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How are you doing, guys? We’re fine, except when we stumble upon social media – so we basically don’t do it anymore (seriously, if you want to contact us, send us an email, not a Facebook message). We’re sitting at home, of course, but it’s nothing unusual for us (we barely notice, except we’ve moved our gaming night online). We wanted to give you some fun activities to do during house arrest but regular work got in the way so instead we searched our bookshelf for a book with something fun to do when sitting at home and voila! Let’s Bake by Clara Lindström and Annakarin Nyberg, illustrated by Katy Kimbell and Li Söderberg.

This cute book presents a number of recipes for simple sweets that can be made at home with children. The results are photographed but the ingredients and instructions are charmingly illustrated, which helps keep the kids interested and involved. Truth be told, we bought the book for its visual aspect and haven’t tried any of the recipes yet but maybe now’s a good opportunity.

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Hang in there, people, this too shall pass. Do something fun inside!

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Our recent library trip yielded yet again a lovely find: a book we’d already seen online but now had a chance to read. Eileen Gray: A House under the Sun is a graphic novel written by Charlotte Malterre-Barthes and illustrated by Zosia Dzierżawska. It tells the story of a modernist artist Eileen Gray, who was a designer, decorator and also an architect of a house in the south of France called E-1027. Her influence on modernist architecture was almost forgotten and now the memory is being rekindled. The story focuses on the building of the house but recreates other periods from Eileen’s history and teases her scandalous conflict with the much more famous Le Corbusier.

We are particularly impressed by the work Zosia Dzierżawska did on the comic. We have been fans of her simple, classic style and faultless coloring for a while, and they work particularly well in this nostalgic story. She expertly mixes moods, and gives us glimpses of Eileen’s life without the impression of ever trying to be voyeuristic. The emotions and personal relations feel real. The strong control of composition and the lack of affect compliment perfectly the subject matter of modernism.

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(Here‘s the house in question for reference.)

(Also, we heard Ms. Dzierżawska at a conference once and she seemed a perfectly lovely person so we’re happy her work is so good we can say only nice things about it.)

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We did flake a little at the beginning of the year (sorry!) but December exhausted us completely. We’re back! We’re back with another lovely book, this time by Isabella Bunnel. The book is called Disappearing Acts and it shows endagered animals of different habitats in lovely, painted search-and-find spreads.

Each spread has a unique color scheme, a richness of details and patterns and a sad message: among the variety of well-painted animals from a different terrain, the reader is asked to find some which are literally disappearing.

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Further pages describe the animals and explain the reasons for their endangered status (spoiler alert: it’s mostly environmental damage and loss of habitats).

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The activity part is easy – our four-year-old found all the animals fast – but the lovely, detailed illustrations still invite careful study. The book is educational, too, with an important message. It manages to match the kind of activity to the theme well (the animals are difficult to find because they are fewer and fewer – makes sense). And, most of all, the painting style is so charming and confident.

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Another trip to the library brought us (and J) another lovely book by Britta Teckentrup. (The previous one is here.) This time we returned with Tree, which tells the story of seasons through a tree in a forest and the animals that live within or near it. The book has a poem commenting on the seasonal changes but it’s really the illustrated part that grabs your attention. It has lovely depictions of animals in their yearly cycle (foxes are, unsurprisingly, our favorites) and a generous use of die-cuts, which make the book more playful. But we are, perhaps, most impressed with the color palettes used for every season (and particularly autumn).

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The owl in its hollow is always in the centre of the tree – and of the book – while the forest around it changes. (Below the minimalist, and lovely, endpaper.)

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Winter snowy mystery (wonder if we’re going to get it this year).

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Spring lushness (our personal favorite real-life season).

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Summer night with its richness of life.

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The beautiful autumn.

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And here we go again.

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As we enter the season of the year that we tend to unreasonably grumble about (it’s cold and it’s gray, guys), this reminder of the beauty of every season comes as very welcome.

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During one of our recent trips to the library our son, who’s got a good eye for books (mostly, I mean; he gets distracted by popular franchises), picked out this little treasure we’re sharing today: The Egg.

The book is written and illustrated by the wonderfully talented Britta Teckentrup (whose work we didn’t know before) and it tells all (well, a lot) about eggs in a style that manages to be both informative and artistic. J loved all the facts about different kinds of eggs, particularly the really large ones. We loved the art, its combination of minimalism and humanism (not an easy thing to pull off). Together we had quite a few fun evenings with the book before the time came to return it.

“Egg collections.” Throughout the book the use of texture and color is marvelous.

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“Egg colors”

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“Inside the egg.” This gave J a pause.

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Size comparison.

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The biggest egg ever. J loved this fact.

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There’s an interesting section on nests.

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A section on eggs not laid by birds.

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And one about the meaning of an egg in art and religion. While J leans towards natural facts, we enjoy the cultural angle.

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What are your favorite lucky finds from the library?

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Last week died Bohdan Butenko, one of the great Polish illustrators. His work was truly unique. It was one of the staples of our childhood reading experience because he created and illustrated so many books (allegedly over 200). The Polish People’s Republic was not a great time in Polish history in many ways but the talented illustrators who worked then certainly made it a little brighter, Butenko being one of the most joyful of them.

His style is very easy to spot, with several characteristic features:

  1. Simplicity. The simplicity is often deceptive because frequently finding the kind of shortcut he was so good at is the hardest thing to do. But his drawings are certainly recognizable by the scarcity of details. (It is also tempting to try to copy this if you’re the kind of kid who spends their days with crayons and pencils.)
  2. Bold lines. His drawings were always executed in thick, black lines which enclosed the forms.
  3. Flat colors. He often created in black and white but when he used colors, he did it confidently.
  4. Humor. One of the most endearing qualities of his work, he always tried to make the subject matter funny and lighthearted.
  5. Text interpretation. Rather than drawing literally what the text said, Butenko usually added a little story to it in his illustration, often making it funnier.
  6. Hand-written words. He had a nice way with letters, too. He often used comic book balloons and combinations of various lettering styles (always pretty simple, though).
  7. Good sense for layout. He wasn’t the kind of illustrator who leaves the picture for someone else to fit into the text. Instead, he often designed the whole arrangement of the elements on the page, usually drawing inspiration from comic books. Some of our favorite of his books include layout design which sort of comicsifies the text. (Not a word, I know.)

We have photographed Butenko books from our collection to illustrates the points above but mainly to share his work with you and maybe to inspire you to dig further.

This is our childhood fave, Butenko’s interpretation of classic children’s poems by Jan Brzechwa. He takes the already fun poems and makes them so much more exciting, particularly by turning them into a sort of comic but also by his visual interpretation of some of the stories.

Title page. (The cover went missing many years back.)

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“How to Talk to a Dog”

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“Ram” and “A Hole in the Bridge”

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Sometimes Butenko illustrated for adults, too, This is his version of Philip Zimbardo’s classic on shyness, with the humorous illustrations making the theme much lighter. A hand-written cover is also a Butenko thing.

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“Get a very becoming haircut…”

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A children’s book about two cars dancing together. Pretty much a comic. (A favorite from my brother’s childhood, he was always into cars.)

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A book on geometry for children, notice how Butenko handles the page layouts.

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An interpretation of Kipling’s story about the domestication of a cat. This is a little bizarre but very interesting in its combination of the slightly somber, old-fashioned fairy tale with Butenko’s visual wit and energy. Also, the pagination is awesome.

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This is an example of his work for small children, telling stories without words through one of the classic characters he invented.

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And one more Brzechwa poem, this time laid out into an entire cardboard book.

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This is his work for older children, with black and white illustrations, a sort of action adventure tale.

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“…international bandits…”

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Do you have a favorite Butenko book? Or a favorite childhood illustrator?

 

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Sorry for the short hiatus but we’ve had a few deadlines and we took a super short vacation: we spent a weekend in Warsaw. While there, we visited the Type Directors Club exhibition in the Polish-Japanese Academy. The show was really small (it’s held in a lecture room) but we found a few interesting typographic designs that we wanted to share.

Below: Menil Collection Identity by Kristen Chon.

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Complexity and Simplicity by HDU23 from Mainland China. This was lavishly printed with silver on black, which the photo doesn’t show but which really made the poster (this and the strong, clear composition).

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Pango by Osborne Shiwan. We always like the combination of type and stylish sports photography.

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Julliard School identity (fictional) by Karlo Fuertes Francisco. Type that (almost) sounds.

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This poster by Srishti Jain from Savannah College of Art and Design immediately drew attention.

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And finally some strong-as-always type posters by Paula Scher for Shakespeare in the Park. This only seems to get better with time.

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If you in the area, drop by the exhibition and see for yourselves; it’s a short but interesting stop.