Gargoyles to Stinky Pigs


By day gargoyles give dutiful service as grotesque architectural ornaments and working waterspouts. But what happens at night? Writer Eve Bunting’s prodigious imagination--which has produced more than 150 books for young readers--has provided a shiver-inducing answer. According to Night of the Gargoyles (Clarion: $14.95), they “creep on the stubs of feet” and gleefully give a hard time to a watchman at the museum whose parapets they, er, adorn. Bunting’s cadenced prose is full of lovely turns of phrase. No wonder gargoyles seem grim, for example: “There is no space inside their solid stone for laughs to somersault.”

Meanwhile Caldecott medalist David Wiesner has demonstrated wit and offbeat imagination in his accompanying illustrations. Grunting, glowering and giggling, his gargoyles are infused with midnight life and mischief. Working in richly gray and white pastels, Wiesner invests his artful drawings with a sculptor’s weight and substance. In texture, his images are a perfect match for Bunting’s carefully chosen words.

“Carefully chosen” is an equally apt description of the historically appropriate art form--the woodcut--which author-illustrator Gary Bowen has employed in Stranded at Plimoth Plantation, 1626 (HarperCollins: $19.95). After all, as he reminds us in an end-note, this type of engraving was “the most widely used method of making multiple prints in the 17th Century.” The book’s premise is that it is the journal of an imagined 13-year-old orphan, Christopher Sears, who, en route to Jamestown, is stranded in Plimoth for a year. The boy is a budding engraver and the hand-colored woodcuts, which enrich the pages of his journal of daily life in the colony, are offered as his own work. Whether they are his or Bowen’s, the hand-colored pictures are amazingly complex and, given the stiffness of their form, dynamic. Lovingly researched, brilliantly conceived and designed, Bowen’s book brings history to engaging and memorable artful life.


Verna Aardema demonstrated her mastery of the African folk-tale as early as 1976 in the Caldecott Medal-winning book, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.” Her newest work, Misoso: Once Upon a Time Tales From Africa (Apple Soup/Knopf: $18), finds the author still at the top of her form; so is her illustrator, Reynold Ruffins, a professor of art at Queens College. The word Misoso comes from the Mbundu tribe of Angola and describes, Aardema explains, “stories told mostly for entertainment.” Working in pencil and acrylic, Ruffins has captured this spirit exactly in the stylized and amusingly attenuated figures that fill his drawings for these 12 timeless tales.

And last, here are two books for the very youngest: a concept book about color, Pink, Red, Blue, What Are You? and a counting book, One, Two, Three, Play With Me! (Dutton: $3.99 each). Author-illustrator Laura McGee Kvasnosky understands that, when creating books for babies, less is more. Her text and drawings are minimalist, but full of energy and wit. Who can resist a book with a double-page picture of frolicking piglets who proudly proclaim, “We’re pink. We stink!” Not this reviewer!