On Picture Books, Maira Kalman, and (Yes) Copyright Pages

Not only is November the month in which my birthday falls, it’s also National Picture Book Month, which has set me to thinking about one of my all-time favorite picture-book people — the wonderful Maira Kalman. I had the pleasure of meeting Maira, and working with her a little, as a senior editor for Viking Children’s Books.

In a good picture book, text and illustrations combine with seeming effortlessness to create an absorbing, mind-opening experience for a young reader — even if s/he isn’t yet fully capable of “cracking the code” of the letters and words. It’s a sublime balance of form and function.

Maira Kalman’s marvelously inventive gifts really shine in the picture-book format. I’ve long felt that her artwork, with its playful use of color and perspective, provides kids with a fantastic organic introduction to the manifold varieties of art. When my son Max was little, we spent many happy hours together enjoying Stay Up Late; Hey Willy, See the Pyramids; Chicken Soup, Boots; What Pete Ate; and more.

There’s one particular aspect of Maira’s work that absolutely delighted me, in an icing-on-the-cake way, when I first got to know her books while at Viking: how she utilized the traditional “dead zone” of the copyright page.

Who reads copyright pages? Pretty much only the folks who are putting them together. (In previous publishing jobs, that had been one of my responsibilities.) Everybody else breezes by. Boring!

But look what Maira did:

The copyright and first page of Maira Kalman's "Hey Willy, See the Pyramids"

The copyright page and first page of Maira Kalman’s “Hey Willy, See the Pyramids.” You can see how she blurs the old-school boundary between the two pages.


And this from Max Makes a Million:

The copyright page and first page of Maira Kalman's "Max Makes a Million"

Pure gorgeousness! Don’t you find yourself actually wanting to read the text of the copyright?

These are just two examples of her out-of-the-box mindset.

And here’s the postscript to this brief homage. Years later, when my surfy book Dude: Fun with Dude and Betty was in production at HarperCollins, I thought of Maira and asked my editor, Maria Modugno, if we could, well, tweak the copyright page. Bless her heart, she said yes.

So, gleefully, I “translated” the standard language into surf-speak. Matt Warshaw, the renowned surf journalist and author, very kindly vetted it. Here it is (in a large image, because the joke resides in the words):

Copyright page for DUDE: Fun with Dude and Betty by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Tom Dunne (HarperCollins Children's Books)

“Like, all rights are totally reserved.”

I was, in a word, stoked.

I’m not sure how many of Dude’s readers have noticed, really noticed, the copyright page, but it made my day to see this recent post by “The Old Wolf” about Dude.

Most excellent.



More from the awesome Maira Kalman here.

And, surfer or not, check out the equally awesome Matt Warshaw on Twitter.