David Wiesner Books

Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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Enjoy reviews of some of David Wiesner's books. We've included some old favorites, his new book Art & Max, as well as a couple of titles from which he drew inspiration.

Art & Max

On the heels of a four-year hiatus from author/illustrator David Wiesner, this visual masterpiece dropped into bookshelves in October 2010. In true Wiesner style, simple text is accompanied by intricately imaginative illustrations that keep the eye searching for new details with each read and keep the mind wondering, "How does he come up with this stuff?"

In this book, readers are introduced to two lizard friends who are on different levels of artistic achievement. Arthur (don't call him "Art") is an accomplished painter with little time for nonsense while Max is an ambitious novice seeking guidance in the craft. When Max's enthusiasm to put his paintbrush to use compromises Arthur's very existence, it is up to the oddly matched duo to work together to get Arthur out of precarious circumstances. Wiesner's story gets at more than just creating a piece of art. Lying in wait are the lessons that students can be teachers and that open-mindedness can lead to new avenues of creativity.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

In English, Of Course (Next Issue's Feature Book)

You will enjoy Josephine Nobisso's slice-of-life tale, which is brimming with charm. It's 1955, and rows of students representing cultures from near and far are waiting to introduce themselves to their classmates. When Josephine, a young girl from Naples, Italy, comes forward, she suddenly remembers that she doesn't speak English. But you can't count this spirited and resourceful girl out. With the help of her teacher who serves as her interpreter Josephine uses pantomime, vocal expressions, and body language to convey an unintended but hilarious story. Through the course of it all, we are reminded that conversation is truly an art form and that we do share a common language. Dasha Ziborova's illustrations are stimulating and simply magnifico. This one is certain to be on my best of 2010 list.

The Three Pigs

Leave it to David Wiesner to treat a traditional story like The Three Pigs in ways that are absolutely non-traditional. In fact, the pigs in Wiesner's version of the classic tale throw into question every aspect of narrative stories: plot, setting, characterization.... You can read Wiesner's The Three Pigs to search for his hallmark flying animals and horned dragons, or read it to see the ways he turns narrative on its ear. Either way, you and your students will find yourselves returning to this story again and again as you will discover new dimensions to explore with every reading. This book never gets old!

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Flotsam

This story's main character is searching for flotsam, which means "something that floats," as he combs a beach. But what he finds is much more than he could imagine. David Wiesner's Flotsam enters an underwater world where windup fish swim, turtles carry tiny seashell villages upon their backs, and puffer fish double as hot air balloons. An old-time, washed-up camera is found by the young adventurer and the film inside reveals other mystifying scenes from the ocean's depths. These beautifully illustrated snapshots of creatures in their imaginary world will fascinate young and old alike and invite many new stories to be told. Especially captivating is the series of photographs of other children who have also stumbled upon this camera in the past. Not a word is written and yet this book has so much to say. Open Flotsam and be prepared to enter a territory of intrigue, surprise, and bewilderment. Each glimpse exposes new details and provides wondrous niches where your imagination can rest and contemplate everything you thought you knew about life below the water's surface.

Free Fall

While still at the Rhode Island School of Design, David made a painting which was ten feet long. The painting, described as "shapes evolving into new shapes," suggested to David a story that fully formed itself several years later. In Free Fall, giant leaves metamorphose into swans and chess pieces; they sprout faces and arms and come to life. Buildings crumble into maps and sail away. And in this feast for the imagination, a little boy lives what seems to be an entire lifetime in one night's dream. Free Fall, which won a Caldecott Honor medal in 1989 and inspired David Wiesner to write and illustrate his own books exclusively, will inspire you and the child with whom you share it to use your most important tools, your imagination.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Hurricane

The cat that is on the periphery in many of David Wiesner's subsequent books, began at center stage in Hurricane. When main characters George and David finally find Hannibal during the storm, they bring him in to wait out the hurricane. The morning after, George, David, and Hannibal find that a large tree has fallen in their yard. The three claim the tremendous trunk for arboreal supported adventures of the imagination. The fallen giant becomes their pirate ship, their spaceship, and their friend. "And then it happened." David and George were not expecting what would be obvious to we adults: the need for yard space and firewood that would trump playtime. Based on his own boyhood experience with a storm and a giant tree, this bittersweet story of childhood, ends with a bit of hope and even a touch of humor. Look for some flying fish that surfaced in Free Fall and swim a current through David Wiesner's books that follow.

Night of the Gargoyles (a poem reviewed in poetic verse)

During the night filled with gargoyles,
Wiesner puts down his paints.
Penciled darkness gives
life to Bunting's "stone-tongued"
creatures, who wake with moon
as sun to register complaints
of birds and leaves
and standing still
as stone.

Bunting offers lines of words,
and Wiesner lines of lines, combined
to shape word-pictures and picture
stories, such that we at once
feel disgust, and disdain, and tender-
ness, less, but still. When we are
finished we feel as if we do not know
how to feel. So we must read it
again. Certainly. To discover, our
selves in the gargoyles either
makes them more human or us
more stone.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The Loathsome Dragon

In collaboration with his wife, Kim Kahng, David Wiesner retells this English fairy tale "The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh," in which the maiden is turned into a dragon and can only be saved by her brother who is across the sea. Wiesner and Kahng's version of the tale as The Loathsome Dragon evolved from an internal image, which is similar to the story evolution for June 29, 1999 and Tuesday. David first drew the maiden awakening in her bed as a dragon for a poster for The Original Art, an exhibition of children's book illustration. That image was compelling enough to prompt David and his wife to adapt the story for picture book audiences. The illustrations are lavish, with Wiesner's hallmark attention to detail and color. Find again some of his favorite themes: cats, a dragon, other reptiles, and even a frog.

June 29, 1999

In a science project gone awry, the earth finds itself bombarded with giant vegetables. Filled with alliterative descriptions of flying vegetables, such as "Lima beans loom over Levittown," Wiesner plays with words like he plays with colors. Filled with humor, suspense, and even a mystery with a twist, June 29, 1999 is another David Wiesner triumph. The main character, a little girl named Holly, sends seedlings into space. Eleven days later they fall back down, only this time as overgrown produce. Vermont experiences an economic boon from the excessively large avocados, while the Big Apple is renamed the Big Rutabaga. The experiment gets even more interesting when the Holly finds out that some of the plants that are coming down are ones that she did not send up.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The Biggest Bear

Lynd Ward is considered one of the founders of the American graphic novel. Widely known for his wood engraving, Ward also worked in watercolor, oil, brush and ink, lithography and mezzotint. Highly regarded as a socially committed storyteller, Ward was an early influence on David Wiesner. Although Ward produced over two hundred books for adults and children, it was his first attempt at writing and illustrating a book that won him the 1953 Caldecott. One of the underlying messages in The Biggest Bear is that wild animals can't thrive outside of their native habitat. Despite the different cultural climate surrounding guns and hunting today than when the book was written, the theme that you are responsible for your actions is beautifully conveyed.