Three Stars So Far

Some reviews for This Is Not a Picture Book! have come out. As usual, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus were the first ones, and they both gave my new book (my first with Chronicle) wonderful, starred reviews. More recently, School Library Journal published their own starred review.

PW writes:

This isn’t a book about books; it’s a book about learning to read. A duckling with a pink beak picks up a fat volume and discovers, in the irritated comment of the title, that it has no pictures. “Can you read it?” asks his sidekick, a bug. “I’m not sure,” says the duckling. “Words are so difficult.” In luminous watercolors, Ruzzier (Two Mice) shows the duckling and bug crossing into a strange, many-colored world, where unfamiliar words are represented as odd machines, blobby shapes, and bizarre creatures. When the duckling stumbles on a word he knows (“bee,” “flower”), its recognizable image pops up among the mysterious ones. Duckling and bug wander through the ever-changing landscape of reading—“There are wild words… and peaceful words”—before landing cozily in bed. Ruzzier’s story offers gentle empathy for kids tackling this intimidating task. Observant readers will note that the endpapers represent learning to read, too; the initial pair retells the story as a beginner might see it, with most of the words scrambled, while the words of the final endpapers read clearly—and no pictures there, either.

And here’s what they think at Kirkus:

A metafictive delight of a picture book.

Alice would be pleased: despite Ruzzier’s title, there are plenty of pictures and ample conversation in this picture book. The titular book within the book, however, is illustration-free. This initially causes distress for the duckling protagonist (who oddly has a bellybutton, but that’s beside the point) who finds the book in the spreads before the title page. When a bug appears and asks, “Can you read it?” the duckling gives it a try. In a brilliant feat of page layout, the recto depicts a green landscape encroaching on the verso, with a log laid across a chasm as a bridge to the white space on which the duckling and bug stand. Their walk across the log is a visual metaphor for the duckling’s successful decoding of the text in its pictureless book. Whole worlds open up to them as the duckling reads aloud. Illustrations depict these worlds evoked by “wild words… / and peaceful words,” and the duckling ultimately declares that “All these words carry you away.” The satisfying conclusion is an affirmation of the transformative power of reading. In one outstanding design touch, the front endpapers tell the not-a-picture-book text in garbled type with transposed letters that one must strain to decode, while the text is clear in its entirety on the back ones.

 

School Library Journal:

In this winsome examination of the power of words, a little duckling is delighted to find a red book lying on the ground. “Where are the pictures?!” the fuzzy yellow bird exclaims in dismay upon opening it up. The duck flips through the pages, scanning the plethora of print, and begins to recognize some of the words. His interest and enthusiasm flourish as he continues, reading words that are funny and sad, wild and peaceful. His imagination takes off, and along with his tiny cricket friend, the duckling is swept away on a fantastic adventure. He tells the little insect, “All these words carry you away…and then…they bring you home.” The straightforward tale is enhanced by endpapers featuring lines of text, which are jumbled in the front and placed in order to relate the duck’s story in the back. The eclectic pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations add color and energy to the narrative. At first, the pictures are set against a canvas of white space and then slowly expand as the duck begins to envision scenes with each additional word he reads. One of the final spreads portrays the duck and his friend safe at home in his bedroom, which contains a shelf crammed with books.

 

 

 

I can’t wait to know what the others think!

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Book Thoughts From Bologna

This year I was one of the five jurors of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Illustrators Exhibition. In the beautiful catalogue published by Corraini, I was asked a few questions on creating picture books and more.

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The five jurors: Klaus Humann, Nathan Fox, Francine Bouchet, myself, and Taro Miura.

 

You have said in the past that there are so many obstacles and taboos when creating children’s books, that you run the risk of censoring yourself. How do you avoid self-censorship?

I was specifically referring to the U.S. market, where all my children’s books so far have been originally published.

I consider myself fortunate to have found such a fertile ground for my ideas and my style, and I doubt that I would have been able elsewhere to make my passion for picture books into an actual profession. I am very grateful to the editors who saw potential in my work, beginning with the unforgettable Frances Foster.

There is, of course, the other side of the coin. Compared to what gets published in other Western countries (Germany, for example, or France, or, perhaps to a minor degree, Italy), American books for children tend to be very tame. There are glaring exceptions, of course, but generally speaking you don’t see books that deal with issues that are considered too mature for the audience: death, sex, war, violence, depression, and so on. When books on such themes do get published, they tend to be heavily weighed down by a predictable message, and illustrated incompetently. There is the widespread belief that children need to be shielded from the reality of life. That, in my opinion, is a huge mistake, and is akin to lying. Of course I’m not suggesting that children’s books should include pornography or gratuitous violence, but if a story calls for it, one shouldn’t shy away from showing unpleasant situations. The risk of self-censorship I was talking about is always looming, and can be difficult to detect.

When writing a story, or drawing a picture, you do feel the pressure to deliver something free of possible controversy, or to make choices based on specific political agendas. But in order to produce the best possible work, the only pressure you should feel is the pressure to be true to your own voice.

 

When creating a children’s book, do you ever have a precise image of your ideal reader in mind?

Absolutely not. I don’t think of the reader at all. I believe that when writers think too much about who’s going to read their book, the result will be formulaic at best.

 

Which illustrated book would you have liked to have authored? Why?

There are so many authors and illustrators I worship and whose books I hold dear. In general, I’m drawn to unusual stories that are beautifully illustrated without trying to impress. I can’t stand authors who follow a trend and illustrators who want to show off without even possessing the appropriate skills. Warmth, sincerity, and irony are the main qualities I always look for in a book.

Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories are among the most profound, funny, endearing books I’ve ever read. The drawings perfectly match the tone of the text, at the same time melancholic and reassuring. William Steig, Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer, Edward Gorey: they all have created wonderful books that keep inspiring and humbling me.

But if I have to pick one single book, it would probably be Wolf Erlbruch’s Duck, Death, and the Tulip. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a death dance for children. It’s original, powerful, sweet, compassionate, sad, comforting. It’s done with such measure and good taste. I would be happy if I could produce something comparable to that book.

 

Quotes on Two Mice

My new picture book Two Mice came out in September. It is making quite an impression among the international intelligentsia.

Here are some comments, and I’ll keep updating as more will come by:

TWO MICE are better than one.“—Walter E. Disney

Sergio Ruzzier’s TWO MICE is mousetastic.” —Beatrix Potter

I just ♥ how in TWO MICE Mr. Ruzzier lets the pictures tell the story.” –Randolph Caldecott

The most learned, acute, and diligent student cannot, in the longest life, obtain an entire knowledge of TWO MICE.” –Sir Walter Scott

“If one cannot enjoy reading TWO MICE over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde

TWO MICE is, like, wow. Just… wow.” —J.M. Barrie

No man remains quite what he was when he reads TWO MICE.”  —Thomas Mann

Within the covers of TWO MICE are the answers for all the problems men face.” ―Ronald Reagan

1, 2, 3, 3, 2, 1… That’s insane! TWO MICE is blowing my mind!” —Leonardo Fibonacci

TWO MICE is fabulous!” —Aesop

A thorough knowledge of TWO MICE is worth more than a college education.” —Theodore Roosevelt

“There was a good book called Two Mice,
That offered this piece of advice:
When leaping o’er cracks
You should never be lax— 
Lest you wind up with less than two mice.” —Edward Lear

“OMG, look at those tiles. The perspective! How does he do it?!” —Piero della Francesca

“Look deep into TWO MICE, and then you will understand everything better.” —Albert Einstein

“I can’t believe those TWO MICE like veggie soup.” —The Subway Pizza Rat

“The first and almost the only book deserving of universal attention is TWO MICE.” –John Adams

 

 

Two Mice

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Two Mice

Since it came out last September, Two Mice has received a lot of attention, including the inclusion in four prestigious best-books-of-the-year lists:

The Horn Book Fanfare

The Washington Post

Kirkus Reviews

The Boston Globe

And here’s what people think of the book (click on the links for the full reviews):

“Ruzzier’s surreal landscapes, personable animal characters, elegant story arc, and profound theme combine into something truly award-worthy here.” –Calling Caldecott

“There’s a lot of drama for a book about counting, but that’s not the only stunner. The world Ruzzier creates with his illustrations is so singular, so extraterrestrial that the pictures give the story a sci-fi vibe.” –The Boston Globe

“What a cute, clever way into number sense.” –The New York Times

“Expressive, mildly mischievous pen-and-ink illustrations in soft colors develop details and drama that the words leave out. (…) The book’s creative focus on pattern in plot leaves plenty of room for readers’ imaginations to play a strong role.” –The Horn Book (Starred review.)

“The simplicity of the text means that the earliest readers will soon be able to pick it up and will return to it over and over. One story. Two mice. Three cheers. Lots to love.” –Kirkus (Starred review.)

“A scintillating combination of danger and comfort.” –Publishers Weekly

“Sweetly satisfying.” —School Library Journal

“Two Mice is a brief master class in the picture book form.” –Nine Kinds of Pie

“The inventively undulating narrative structure, the sherbet-like color palette, fantastic tile floors, countless tiny visual surprises–and last but not least, the comfortingly resilient mouse friendship–make Two Mice a standout.” –Shelf Awareness

“A simple and simply lovely book. A sort-o- counting (well, one to three and back again) book and a tiny adventure story too. Absolutely charming.” –Monica Edinger

“Ruzzier’s counting book is a gem.”  –Waking Brain Cells

“Using pen and ink and watercolors, Sergio Ruzzier assures a place on the Caldecott list this year (well, I think that should happen).” –Sal’s Fiction Addiction

Two Mice is a tiny treasure waiting to be found over and over by readers.” –Librarian’s Quest

Read my interview with Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Read my guest post on the making of the book on Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog.

 

Second Star for Two Mice! (One each.)

Julie Roach writes on the Horn Book:

Using only two-word phrases (“One house / Two mice / Three cookies”) and a simple repeating number pattern (one, two, three; three, two, one; one, two, three), this clever book (with an extra-small, preschooler-perfect trim size) creates a fast-paced adventure for listeners and new readers alike. Expressive, mildly mischievous pen-and-ink illustrations in soft colors develop details and drama that the words leave out. For instance, in the pictures, when the two mice “share” three cookies, the spotted mouse gets two cookies, while the plain mouse, miffed, gets only one. Before long, the mice venture out to sea (“Three boats / Two oars / One rower”), and this time it’s spotted mouse who does all the work, while plain mouse takes it easy in the boat’s stern. Soon the situation grows dire — “Three rocks / Two holes / One shipwreck.” They nearly become a raptor’s dinner before managing “One escape.” The two work together as a team after this near-
disaster, and “Three carrots / Two onions” lead to a final nourishing “One soup” that both mice are happy to share — equally. Sometimes the pattern leaves the reader with practical questions: how did “One nest / Two eggs” hatch into “Three ducklings,” for instance? But trying to fit together all the pieces is part of the fun, and the book’s creative focus on pattern in plot leaves plenty of room for readers’ imaginations to play a strong role.

One Star for Two Mice!

Kirkus says:

The deceptively simple counting story of two mice, their adventure, and friendship. One morning in Ruzzier’s imaginative and colorful world, two mice wake to explore. The tiny window above the bed beckons: water, mountains, and sky are waiting for these two. Starting before the title and ending on the copyright page, minimal text says all that is needed: “One house / Two mice / Three cookies. / Three boats / Two oars / One rower. / One nest / Two eggs / Three ducklings.” New readers will soon notice the number pattern and slow down to see how the droll illustrations extend the story. For instance, the mouse with one cookie has an angry expression and a rather tightly curled tail, while the loose-tailed mouse looks gleeful as it chows down on two cookies. The sunny rowboat scene is not so sunny for the mouse who has to manage the two oars. By the time the two buddies return to their home, all is forgiven when the delicious soup is served. (And, in a visual nod to Sendak, it is clearly “still hot.”) The small trim size and careful attention to details give this book enormous appeal; the decorative floor tiles, ornamental feet on the kitchen table, and mismatched stools fit right in with the red hills and ever changing sky. The simplicity of the text means that the earliest readers will soon be able to pick it up and will return to it over and over. One story. Two mice. Three cheers. Lots to love.

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