Diane Kredensor's Ollie & Moon. At one level, it's simply a cute puzzle of a picture book, with the offbeat sensibility of much of today's animated TV (the field in which Kredensor has made her name to this point, as an animation artist on shows like Pinky and the Brain and WordWorld). Ollie and Moon, our protagonist cats, are best friends, and since Moon loves surprises, Ollie loves to surprise her; for her birthday, he has a big one planned.
As he leads her through the streets of their native Paris, Moon makes guess after guess about what her surprise might be. But while she is able to find out a lot about it (that it's round, and has both hooves and feathers, for instance), she can't seem to put all the pieces together. Young readers get to guess right along with her, of course, and the ever-longer and -stranger list of descriptions will soon have them giggling; the humor and pacing make this book a perfect bedtime read.
But there's one more aspect that takes Ollie & Moon from fun debut to one of the coolest picture books I've seen this year: Kredensor uses as the backdrop for her illustrated characters real photographs of Parisian streets by Sandra Kress. They’re by no means the first picture-book creators to combine illustration and photography, but the execution is fairly novel—they let the vibrant background images to dominate each page, so the Paris setting becomes part of the magic of Moon's surprise. (The final reveal even makes glorious use of the location.)
It all adds up to a picture book that's not only a lot of fun, but feels like none other out there—the elements of an instant classic. And so far, to our two-year-old, that's exactly what it is.
[Cover image courtesy of Random House; interior photo by Whitney Webster.]