Book Reviews

For a full list of reviews, including recent posts, check out my blog


41k2jawpjhlThe Book of Mistakes by Corina Luyken

When I was six years old my Dad the artist took a blank canvas and scribbled all over it with black marker. It looked awful, it’s intended result. “There’s no such thing as a mistake,” he said, pulling out paints and brushes and getting to work. Two hours later it was a beautiful (if not slightly Avante Garde) portrait of me, his smiling daughter — the transformation of the unintended and the unloved into beauty’s opportunity. As a kid who was a quote-un-quote mistake and a burgeoning artist with an unforeseeably long chain of mistakes lying in front of me, it was an important lesson, one perfectly contained in Corina Luyken’s new The Book of Mistakes.

It’s a simple tale of the book’s drawn illustrations themselves as an errant line becomes the foundation for a new intention and it’s subsequent execution, itself full of mistakes. The first sparse lines and words of the book evolve into a complex scene featuring a rollerskating girl tied to balloons way up in a fantastical tree. The drawings are just light and whimsical enough to make you believe the girl, mistakes and all, is actually capable of flight.

As I read I wondered about Luyken’s process of creating the book. Did she defy the story she set out to tell and map her book out on storyboards, an execution of a master plan? This is what a publisher would require. Or, did she trust in the story she set out to tell, trust that mistakes were inherent in her craft and so sit down and start drawing? If so, did the words come from the illustrations or the other way around? Did she mean to do that? I thought while reading. Maybe, but it doesn’t matter, that’s the point.

Although many would disagree, I believe the best picture books beg you to question the process of their own making. I suppose this should be because their intended audience are immersed in a time of their own making. But as a childless, adult reader I would suggest for your consideration that we all are in a time of our own making. Whether we are artists or not, our life is still coming together, bit-by-bit, and it is us grown-ups that have learned to fear a mistake.

I picked up The Book of Mistakes from the public library and, during the three weeks I had it I read it every single day. Although to be fair, it’s not really a book for reading, but for going through, a little journey that requires the turning of pages. As well as it stood on its own two feet, it’s repetition seemed equally important, like a mantra I hoped to absorb in a deep-down sort of way.

September 6, 2018


Groundwood Logos SpineTokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano & Illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka

The backbone of this story is a classic fantasy plot — a boy, unsatisfied with “normal life,” is given magical seeds that take him beyond a threshold, forever transforming his world. It’s an age-old tale, a hero’s journey, one that young and old, (like protagonist Tokyo and his grandpa), are especially keen to enjoy. Positioned at the ends of life’s spectrum they can see the world simultaneously for what it was, is, and could be. And so it begins, somewhere in the middle, that the land is overtaken by an endless city.

A la William Carlos Williams, the protagonist, Tokyo, shares a name and destiny with his city, the text’s playful personification of it’s setting. But the real poetry of the trick lies in how the images lift the text to metaphor, depicting the “city that has to eat something” as a skyline of spatulas and whisks and pizza pies. The style is modern, a digital collage, and on these urban spreads the palette is grey, a dull reminder that eating and doing doesn’t really have much to do with living, not really.

Tokyo the boy (not the city) lives with his mother, his father, his grandfather and a cat named Kevin in a small house, the latter being the only thing in the story that has not undergone any change, serving as the story’s baseline that weathers drastic changes. Grandpa remembers the time before the city when the house was surrounded by forests and meadows and streams. In step, the palate becomes increasingly colorful.

Tokyo’s imagination of his grandfather’s memories is enough for him to recognize his own fundamental dissatisfaction with the world. Still, he is ruled by his desire to consume, as he chases an ice cream truck down the road. Instead of a treat, the woman gives him magical seeds. He plants them in the only dirt he can find, a tiny patch collecting between two bricks. They are promised to grow into whatever Tokyo wishes them to become.

We never know what exactly Tokyo wishes for except that he dreams of a city that is covered in trees. As the real-life city is overtaken by the fauna springing from the quickly growing seeds, the story takes on a dream-like quality. For me, it is this idea that a wish is best accessed through dreams that is the real bounty of this story, a hidden moral that what we wish is not what we might think we want.

The intended take away is, of course, environmental, not morally speaking, but intrinsically. As the city is completely overtaken by wildlife the grandfather asks with a tinge of concern, “what are we going to do?”

“I think we will just have to get used to it,” Tokyo replies. “Gardens have to grow somewhere after all.”

I love the idea that an environmental ethic is less about activism and more about embracing the wildness of our planet, which means giving up our notion of control. And, perhaps because I am a mountain girl, I love the idea that there is a nobility in nature that prevails over its more traditional, urban ideations.

August 28, 2018