Pomelo, a diminutive, round-eyed, pink elephant child, discovers opposites in his garden world.
Sometimes satisfyingly clear and sometimes comically questionable, all 58 of Pomelo’s opposites engage and delight. Are polka-dot mushrooms really the opposite of striped mushrooms? Many pairings challenge young readers with sophisticated humor, hinting at tacit desires and subtle feelings. In one spread, Pomelo appears with a lustrous head of blond hair with “dream” appearing beneath; on the accompanying page, a bald head sits atop his body with “reality” stamped below. Pomelo’s eyes look identically plaintive in both portraits—a perfect punch line. These illustrations, rich with implicit suggestions, prompt parents to offer explanations or (better yet!) solicit interpretations from their children. Some opposites, thankfully, are just downright silly. Watch Pomelo, whose body crosses the book’s gutter, open w-i-d-e for a round, red fruit (“in”) on the left page, and see his tail raised to expel an identically spherical poo (“out”) on the right. The book’s pace quickens as it advances, and more and more quirky, nonsensical, complicated pairings crop up. The speedy delivery of associations starts to feel like an exciting, wild ride. Images, words and meanings volley back and forth, bouncing from page to page and between this clever book and readers’ imaginations.
Simple, sunny, silly illustrations brilliantly convey the complexities and joys one can unearth when tilling a garden of language.
(Picture book. 4-6)
Ivory Coast–born Abouet (Aya, 2007, for adults) dishes out bursts of simultaneous hilarity and horror in African vignettes aimed at a younger audience.
All seven episodes feature young Akissi and her brother Fofana or her friends getting into trouble for less-than-exemplary (to say the least) behavior. In “Good Mums,” for instance, she borrows a neighbor’s baby and tenderly feeds it a stew concocted from discarded scraps found in the market. “Home Cinema” has her playing lookout while Fofana sells spots in front of the television set to neighborhood children. She loses a fish to an opportunistic stray in “Cat Invasion.” And in “Football Match,” she kicks a soccer ball over a wall belonging to a surly hunchback and draws the (to her) logical conclusion: “He had swallowed it!” Framed in cleanly drawn, easy-to-read sequential panels, the art sets dialogue balloons and cartoon figures dressed in a casual mix of Western and traditional garb in an unpaved but well-kept urban neighborhood. Following the spectacularly gross “Tapeworm,” an equally (but for different reasons) delicious recipe for “Coconut Goat’s Droppings” caps this memorable introduction to a character whose further misadventures, already available in France, can’t make their way across the pond quickly enough.
Strong stomachs are a prerequisite. Even the strongest will be left both queasy and sore from laughter. (Graphic short stories. 7-10)
Hibernation is for grown-ups—Little Bear has adventure on his mind.
In mad pursuit of a bee, Little Bear races through the forest, farther and farther away from his snoozing, cave-bound father: “Little Bear is too caught up in honey thoughts to hear winter’s whisper. A busy sort of buzzing beckons him instead.” Eagle-eyed readers can track the bear and bee all the way to Paris from the French countryside, devouring the hundreds of fanciful details that populate each gorgeous, oversized, double-page spread. When Papa Bear wakes up and sees his errant cub is missing, he too dashes off, eventually ending up at the Opéra Garnier and—oo la la!—even finding his voice onstage: “Grooooaaaarrrr!” Minidramas unfold by the square inch on delicious curry-, paprika- and olive-colored pages—cloaked and shifty-eyed lurkers, a mysterious lady with a poodle, a monkey-hatted child. Even in the Opéra’s exquisitely rendered architectural flourishes lurk images of forest beasts, and the honeycomb endpapers aptly flank the busy visual hive within. The playful, poetic text—brilliantly translated from the original French—hums along as nature and culture stylishly collide: “Now where could that bee and that Little Bear be?”
This extraordinary picture book, first published in France as Une chanson d’ours (2011), is as happy a surprise as finding a honey-filled hive at the end of a fur-raising journey.
(Picture book. 2-8)
Poem and pictures unite in a delirious celebration of a first ride on a Ferris wheel.
Two children answer their own repeated chorus of “Are we big enough this year, Mama? / Are we brave enough, Brother? / Sister, are you ready to fly?” with a resounding “YES.” They race through fairgrounds to soar, “swiggle sway / creak squeak / rickety ratcheting / up! / up! / up!” Literally rolling across the pages, Fitch’s lines fizz with motion, emotion and metaphor. Yayo’s cotton-candy–colored pictures pick it all up with vigorously brushed fancies in which the children’s arms become wings or reach out to dandelion-fluff stars. The wheel itself undergoes a series of transformations from giant squealing pig to spinning clothes dryer to bars of music to rows of cocoons and exotic birds. Earthbound again, the excitement abates not a whit: “We are fizzy with the dizzy reeling / fuzzy with the Ferris wheel feeling // Now and forever a part of the sky.”
A giddy, intense, hugely fun ride that will propel listening audiences large or small into spinning tizzies of their own.
(Picture book. 5-9)
Select words paired to sonorous equivalents in the Swampy Cree dialect highlight this serene picture of a blueberry-picking expedition.
Since before he could walk, little Clarence has accompanied his grandma in season to a certain clearing to pick “wild berries / pikaci-minísa.” Once grandma has checked for bears (“maskwak”), the two set to picking—and eating—with breaks to watch an ant (“eník”) and other wildlife. When their buckets are full, they say “thank you / nanaskomowak” and depart—leaving a handful of berries for the birds. In the illustrations, two figures walk among tall, widely spaced tree trunks through grasses neatly drawn in single, straight brushstrokes to a clearing mottled with low berry plants. A red sun hangs in a white sky that is visually an extension of the white facing page on which the Cree, printed in red italics, draws the eye to the short, widely spaced lines of narrative. Except for a passing fox and the occasional bird, animals are depicted as silhouettes, which adds to the episode’s overall visual simplicity. Flett, an illustrator of Cree-Métis heritage, created a cultural and artistic showcase in Owls See Clearly at Night: A Michif Alphabet (2010); despite the language notes, this offering is a more general one.
A sweet commemoration of a shared experience, presented with care and infused with intimacy.
(pronunciation guide, wild blueberry jam recipe)
(Picture book. 5-7)
A delightful depiction of the parallel lives of a young girl and a tiny chick from dawn to dusk.
Preschooler Naomi stretches to greet the day while a picture of a wide-eyed yellow chick looks on passively from the wall behind her bed. Appel’s lithe translation from the Hebrew of Golan’s plain, lightly rhymed verse describes consecutive phases of a typical day in the little girl’s life, with each segment ending with the refrain, “But not Little Chick.” Awakened by her father, Naomi brushes her teeth, eats, goes to preschool, plays, makes art, listens to a story, naps, goes shopping with her mother, puts on her pajamas and eventually hops back into bed with her stuffed bear—“But not Little Chick.” Those following the text alone might think the only thing Little Chick has in common with Naomi is “snuggl[ing] in for the night” and feel a bit sorry for her. But the visual narrative portrayed in Karas’ warmly expressive crayon-and-pencil illustrations on the right side of each spread reveals an equally adventuresome, action-packed day for Little Chick. Pre-readers are sure to revel in the hilarious mischief Little Chick enjoys with barnyard friends, while those reading to them will be fascinated by the effective conveyance of this information through images alone.
The true essence of a picture book: a unique balance of visual and written narrative sure to enchant young and old alike.
(Picture book. 3-6)
A little whimsy, a little darkness, a little music for a song turned into a picture book by veteran singer/songwriter Ian.
The tiny—and quite dapper—mouse of the title lives in a house “full of drafts and doubts, and incredible things.” Incredible things notwithstanding, he is restless and wants to go to sea. He is ill-prepared, however, and gets seasick at once. In his search for a bathroom, he discovers that the captain of the vessel he has stowed away upon is a cat! He, er, high-tails it out of there with help from a flounder, marries his “mouseketeer” and regales his dozens of children with his adventures. The Schuberts’ illustrations are brightly colored and often surreal, from the cat-in-the-box jack-in-the-box to the mer-cat figurehead on the ship’s prow, the mouse-snacks in the captain’s quarters (all with their tails attached—eewww!) to our hero coughing up “seven oysters and a clam.” Both words and music are appended, and a CD is included with three versions: vocal with band (that includes quite a wonderful clarinet), a band-only karaoke version and vocal with guitar. It is a rollicking little number—a little piratical, a little klezmer—and once heard, it is impossible to read the tale without singing it.
A thoroughgoing success from these trans-Atlantic collaborators.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Text that sings like poetry narrates a gorgeous re-envisioning of “Thumbelina.”
Lina’s mother discovers her “in a silken flower / in a garden of wishes.” She blesses her new daughter, and she worries, “for many dangers wait upon a girl / no bigger than a thumb.” This piece shares Hans Christian Andersen’s plot but not its old themes of marriage and Thumbelina’s prettiness, powerlessness and self-sacrifice. Instead, with lyrical elegance, Krishnaswami gives Lina agency. When a frog traps her, Lina sings: “Wind-swish, bird-flutter, / fish-bubble and all, / come to me now, / come when I call.” Lina shows these fish “how to snip and where to chew, / and soon they cut the leaf free of its stem, / so it floated like a raft.” When weeds and bugs mire her leaf-raft, tenacious Lina “kicked and paddled with all her might, / until her lily pad pulled free.” Left-hand pages feature text on white background; right-hand pages have exquisite, full-bleed paintings in acrylic and tissue. Using sumptuous colors, luscious paint texture, patterns, smudges and delicate lines, Khosravi places characters in arresting, abstract compositions that recall Marc Chagall. “[B]irdsong and lonely fear” are part of Lina’s journey, alongside discovery and strength—and her mother, reappearing in “the map of [Lina’s] own life / spread out like a carpet” before Lina’s next departure.
(author’s note, publisher’s note)
(Picture book. 5-10)
A young boy, grieving and unable to sleep, climbs into his father’s steady arms to find warmth and reassurance in this luminous story about loss, love and healing.
Snow and silence have fallen. A father sits in a darkened room by the fire. His sleepless son, lovingly bundled up, looks out his room’s black window. He finds his father, who holds him. They begin to talk, about plans for the next day, about the birds they feed and the foxes that hunt. The father calms his boy’s anxious questions with the gentle constant: “Everything will be all right.” The boy asks about his mother, and the two go out into the night. The child wishes on a star and is filled with a profound longing. Back inside, the father holds his son until sleep finally comes. Lunde’s lyrical text and descriptive language is immediate and intimate. Through it he invokes sensory memories of closeness, warmth and refuge. Torseter’s sophisticated artwork brings an even greater emotional depth to the story. Color is used minimally, as the illustrations work in tones. His mixed-media illustrations, done within a 3-D format, like a diorama, have an ethereal quality. They seem grounded in reality, yet they are dreamlike, giving the impression one has been privileged to see someone else’s memory. His final spread soars as a wordless affirmation of hope.
A breathtaking masterpiece.
(Picture book. 4 & up)
A small child is wonder-struck by every creature she encounters.
She wants nothing more than to examine and touch and follow each of them. But a butterfly flutters off into the air, a lizard wiggles away between the rocks, pigeons fly out of reach, and the family cats scat as she nears. As each disappears from view, the little one calls, “Wait! Wait!” Finally, Daddy scoops her up and lovingly guides her as they go off on an adventure of their own. Nakawaki, with the help of translator Kaneko, offers these moments of wonderment and exploration in lovely, spare text, with each word carefully chosen to capture the swift, fluid movements of the creatures and the determination of the curious baby. Sakai’s soft, delicate acrylic-and–oil-pencil illustrations are breathtaking. The butterfly, lizard, pigeons and cats are brilliantly depicted in vivid, accurate detail, while the child is all expressive softness and yearning as she encounters each new experience. Each double-page spread is a sea of white, with a single large-print sentence and a lightly drawn hint of setting, allowing the characters and action to hold center stage. Parents and their little ones will snuggle together to read this joyous evocation of the newness and wonder of the world over and over again.
Tender and wistful and glorious.
(Picture book. 1-5)
In this testament to resiliency and kindness during natural disasters, the Japanese boy Kenta’s soccer ball is swept away by a tsunami and eventually returned by a child living across the Pacific Ocean.
The opening double-page spread depicts an aerial view of lower-elevation homes being swallowed by waves; the ending spread, Kenta’s reunion with his soccer ball while nearby, construction workers re-build his town. From beginning to end, author/illustrator Ohi manages an admirable balancing act. Young children are exposed to the realities of loss and damage while also viewing such things as children at play in the emergency shelter at the school gym and dolphins frolicking in the same waves that have carried people’s belongings far away from their homes. Clever but accessible wording abounds, as in “The school gym was crowded with people looking for what they’d lost. Kenta found his mother and father. The ocean found Kenta’s soccer ball.” The watercolor-and-pencil illustrations are roughly hewn, but they include such careful details as English-language signs along the shoreline when the ball reaches North America. Muted colors work well with the sparse, poetic text to create an appropriate gentleness. The placement of words and pictures—and the clever device of pale banners for text over darker backgrounds—ensure easy use as a read-aloud to a group of young children.
An eminently child-friendly treatment of the devastation that follows disaster.
(Picture book. 3-7)
If the line is long, there’s bound to be something good at the end, right?
The tale starts opposite the title page with a small frog, marked #50, looking up at a sign that requests “Please line up in single file.” Turn the page, and animals #49, lizard, through #37, porcupine, stand politely, clearly wondering what’s at the front of the line. As the numbers decrease, the size of the animals increases: #4 is hippo. Turn the page after #1, elephant, to a gatefold sign: JUMBO COASTER. Open the gatefold, and all of the animals are revealed standing in order on top of a whale as it performs a series of jumps and somersaults in and out of the water! Their ride ends just like a more conventional carnival ride, with various reactions: #3, the rhino, declares, “I’m getting back in line!” Humorous comments add to the fun throughout. The armadillo, #39, stuck behind the skunk, #38, complains, “It stinks!” The kangaroo, #19, has a baby in her pouch that cries, “Are we there yet?” Totally engaging, the book offers multiple forms of participation: the word chain game that #17, the panda, starts; counting; guessing which animal belongs to the tail that appears at the edge of the page on the right (revealed seamlessly with a page turn); size concept; good old anticipation.
A fresh take on an enduring tale retells the story of Noah and Na’mah and the great flood.
The book’s innovative accordion design illustrated in the Bengal Patua style of scroll painting is just one of the sumptuous design elements that distinguish it as a remarkable offering. A slipcase decorated with the eponymous ark adrift on swirling blue ocean waters covers the hardcover; when it is revealed, it shows pairs of animals, two by two aboard the vessel. The first pages invite readers to open up the spreads side by side so they unfurl into a continuous piece of art, first showing a great eye looking down upon verdant landscape. Omniscient opening narration acknowledges the story’s ancient origins and says, “great tales deserve to be repeated—and so let me tell it here again, in my way.” The familiar tale progresses and refreshingly gives an equal role to Na’mah as she and Noah hear God’s warning, build the ark and gather animal pairs to board it. Once the world floods, the art unfolds in the opposite direction, neatly bisecting the story into ante- and postdiluvian parts. A curious artistic decision shows the people not saved by the ark smiling as they succumb to the flood waters, but all other illustrations, including the culminating vision of the rainbow, are sublime.
A gorgeous re-envisioning of an old, old story.
(Picture book/art book. 3 & up)