delights us more than when we read flattering reviews of The Red Lemon. We'll add some of
the more special ones as they trickle in.
Bob. The Red Lemon. illus. by author. unpaged. CIP. Random/Golden
Bks. Sept. 2006. Tr $14.95. ISBN 0-375-83593-8; PLB $16.99. ISBN
0-375-93593-2. LC 2005009854.
It's good to be different.
That's true in science and art, and it's the message at the heart
of Bob Staake's latest book, "The Red Lemon." His other
works include the goofy "Hello, Robots" and the comically
dark, decidedly not-for-kids picture book "Struwwelpeter
and Other Disturbing Yet Cautionary Tales by Heinrich Hoffmann."
"The Red Lemon" lacks the grotesqueness of "Struwwelpeter"
(no burning flesh in this one), but the illustrations share a
bright, funny and relentlessly geometrical style.
Red Lemon" tells the tale of jolly Farmer McPhee, a perfectionist
who one day finds a red lemon, a freak of nature, in his pristine
orchard. He hurls the offending fruit onto a nearby deserted
island. Little does McPhee know that he has just planted the
seed that, long after his own orchard has gone to weed, will
be the foundation for the thriving tourist destination Red Lemon
Island. We see the island 200 years in the future, complete with
its own Air Red airline and Bitter End discothèque. Young
children will enjoy the bouncy, rhyming prose, as when a horrified
McPhee exclaims, "When people bite into a fruit that they
chew, they count on it being the right-colored hue!"
quirky and engaging art is the book's true protagonist. Staake
portrays two worlds: McPhee's simple, orderly farm and the funky,
futuristic Red Lemon Island. McPhee's realm is built almost entirely
from symmetrical shapes - circles for his roly-poly body and
for each tree in his vast orchard, and rectangles for his boxes
of perfect fruit. Most images of the lemon trees are symmetrically
divided with a different shade of green on each side. Busy darker
green swirls inside the trees provide dimension. By contrast,
the island is a hip, angular metropolis; though its inhabitants
still have impossibly circular heads, their bodies are stylishly
lithe and always on the go. Where McPhee lived a simple life
among circles and right angles, the island is exploding with
colorful buildings squished and stretched into unlikely distortions.
who doubt the artistic advantages of the digital medium, it's
time to reconsider. Staake's entertaining Web site, BobStaake.com,
reveals some of his trade secrets. Working digitally, he can
adjust background shading or produce a grove of identical lemon
trees with a few clicks of the mouse. (The same lemon tree even
made a sneaky appearance in "Hello, Robots.") The effect
is an über-orchard of flawless fruit as far as the eye can
Red Lemon" is a buoyant read reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, but
with a modern panache. The sad part, of course, is McPhee's short-sightedness
in tossing the odd lemon away. But perhaps the uncomplicated
McPhee would not have liked a red-lemon world so much anyway.
- The New
York Times Book Review
See all 10 of The New York Times Best
Illustrated Books of 2006
Farmer McPhee delights in his grove of lemon trees. Each perfect
lemon is tasty, tart, and, most importantly, yellow. His pride
fairly bursts off the page, as does his outrage when he discovers
a red lemon on one of his trees. He cannot imagine a world in
which lemonade is red and cupcakes are crimson. In a fit of anger,
he hurls the offending fruit across the sea to a distant island.
Two hundred years pass and McPhee's prized lemon tree groves
are replaced by weeds. But on the island, a vibrant city has
grown up around a grove of red lemon trees. As it turns out,
these lemons are six times sweeter than yellow ones, and now
people travel across oceans and seas to get them. Bold, enticing
illustrations dominate the pages. Staake creates a fun, dynamic
world reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's in its sweeping arcs, bright
colors, multicolored cartoon people, and effortlessly rhyming
text. The circles used to create Farmer McPhee and his trees
give the book a polished, graphic-arts feel.
pages filled with geometrically shaped figures tell the tale
of Farmer McPhee and his lemon orchards. The rhyming story begins
conventionally, with an ode to tart, yellow lemons and their
many delicious uses. One day Farmer McPhee, as round as his trees,
is shocked to spy a red lemon. Imagining terrible havoc created
by a differently colored lemon, McPhee quickly throws it over
to an island. Two hundred years pass. The farmer's land is gray,
sere and empty. Meanwhile, the island has become a wonderland
of red lemons. A quirky city has evolved with an economy based
on these fabulously sweet red lemons, attracting people from
all over the world. Staake uses a wide color palette with exaggerated
shapes and people; his geometric forms are vividly cartoonish
and exuberant, yet deceptively simple. Imaginative use of perspective
and the multihued, varying sized text add flair. The energetic
city is filled with visual and verbal humor, and the important
message is subtly conveyed. Pair with some lemonade and perhaps
a muffin, and enjoy the depth of meaning behind this computer-enhanced
visual feast. (Picture book. 4-9)
interested in interviewing author/illustrator Bob Staake about
please contact his literary agent, Gillian
Critics Are Saying About Bob Staake, Author and Illustrator of
"The Red Lemon":
children will enjoy the bouncy, rhyming prose (and) Staake's
quirky and engaging art. The Red Lemon is a buoyant read reminiscent
of Dr. Seuss, but with a modern panache."
-- The New
York Times Book Review
(are) a stylistic collision of Russian constructivism and pop
art, (and) explode with energy playing off of basic geometric
shapes and angles and swimming in saturated colors."
(picture books) are notable for the sophistication of their graphic
design. Simple enough to hold the attention of toddlers, these
colorful, computer-enhanced images are also visually interesting
enough to please preschoolers and parents as well."
modern, crisp illustrations ... practically jump off the page."
art is deceptive -- it looks simple, but one still finds new
things in the illustrations after over a hundred readings."
serendipitous story (The Red Lemon) charms all around,
with its lively rhymes, its bright, sharp illustrations, and
the final surprising twist. Staake has written and illustrated
many critically acclaimed books for children and adults. His
illustrations have appeared in Time, MAD Magazine, and the Washington
Post, and his client list includes Children's Television Workshop,
Nickelodeon, Disney, and Cartoon Network. That comes as no surprise
to readers of The Red Lemon, where his crisp yet effervescent
take on this tangy subject cannot fail to entice both the children
and grownups lucky enough to have this tale burst open to them."
about OTHER books by Bob Staake