Books

Local author, illustration create fun picture books for children

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Local children’s and Caldecott Award Winning author Jacqueline Briggs Martin pairs up with the highly accomplished children’s illustrator Larry Day for their uplifting (in more ways than one) farmyard tale, “Bim, Bam, Bop … and Oona,” (2019, University of Minnesota Press, $16.95, ages 3 to 7).

Bim, Bam, and Bop are long-legged, fast-running geese that the short-legged, slow-waddling duck, Oona, never can beat to the pond in the morning.

Oona longs to be the first to see the still water and to claim the best resting spot under the weeping willow tree. This daily failure is getting her down.

“I don’t feel as big as a duck should feel,” she tells her frog friend, Roy, who reminds her that she’s plenty big — and, she’s good with gizmos. From Day’s witty illustrations, we see this is true.

Oona uses a bowling pin lamp, ratchets and pulleys and all sorts of seemingly discarded junk in boxes for her one-of-a-kind inventions. Thomas Edison’s quote about genius being 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration applies here.

Oona sets out to build an alarm clock to help her rise earlier than the long-legs, but she still waddles too slowly. She builds a workout machine to strengthen her short legs for speed, but … last again. Not giving up, the third time’s a charm and she invents a magnificent contraption to finally arrive at the pond first — and she shares her triumph with everyone.

Martin’s story and the wonderful character of Oona remind us to appreciate the talents that make us all unique and to keep trying even when we don’t feel big enough.

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Day, an Illinois native, flunked out of his high school art class, proving that not giving up can lead to personal magic. His beautiful illustrations of the lush Midwestern landscape where scenic hay bales dot rolling fields are anything but common.

Upcoming Oona book events with Jacqueline Briggs Martin:

• 3 p.m. today at The Perfect Blend, 224 First St. in Mount Vernon

• 10 a.m. June 15 at The Next Page Bookstore, 1105 Third St. SE in Cedar Rapids.

Another Midwestern treasure in our own backyard is Jennifer Black Reinhardt. The picture book “Gondra’s Treasure” (2019, Clarion, $17.99, ages 4 to 7) is her second collaboration with author Linda Sue Park. Dragon-loving children (or adults), especially those who appreciate lore and history, will love Reinhardt’s latest release.

Park not only creates a sweet family tale, she layers it with the beauty of culturally and racially mixed parents. That helps us learn the differences between Eastern and Western dragons, a topic seldom explored, while illustrator Reinhardt conveys the story in her fanciful art.

Gondra explains that her Western mother breathes fire and flies with wings, and her ancestors lived in caves. They guarded mounds of glistening treasure. Gondra’s Eastern father breathes mist. His ancestors lived in the clouds, commanding the weather at their own will. They relied on their treasure of a large magic pearl for flight. Gondra explores gifts received from both parents in Reinhardt’s humorous illustrations.

Fire comes from one nostril while mist comes from the other. Gondra inherited her mother’s bronze scales and some of her father’s blue-green scales. As Reinhardt delightfully puts it, “ … it’s dragon diversity!” Gondra often asks her parents why they don’t have those old-time treasures anymore, and the answer remains that she is the best treasure ever.

Reinhardt’s style proves fine art can be whimsical. It lends perfectly to Gondra’s family history, shown in lovely parchment scrolls depicting the grand landscapes of European hilltop castles and in a beautiful tapestry panel of dreamy Asian mountain-scapes.

Reinhardt also pays homage to our own landscape as Gondra and her parents soar over patchwork farmland.

Throughout the book, Reinhardt delivers with detail and flourishes. Even designing a special stamp ordered from Hong Kong called a “chop” in which Gondra’s individual’s ancestry is symbolized in a logo incorporating both the Oak leaf and acorn from the West and the Ginkgo leaf from the East in the shape of a “G,” Reinhardt applied amounts of inspiration and perspiration most of us who aren’t artists can’t imagine.

• Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.

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