Monday, September 26, 2011

William Joyce's Guardians of Childhood series

William Joyce entered the picture book scene in the mid-1980s with George Shrinks and Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo.  Although all of his books are inventive and entertaining, two more of my favorites came in the 1990s, Bently & Egg and Santa Calls.  The 2000s saw Joyce spending a lot of time in Hollywood, working on his TV series Rolie Polie Olie (based on his books), designing for major studios, and producing feature films.  I feared that Joyce would never return to original picture books.  Thankfully, I was wrong!

Beginning this fall, Joyce is releasing a major new series that combines picture books and novels.  The Guardians of Childhood develops "origin stories" for beloved figures such as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and more.  The first book in the series, a picture book called The Man in the Moon, is gloriously beautiful.

Joyce does not write for idealized carefree children living what adults view as an idyllic existence.  Joyce knows that even happy children have fears and concerns about their world.  Joyce creates fantasy worlds where scary or sad things happen, but children (or their animal counterparts) are strong enough to find ways to cope.  In Bently & Egg, Bently the frog loses his duck friend's egg, the equivalent of a human babysitter forgetting where she put the baby.  This potentially frightening concept is leavened by the caring nature of all the characters Bently encounters in his quest to regain the egg and in the unwavering affection Kack-Kack the duck shows Bently.  The premise of Santa Calls is that a little girl whose parents have died writes to Santa to ask that her older brother pay attention to her; in essence, to love her.

The theme of loss is present in The Man in the Moon as well.  The Man in the Moon started life with loving parents and a dear friend Nightlight, who watched over him.  A terrible attack on the family's space ship by Pitch, the King of Nightmares, leaves MiM without human companions.  Moonbots, Moonmice, and Glowworms love and protect the baby as he grows.

Joyce's artwork is simply stunning.  Drawing on the visual style of early films and classic cartoons, Joyce arrives at images that are familiar enough to seem comforting, yet are uniquely his own.

The novel, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, incorporates the story of the Man in the Moon into a much larger narrative.  I am looking forward to seeing how Joyce has imagined the series as a whole and how each part will relate to the others.

For a special family gift this holiday season, look no further than The Guardians of Childhood series.

The Man in the Moon is available now; Nicholas St. North is coming Oct. 4, 2011; both are published by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster--Lucinda Whitehurst.

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