Book Review: A Storytelling Of Ravens By Lukoff & Nelson

Happy May Day! While it is hard to believe May is here, we are thoroughly enjoying the season change. But I am most excited about May 1 because it is this book’s publishing day! I’ve been eagerly waiting for this beautiful book and Groundwood Books generously surprised me with an advance copy last week. I literally squealed when I opened the package. I cannot wait to share it with you! Take a peek at this clever, witty, beautiful, and fun new book: A Storytelling of Ravens by Kyle Lukoff, pictures by Natalie Nelson, 2018. 

I haven’t quite figured out how to categorize this book. In some ways it feels like a collection of prompts or captions. It also reads like extremely short stories – one paragraph for every spread. Ultimately it is wordplay. Surprisingly truthful and completely delightful wordplay.

Did you know that groups of animals have names? We’re not talking about herds or flocks. No, Lukoff introduces readers to shockingly humorous, they should be a joke, honest-to-goodness names for groups of animals. I knew none of these. And if I wasn’t so sure and willing to trust Lukoff and Groundwood, I would have read this book quite leerily, believing it to be an elaborate joke. A “nuisance of cats,” a “knot of toads,” a “sloth of bears”… each and every one is almost more unbelievable than the last.

While the spreads are not actually connected by an overarching story, somehow Lukoff has built the revelation of names to feel like they are escalating to that final “exaltation” thanks to the larks, literally. Each spread is a short phrase. Two lines at most. Line one introducing the name for the group of that animal. Line two packing a hilarious punchline to accessorize the name. They require you to stop and think or else you miss the joke. The humor is dry and brilliant, reminding me of one-liners my grandpa would tell to originally get a good laugh, and eventually earn many “we’ve heard that a million times” groans.

But this book wouldn’t be quite so covetable to me, or enticing to readers were it not for the positively fantastic illustrations by Natalie Nelson. I have a hard time talking about Natalie’s work – one, because I tend to gush; and two, because it feels like cheating since I know her and just want to everyone to buy her books because she’s so freaking brilliant! But I think when you see her work, it’s highly evident that this isn’t just friend-praising on my part. She has been published in the New York Times and the Washington Post and two other picture books… so I can’t just be biased to believe in her illustrative brilliance.

Natalie’s work is gouache paint, ink drawings, found photographs and digital collage. Pieces that are so simple and yet so patterned, precise, and perfectly timed I frequently feel like throwing in the illustration towel and just fangirling whenever I see one. The ideal compliment to Lukoff’s words, Natalie’s illustrations add the visual pop needed to powerfully deliver those chortle-inducing punchlines. While it is hard to choose, I believe my favorite thing about Natalie’s work is the use and placement of eyes. All the side-eyes and knowing glances on the pages get me every time. Her characters are all in on the jokes and loving it.

I highly recommend A Storytelling of Ravens, and yes that is the actual name for a group of ravens. You really can’t make this stuff up, even if it sounds like Lukoff totally did! I think the book is literary genius. Pick up a copy ASAP and wow friends, strangers, and especially too-cool-for-anything kids with your highly entertaining animal group name knowledge.

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