Reviews by Katy Killilea
Way beyond smart and funny, Maira Kalman balances quirky, colorful, mind- and vocabulary-expanding punchiness with sturdy, serious ideas. Gouache illustrations of the minutiae that make life great are immediately recognizable in her picture books for kids (which appeal equally to adults) and her picture books for adults (which are just as worthwhile for kids). Is there any book about 9/11 as gripping and human (and this, while being a children’s book) as Fireboat? Did Strunk and White not feel the absence of illustrations (basset hound, man in striped pajamas, red upholstered chair) in earlier printings of The Elements of Style? And how would we understand life and art without globe-trotting Max, the poet dog? This year has brought a cluster of additions to her joyful body of work. The new volumes are a treat for readers and Kalman admirers of all ages.
And the Pursuit of Happiness is an eye-opening American History lesson. Although it’s a book aimed at adults, based on Kalman’s New York Times blog of the same name, the short, direct text and vibrant illustrations grab the curiosity of any-aged reader. There’s nothing dry here. Did you know George Washington had a dog named Sweet Lips? Or that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was originally described as “…the pursuit of property,” until corrected by Thomas Jefferson? This book starts with the inauguration of President Obama and takes us back to our nation’s beginnings. There are, of course, ample illustrations of women in hats and vibrantly outfitted living rooms.Â
Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) is the companion book to a traveling exhibition of Kalman’s artwork. Paintings, drawings, and sketches give us a peek into her mind and are inspiring to anyone who carries a sketchbook and pencil or who colors at the kitchen table.
A collaboration with Lemony Snicket, 13 Words features Kalman’s illustrations accompanying a very Snickety text. Included among the thirteen words are dog, baby, despondent, panache, and haberdashery. I suppose the publisher had to list an age range for marketing purposes and that’s 4-8. Regardless of age, it’s book that’s impossible for anyone to resist. A trailer for the book offers a taste of the effervescent silly/smart Snicket-Kalman flavor. It’s as delightful as anything any of us will ever read about words.
And the Pursuit of Happiness, 2010 by Penguin Press, $30
Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) 2010 by Prestel $35
13 Words 2010 by HarperCollins $17
The publishers sent copies of these books for review. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews and only features books we have read and loved.