carried me through (and then back to the beginning, and then through again). Picking it up for the first time, my immediate instinct was to manipulate the book — to feel its weight, to run my fingers over the jacket — and this impulse was rewarded. The title is raised, providing lovely tactile feedback and inviting readers to consider the many layers and facets of a title that, on the surface, seems straightforward enough. And indeed, Blue is multidimensional. It is the companion book to Green, Seeger’s 2013 book for which she earned a Caldecott Honor, and although the two share many similarities, Green speaks to the natural world; Blue speaks to the heart.

Blue is often a conversation in contrasts, and this is evident as soon as the book is opened to reveal the endpapers and title page. The cover art is dark and dramatic with swirls of cerulean suggesting a dog’s paw print. The title page is an exhale — variations of sky blue textured behind a bold title. It is a place to pause before we keep looking for answers. The two experiences — the cover art and the title page — announce, ostensibly, the same information, but they feel so, so different, and this is the magic of Blue. From the very beginning, we are invited to examine the ways in which color and its varying degrees (and the relationships between those degrees) can serve as evocation. Seeger’s text is spare and simple, but, paired with her redolent acrylic on canvas, it is plenty to make us feel something that’s been stirred up from deep within. 

As in Green, Blue ingeniously employs die cuts and allows them to function as a tool to move the visual narrative forward (then backward, then forward again). On the verso, a blue dog bone, after a page-turn, becomes a blueberry; leaves from the blueberry bush serve to illustrate an unfortunate series of paw prints; smeared paint gets lost in the sapphire mosaic of a butterfly’s wing. I found myself flipping back and forth between pages, engaging with Seeger’s impeccable ability to make artistic elements that are integral to one page’s narrative become at once completely lost and completely necessary for the book’s next step. Similarly, die cuts on the recto help readers anticipate what might be coming. A slight hint at a page-turn, a tiny lift of a smooth, thick page, enlivens the die cut and pulls us forward: where is this smear of color, the one lending itself to this ocean-side beach ball, coming from? What will it be? And will it still be the thing before? The magic and drama of the page-turn are not lost here. Not even a little.

Although this is a book about a boy and his dog, each double-page spread is a vignette that, for all intents and purposes, can stand on its own. I found myself lingering on the “stormy blue” spread, full of tones so deep I had to adjust my light. Splatters of paint suggest droplets on a window pane, separating me from the page and defining my role as onlooker, intruder. What was I witnessing? What brought this boy and this dog out into the woods on such a stormy night? Were they lost? Are they reuniting? Where are they going next? There is so much to pull from each of these vignettes. Again, what drew me in is what carried me through. Blue‘s beautiful texture and depth cannot be overstated. Seeger’s deliberate brush strokes, velvety and supple, paired with her use of tonal variation, often implored me to touch the pages, searching for tactile feedback similar to what I received from the book’s jacket, feedback that might match my emotional response.

And all this without any mention of the book’s narrative arc, which, if you’re anything like me, will leave you weeping, despite heavy-handed foreshadowing. The seasons of life — both literal and otherwise — are strong players here, and although the title does deliver (we are certainly taken there, to that blue, blue place), Seeger’s lush artwork and clever use of design elements invite us to explore what this color can mean to all of us at different times and in different stages of our lives.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Blue here.]

BLUE in the Washington Post

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WASHINGTON POST – Featured Special– October 15, 2018
(Click here for full article.)

BLUE
by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook)

In this not-quite wordless, evocatively illustrated book, Laura Vaccaro Seeger explores the idea of blue as a color and as a feeling, with its themes of loyalty, sadness, calm and hope. A very young boy and a puppy sleep, sharing a comforting piece of baby-blue blanket. A slightly bigger puppy exits the scene of bright yellow paint spilled across a child’s blue painting. Boy and dog play together at the beach as ocean-blue waves roll invitingly toward them. Seeger’s rich, layered acrylic paintings and 16 two-word phrases form a poem about a particularly sweet lifelong friendship. Inserted subtly into each page is a die-cut peek into the next shade of blue, cleverly forming a narrative continuity with the pictures and coaxing the reader to anticipate what comes next. With its gentle portrayal of love and loss and its deep sense of emotion, “Blue”(Roaring Brook, Ages 3 to 6 ) will resonate with readers in a way that is musical, meditative and reassuring.

— Kathie Meizner

BLUE in the WALL STREET JOURNAL

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WALL STREET JOURNAL – Featured Special- September 20
(Click here for full article.)

Children’s Books: A Hue That’ll Make You Cry
By Meghan Cox Gurdon

Laura Vaccaro Seeger slips a considerable degree more complexity into the outwardly simple pages of “Blue”(Roaring Brook, 38 pages, $17.99), a picture book for children who are a step older, ages 3-7. An exploration of the many shades of a single color, “Blue” is also an emotional tour de force that sneaks up on the reader and, when it’s over, all but demands to be read again straightaway.

There’s a clue to the book’s duality on the front cover: What first appear to be random splotches of thick blue paint represent, in fact, a paw print. The paw belongs to a golden retriever puppy named Blue who belongs to a little boy (see right), and as the pages turn, and we encounter one type of blue after another (“baby blue,” “sky blue,” “midnight blue”), the boy and the dog get older. They frisk with balls and balloons and in the surf; they play tug-of-war and go camping. As in her previous color story, 2012’s “Green,” Ms. Seeger uses cut-outs in the pages to artful effect, giving glimpses of what has passed and what is to come.

For many readers, what is to come will be full-out sobs as eventually “old blue” lies without interest beside a full bowl of food—he’s not eating anymore—and then, on the next page, rests cradled and dying in the arms of the boy. Oh, we are blue! Yet death is not the end, for “new blue” and new love come to leaven the final pages of this tender story.

BLUE selected for Society of Illustrators Original Art Exhibit

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BLUE has been selected by the Society of Illustrators Original Art show!
Exhibit - November 7, 2018 to January 5, 2019.
Opening Reception - Thursday, November 8, 2018.

From The Society of Illustrators:
THE ORIGINAL ART
The Original Art is an annual exhibit created to showcase illustrations from the year’s best children’s books published in the U.S. For editors and art directors, it’s an inspiration and a treasure trove of talent to draw upon. For art students, it’s a marvelous opportunity to examine—up close—the work of the best in the field. And for the public, it’s a chance to appreciate the enormous range of creativity in children’s books and to see the printed pages alongside the original paintings, drawings, prints, and collages they represent.

Founded by painter, art director, and artists’ representative Dilys Evans, The Original Art was first exhibited in 1980 at the Master Eagle Gallery in New York City. On display was the work of a wide variety of artists, some well-known and well-loved, some newcomers to the field. The show was an instant success, even receiving a proclamation of appreciation from the mayor’s office, and it has been popular ever since.

In 1990, The Original Art found a permanent home at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators in New York City. It also became a juried event, with a committee of children's book artists, art directors, editors, and publishers selecting the best books from among hundreds of submissions and awarding Gold and Silver medals to the top pieces. 

Featured Special Article about BLUE in Kirkus!

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KIRKUS – Featured Special
Feeling Blue
By Julie Danielson on August 3, 2018

I’m not the first person to say this, but it bears repeating: artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger is one of the most talented creators of concept books for young children, as well as an artist who uses die-cuts in some of the most unexpected and refreshing ways. Her best example of both of these things is Green, which won her a 2013 Caldecott Honor. Coming to shelves next month is a companion book, Blue.

Green was a playful exploration of color (green, of course) and language, which took some abstract turns and delivered, to my mind, a subtle environmental message. (Seeger knows better than to preach at child readers.) At the book’s close, we saw a young boy positioning a green plant in the ground and then, on the next page, the boy as an adult next to a blooming, verdant tree: “forever green.” Readers came away from that book with a reminder that it’s up to us to keep our planet green, and Seeger made that point in a gentle, restrained, and hopeful way.

Blue is a book that Seeger could have taken in any number of directions. It differs in that it has a narrative to share, a tender, emotionally compelling story, carried largely by the illustrations of a boy and his dog. But its structure and execution is similar to Green— we as readers take a look at various creative “shades” of blue, ones imbued with emotion and a sense of play, and Seeger’s thoughtfully-placed die cuts reveal surprises at each page turn.

The book starts out with “baby blue,” and we see a toddler with a blue blanket — and a small, furry puppy sleeping next to the boy. As we turn each page, we see the boy grow, and we also see the bond deepen between the boy and the dog. Seeger attaches evocative descriptors to the blues we see — “ocean blue,” as the boy and dog play at the shore; “midnight blue” as they sleep in the dark on the boy’s bed; “quiet blue” as the boy reads to the dog, flashlight in hand, in a tent at night. Each one of these descriptors and shades of blue are connected to this emotional bond between the boy and his dog.

It is within three quickly paced spreads — perhaps Seeger is trying to spare us prolonged heartbreak — that we see the elderly dog start to tire (“old blue”) and pass away. (Wisely, Seeger sets the tone for the loss, preceded as it is by “stormy blue” and “chilly blue.”) It is here, with the grown boy hugging his dog, that Seeger puts “true blue” to use. Do you have your tissues on hand? It is a poignant, deeply felt moment of emotional weight.

Observant readers will follow throughout the book the presence of the boy’s blue blanket from toddlerhood. It becomes a kind of scarf that the dog eventually wears around his neck. When the boy as a young adult meets and falls in love with a woman with her own beloved dog, one that readers sense the grief-stricken man will welcome into his heart, he has this blue cloth tucked in his pocket. In fact, it is this bright shade of blue that is revealed via the die cut on the final page turn. His dog, though gone, will always be with him.

Seeger puts little to no distance between us, as readers, and the action of this book. It’s as if we are right there with the dog and the boy. I love being able to see the canvas itself through her textured acrylic paints. It all adds up to an intimate book, a bittersweet meditation on love and loss that ends with hope and the promise of a healing heart. Don’t miss this one.

Starred review from Horn Book

★ BLUE
HORN BOOK - September/October 2018

Where this inventive author-illustrator explored both the palette and politics of the color green in Green (rev. 3/12), Blue finds her sneaking up on us with a story about loss, even if at first we think we are simply in for a celebration of all shades blue—“baby blue, “berry blue”—tucked into a portrait of the happy life of a boy and his dog. But as we explore blues both objective (“sky blue,” as the boy releases balloons into the air) and personal (“my blue,” where the boy and dog play tug-of-war with a towel), we slowly understand that the boy is growing, and so is the dog…“old blue.” As in Green, small die-cuts lead from each richly textured double-page spread to the next, always surprising, where the canopy of an umbrella becomes the top of a bird feeder, say, an encapsulation of the larger imaginative leaps being made from spread to spread. When was the last time a concept book made you cry?
- Roger Sutton