“Mom, isn’t this SO beautiful?”
My four-year-old’s assessment of this illustration, near the beginning of the picture book ALL THE WORLD, was spot on. The color, movement, breadth and grandeur just overwhelmed her - and me, too...
We lingered on this spread of ALL THE WORLD (Beach Lane Books, 2009), by Liz Garton Scanton, illustrated by Marla Frazee, for a long time. Our eyes scanned the rich landscape until we found them: Characters like us, so very, very small, searching for their place in the enormity of the world.
The books of Marla Frazee, winner of two Caldecott Honor medals - including one for ALL THE WORLD - invite us to do just that: Zoom in, and feel all the feelings that each unique moment brings. Then back way up, to see bigger things in motion and understand where we fit in it all.
Being somewhat new to the PB world, I heard Marla Frazee’s name before I knew her books. I could tell she was beloved by many, but I wasn’t yet familiar with her work. After reading more of her titles over the past few years, I knew that at some point I’d be writing this post. There is something incredibly special about this creator, whose honest characters and sweeping art and imprint themselves in your mind and heart.
If you know Frazee’s character “The Boss Baby” - inspiration for the major motion picture - than you know that wit and humor are key elements of her storytelling. True, and oh so much more. Thanks to my wonderful library, I was able to amass quite a hefty stack of Frazee’s books and do a deep dive...
Frazee’s titles keep working their way into our story times and independent reading (my kindergartener is off and running - be still, my heart!). I hope you, too, find your way to these titles, if you haven’t read them all. Your children and students will feel seen and, at the same time, get a broad view of the people and places that comprise the land we call home. They’ll also meet new people and creatures to love, and visit wildly imaginative settings.
(Pssst, you’ll get to do all this, too.)
So without further ado, here are the things I absolutely, positively love about books by Marla Frazee:
Emotional Range and Relational Intimacy
To be alive is to love and argue, try and fail. To beg, to pout, to hide, to relent. Within a given day, we experience all of these things, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an artist capture this range quite as Frazee does. In HARRIET, YOU’LL DRIVE ME WILD! (Harcourt, 2000) by Mem Fox, illustrated by Frazee, the main character (and pesky child) Harriet Harris feels it all…
Frazee brings us close to Harriet, as she does things that we’ve all done. We’ve all made massive kitchen messes. We’ve stood guilty before another and tried not to cry. We’ve fallen into the embrace of a parent and received (and given) grace and forgiveness. The raw everydayness in this book is also on full display in THE SEVEN SILLY EATERS (Harcourt, 2000) by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Frazee.
Lots of picture books capture familiar feelings and experiences, but the very best among them express emotions in ways that delight and surprise with their truth and clarity. Through facial expressions, emotive posture and nimble choreography, Frazee creates indelible scenes worth a thousand words.
A Sense of Community
Who comprises our society? And how do we relate to one another? Frazee knows people, and her art is generous and hopeful about who we can be. In an illustrative range that is heartening in its inclusivity and dazzling in its specificity, Frazee gives all of us equal time and opportunity to be understood. The aforementioned ALL THE WORLD gives a gorgeous, poetic look at community, environment and humanity…
As the mom of a child with special needs, I feel the need for representation in art acutely. Frazee’s books burst with characters from all walks of life. Babies worn by their mothers. Little boys on big wheels. Little girls climbing trees. Couples on benches and riding bikes for two. Parents guiding children. Seniors walking dogs and feeding birds.
The varied ages, races and family compositions that make up our society are enlivened and celebrated in this book, as well as in Frazee’s ROLLER COASTER (Harcourt, 2003) and IT TAKES A VILLAGE (Simon & Schuster, 2017) by Hillary Rodham Clinton, illustrated by Frazee. Her depictions of everyday life capture the love between us when we share nature, music, adventure and dreams.
Cinematic and Imaginative Narratives
There are many joys about being a creator, but I think one of the grandest is the open invitation to follow your imagination and bring forth worlds and characters that have never been seen. It’s something that many aspire to, but it’s so much harder to achieve. In the same way that movies establish aesthetics and premises that completely transport, so do Frazee’s books. THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN (Beach Lane Books, 2014) was the first of Frazee’s titles that I encountered, and it just blew me away...
Like a cinematographer, Frazee works the frame. She gives us every vantage point we could hope to see, and active moments that communicate new information about her characters and firmly plant us in their environment.
In MRS. BIDDLEBOX (HarperCollins, 2002) by Linda Smith, illustrated by Frazee, the artist again pulls us into an unknown place - a home dark, smoky and full of angst. As Mrs. Biddlebox wrestles the fog around her, Frazee’s incredible use of lines sweeps the reader into a kinetic, frenetic swirl. Fog seeps, steams, tangles and folds in wild, beautiful abandon. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Frazee breathing life into this spellbinding book.
An Honest, Spirited Voice
Frazee’s stories are articulated in a direct, clever voice that children and adults alike adore. The precision and restraint of her prose is perfectly complemented by her illustrations, which take the humor of her text and give the moment yet another layer of laughter. Frazee uses repetition, comparison, silence and space with great impact in BOOT & SHOE (Beach Lane Books, 2012), my children’s favorite…
Frazee introduces sibling puppies by first emphasizing all that they share - a home, a bowl, a tree (to pee on), a bed - only to reveal one key difference in their routine, which creates a rich opportunity for conflict. My girls love the back-and-forth compare and contrast in this book, and tracking the dogs through the narrative. It’s also one of the first books my 5-year-old learned to read by herself, which carries lots of meaning to me, of course.
Frazee gets to the heart of the parent-child power struggle with perfect word choice in the picture book heaven that is THE BOSS BABY (Beach Lane Books, 2010). The premise of an infant running the house like a ruthless corporate suit tickles parents, and children relate with ease to the thing the “boss” wants most of all… control. It’s playful, charming, stylish and smart - all of the things that make you want to read a book again and again.
This winter in NYC, I’ll attend a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) workshop led by Frazee, Allyn Johnston and Rubin Pfeffer, who will share their experiences creating “The Picture Book.” As a reader, I can’t wait to hear the stories-behind-the-stories noted above. And as a creator, I eagerly await the chance to grow my craft by learning how they came to be. Thank you, Ms. Frazee, for creating these brilliant tales, which have filled my family’s reading time with hope, understanding and laughter.