Picture books for adults

Why should kids have all the fun?

Children have beautifully illustrated picture books, and book-length comic books, known these days as graphic novels, are popular with teens.

Adults who want pictures plus words have largely been left out.

But there are books out there that will satisfy a reader's visual cravings.

The Ashland Public Library recently acquired Maira Kalman's "Principles of Uncertainty," a book for adults that is a one-year diary of Kalman's life. Richly illustrated with her paintings, photographs and images of her embroidery, the book is shelved in the library's new books section in front of the check-out counter.

Kalman is the author and illustrator of many children's books. She also illustrated William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White's "The Elements of Style." This must-have book of proper grammar, punctuation and style sits on every serious writer's shelf, but with sentences like "Nonrestrictive relative clauses are parenthetic, as are similar clauses introduced with conjunctions indicating time or place," the addition of Kalman's lively, almost sketch-like paintings provides a spoonful of sugar to go with the book's mind-numbing dictates.

But, back to "The Principles of Uncertainty."

While it would be tempting to simply thumb through the book admiring the art, Kalman mixes humor with poignancy in her prose.

She travels to Tel Aviv to visit her aunt and writes, "We sit in the kitchen, but we know where we are. We are in a land fractured by endless conflict. Our history is tragedy and heartache &

to the marrow. But we will have none of it right now. We talk about which cousin is a bigger idiot. (It turns out I'm on the list.) We speak of my aunt's love of Tolstoy and Gorky."

The words overlay a painting of a photo of Tolstoy and Gorky, their faces tinted aqua and colorful dabs of magenta, orange, lime and yellow indicating flowers in the background.

"Here they are in a photo taken by Tolstoy's wife. About a minute later he ran away. He hated her guts," Kalman writes.

Later she travels to Paris and buys a mounted Malaysian walking stick. One page has a painting of the long, delicate legs and body of the walking stick with its see-through stretched out wings. On the next page a man in blue hunches over, wrapping up Kalman's purchase. Exotic mounted insects fill frames on the green wall in the background.

For an adult take on a classic children's book format, the pop-up book, try this one Angela Howe-Decker &

who takes turns with me writing this column &

spotted in the possession of her friend, a psychologist. (When Howe-Decker asked him if he used it with clients, he looked appalled.) "The Pop-up Book of Phobias" by Gary Greenberg explores fears of spiders, dentists, heights, flying and other common phobia-inducing things and events. The outside of the book looks like a medical text, but open it up and a spider and a dentist's drill come popping out toward the reader, and another page provides a vertigo-inducing view off the top of a skyscraper.

This book is a little tricky to find since it's not in the collection of the county library system. But Bloomsbury Books in downtown Ashland has access to the book and can order it for customers.

A stand-up comedian, Greenberg has appeared on Comedy Central and has written segments for Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show. The pop-up designer, Matthew Reinhart, has worked on the Nickelodeon channel kids' show "Blue's Clues" and for the book publishers Scholastic and Simon Schuster.

Along with illustrator Balvis Rubess, Greenberg and Reinhart also created "The Pop-up Book of Nightmares."

Maybe the same question motivated Kalman to stretch beyond writing and illustrating children's books and Reinhart to stray away from "Blue's Clues."

Hey, what about adults?

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