April Showers & May Flowers Bring Summer Reading into Full Bloom: Picking a Picture Book Favorite with Jose Aruego
Melinda T. Falgoust
Spring has sprung and now summer is blooming with a myriad of summer reading programs available through local libraries and many bookstores, large and small. Whether sponsored by a small independent or the larger chains, the programs all have a common goal: to get kids reading.
But, what about the reluctant reader? The late bloomer, so to speak? Fortunately, the garden if children's literature is full of delightfully engaging tales which are certain to draw in even the most apprehensive of young readers with brightly whimsical illustrations and gentle text.
One such tome which should be in every one's summer reading bouquet is Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus and illustrated by Jose Aruego. It's a sweet story about a little lion who hasn't quite come into his own, but Mother Lion sits by patiently, knowing that her little lion will bloom when he's good and ready. "A watched bloomer never blooms," she advises Father Lion.
The simple, yet endearing text of Robert Kraus makes this a great story for beginning readers and works beautifully as a read-aloud, but is perhaps made even more endearing by the wonderfully bold and colorful illustrations by artist Jose Aruego. Leo marks Aruego's first collaboration with Kraus. The two appear together again in Little Louie, the Baby Bloomer, another engaging, brightly illustrated tale and Whose Mouse Are You? along with several others.
Mr. Aruego's work draws readers in with his selection of bold colors and simple lines that allow the whimsy of his signature style to come through. His illustrations are easily recognized across his body of work which spans over fifty, many co-illustrated with his ex-wife Ariane Dewey.
Born in Manila, Mr. Aruego was a bit of a late bloomer himself. His original career path was in law. In fact, not only did he attend law school, he even passed the bar and briefly practiced. But, his heart was not in it. No, Jose did not truly bloom until he began to study art in New York and began to feel the draw towards children's literature. In fact, one of his mentors was Leo Lionni who many might recognize from the children's classics Swimmy, Little Blue and Little Yellow and Frederick.
Together with Robert Kraus, Jose had a way of making a story personal, his characters sharing expressions that all readers have experienced at one time or another. This personalization carried over into his personal relations. He had a distinct way of making each interaction special, in a beautifully, hand-calligraphic personal correspondence or in the individually created illustrations drawn for each attendee to one of his many lectures at writing conferences and book fairs.
I was fortunate enough to meet Jose at a conference before his passing last August. There he created one of his porcupine characters on transparency and handed one to each participant with a smile and a wish of success in our endeavors (we were all aspiring writers/illustrators). Inspired by his words, this late bloomer has kept plugging away and has garnered an award for my middle-grade adventure novel The Gubbins Club: The Legend of Charlie's Gold at the New York Book Festival (Release Date: July 5, 2013). Insert Snoopy dance of joy here.
In honor of Mr. Aruego, readers can participate in the giveaway below for a chance to win the following: a framed copy of a Jose Aruego original illustration; a paperback copy of Leo the Late Bloomer; a brightly-colored watering can filled with flower seeds, gardening gloves, and an ever-blooming faux flower for year-round smiles. May they serve to remind us all that in following our own path, everybody can bloom. Thanks, Jose.