#1 - He's quirky
#2 - He's classic.
#3 - He writes actual stories (which you would think would be something of an assumed fact about a book but that is simply not the case!) and, what's more, they are interesting.
I grabbed the stack of Agee books that our library had to offer and managed to narrow down my top two favorites for this post. I think these books demonstrate Agee's writing and illustrating skills very well:
The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau is set in Paris where the Royal Palace is holding a Grand Contest of Art. Felix Clouseau entered his painting of a duck which seemed ridiculous to the judges of the art contest. Here they were being presented with grand masterpieces and to suddenly find themselves staring at a duck was a waste of their time. The judges quickly turn their backs to it only to be caught off guard when the duck lets out a loud, "QUACK!"
Clouseau, of course, wins the grand prize because there isn't another artist on earth who can bring his subjects to life in the same way! He then became famous which is to be expected of a man with such skills. The king himself commissions a painted from Clouseau and a painting called, "The Sleeping Boa Constrictor" was born. Chaos ensued the night that the sleeping boa awoke from its slumber. A few of Clouseau's paintings begin to wreck havoc and the troubled artist lands in prison. However, he is released and restored to his state of honor once one of his paintings manage to save the day! This is a charming story and I highly, highly, highly recommend it. I doubt I could recommend it more highly, truly. It's going on my Amazon Wishlist. Fantantastic book.
I think The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau demonstrates Agee's ability to write an original, creative and complex story that is suitable for younger children. The storyline is compelling enough to keep an adult interested and yet there really are no more than two sentences per page making it an easy book for younger readers to dive into also. The illustrations make me think of World War II with the heavy use of gray and black and "block" figures (for lack of a better way of describing them). This book has the mystery and intrigue that is Paris and yet is completely accessible to all. Very nicely done.
Nothing has a slightly more simplistic feel to it but I think that has more to do with the illustrations than the storyline. Again, the story has adult appeal as well as child appeal. This book opens with an introduction to Suzie Bump, the richest lady in town. She enters into an antique store with an intent to buy. The trouble is, the store is empty. With money to blow, Bump asks the store owner, "Now, what's for sale?" The answer? "Nothing."
Bump has never bought NOTHING before, but she happily shelves out $3,000 for just that! A whole lot of nothing!
I thought this book did an excellent job teaching that it doesn't matter how much money you have, your life can still be empty. Things do not satisfy. For awhile, you might think living simplistically with "nothing" will satisfy. However, even then you might have to ask yourself what in life really matters.
This book prompts good conversation with little ones and I really enjoyed it.
As for the man behind the stories, Agree grew up in New York with an artistic mom who encouraged him to be creative. Hijacked from his website, he says:
I went to college at The Cooper Union School of Art in New York City, where I met a lot of interesting people. I took up painting, sculpture, lithography, photography and filmmaking, but the thing I loved most was sketching out cartoons and comic strips in my spare time.
Some of his work has appeared in The New Yorker and The Wallstreet Journal. You can definitely get a feel for his love of cartoons The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau.
Agee is also a fan of word play and created a series of books to highlight that love affair. (I can't say I'm one for word play so I enjoyed his "straight" story pieces a little more.) His love of words has led him to write the lyrics for two off-off-Broadway productions. His book Ludlow Laughs did not meet with great initial enthusiasm but after being picked up by Reading Rainbow, it stayed in publication for twenty years! I think Agee has quite a bit that he can be satisfied with in the area of creativity!
If you'd like to learn more about Jon Agee, visit his website. You can also read a series of 20 Questions that Agee answered to the amuse his fans.
Answers.com also has a great deal of information about Agee if you just can't get enough!
Definitely pick up some Jon Agee books next time you are at your local library. I think that you will not find yourself disappointed!