In this splendid retelling of Aesop’s familiar fable, a country mouse leaves his bucolic existence to sample the glitz and glam of the city, only to discover there’s absolutely no place like home.
Country mouse “live[s] a quiet life among the seasons.” He is perfectly content until his “fine, sleek” town cousin comes to visit, criticizes the mud and dangerous wildlife (a sleeping fawn, in the illustration), and boasts about the city’s “rich, exotic foods.” Urging his cousin to see the wonders of the city for himself, town mouse departs, leaving country mouse discontent and with “a longing for new sights and sounds.” Country mouse hitches a ride to the city, where he discovers electric lights and towers of glass and stone. His cousin’s apartment is indeed luxurious and the food delicious, but country mouse soon yearns for the simple pleasures of home. The elegant, simple text contrasts the natural beauty of the countryside with the artificiality of the city. Sumptuous watercolor illustrations enhance the rural/urban juxtaposition with luminous close-ups of country mouse immersed in the seasonal flora and fauna of the English countryside and overwhelmed by the “noise and bustle and hum” of a 1930s-era city at Christmas. The richly detailed illustrations invite and reward close inspection.
In this variant of "The City Mouse and the Country Mouse," two dragons learn to appreciate each other’s talents and milieus.
Sophisticated East Dragon lives in the emperor’s palace with eight siblings. He dabbles in brush painting; a double-page spread of his family reveals skills ranging from sushi preparation and Kabuki performances to landscaping and storytelling. Whimsical caricatures hint at desktop Zen sand gardens and Pueblo storyteller dolls, anachronisms creating an additional level of enjoyment. West Dragon’s habitat is a “boy cave.” Surrounded by a tricycle, soccer ball, television set and books, he endures regular intrusions by the king’s knights: “Nothing made a cave smell nastier than roast knight.” While the dragons snub each other from their respective corners of the world, truth be told, each fears the other. It isn’t until West Dragon’s plot to distract the bothersome knights backfires, and he nearly drowns at the hand of marauding pirates, that their paths cross. Having just admired his counterpart’s great wingspan and ability to fly, East Dragon swims swiftly to the rescue. All ends very well at a party complete with karaoke, pizza and a piñata. Eversole’s spare narrative mixes tongue-in-cheek exaggeration, childhood fears and adventure, inspiring Campbell to contrast the rough and the refined, designing detailed watercolor worlds brimming with humor and beauty.
This primer on friendship wrapped in hijinks is paced for maximum pleasure.
(Picture book. 3-7)
With text that begs to be read aloud and sumptuous illustrations made by a master printmaker, this picture book reads like an instant classic.
Jacket art populated by several animals that appear in the story establishes the Asian jungle setting: A toothsome tiger lurks, while a loris, mouse and frog cower on front and back boards. The palette is rich with shades of brown, green, orange and bluish-gray, and the cover’s scene carries over on to endpapers that show Tiger stalking Frog. The chase continues across frontmatter pages until the first spread reads: “Frog fell into a deep, deep hole. Ribbit-oops! Ribbit-oops!” Dramatic visual perspective captures Frog’s fall, and the following spread shows Tiger settling in for his next move on his prey. As Tiger waits, a speech balloon heralds the titular cry, “Oh, no!” Clearly, Frog is in trouble, and on ensuing pages, several animals make rescue attempts, only to fall into the hole as well. Finally, a trumpeting, stomping elephant arrives and uses its trunk to save almost all of the trapped animals: Tiger (who had tried to get to the animals with dinner rather than rescue on his mind), falls into the hole on a prior spread, and after the elephant’s valiant rescue, they all cry “Oh, no!” when he cries for help.
Oh, yes! This is a terrific new picture book.
(Picture book. 2-6)
This gem about canine siblings goes from peaceful routine to funny mayhem to erroneous bereavement—and relief.
Littermates Boot and Shoe are small, white dogs with black tails and fur flopping over their eyes. Only their leg coloring differs, giving rise to their names. Boot spends daytime on the back porch, Shoe the front, a habit “perfect for both of them”; they share supper bowl, dog bed and a specific tree for peeing on. Gouache and black pencil create warm vignettes and sturdy spreads with a vibe both lively and mellow. Creamy, speckled paper matches organic, hand-lettered text. One day, a chattering squirrel gets “all up in [their] business,” and the dogs go berserk. To symbolize two dogs and one squirrel in a mad dash, upward of 80 squirrel figures race around the yard and over the roof with a similar number of dog figures in hot pursuit. Post-chase, exhausted, each dog finds himself on the wrong porch. Tragically in sync, they circle the house simultaneously to find each other, preventing their own success. Each progresses from patience—hunger, rain, waiting overnight—to true grief, sure the other’s gone. Dog posture, value and composition create poignant pangs—and stunned joy as the dogs reunite when (and where) nature calls. Frazee conveys painful and soothing depth with ease, which is especially impressive given that Boot and Shoe’s eyes can't be seen.
Read unhurried, in a lap, again and again.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Day by day, brick by brick, a community is built in this winning tribute to fellowship and family.
Across a golden prairie, a family of pigs heads west. Their small actions grow in significance as bricks become a house, beloved paraphernalia create a home, neighbors are welcomed and friendships begin. With each handsome spread, the author rephrases the proverb she was inspired by: “little by little, the bird builds its nest.” Words flow on a curvature that matches the lyrical nature of both text and artwork. Sophisticated, digital illustrations done in a pastel color palette dazzle the senses, allowing readers to feel the vastness of sky, the heat of summer; to smell the scent of flowers and fields; and to hear the slow dance-floor melody as they safely drift to sleep. Gal skillfully employs the computer to create a handmade, collage aesthetic. Through her application of textures, she creates a world that’s rich in pattern, color and, most of all, love. As pigs gather around a table, under a festive tree at twilight to enjoy the bounty they have grown, they give thanks.
A luminous celebration of family, food and home.
(Picture book. 4-9)
Readers check in on Mr. Wolf every hour of his birthday, but it seems like the poor guy just can’t catch a break on his special day.
Four-and-twenty blackbirds wake him up (at 7 a.m.), asking him the titular question. His grumpy answer? “It’s time for blackbird pie.” His porcine neighbors keep him from a snooze by slamming their doors on their way to work (“time for bacon sandwiches”). And the day continues in this vein: The letter carrier (a girl in a red hood) skips his house, his cupboard is bare, it rains on the way to the store, and every hour, fairy-tale and nursery-rhyme characters check in on Mr.Wolf, asking him for the time. But readers won’t need to ask for the time. A marvelous mix of timepieces is scattered throughout the text and includes analog and digital clocks of all sorts: a sundial, a pocket watch, a wristwatch and a cuckoo clock, among others. By the time the hapless birthday boy is awoken from his nap by a fiddle-playing cat, observant readers will have guessed the “surprise” ending. But the time-telling practice and literary references aren’t even the best treasure here. Gliori’s watercolor-and-ink illustrations are both detailed and delicately executed, charming and wowing at the same time.
There is much to enjoy here, and the illustrations and allusions beg for repeat readings.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Following Penny and Her Song (2012), Henkes delivers an even stronger slice of anthropomorphic mouse life for beginning readers.
The story opens with Penny chatting amicably with her mother in the garden. Penny smells the roses while Mama weeds, and then the mailman delivers a package from Gram. Inside is a doll for Penny, with a note reading, “I saw this doll when I was shopping. I thought you would love her. I hope you will.” And, she does. The fly in the ointment is Penny's struggle to name the doll. Her parents make suggestions, but none seem right, and they reassure her, “Try not to think too hard…Then maybe a name will come to you.” Sure enough, after taking her doll on a tour of the house and then into the garden, the perfect name arises: “[T]his is Rose!” she announces. Henkes always excels at choosing just-right names for his characters (see Chester, Wilson, Lilly, Sheila Rae and, of course, Chrysanthemum and her “absolutely perfect” moniker), so this story seems particularly at home in his oeuvre. The familiarity of Henkes’ mouse world, as well as expertly paced and controlled storytelling for new readers, mark this as a new classic, earning Penny a firm place alongside the not-so-creatively-named Frog, Toad, Little Bear and that celebrated Cat in the Hat.
The tenderness a child feels for his new puppy seeps from the pages of a book sure to be instantly beloved.
“I carried him in my old baby blanket, which was soft and midnight blue, and we were new together and I was very, very careful not to slip in the snow and I thought about his name.” Charley Korn is the puppy; the young narrator is Henry Korn. Hest’s stream-of-consciousness sentences are interspersed with short, declarative statements and bits of dialogue, creating a dreamy, lyrical cadence. Oxenbury’s pencil-and-watercolor illustrations are infused with softness and warmth, depicting the loving bond between boy and dog. Even the design of the book, with text and pictures set within wide borders on each page, inspires a feeling of intimacy. Once home, Henry shows Charley around ("This is home, Charley") and recounts his parents’ expectations, including the one where Charley will sleep in the kitchen—alone—forever. Henry dutifully arranges Charley’s bed, but the nighttime crying begins. After the second rescue, Henry shows Charley his room, where Charley wants to be put on Henry’s bed—or so Henry interprets. Thus the two spend the night, predictably the first of many, cuddled together.
Be forewarned: Youngsters will find Charley as irresistible as Henry does and will no doubt beg for puppies of their own.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Who wouldn’t want to put on a monster show in a big, cardboard box or pop bubble wrap at rapid-fire speed?
After a new television ruins “family fun time,” Chloe, the middle bunny in a brood of 21, tries to pull her brothers and sisters from its glowing grip. Colored-ink drawings hover on lush, creamy paper, offering delightfully dreamy details: the bunnies’ fur, pert mouths and dewy eyes, their clothes’ stripes and patterns, their bodies clustered together around the house. On one dizzying double-page spread, Chloe levitates at the epicenter of the domestic swirl, her family circling swiftly around her. McCarty says simply and directly to middle children everywhere, “Chloe was in the middle.” The narrative maintains perfect pacing throughout, speeding up with long sentences and slowing down with abbreviated lines that allow readers to linger on the soft, mesmerizing artwork (so many bunnies!). A bustling dinner scene shows the family nibbling on every kind of spring veggie; readers’ eyes roam from one end of the table to the other and back again, studying each whiskered face and plate. Fashion (eyeglasses, dresses, shirts) and minute tweaks in expression individualize each rabbit, while Chloe always manages to shine. McCarty captures the tensile ties strung among siblings, parents, genders and ages in every household.
Expert hide-and-seekers will hear the hushed scuttles and feel the quickened pulses as a group of animals plays a rain forest game of hide-and-seek.
Elephant counts while his animal friends scurry. Butterflies flutter around the crouching little elephant, a new one joining in with each page turn, adding up to a swarm that equals each giddy announcement: 1, 2, 3! Meanwhile, flamingo, chameleon, giraffe, rhino, monkey, tortoise, the starlings and bush babies hasten to get hidden. Momentum mounts as readers alternate between an animal wondering, for example, “Can I hide behind this rock?” (on left-hand pages) and the elephant’s escalating counting (on the right). Na also directs readers’ eyes up into the canopy and down into the underbrush, where creatures look for cover, getting them to crane their heads and look at the forest from every angle. Text size swells and reduces, indicating emphasis, and keeps the antsy energy going. Digital layering produces a fantastic fusion of painterly textures, soft patterns and fine outlines, yielding ethereal illustrations with dappled colors that shine like light through a leaf. So many undulating components could easily turn into roiling confusion on the page, but here each element coheres beautifully, rendering a sweetly swirling, tie-dyed rain forest awash in reds, yellows, greens and blues.
Ready or not! Here comes a book worth finding.
(Picture book. 2-5)
Within a gentle tale of hibernation and renewal, the Steads’ second collaboration (after Caldecott-winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee) explores a second, internal theme: the nature of the storytelling narrative itself.
Increasingly sleepy, Bear pads through the fall landscape with “a story to tell” before winter’s sleep. Mouse, Duck, Frog and Mole are well into their own winter preparations and cannot listen. Months later, when the reunited friends gather beneath a full moon, Bear can’t remember his story. Helpfully, his friends suggest a protagonist (“Maybe your story is about a bear”), a plot (“Maybe your story is about the busy time just before winter”), and supporting characters (themselves). Thus, Bear begins his story as this one ends: The first line of his story is both the last line of the book and its first. Erin Stead’s pictures quietly appeal: Pencil line and shading define basic features of animals and trees, while washes and smudges of paint suggest seasonal colors, Bear’s rotund mass, and the brushy cobalt expanse of starlit skies. Sharing an affinity with Jerry Pinkney yet evoking the sparer 1960s work of Evaline Ness and Nonny Hogrogian, Stead’s compositions exude an ineffable, less-is-more charm.
The Steads’ work adopts a folkloric approach to cooperative relationships; the affectionately rendered animals that stand in for humans convey a nurturing respect for child readers.
(Picture book. 3-7)
Vernon is both a toad and a forager for found objects. Ambling along with his latest haul, he chances upon a creature he seeks to know and then to help.
Observant children will have noticed (next to the copyright information) the overloaded “Careful Moving Co.” pickup truck barreling down the road, where a bump releases a cuckoo from its clock spring. On re-readings, additional story elements will be discovered in the truck. Vernon observes that “Bird is shy…but also a very good listener,” when he introduces Bird to his friends. He and his pals conclude that Bird is lost and unhappy, so the thoughtful, resourceful amphibian readies a teacup boat for the journey to help this quiet stranger return home. They check out a birdcage, birdhouse, mailbox, nest and telephone wires—to no avail, but “Vernon was a determined friend.” After the weary pair seeks refuge inside a familiar farmhouse clock, Vernon wakes to a cheery “Cuckoo!” and all is well. Stead’s loose gouache strokes and crayon scribbles create a disheveled world just right for suggesting a junk-collector’s paradise. Wide lines mix with thin curves, and wet and dry strokes commingle for a dappled, breezy setting; blue and green canopies often frame the page borders. Stead’s sensitive telling and white background create space for contemplation.
A deeply satisfying story that speaks to the universal desires to be nurtured and to find a home.
(Picture book. 3-8)
An African-American family awakens before dawn to prepare for the historic March on Washington in August, 1963.
In this stirring companion to Underground (2011), Evans captures a pivotal event in the struggle for equality and civil rights in America. The family joins neighbors to pray at their church, paint signs and travel by bus to Washington. They walk and sing and grow tired but “are filled with hope” as they stand together at the Washington Monument to listen to Dr. King speak of dreams and freedom. With just one line per page, Evans’ text is spare but forceful. The March has become synonymous with Dr. King’s grandiloquent speech, but Evans reminds readers that ordinary folk were his determined and courageous audience. The full-page paintings depict a rainbow of people holding hands and striding purposefully. One illustration in particular, of the father holding his son high on his shoulders, echoes a painting in Underground, in which a father holds his newborn child high up toward the sky. The strong vertical lines used for the arms of the marchers mirror the intensity of the day.
Share with readers of all ages as a beautiful message about peaceful protest and purposeful action.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Winston, a boy in Trinidad, wishes that he could play in a band and win free rotis, the delicious island specialty prepared by the Roti King and presented to the best performers at Carnival.
In the weeks before Carnival, the people of the Caribbean island are busy sewing costumes, and bands are busy rehearsing with their gourds, bamboo sticks, bottles-and-spoons and drums. Winston hears the sounds that his mango pit makes when he chucks it into a junkyard. Inspired, he tries out different cans and tins, listening carefully to their different notes. More experimentation follows, and soon, he is performing for his neighbors. Friends join him to form a band made up of “pots and pans, tins and cans in a rainbow of colors.” The sounds are winningly irresistible, and Winston and his fellow musicians soon enjoy their “folded pancakes filled with chicken and secret herbs and spices.” Greenwood’s story is based on the childhood of Winston Simon, the 20th-century musician credited with the invention of the steel drum. The text is filled with a cacophony of musical words that are fun and challenging to read aloud. Lessac’s gouache paintings pulsate with sun-drenched island colors and often resemble a folk-art quilt.
A joy to read. Play calypso music and celebrate! (author’s note, glossary and pronunciation guide, author’s sources) (Picture book/biography. 3-8)
In a thought-provoking twist on the usual immigrant story, a village lad elects to stay put.
Though Jimmy’s town is just a scattering of shacks on a broad beach, there is a tiny gym, owned by Don Apolinar. He gives Jimmy a box full of books and clippings about Muhammad Ali that sparks a yen in the boy to become a boxer. Yockteng depicts the tall, dark-skinned lad running across a sun-drenched landscape at the head of a gaggle of laughing children. He shadowboxes and demonstrates his strength by letting a goat butt him in the chest, carrying huge loads of fish and other feats. But when Don Apolinar departs for the big city, where there are "real jobs," Jimmy decides to stay, taking over the gym and adding a library to it. “Maybe one day he’ll get a match,” the narrative concludes, but then it gives Jimmy the last words: “Listen to me. / This is my town. / … / We dance and we box / and we don’t / sit around waiting / to go someplace else.” Idealized as it may be, the idyllic setting and smiling, bright-eyed faces on view in the illustrations make his choice easy to understand.
Eye-opening inspiration in this unassuming import from Colombia.
(Picture book. 6-8)
An irresistible force meets an immovable object with hilarious results.
The superheroes that populate this town are no match for Question Boy. With his insatiable need to know, he can make Garbage Man, Oil Man and Wonder Waitress run for cover to escape his incessant queries. Then he meets Little Miss Know-It-All, who answers all his questions and then some, peppering him with one factoid after another until he is supine on the grass, seemingly defeated. Dizzy with victory, she starts to leave in triumph, when Question Boy raises the most unanswerable question of all, the all-purpose “Why,” screaming it over and over until she is driven to give the only possible response. Used most often by exasperated adults, her answer settles the matter convincingly, at least for the present. Thus the contest is done, and to the cheers of the onlookers, the two rivals walk off together as friends. These precocious characters are instantly recognizable, and Catalanotto brings them to life with tenderness and humor in rapid-paced action and dialogue. The text, boldfaced and widely spaced, is set in the delightfully and appropriately named “CC Yada Yada Yada.” Extra-bright and colorful watercolor paintings of various sizes, shapes and perspective perfectly complement and enhance the tale.
Grown-ups beware. Youngsters might have their own questions and answers after this romp. (Picture book. 4-8)
“What are little boys made of?” In Neubecker’s hands, the answer is a whole lot of fun!
From “Moons and stars and rockets to Mars” to “Wings and tails and dragons with scales,” this rhyme’s half-pint hero imagines his way through most boys’ obsessions. Astronaut, sports star, knight, dinosaur-tamer—they’re all there, presented in action-packed, energetic illustrations. Done in pen or pencil, then digitally colored, the artwork has a raw freshness as spontaneous as the lad’s revelry. Neubecker skillfully uses the text and compositions to build upon each other. Each verse begins with the boy and his toys in a plain and simple environment. But in resolving the verse (“That’s what little boys are made of”), gorgeous, visually complex, full spreads are offered, giving readers insight into the boy’s rollicking fantasies. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition—the density of the imagined merriment on one spread after such a sparse one—reinforcing the innocence of the child’s real-life play. The illustrator also pays homage to a certain visual aesthetic for each of the youth’s adventures. As a pirate, readers may recall old naval illustrations; as a dragon-slayer, illuminated manuscripts; and as a jungle explorer, the wild things of Maurice Sendak. To complete the picture, the author also shows the quiet and loving side of boys, as they are also made of “A kiss and a hug, a snuggle and LOVE.”
One romping celebration of boyhood to read again and again.
(Picture book. 3-8)
A community caught under the pall of a weeklong cold snap comes together in this cozy, old-fashioned story that is high on both charm and appeal.
The Toby Mills cold snap begins innocently enough on a Friday, with snow angels, sledding and an icicle on the nose of the statue of the town founder. On Saturday, soup and stew are popular menu items at the diner, and the icicle is chin-length. On Sunday, the heavily clothed townspeople shiver through church services. Wednesday is so cold that the mayor wears his robe and pink bunny slippers…at work. By Friday, the statue’s icicle reaches the ground, along with everyone’s patience. But the mayor’s wife has just the solution—a warm winter surprise that brings out the best in everyone and makes them forget the cold. The quaint details in Spinelli’s text that are brought to life in Priceman’s gouache illustrations make this book stand out, giving it the air of an old-fashioned seek-and-find. “Franky Tornetta stopped whining about his itchy woolen socks and put on three pairs,” and there he is in the picture, green socks layered over red and yellow. Boldly colored vignettes and spreads that depict the small-town setting and round-headed, pink-cheeked characters enhance the retro feel of the book.
This may not be the most exciting or enthralling winter tale, but it is perfect for sharing during readers’ own cold snaps—calming, reassuring, charming.
(Picture book. 4-8)
As in Stewart and Small’s previous The Gardener (1997) and The Journey (2001), letters to a loved one become the vehicle for a girl to explore what she sees, feels and comes to understand upon leaving home for the first time.
In this title, a family of four is moving from Mexico to America in 1957. Their poignant, pre-dawn departure starts on the endpapers. Small’s imaginative use of color and masterful variation of line combine to focus attention on Isabel’s expressive face while developing other characters and creating a convincing period with Formica countertops and big-finned cars. Silent spreads allow readers time to ponder her predicament and imagine their own reactions. As the epistles to Auntie Lupita chronicle Isabel’s encounter with snow, feelings about her new teacher and time spent at the children’s parties her mother caters, they also indirectly portray a family sensitive to a child’s well-being. When Isabel requests the big boxes left over from the parties, her family supports her special sanctuary as needed; decorated with paint, origami and cardboard rainspouts reminiscent of the clay gutters back home, her quiet place turns into a panorama of festivities on her birthday, when a double gatefold reveals many new friends.
A warm, gentle portrait of an immigrant’s isolation and the ways that creativity and a loving family can offer both a safe haven and a bridge. (Picture book. 4-8)
“My daddy has warm hands. His fingers taste like applesauce. I wish he had a thousand hands.”
Spare of words but rich in feeling, this love note tracks some ups and downs but circles back to an attachment so warm and close that only the stoniest of hearts will remain unaffected. Tagging along as his father washes up in the morning, sacks out in front of the television after some vigorous outdoor play and then goes on into the kitchen to peel apples, the young narrator makes contented comments about dad’s hands, muscles and stomach (“soft as a pillow”). When an unspecified offense brings on “thunder daddy,” though, the miffed lad heads for “the forest of Other-and-Better”—a staircase, in the pictures, that transforms into a dense, dark forest of trees with shouting mouths—in search of a nicer parent. The scary experience drives him back into the kitchen where dad, who had himself transformed into a hairy, scowling gorilla, offers a bowl of applesauce and reverts bit by bit over a wordless spread as amity is restored. Aside from an early remark that papa “sounds like a mom when he sings in the bath,” there’s no sign of a second adult.
Reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are in its visual transformations and emotional intensity, but with a more present and openly loving parent.
(Picture book. 4-6)
Yum, known for using text and artwork to explore emotions (There Are No Scary Wolves, 2010, etc.), looks at the first day of school from two points of view—that of a little boy who is more than ready and a nervous mother not quite prepared to let him go.
The author’s watercolors are the true standout here, the colors and relative sizes of the characters masterfully conveying their emotions—many spreads could stand on their own without the text at all. Readers first see the pair when the 5-year-old shakes his mother awake on the first day of school; he is huge and pink-faced, towering over his tiny mother, who is blue-faced and cowering in the bed. As the text enumerates her worries (that he won’t have time to eat, she forgot some vital supply, he’ll be late, he’ll get lost, he won’t have any friends), the exuberant boy’s facial expressions, body language and oral responses counter her fears…until they reach his classroom door, and their sizes and colors flip. He quickly gets over it and has a great day at school, greeting his blue-toned mother exuberantly at dismissal, and the two, regular sizes and colors again now that they have survived the day, reunite and share the day’s events.
Yum has perfectly captured the emotional ups and downs of both parent and child in a visually expressive work that will shore up adults as they send their children off on that momentous day.
(Picture book. 4-7, adult)