The most prolific and talented illustrator in children’s books this year has to be Dan Santat. Known for his comically expressive animals and humans, Santat uses Photoshop to produce illustrations with a graphic designer’s sensibility.
Dog in Charge by K. L. Going features an English bulldog charged with keeping the cats out of trouble while the family is at the store. Five mischievous felines prove too much for our poor hero, who immediately exhausts himself trying to keep up. Retro wallpaper, furnishings, and a muted color palette lend a gentle tone to this madcap tale, full of onomatopoeia like "splash, swish and fwomp". How can this canine ever retain his status as Good, Smart, and Very Best Dog? Santat’s illustrations elevate a good story to an excellent picture book.
Rockin’ heartthrob rooster Elvis Poultry is back in Tammi Sauer’s inspired Bawk & Roll. Marge and Lola, the tailfeather-shakin’ hens from Chicken Dance, have been recruited as Elvis’ backup dancers. But the poor hens haven’t performed anywhere but their home barnyard. Overcome by nerves, they faint! How will they ever overcome their stage fright? Bawk & Roll shows off Santat’s talent when it comes to perspective. On one page it’s as if the reader is part of the packed audience, on another you’re onstage behind Elvis and the girls. And if there were ever an award for best use of light and shadow in a picture book, Bawk & Roll would be a shoo-in.
Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos gives the illustrator a chance to play with fire, literally. To illustrate Susan Middleton Elya's rhyming, bilingual story of dedicated firefighters, Santat turned to some traditional ink and watercolor to enhance his usual Photoshop illustrations. He actually set some pages on fire, scanning the images in order to incorporate them into his work. You can visit Santat's blog for photos and a description of the process. Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos is a must-read for young fans of firehouse tales.