BookLovers September 21, 2013

Cover of Mother Nature Rhymes
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

BookLovers: A pop-up book for the tablet generation

By Lauren Daley

“Henry David Thoreau, the author of Walden, didn't shun all modern invention to hide from life. He went to the post office where he sent and received letters, chatted away with folks there. He worked in his parents' pencil manufacturing company. He loved the simple life, but he also wrote a very popular — and very public — book about it. So I don't think it's all that out of character for D.B. Johnson — the creator of the award-winning “Henry” children's books, based on the life of Thoreau — to write and illustrate a children's iBook about Mother Nature.

In fact, I think it's pretty brilliant.

Mother Nature Rhymes (2013) is an animated e-book written, illustrated and animated for the iPad by Johnson. It's amazing. A perfect way to teach kids ages 3 to 8, who have grown up with iPads and e-reading, about the beauty of nature in a medium that can grab their attention... READ MORE»

Brain Pickings August 29, 2013

Cover of Henry Hikes to
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg: Lovely Illustrated Children’s Adaptation of Thoreau’s Philosophy, Full of Universal Wisdom for All

By Maria Popova

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard wrote in her sublime meditation on presence vs. productivity. There is hardly a more enduring embodiment of this spirit than Henry David Thoreau, for whom the very definition of success rested on the ability to greet one's day with joy. Yet this philosophy of mindfulness and immersion in the richness of life is increasingly eroded by our culture's cult of productivity, which eats away at our ability to truly see life as it unfolds before us. That's precisely what author and artist D. B. Johnson aims to counter with Henry Hikes to Fitchburg(public library) — an absolutely wonderful children’s story told through Johnson’s vibrant, minimalist, infinitely expressive colored-pencil-and-paint-on-paper illustrations. Based on a famous passage from Walden, it contrasts two different approaches to life — one prioritizing productivity and one worshiping wonder. It tells the tale of Thoreau and his unnamed friend, both cast as lovable bears, who decide to meet in the town of Fitchburg one summer evening, thirty miles away. READ MORE»

The Bob Edwards Show April 24, 2013

Bob Edwards in 2009.

Daniel Pinkwater and Bob Edwards Discuss


Listen Now

In the 1920s a small group of writers, artists, and musicians banded together to form what they termed the Surrealist Movement. They wanted to unlock the power of the imagination through creativity, focusing their work on the unexpected and sometimes downright weird.

And what better words describe our favorite children's book author, Daniel Pinkwater, than an imagination “unexpected” and “weird.” Daniel joins us to recommend two children's books that fit the surrealist bill: illustrator and author D. B. Johnson's Magritte's Marvelous Hat and Brave Potatoes by Toby Speed and Barry Root.


Magritte's Marvelous Hat cover.
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

Virginia Beach Public Library Staff Recommends


The surrealist painter René Magritte, here pictured as a dog, finds a muse in a playful floating hat. Johnson has created the picture book that Magritte might have produced, had he tried this medium. Occasional clear plastic pages alter their surroundings. Visual tricks abound, from hat images disguised to allusions to specific Magritte paintings, so both children and adults are amused. Like Magritte's paintings, the book as a whole challenges our imagination and invites a discussion about what is real and how do we know.

Johnson's simple story is that Magritte the dog purchases the perfect hat which floats above his head, neither mussing his hair nor pinching his ears. The hat delights in playing hide and seek but Magritte is inspired to paint more and begins to neglect the hat. The hat flies away taking the painter's inspiration. First Magritte hunts for the hat, then he enters into the game and hides himself to lure the hat home. READ MORE»

World of Julie July 25, 2012

Title Page of Magritte's
					Marvelous Hat
Illustration: D. B. Johnson


I am so in awe of D.B. Johnson. He wrote the whole series of Henry books about Henry David Thoreau (as a bear), and a very cool book about M.C. Escher, and his illustrations have such a cool modern quality that isn’t all cute bunnies wearing bows and rolling in the clover. Which I appreciate.

His new book, Magritte’s Marvelous Hat is, well, astoundingly good. And very cool. And extremely innovative.

And all of this is leading up to me telling you that my review today on Brain Burps makes me sound a bit like my 12-year-old self explaining why I think Shaun Cassidy is the cutest. I’m sort of breathlessly excited about this book. You know what? I don’t care. So I get breathlessly excited about books? There are worse things to get all worked up about.

You can hear Julie's book review podcast by clicking MP3 or WAV. Enjoy!

Sal's Fiction Addiction July 7, 2012

					chases his hat.
Illustration: D. B. Johnson


"For fun, the hat kept pretending to blow away and Magritte had to chase after it. He had to climb trees and jump over walls. And that afternoon Magritte painted a picture even better than the one before. He began to paint day and night."

Surreal art is beyond my understanding most of the time. That is exactly why I need to read books like this amazing tribute to Rene Magritte. As I read through it once, then twice, then three times, I started to appreciate his particular vision of the world. It wasn't an easy lesson; but, most worthwhile.

"One bright day in the dark of night you look at your reflection in a window and see the back of your head. You try on a hat that floats in the air and leads you to a place where anything is possible and everything is impossible..." This is not the "real" world. You have entered a "surreal" world of visual surprises."
Inspired by Magritte's work, D. B. Johnson has created another masterpiece for his readers. It begins with Magritte's fascination with a bowler hat in a store window. He goes in but something very unusual happens...the hat floats above his head. Turn the plastic overlay page and you are in for a surprise... READ MORE»

WCMU/CMU Public Radio April 25-27, 2012

Magritte's Marvelous Hat Cover.
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

The Children's BOOKSHELF

By Dr. Pamela Gates of Central Michigan University Public Radio


Magritte’s Marvelous Hat, is a delightful look at the artist, René Magritte. Written and illustrated by D.B. Johnson, this story captures the imaginative and playful side of the Belgium artist who is considered one of the greatest surrealists of the 20th century.

Readers are introduced to the world of Magritte as he sees a wonderful hat in a store window, “One bright day in the dark of night…” When he goes in to try on the hat, it pops up and floats just above his head—which stuns the hat maker, but is perfect for Magritte since it won’t “pinch his ears or muss his hair.” READ MORE»

SouthCoast TODAY April 28, 2012

Magritte chases his hat.
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

D.B. Johnson's children's books are marvelous

by Book Lovers columnist Lauren Daley

Growing up in fields and woods of New Hampshire, D.B. Johnson lived in his own world of stone walls, woodchuck holes and swamps.
In high school, he took to Henry David Thoreau, and rediscovered the writer in college, realizing Thoreau wasn't just writing about nature — but about how to live.
"He was saying that if people weren't working so hard to buy stuff, they could spend more time doing what they love. I decided to spend my life doing art," Johnson says. READ MORE»

36 PAGES April 16, 2012

					looks for his hat.
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

Magritte’s Marvelous Hat

Interview of D. B. Johnson by illustrator Craig Frazier

D.B. Johnson has performed a magical feat—he has created a book that celebrates the wondrously surreal artist and work of René Magritte. Magritte’s Marvelous Hat is a tour de force by any measure of contemporary picture book making. Not only is it an homage to one of the most famous artists, it is a magical story that is illuminated by truly transporting illustrations—not to mention the inventive use of transparent overlays. If you like DB, Magritte, illusion, floating fruit, Paris, exquisite book production, or dogs— you must have this book. Mine is levitating off my table at the moment.

D.B. was kind enough to submit to an interview and send along some of his beautiful sketches. Thanks D.B.! READ MORE»

NY Times Book Review April 8, 2012

Cover of Magritte's Marvelous Hat
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

The Imaginative Arts


Written and illustrated by D. B. Johnson

“In “Magritte’s Marvelous Hat,” D. B. Johnson, best known for his series of children’s books inspired by the life of Henry David Thoreau, introduces the concept of Surrealism to young readers by telling a fantastical story about the Belgian artist René Magritte. In this book, however, Magritte appears as a dog. (Johnson also transforms Thoreau into a bear.) In a story seemingly fashioned after Albert Lamorisse’s classic short film “The Red Balloon,” Magritte the dog discovers a magical black bowler much like the one often portrayed in the artist’s paintings. Magritte and the hat become fast friends, wandering playfully through the city streets. As long as the hat hovers over his head, it emboldens Magritte as a painter: “His brush danced and the colors sang.” The book’s greatest appeal, however, is its appropriately wondrous artwork...READ MORE»

BOOKLIST April 1, 2012

Magritte chases his hat.
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

BOOKLIST Review: Magritte's Marvelous Hat

Review by Thom Barthelmess

Belgian painter René Magritte, cast here as a dog, sees in a shop window a “marvelous hat” that appears to float above his head. He buys the hat, and it floats above his head wherever he goes. The two play games, traipsing in and around the streets of Paris, and the hat proves to be substantial artistic inspiration as well.

Rather than trying to explain the surreal, Johnson captures its essence, blurring the line between perception and imagination. As Magritte and his hat have their fun, we see and experience the city through the painter’s originative eyes. Johnson’s crisp, polished illustrations, filled with nods to the artist’s iconic imagery, celebrate Magritte’s clear, almost upbeat absurdity. Four acetate inserts, printed on both sides to transfigure the pages before and after, enhance the curious sense of wonder.

This jovial, peculiar outing is both an accessible introduction to the painter and a winning, nonsensical adventure in its own right. An author’s note offers more information about Magritte, his work, and the surrealist movement.

INFODAD.COM: Family-Focused Reviews March 29, 2012

Cover of
					Magritte's Marvelous Hat
Illustration: D. B. Johnson


Magritte’s Marvelous Hat by D.B. Johnson.

Very infrequently, a book appears that is so inventive, so unusual, that about all a reader can say is, “Wow.” One such rarity is Magritte’s Marvelous Hat, which takes the work of Belgian surrealist René Magritte (1898-1967) as the jumping-off point for a story about a dog like no other and a hat emphatically like no other. In this book, Magritte is a canine, buying a hat from a shop called Les Chapeaux du Ciel (“Sky Hats”). Instead of settling onto Magritte’s head, the hat floats just above it – an image that makes perfect sense in the context of the real Magritte’s odd and well-known paintings of ordinary objects doing extraordinary things or in extraordinary settings. D.B. Johnson’s drawing of the hat fitting appears on a plastic overlay, so one right-hand page (with the overlay) shows the hat maker trying to put the hat on Magritte’s head; turning the overlay puts the plastic atop a left-hand page, where the hat floats as an astonished passerby looks on; and the next right-hand page (the same one as before, but now without the plastic on top) shows the puzzled hat maker in his shop.READ MORE»

KIRKUS Review February 15, 2012

Magritte and the hat pretend to
					fly away.
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

Magritte's Marvelous Hat

Author/Illustrator D. B. Johnson

Johnson recasts René Magritte as a dapper, blue-eyed hound and incorporates the painter’s surreal iconography into a visual tour de force.

Magritte encounters a hat that, when donned, “popped up and floated just above his head.”  Inspired, he hurries home and paints a self-portrait, “his best picture ever.” The black bowler hat (a familiar, recurrent image in Magritte’s paintings) is characterized as a playful muse, engaging the artist in frisky games on walks. When, absorbed in his work, Magritte ignores it, the indignant chapeau flies away. Nine spreads depict an elaborate chase, Magritte first in pursuit, then reversing: “Bet you can’t find me!” Back in Magritte’s studio, the hat lands atop his head and levitates him. Working every day, never neglecting his inspiring accessory, he paints new pictures “better than his best.”

Johnson zealously incorporates surreal elements to tickle both art appreciators and preschoolers. Four see-through acetate pages cleverly transform adjacent spreads. Magritte’s paintings are mined for dozens of images, slyly inserted. During one chase, the hat lands atop a fountain, itself shaped like a giant, water-spewing bowler. On the fountain’s “brim” is inscribed, “This is not a hat”—an allusion to Magritte’s painting of a pipe, famously inscribed “This is not a pipe.” There are levitating baguettes, giant green apples, a monument with Magritte’s birth and death dates reversed—and more.

Arty, amusing and exceedingly clever. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: A blog about books. January 12, 2012

Magritte searches for his hat.
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week, Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring R. Gregory Christie and D.B. Johnson

by jules

In last week’s column, I took a look at some illustrated books I’m eager to see in 2012. One of those books mentioned was D.B. Johnson’s Magritte’s Marvelous Hat. (An illustration from that opens this post.) Even though it’s scheduled to be released in April by Houghton Mifflin (yikes, sorry I’m posting this so early — I just get excited), I was able to see an F & G of the book. And then I contacted Don about sharing some art and early sketches from it.

This playful picture book reminds me of one of the many reasons I love Don’s work: He is not afraid to tackle subject matter in picture books that most people would stay away from. (Case in point: See his response at my ’09 interview with him to the “What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?” Pivot question.) Truly, he always gets me excited about the picture book form....READ MORE» December 6, 2011

Cover of Henry Hikes to
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg

written and illustrated by DB Johnson

A Blog by Tanya

I believe that reading the right book can be a transformative experience. As a mother, bookseller and ardent reader of children's literature, I want to help kids start their reading journey on the right path...I usually work Saturdays, but when I have the day off I make sure to listen to Weekend Edition on NPR where children's (and adult) author Daniel Pinkwater joins Scott Simon to read a picture book. Back in February of 2000, they read DB Johnson's Henry Hikes to Fitchburg and I knew I had to have it. Johnson's art work is amazing but, even better than that is his bear, Henry. Henry is none other than Henry David Thoreau, and Johnson performs the amazing feat of taking events from Henry's life and turning them into bite-sized stories...READ MORE»

BOSTONIA Winter–Spring 2011

Author/Illustrator D. B.
					Johnson in his studio
Photo: Melody Komyerov

Picture-Perfect Children’s Reading

Children’s author–illustrator D. B. Johnson (CAS’66) inspired by Thoreau, Zinn
Story by Rich Barlow, Slideshow by Melody Komyerov

Among Howard Zinn’s lesser-known achievements was inspiring the creation of a talking bear that teaches children the virtues of simple living. Really.

The bear, aptly named Henry, is based on Henry David Thoreau. Zinn, the late political activist and College of Arts & Sciences professor of political science, introduced Thoreau to D. B. Johnson (CAS’66) when he was a student. Three decades after graduating, his career... READ MORE»

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: A blog about books. March 30, 2009

Henry the bear in jail
Illustration: D. B. Johnson

Seven Questions Over Breakfast
with D.B. Johnson

by jules

Here is one of my all-time favorite picture book characters in all the universe. Do you know him, too?

He showed up in 2000, brought to life by author/illustrator D.B. Johnson and his story, Henry Hikes to Fitchburg (Houghton Mifflin)—the first of many Henry stories, we came... READ MORE»