December 1, 2010
I always feel like I owe author-illustrator J. Otto Seibold. Back in my Cookie magazine days, his books ended up as the last cut from our Reviews section on a few separate occasions. (My blog is not exactly a fair substitute for coverage in a national print magazine, I know, but I do what I can.) As I recall, it was Seibold's prolific nature—he seems to come out with a new book annually at least—that worked against him: We always figured we'd be able to get one of his books in eventually. Then the magazine was shut down. There's a lesson there somewhere, isn't there?
At any rate, magazine space-limitation minutiae aside, Seibold's work always stands out among the crowd of picture books. It's mostly about his illustrative style, which is all his own: seemingly retro cartoon–inspired but using vivid colors and lots of marvelously offbeat embellishments. That makes sense, because the themes of his books tend to be pretty offbeat themselves; he's probably best known for Olive, the Other Reindeer, a collaboration with writer Vivian Walsh about a dog who becomes confused by the apparent mention of her name in the Rudolph song (get it?) and heads to the North Pole to become Santa's helper. (It even became an animated Christmas movie, made by Matt Groening and starring the voice of Drew Barrymore, among other stars.)
Seibold's latest, Other Goose, joins the growing group of nursery-rhyme mash-ups and takeoffs that seems to have begun with Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka's The Stinky Cheese Man. Less deconstructionist than its now-classic predecessor, Other Goose leans instead toward the purely eccentric, refashioning the old rhyming stories into new poems that...well, change the focus a bit. Humpty Dumpty's tragedy, for instance, is now about a lost shoe.
But the real draw, as always with Seibold, is the art itself; there's not another illustrator like him working today. (I don't think there really ever has been....) And while his manic, colorful, superbusy style probably won't appeal to every kid, or parent, those who embrace it will spend hours dazzled by spread after spread of visual eye candy, as our six-year-old did.
[Photos: Whitney Webster]