Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Calico Jungle and Farmyard Alphabet, Dahlov Ipcar

I've raved about Dahlov Ipcar's children's books before.  The Cat at Night is an all-time favorite because of the knockout illustrations and the subject matter itself (your cat's adventures while you sleep).  So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review two more of her books.  Both are unique in their own way.

The first is The Calico Jungle.  It's a story that is illustrated with quilt prints in retro colors making up the body of the animals, as well as vines and flowers.  My son has enjoyed it several ways.  First, the storyline, and then it became an "I Spy" sort of activity as he looked for the different animals that are hidden throughout, ordinary animals in a calico print.  The colors are not typical children's book colors: instead of primary or pastels, the colors have a milk-paint opaque look that feels vintage.  According to a representative of Islandport, Ipcar actually has a quilt in her home that she used for inspiration, and at one point she envisioned the book being cloth.

The story itself is of boy who is given a quilt lovingly made by his mother, covered with animals.  That night he is transported into dreams of all the animals and their adventures.  It occurred to me that if my son was younger these pages would have looked gorgeous framed and as part of a nursery theme.  Dahlov Ipcar's illustrations are never cutesy or sacharine sweet-they are just simple and clear.  And how is it that the face of a calico camel can show emotion?  I'm not sure how she does it, but we love this book.  And as always with Islandport Press, the book's pages are heavy and bound beautifully-a book I can easily see saving as an heirloom.  In terms of age-appropriateness, my three-year-old easily enjoys the story and is likely to continue to enjoy it when he learns to read, so I think it would be fair to say it could go from a lap reader to a school-age child.

The other book is called Farmyard Alphabet, also by Dahlov Ipcar.  This is the first of her books to become a board book, and it has similar qualities in the unique vintage colors that she uses.  The illustrations are done in a European folk art style, simple but not cutesy.  Ipcar is unusual as a children's illustrator in that she uses the color black occasionally to great effect.  Most kid's books seem to avoid black, and I'm not sure why.  But the colors of the varying animals pop against the squares of black that alternate with other colors in this board book.  The theme, obviously, is the animals in the farmyard.  Geared towards babies, and non-toxic of course, my son still enjoys reading it despite his "I not baby" status.

These books were received as Review Copies from Melissa Kim at Islandport Press. 

(Per FCC regulations, I have to tell you that.  But receiving them has no impact on my review, for as you can probably tell, I am a huge fan and have been long before I reviewed for them.  Dahlov Ipcar's books are the ones that I purchase as gifts for new babies regularly and they never disappoint.)  

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