A picture book is more than three-quarters illustration. The remainder is text. When skillfully composed, it is a fast read. The idea is to spend most of one's time on the pictures, while noting the spaces, corner places and other details that make one focus in on each of the illustrations. Well-done picture book art emphasizes the simple narrative and expands it to new dimensions. In Nettie Joe's Friends, we hardly know where the word meanings end and the rich color images begin.
Pigtailed, sweet Nettie Joe is to be the flower girl in her cousin's wedding. She wants her favorite doll, Annie Mae, with her, but Mamma says the doll is "a mess, all tattered and such." Nettie Joe sets off in search of a needle so she and Mamma can dress up the doll. Along her way, she encounters Miz Rabbit, Fox and Panther, who are having difficulties of their own. Nettie Joe comes to their rescue; by story's end, they return the favor.
The book is so good humored, it fairly skips along. Nettie Joe and her family have a country charm and openness that youngsters are sure to enjoy. Author Patricia C. McKissick, whose "Mirandy and Brother Wind," illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, is a 1989 Caldecott Honor Book, has done a folk turn in a gentle, colloquial manner that is comfortably Southern and easy to read. Illustrator Scott Cook's oil paintings are stunning. He achieves a glowing Rembrandt quality using the techniques of the impressionists. There are muted impasto surfaces of light and dark spaces. Nettie Joe, Annie Mae, family and friends are defined with form rather than with detail. The turning edges of clothing are luminous, giving the figures an atmosphere of magic and mystery.
Miz Rabbit is a sight with her flopped-over ears and long, spindly leg strides that never seem to touch the ground. Glowering Panther is a pussycat and high-stepping Fox, a caution. After Nettie Joe gives Fox a hat to shade his eyes, "He eased down to the creek and looked at himself in the dark water. 'Just my style--sho-wa-do-wa-do-wa.' " This is a delightful book, full of peachish midday sun and "moon-washed" night that will spill from the pages into every child's heart.
Balance is again the key to words and pictures in Anno's Aesop: A Book of Fables by Aesop and Mr. Fox. The fun begins when Mr. Fox's son, Freddy, finds an object he's never seen before--a book--and asks his father to tell him about it. Maybe Mr. Fox can't read, or perhaps he doesn't see well. For what he has to say about the fables isn't what they are about or what is happening in the spritely pictures. But this is Freddy's first book and he's none the wiser. Author Mitsumasa Anno has created an ingenious story within a story in which the pictures work for the fables as well as for Mr. Fox's highly imaginative commentary printed along the bottom quarter of each page. The intent is for young readers to make up their own stories about the illustrations, just as Mr. Fox does. "Anno's Aesop" has enough pictures of people, animals and things to delight young readers for weeks, and years to come.
Ardent fans of little Alfie, the featured player in "Alfie Gives a Hand" and three more books about his adventures, will be pleased to know he is back, this time with his little sister, Annie Rose, in tow. What an irresistible sweetheart she is. With her dimpled, plumpy little face and bumpy knees, Annie Rose nearly steals the show in this Shirley Hughes omnibus, The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook. From breakfast to Grandma and her photo album, to picking up Alfie at nursery school, and on to people in the street, to the baby sitter and to The Wedding in which Alfie is to be a page ("What's a page?" Alfie wanted to know. "Is it something in a book?"), we take part in Alfie's playtime and Annie Rose's good-natured scene-stealing. She speaks a private, Annie Rose beginner English: "borra Blodder Doon," her version of "Bernard," the name of Alfie's friend. The book ends fittingly at Alfie's birthday party. This is artful work by Hughes, with a seamless integration of text and pictures. And here is a family that breakfasts together, doesn't mind being rumpled and having the kids splash a little milk on the table now and again. Annie Rose, with cereal in her hair, has a good time with her dribbly spoon until her brother rescues the kitchen from her spills--" 'Put it here, Annie Rose,' said Alfie, opening his mouth very wide and pointing."
If you don't have neighbors like this rambunctious bunch, you can do the next best thing and not miss this book. It's a must for home, on the bus, in school and at the library. Great stuff for bedtime too.