Even when covered in shiny wrapping paper, books give themselves away immediately. As soon as the receiver grabs hold of the gift, they're thinking, "Oh. A book." But when they tear off the paper and see that you've thoughtfully selected a book full of artwork that just happens to have an accessible, accompanying story, you can revel in the smug glory that you won the gift-giving competition this year. Or maybe you're not a passive aggressive gifter and you're just looking for gift ideas for the kids and creative people in your life. Either way, you've come to the right place: Here's a collection of rad children's books by some of my favorite artists, most of them local.
Children's book illustrations are a powerful influence on a young person's perception of visual culture, and they have the power to inspire new creativity in the world. Many contemporary artists cite specific children's books as early inspiration, so giving these books as gifts literally supports the art community of the future, making you a fancy patron of the arts. And if books are mirrors of the soul, these books reflect our true, childlike nature.
The Night Riders by Matt Furie
Furie's artwork is inspired by toys, pop culture, dragons and wizards, so it's only natural that McSweeney's McMullens would publish this work of art, a picture book story about friendship. Furie's Boys' Club zines are full of hilarious teenage boy humor, but this quiet, visual narrative is appropriate for babies and nostalgic for adults. For fans of Furie, the drawings are breathtaking. The book could be considered a contemporary Frog and Toad.
Crabtree by Jon and Tucker Nichols
Tucker Nichols is insightful and witty, and he works with text and imagery to simplify ideas to the point that they ignite complex thoughts. He's collaborated with his brother on the story of Mr. Crabtree, who has lost his dentures among all his eccentric, worldly possessions. The Nichols brothers will be signing copies of Crabtree TODAY, Saturday, November 30, 2013 at Park Life in San Francisco.
Ganesha's Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
Sanjay Patel works at Pixar, creating the artwork for films like Cars, which is loved by nearly all kids everywhere, and his cartoon style translates well into his bold, bright personal artwork and publications inspired by Hindu epics and deities. Ganesha's Sweet Tooth is the tale of the elephant god who breaks his tusk on a jawbreaker, a candy-colored adaptation of the original legend.
We Need a Horse by Clare Rojas and Sheila Heti
Clare Rojas has a few books that could be classified as children's literature and this one, written by Sheila Heti, is the story of a horse having an existential crisis who learns that everyone's purpose is unknown but important. For kids who are scared of the dark, We Need a Horse anthropomorphises nighttime, revealing that it is just as vulnerable as any other scaredy cat.
Trouble at Sugar Dip Well by Esther Pearl Watson
In a two-part series about Jules the cowgirl and her singing horse, Gertie, the heroines try to save the town of Sugar Dip from a water bandit. This book was published over a decade ago, which is probably why, out of all the books on this list, the illustrations look most different from the artist's current fine artwork, but it maintains Watson's smart humor and strong female leads. Watson has published tons of books since the days of Jules and Gertie, and her newest is a limited edition book called Moderskepp featuring a series of otherworldly images created by sticking Gummy Bears and tinfoil on a car windshield, which could also be a great gift idea for kids or creatives.
It Rained All Day by Mel Kadel and ((SOUNDER))
This little gem is a record book and illustrates a song by Kadel's friend and musical collaborator, Mike Aho, a.k.a. ((Sounder)). Sitting down with the book as the record plays is a priceless experience that I detailed back in January here on KQED Arts. Whenever someone familiar with the artist sees this book prominently displayed on my shelf they say, "Mel Kadel has a book?!" Yes, she does. And you need it. Everyone needs it.
Hang Glider and Mud Mask by Brian McMullen and Jason Jägel
I haven't seen this one in person yet, but the reviews are glowing and it's literally a double whammy with two different stories that lead into each other. You can start with the story of Hang Glider, or flip the book over over and begin with Mud Mask, a new, simple twist on Choose Your Own Adventure. Like all of the artists on this list, Jägel's artwork easily lends itself to illustration for young people and kids at heart.