Author-illustrator Elisa Kleven has become a big favorite around our house.... She has a magical style, with stories of children living in the world of imagination and innocence, luminously illustrated in a style that matches the sense of wonder in her text. Kleven's artwork is very distinctive, a folk-art style that mixes pencils, watercolors and collage, it seems influenced by Latin American art, with miniature worlds-within-worlds that will appeal to the imaginative kind of kid who can sit for hours and hours playing make-believe with teeny-tiny objects. In her kaleidoscopic work, Kleven also shows the vibrant life and cultural diversity that has made the San Francisco Bay Area famous... Most of all, it's the power of possibility and new perspectives that makes her work such a delight -- if you are encouraging artistic thought and creativity, you'll want to check out these books!






Elisa Kleven Bibliography
Books By Author | Books By Title | Main Index





Elisa Kleven: Stories & Art

"Ernst"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Tricycle Press, 1989)

Elisa Kleven's first children's book, in which we are introduced to her lively, detail-packed graphic style, as well as to the recurrent character, Ernst the blue crocodile. Ernst is a dreamy, freespirited little boy who lives in a world of willful imagination and endless possibilities... On one special day he asks fanciful questions all day long and goes to sleep and dreams of oceans of fudge and flying to the stars, then wakes up the next morning to have a wonderful birthday... The book introduces Kleven's trademark style, full of kooky curlicues, zillions of dots of color and delightfully distracting details... The story is a little daffy (I like other Kleven books better, this is still good...) but it's also quite charming, especially if you like dreamy kids. One slight problem arises in the reintroduction of the Ernst character a few years later in the book, The Puddle Pail (and later still in 2006's The Wishing Ball...) It's a wonderful book, and it's fun to see Ernst again, except that there's a continuity issue with the introduction of Ernst's older brother, Sol, who was nowhere to been seen in this first story. Was Sol away at summer camp? Military school? Boy Scouts? And why do I get the feeling that I'm the only one worrying about this stuff? Anyway, this is a sweet story, and a nice introduction to a character who later stars in two great books. Worth checking out. (B)


"The Lion And The Little Red Bird"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1992)

A sweet story about art and creativity, told in Kleven's dense yet joyful graphic style. An inquisitive little songbird sees a lion with a green tail, and follows the lion around, trying to figure out where the color came from. Each day the tail's color changes, and the bird becomes more and more curious... It turns out the lion is painting a beautiful mural in its den, and when the bird is invited in, and sees the pretty pictures, she adds her own art to the project by singing a beautiful song. A lovely, magical story with a relatively complicated plot and thoroughly entrancing artwork. Nice introduction to this delightful storyteller's work. (B+)


"The Paper Princess"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1994)

Another winner; one of Kleven's best-known and most magical stories. Here, a young girl creates a beautiful paper doll and is trying to figure out how to add the finishing touches when a gust o wind sweeps her creation away. The paper princess embarks on an epic journey, making her way back to the little girl with the help of a sympathetic bluejay and a kind young boy. The story is quite fantastical and fairytail-ish, presenting the paper doll as a living, thinking being that can talk and be understood by others. The happy ending makes this a lovely, self-contained story... You may want to decide whether or not to continue on to the two sequels, in which the paper princess is irrevokably separated from the little girl (and meets a new friend named Lucy...) Perhaps this lovely story by itself would be enough. (A)


"Hooray, A Pinata!"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1996)

Another great book -- the first one by Kleven that we read, and still one of our favorites! A young girl named Clara wants to have a pinata for her birthday, and invites her friend Samson along to go to the store and help her pick one out. She picks a small pinata of a dog, but winds up using it as a surrogate pet and becomes sad that it will have to be destroyed at her party. So Samson goes back to the shop and buys her another, larger pinata, thus giving her two gifts (and getting the pinata that he would have chosen instead!) A lovely tale about friendship, this has less of a fantastical quality than Kleven's other books (no one flies anywere, and the character are humans), although the ornate artwork is still packed with detail and vibrant life. San Francisco Bay Area locals will recognize their environs right away, with a compact view of the City and the Mission District, where the pinata comes from. A delightful story that will ring true on many levels. (A+)


"The Puddle Pail"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1997)

A sweet story about a young boy with an artistic imagination (Ernst the blue crocodile, who we'd met earlier in Kleven's first book, Ernst...) Ernst goes for a walk with his older, more literal-minded brother, Sol, who is into collecting stuff like feathers and rocks and sea shells. Sol encourages Ernst to start a collection, too, but Ernst wants to collect magical things, like clouds or stars. He finally decides to gather up a bunch of puddles, because he can see so many other things inside their reflections -- a puddle can have flowers or clouds houses in it, as well as being all watery and wet. Ernst gathers different "kinds" of puddles together in one pail, and later uses them to stir his watercolors to life, when he wants to paint the things he saw. A lovely, allegorical celebration of artistic vision, creative thinking as well as the fun of doing things you like, even if other people think they're silly. Nice relationship btween the two brothers, too: Sol doesn't really get what Ernst is up to, but he isn't mean about it, and tries to encourage the younger boy to enjoy himself. Also, more of Kleven's delightfully detailed, kaleidoscopically colorful artwork, with plenty of stuff going on in the margins to capture the eyes of readers of all ages. This is one of my favorite Elisa Kleven books... Highly recommended! (Reissued by Tricycle Press in March '07.) (A+)


"A Monster In The House"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1998)

An amusing tale of sibling revelry... It all starts when a family moves into a new house and the son meets the girl next door. He asks if they can go to her house to play, and she says no, because they have a monster there that's fast asleep. She describes the monster -- how it yells, and throws things, and sucks its own toes -- while the boy imagines a more and more terrible boogieman. It turns out, though that the "monster" she's talking about is her baby brother, going through typical infant behavior... Not only that, but she loves the little guy, and "monster" is an affectionate nickname. A nice treatment of the sibling theme, with more of Kleven's kooky, chaotically detailed artwork. (B)


"Sun Bread"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 2001)

The mystical side of breadmaking is explored in this ode to baking, nature and the interconnectedness of everything. Great artwork, and a nice hippiedelic message, but the text itself seems a bit belabored, and not as effective dramatically as Kleven's other work. Nonetheless, this is one of her best-known and best-recieved works. It might be better for older kids... and kids whose parents do more baking than I do. (B)


"The Dancing Deer And The Foolish Hunter"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 2002)

A deerhunter learns a moral/spiritual lesson when he tries to capture (and tame) a dancing deer he found in the forest... The deer can't dance in captivity, though -- it's inspiration comes from nature, and the hunter's capitalist plans come to naught. We haven't field-tested this one yet, because I don't want to tell my daughter about the hunting and killing of wild animals. It's just too grotty and cruel, so I'm avoiding the topic for now. For an older kid, though, this would be a great book. The sentiment is right, but we're just not ready for the subject. (B-)


"The Paper Princess Finds Her Way"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 2003)

Hmmm. A perhaps-lamentable sequel to Kleven's first Paper Princess book. The original had a magical, fairy-tale quality to it; this volume is a bit clunkier, and more downcast. As you may remember, the first book was a heroic homecoming journey, with the windblown, optimistic paper doll finding her way back to the little girl who made her, after several anxious but uplifting adventures. It's a very complete, full-circle narrative, and probably it would have been best if Kleven had left it there, but instead the Princess character is revived to show us yet again how life's ups and downs can be met with an open heart and a cheerful air. It begins with the girl who created the Princess growing up and forgetting about her -- she drifts away again, and it scooped up by a baby who spills juice on her ("A new color!" the Princess thinks, with characteristic optimism). The baby's father rescues the doll, putting it on a shelve with some other toys the child will be old enough to use someday. Here, we're treated to a passage that reads like pure cant, as the fancy toys and the ones that have batteries or various bells and whistles make fun of the simple, plain paper doll... She flies away again, and is found by a girl who gives her orange wings, and from there is whisked away by a flock of migratory monarch butterflies, who spirit her off, all the way down to Mexico, where she finds yet another nice little girl, and ends up staying with her. I found the writing forced here, and felt that there was just too much stuff being crammed into one book. Plus, the opening passage is just such a bummer, especially if you loved the first book. I suppose it's a parable for how kids grow up, and parents have to let go, etc. Still I wouldn't recommend this title for younger readers: I screened it ahead of time and decided to keep it out of our book queue. I thought the original story was just right. Older readers might get more out of this than I did, though. It's certainly worth taking a peek to see what you think. (C+)


"The Paper Princess Flies Again"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Tricycle Press, 2005)

Having migrated to Mexico along with the monarch butterflies, the Paper Princess settles down with a girl named Lucy, who loves to hear the Princess's stories and gives her a new companion, a little paper dog, to share her adventures. Eager to find new stories to tell their girl, the two cut-outs hit the road and have a dizzying series of escapades and scary encounters. Riding a red magic carpet, they catch a breeze that takes them over to a grabby little boy... From there, they are chased by a coyote, sail a tumbleweed across the sea, accidentally get stuffed into a pinata, and are finally reunited with Lucy, who had been sulking ever since they disappeared. I thought this volume was more cheerful than The Paper Princess Finds Her Way, but there's also a hurly-burly, kitchen sink quality to the narrative that makes it a bit overwhelming. A ten-year-old who's really into the series might enjoy this, but younger children may find it hard to follow. Still... it's nice to see the Princess enjoying herself! (PS - I suspect that these stories, this one in particular, might make great animated cartoons... Hey, Elisa -- any thoughts in that direction?) (C+)


"The Wishing Ball"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2006)

(-)


"The Apple Doll"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2007)

A complex narrative from the fantastically-minded author-illustrator Elisa Kleven. This shares a similar theme to Kleven's "Paper Princess" triology -- the intense love of imaginative children for their make-believe companions -- but it's also an issue-oriented book that's more rooted in the "real world" than Kleven's earlier work. A young girl named Lizzy is anxious about starting school and decides to bring a handmade doll from home as a surrogate friend. It's an apple-head doll that she made with fruit from her favorite tree, but instead of bringing her comfort, it puts her right in the sights of her new schoolmates, who tease her and tell her that her doll is weird. Lizzy gets the message, and after the first day she leaves the doll back home, although she still feels isolated and has no friends... Kleven indulges in a little wishful thinking when she has Lizzy's dollmaking later win over all the kids in class -- they see how cool apple dolls are and all want to make one themselves, and Lizzy obligingly shows them how. I'm not sure I really buy the sudden happy ending, but this is still a nice book... Like many of Kleven's characters, Lizzy is a sweet little dreamer, a vulnerable loner whose innocence you desperately don't want trampled by the other kids. And, as always, the artwork is enchanting, jam-packed with details and wonder for the world around us. Also included in the back of the book are handy instructions for how to make an apple doll of your own, a treat for arts'n'crafts-minded readers. (B)




Elisa Kleven: With Other Writers

"B Is For Bethlehem"
Written by Isabel Wilner
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1990)

(-)


"Abuela"
Written by Arthur Dorros
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1991)

A nice bilingual picturebook story about a little girl who loves hanging out with her grandmother (abuela) and has a great fantasy adventure with her, where the two of them pretend to fly all across the island of Manhattan, visiting family and friends, and seeing the sights. The artwork is fantastic -- Kleven's folk-art approach already has a strong Latin American component, and she is a perfect match for Dorros's text. This is followed by Isla, where they visit family in the old country. Nice stuff! (B+)


"Snowsong Whistling"
Written by Karen Lotz
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1993)

(-)


"The City By The Bay"
Written by Tricia Brown
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Chronicle Books, 1993)

(-)


"De Colores And Other Latin American Folk Songs For Children"
Written by Jose-Luis Orozco
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1994)

(-)


"Isla"
Written by Arthur Dorros
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1996)

A sequel to Abuela. (-)


"The Magic Maguey"
Written by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Harcourt, 1996)

(-)


"Diez Deditos And Other Play Rhymes And Action Songs From Latin America"
Written by Jose-Luis Orozco
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1997)

(-)


"City Of Angels: In And Around Los Angeles"
Written by Julie Jaskol & Brian Lewis
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1999)

(-)


"Our Big Home"
Written by Linda Glaser
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Millbrook Press, 2000)

(-)


"In Every Tiny Grain Of Sand: A Child's Book Of Prayers And Praise"
Written by Reeve Lindberg
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven, Various Artists
(Candlewick, 2000)

Kleven is one of many artists who add their work to this book of inspirational poems... (-)


"Fiestas: A Year Of Song And Dance From Latin America"
Written by Jose-Luis Orozco
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 2002)

(-)


"The Whole Green World"
Written by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005)

A love-of-nature and love-of-the-world-around-us book with a giddy, hippie-ish vibe that is nice, but might not be for everyone. Kleven's detailed, expansive patchwork quilt-ish artwork is ideally suited for the playful, celebratory tone... Great book for the right families. (B)


"Angels Watching Over Me"
Written by Julia Durango
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Simon & Schuster, 2007)

(-)




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