Tag Archive | Viviane Schwarz

How to Find Gold


Written and Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

Candlewick Press, 2016

“Let’s find gold,” said Anna.

Anna’s best friend, Crocodile, warns her that finding gold can be difficult and dangerous, but Anna is up to the challenge. He tells her that they need a map, so she asks him to draw one (and put an X on it to mark the gold). His first map puts the gold in France, but they don’t know how to get there. He mentions there could be sunken gold and draws a picture showing gold at the bottom of the sea. They take a boat out to sea and dive into the water near a storm (which was in the picture he drew), where they find a pile of gold. Realizing they need to hide it from other people, they bury the gold and draw a new map (with an X marking the gold). Then they hide the map with the gold, just to keep it safe. It was a difficult task, but now the gold is theirs forever.


Crocodile is a smooth sailor.

Author/illustrator Viviane Schwarz brings all the whimsy in this book that encourages imagination and exploration. Anna and Crocodile are fearless in their quest for gold and they beautifully create and overcome all the obstacles in their path. The relationship between these two is reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes and you are invested in their search from the moment that Anna is overjoyed to hear that the quest will be difficult. Their thought processes are very funny and the book’s conclusion is perfect. The artwork is done in pencil, crayon and watercolor and Ms. Schwarz tells us on the book jacket that she colored the pictures in with a hair from a wild horse and a reed pulled from the Thames. The illustrations feature monochromatic backgrounds at the beginning, which burst into full color as the pair dive into the sea in search of their treasure. I truly loved this book and hope that kids who read it will go on similar adventures of their own.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that even the most difficult tasks can be achieved with a good friend at your side.


A Place to Call Home


Written by Alexis Deacon, Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

Candlewick Press, 2011

What is this?

It is a small, dark hole.

The plot in a nutshell: A group of hamsters search for a new home.

Seven little hamsters grow too big for the mattress hole they are living in and they venture out into the junkyard to look for a new home. Scared of being out in the open, they each find something they can use as makeshift protection (such as gloves or paper tubes on their heads) but for most of them, the protection prevents them from seeing where they’re going. Working together, they cross an ocean, climb a mountain and cross a desert before the junkyard dog snatches up one of the hamsters and runs off with him. At first, the other six feel helpless, since the dog is much bigger. Then they remember everything they’ve accomplished so far and they chase after the dog, using their protection items to save their brother. They find a hole in the wall and see the wide world outside, where they will make their new home together.

This book draws you in from the very beginning, when a hole in the book’s hard cover reveals the group of hamsters (I am going to call them hamsters, although that is never specifically stated) on the inside page. Author Alexis Deacon tells this story almost exclusively in word balloons that tell us what is going on and how the characters are feeling about it. Because most of them can’t see where they are going and also because they are very small, we see what is actually happening and how they perceive it. For example, the ‘ocean’ that they cross is really nothing more than a puddle of water, but you understand how different it is for them.


That teacup makes a great army helmet.

The illustrations, from Viviane Schwarz, are done in ink and watercolor, usually with only a few colors. The protective items that the hamsters wear are always shown in bright yellow, which accentuates the differences in their shapes and how that contrasts with the sameness of the hamsters on their own. The pictures are sometimes in panels that show the action in progression and there are some double page spreads that use full color photographs to very good effect, as well. There are a lot of concepts at work here and I think they all blend together to create a good story that’s lots of fun, with a hopeful and happy ending.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there is safety and strength in numbers and when with ones they love, even little critters can accomplish big things.

Shark and Lobster’s Amazing Undersea Adventure


Written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz, Coloring by Joel Stewart

Candlewick Press, 2006

Out in the sea, Shark told his friend Lobster one day: “Lobster, I’m scared!”

Did You Know?  If lobsters have trouble finding food, they will eat other lobsters.  Sharks can go through 30,000 teeth in a lifetime.

Shark describes a tiger to Lobster and the two of them start building a fortress to protect themselves.  A cuttlefish joins them, bringing her family, a lot of crabs, a piano and lots of rocks, which they use to build a wall. They coax Shark into singing a song and he sings about tigers, which makes everyone realize they are still pretty undefended. They decide to get a sea monster for the outside of their fortress and off they go to find one. They find a huge monster asleep, bring it back and wrap it around their fortress.  When it wakes up, it roars at them and chases them around. The shark realizes he and Lobster are pretty formidable, too, so they really don’t have to be afraid of anything.

Author/illustrator Viviane Schwarz brings a lot of comic quirkiness to this unusual story. Shark and Lobster are excellent characters who show behaviors you don’t expect to see from them, making them believable and likeable right away. The fact that these characters are afraid of tigers (while also being in the middle of the ocean, which is generally tiger-free) is laughably irrational but is never derisive toward the characters who experience them, which is cool. The extremes they go to in order to avoid something that’s not even threatening them at all help show the ways that your brain can do weird things under stress.


I think I’d rather face a tiger.

The story is told in a graphic novel style and you have to turn the book sideways, with the spine on the top, to read it. Although Ms. Schwarz drew the pictures and hand-lettered the book’s speech bubbles, the coloring was done digitally by Joel Stewart, using lots of greens and blues to showcase their ocean environment. The sea monster here is really bizarre looking, with a sort of forked tail in the middle of its head. I liked the ending, when Shark and Lobster realize they are capable of taking care of themselves and don’t really need to rely on sea monsters for protection. This one’s a lot of fun.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that you should avoid putting yourself in real danger just to escape from imaginary danger.