Picking my favorite author and illustrator of picture books would not be easy for me, but I could make a fairly short list. Included on this list would be the dynamic duo of Philip C. and Erin E. Stead, husband-wife author-illustrator team. Imagine, then, my absolute delight when I realized that they had published not one but two books recently with at least one of their names on the covers!
Lenny and Lucy is written by Philip and illustrated Erin. It is the story of a boy who moves with his father nad his mop of a dog, Harold, to a new house on the other side of some “dark unfriendly woods” and “the other side of the wooden bridge.” No one is happy about this move, and everything about the story–from the color scheme to the body language of Peter, his father, and Harold–communicate this. Peter is frightened and alone, so he does the only thing he can think to do, which is to make a behemoth out of pillows and blankets and give it a name and title: Lenny, Guardian of the Bridge. Lenny performs his job for one night before Peter notices his loneliness and makes him a companion out of leaves and names her Lucy. Lenny and Lucy make a formidable pair and alleviate Peter’s fear, but it is when neighbors make the first tentative forays toward friendship that Peter’s family’s dilemma is well and truly solved. This is a story about loss, loneliness, and friendship. Like all good picture books, this one is subtle, and I’d even add another descriptor to this one: sensitive. Erin Stead’s artwork is gorgeous and evocative, which is all I’d ever expect from her. The choice of muted colors–greys for the woods and houses, with just a touch of color here and there, perfectly captures the mood of the story. Philip Stead’s prose is just as lovely–sparse and intentional. If you’re in need of a cozy, heartwarming story as the weather turns cool, look no further. (Roaring Press, 2015)
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin E. Stead is just a lovely, lovely story. It’s the story of a man who’s nameless–he is only known as The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, and although he has “a job of utmost importance,” he is lonely. He takes his job seriously–uncork bottles found at sea, read their messages, and find their intended recipients. However, he never finds the message he most longs to find–one intended just for him. This changes in a delightfully heartwarming and poignantly humorous way one day when he reads and attempts to deliver an anonymous message. Cuevas, a new-to-me author, writes prose that positively sparkles: turns of phrase like “glint of glass” and figurative language like “loneliness as sharp as sharp as fish scales” and “the waves tipped their white postman hats” make this a delight to read aloud. Couple that with Erin Stead’s exquisite woodblock prints (finished with oil pastels and pencil), and my, oh my–what a gorgeous book. I shared this book with my middle school bookclub at our co-op, and they were rapt with attention. If I’m gushing, it’s just because I love and adore this book. Don’t miss this one. (Dial, 2016)