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[Saturday Reads] Six Overlooked Fiction Picturebooks by Author-Illustrators (..or Could Have Received More Love) in 2015 (Part One of Two)


Myra here.

Widget Handcrafted by Iphigene for GatheringBooks.
Widget Handcrafted by Iphigene for GatheringBooks.

As I was going over the best of the best book lists for 2015, I was surprised to note that these books created by author-illustrators barely made it to a few (except perhaps for The Book of Memory Gaps). Part of the reason may be due to the fact that some of them were published during the latter part of 2015 – and might most likely get a lot more buzz during the first quarter of this year. I am, of course, steering clear of the CYBILS finalists for 2015 – as that will only be shared once the winner has been announced sometime middle of February.


The Book Of Memory Gaps

Written and Illustrated by: Cecilia Ruiz
Published byBlue Rider Press: A Member of Penguin Group, 2015
Book borrowed through inter-library loan. Book photos taken by me.

This book is technically not as overlooked as the other titles I am sharing here, seeing that it’s been featured by Maria Popova as one of the best children’s books in 2015 – precisely the reason why I reserved this book from the library.

We are the things we don’t remember,

the blank spaces, the forgotten words.

This is a picturebook – not just for children, but for any reader who is reflective, thoughtful, and in search of recovered memories, lost thoughts, and the sense of finding something that is not quite there anymore.

The author/artist introduces the reader to fourteen different characters – each one with their own respective stories of spaces-in-between distilled into three or four lines – fifty words or less (see sample spread below).

There is a sepia feel to the art that is muted yet incredibly expressive, angular but full-bodied and rounded in all its dimensions. There is a palpable tinge of melancholia – a seeping quiet that makes me feel very fortunate that I live in a world where books like these exist.

I can see young children who may not have enough life experience to simply be amused by some of the absurdity of the stories and to be intrigued by it – whereas adults would perhaps ache along with the characters and their sense of loss. Take for instance, my favourite character, Natasha:


Natasha constantly has words on the tip of her tongue. She keeps feeling she is about to remember, but they never come. She spends her days searching for all of her missing words.

Imagine being Natasha for a day. How sad would that be. There is a pining for that which is gone, a wistful yearning for a sense of direction for Lucya, a stolen victory for Igor, a missing sense of space and expansiveness for Nadya, a forgotten melody for Pavel.

The book ends with a gorgeous quote from Jorge Luis Borges:

We are our memory, we are that chimerical museum of shifting shapes, that pile of broken mirrors.




Written and Illustrated by: Levi Pinfold
Published by: Templar Publishing, 2015
Book borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

The first picturebook I read of Levi Pinfold’s was Black Dog which was also a CYBILS Finalist in 2012 – turning me into a veritable fan of his art. I immediately borrowed all his other books that I could hunt down from our libraries (see my review of The Django here), and I am so glad to have seen this picturebook displayed in our public library here in Singapore. I would have recognized his art anywhere. It is simply unforgettable.


The premise of the book is simple – a strange green baby is found on Barleycorn land, a farmer takes the baby home, and the baby not only takes over the farmer and his wife’s home, but the entire community as well. While I am not a fan of rhyming text, this one worked for me as it suited the entire vibe of the story – it has that kind of epic, fable-like quality to it where only verse would do.


While initially the farmer’s wife was reluctant to take this greenling in. The fact that it takes nourishment from water and the soil, its atypical appearance, and its primordial-almost-very-basic-and-grounded essence left her standing still in shock (almost rooted to the spot, even – sorry, couldn’t help it):


The story somehow reminded me of a conversation my book club people/colleagues from the university and I once had when we discussed Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything as we mused about the lack of picturebooks that tackle the theme of climate change. While Greenling does not overtly highlight these themes, there are undercurrents of the issues that may be uncovered by a very thoughtful teacher or a reflective parent:


What does it mean, really, to go back to nature, to live on its fruits, to remain firmly planted once more into the earth? This creature, Greenling, nurtures as it takes from the earth – the very soul of sustainability and giving back – as the story weaves a tale of compassion and acceptance, of opening one’s self up to the odd, the unlikely, the otherworldly. Not only is the art exquisite, the story invites conversation, engages the reader to question what is of value, and allows one to look at the world through Greenling’s eyes, even for a moment.



The Whale

Written and Illustrated byEthan and Vita Murrow
Published by: Big Picture Press, 2015
Book borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

I have a special affinity for wordless picturebooks, so much so that we had an entire reading theme devoted to wordless books a few years back. Since that time (2011), so many more wordless picturebooks have been published and I am constantly on the lookout for titles which highlight this predominantly visual aspect of literacy.

Aaron Becker, for one, has been such a champion of wordless books with his Journey trilogy which began with Journey (2013), followed through with Quest (2014)and the third one Return with its publishing date yet to be announced. Then there is also Mark Pett’s earth-toned wordless series with The Boy And The Airplane (2013), and The Girl And The Bicycle (2014) – the latter a CYBILS finalist in 2014.

With that overly-long introduction, it is not surprising that I was very happy to see this picturebook on display in our library one weekend. I didn’t know of its existence, I am not even familiar with the author/illustrator – and when I saw that it was published this year, I immediately grabbed it from the display board.

Like most wordless artists (see Brian Selznick’s strategy in The Marvels), Ethan and Vita Murrow ingeniously made use of newspaper clippings to provide the context of the story which revolves around the 50 year anniversary of a Giant Spotted Whale Sighting that has never been scientifically verified – leading most people to dismiss it as a giant hoax.


But two young people were having none of this and were pretty determined to prove that this beautiful spotted whale indeed exists. They had detailed plans/sketches and they had their equipment ready.


The thing is, they didn’t know each other and by accident crashed into one another out in the open sea.


This is a story of remarkable persistence, dogged determination, and uncommon courage to overcome all odds to get at the heart of knowledge. I was so taken by these resolute explorers and how driven they were by a relentless pursuit for truth. The play in perspective in this picturebook is also quite special and the attention to detail exquisite. Find this and share it with your young readers.


We Forgot Brock!

Written and Illustrated by: Carter Goodrich
Published bySimon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015
Book borrowed through inter-library loan. Book photos taken by me.

It appears as if imaginary friends are quite the trend in kidlit recently (watch out for my review of Imaginary Fred next week). In this story, a young boy Phillip is shown to be very good friends with a burly-looking, almost-pirate-like, full-grown man aptly named Brock.


I like how instead of watching television (a pastime that Phillip’s parents seem to enjoy as evident in the image above), Phillip would rather play with Brock instead. Brock also seems to have very distinct tastes and preferences: he likes beans and spaghetti, rides a fairly-neat-bicycle-looking chopper, and enjoys going on those big kids’ ride at the Fair.


And so, it was quite the tragedy when the family accidentally left Brock behind at the carnival as Phillip fell fast asleep, exhausted, in his father’s arms. I liked how this young boy shows such absolute certainty about the presence of Brock – as if Brock was truly a sentient being. A twist somewhere in the end makes the reader question what is real and imaginary, and whether magic could only truly be seen by those who believe. While not as impressive as the rest of the books shared here, I liked how it touches on make-believe, faith and friendship.


I Am A Bear

Written and Illustrated by: Jean-François Dumont
Published by: Eerdmans Books For Young Readers, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I think of this picturebook as an allegorical tale that touches on themes of homelessness, extreme poverty, and the kindness of strangers. A visually-appealing and deeply-affecting book, the story shows a bear with remarkable self-awareness – yet despite its sentient nature, he remains in a confused state, unaware of how he ended up being the way he is:

I don’t know how I got here…

I have no memory of my life before,

just a few images that flash

before my eyes from time to time,


like the car headlights that

sweep over my bed at night.

All I know is that one morning

I woke up here, on this street, 

and I haven’t left it since.

While the bear tried approaching people in the streets, he soon realized that they generally respond with fear, revulsion, and even the occasional mild violence such as the butcher who chased him to the end of the street with a big sharpened knife. This bear, then, learned how to make himself inconspicuous, to blend into the shadows, and cover himself up with used cardboards – with only his foul smell giving him away.


The bear also gradually came to understand that people only see what they wish to see – with their mind filling in broad swathes of details as they see fit. And just when this bear was resigned to his fate of stench and isolation, a young girl saw him and said hello, asking him a very peculiar question: “Why do you look so sad?”


At once poignant and beautiful, this story is a reminder of the things we fail to notice, people’s deadened sensibilities (perhaps an act of self-preservation, this numbness, but it is what it is), and how little it takes to make one look forward to another day.


Tell Me What To Dream About

Written and Illustrated by: Giselle Potter
Published bySchwartz & Wade Books, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I am a huge Giselle Potter fan, so I am glad to discover this book (published April 2015) that hasn’t been making as much waves as it should have. The story is fairly simple with two sisters who are about to fall asleep, and the younger one asking the older sister to tell her what to dream about, except that the latter’s suggestions always fall flat and backfire in amusing ways.


While there are quite a few picturebooks that deal with sisterhood (the Maple and Willow series by Lori Nichols come immediately to mind and Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall), there are few that show dual perspectives – as this picturebook ingeniously does.

This picturebook approaches perspective-taking to a whole new level as each sister is shown to have starkly-different imagination: whereas one sees cute teeny-tiny animals in rainbow-coloured skies, the other sees annoying, squeaky critters instead:


It drives home the idea that what one sees in one’s eye may not necessarily be the exact same vision that is represented in another. A gentle voice, infinite patience, and the quiet kindness of a big sister is needed to finally arrive at a shared thought, a fused image, a collaborative idea that shows the infinite capacity of the imagination to expand and lead strands of wildly disparate thoughts together and put them to bed.


Have you come across any of these books yet, fellow readers? Do let me know what other picturebooks you believe deserve more lovin’ in 2015.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

9 comments on “[Saturday Reads] Six Overlooked Fiction Picturebooks by Author-Illustrators (..or Could Have Received More Love) in 2015 (Part One of Two)

  1. I’ve ‘seen’ I Am A Bear, but haven’t read it. I did read & review We Forgot Brock, but have not heard of any of the others, Myra, & they sound wonderful. I’ll check to see if our library has them. There are a few picture books I’ve read that I enjoyed that no one talks about anymore, but I’ll need to look at lists to see if they published in 2015. I liked The Plan by Alison Paul & Barbara Lehman, clever with underlying meaning about loss & not giving up. Thanks so much for sharing about these books!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. They look wonderful! Thanks for this list.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Myra! I am intrigued by all of these. I appreciate the time you put into your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great picks! I’ll check them out! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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