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)
There’s a lot to go wild for in this picture-book celebration of individuality and self-expression.
Mr. Tiger lives a peaceable, if repressed, life alongside other anthropomorphic animals in a monochromatic, dreadfully formal little town. All the other animals seem content with their stiff, dull lives, except for Mr. Tiger, whose bright coloring is a visual metaphor for his dissatisfaction. When child (animal) characters scamper by, a bipedal horse admonishes them, “Now, children, please do not act like wild animals.” This plants a seed in Mr. Tiger’s mind, and a few pages later, he embraces a quadruped stance. The spread following this wordless one makes great use of the gutter, positioning aghast townsfolk on the verso as Mr. Tiger proudly marches off the recto on all fours. This is just the beginning of his adoption of wild ways, however: He sheds his clothing, runs away to the wilderness, roars and generally runs amok. But, much like that other Wild Thing, Max, Mr. Tiger comes to miss his friends, his city and his home, and so he returns to find “that things were beginning to change.” Ensuing pages show animals in various states of (un)dress, sometimes on all fours, sometimes on two feet, cavorting about in colorful settings, and (to paraphrase the closing lines) all feeling free to be themselves.
Hooray for Mr. Tiger and his wild ways! (Picture book. 3-7)
Browne really cranks up the color intensity in this gorgeous, large-trim portrait gallery of primates.
Beginning with “1 gorilla” and counting up to “10 lemurs,” he presents on each spread a formally arranged head and upper-body close-up, with each subject placed against a plain white backdrop facing the viewer. Most are smiling, though as the groupings increase in size, they begin to take on the look of class photos, with a range of expressions on view and eyes sometimes playfully glancing to the side rather than looking directly out. Nonetheless, every visible eye gleams with steady, clear intelligence. Each ape is painted in hair-fine detail, in variegated hues that—particularly for the titular simian and the fiery orange parent and child orangutans that follow—glow incandescently. Browne closes with a self-portrait followed by a multicultural gathering of humans spanning the age spectrum, all with features and expressions that clearly echo those seen previously on hairier faces.
The former British Children’s Laureate has a simple point—“All primates. / All one family. / All my family… / and yours!”—and he makes it in a visually compelling way. (Picture book. 3-8)
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)
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)
With luminous mixed media pictures, a short, carefully meted-out text and a Southwestern U.S. setting, Pinkney (The Lion and the Mouse, 2009) takes on another of Aesop’s fables—marvelously.
A persevering tortoise and a speedy but arrogant hare tackle a challenging race course that includes rocky elevations and a water crossing. When a farmstead’s cabbages tempt the hare, he tunnels under a fence to gorge and nap. Meanwhile the tortoise, closely observed by desert denizens, passes the slumbering hare and wins by a length. In the tortoise’s scenes, the fable’s moral inches along, like him: The first proclaims “SLOW”; the second, “SLOW AND”—and so on, with the victory spread featuring the entire moral. The ingenious layout mixes bordered panels, spot illustrations and full-bleed single- and double-page spreads, arranged to convey each racer’s alternating progress through a golden landscape. Bejeweled with blooming cactuses and buzzing with bees, reptiles, mammals and more, the desert tableaux will engross readers. The critters’ bits of clothing—hat, bandanna, vest—add pops of color and visually evoke the jaunty characters of Br’er Rabbit stories. Hare’s black-and-white checked neckerchief does duty as the signal flag and Tortoise’s victory cape. Lush, encompassing endpapers feature, in the front, a layout of the racecourse and, in the rear, the reveling animals, with the hare, still stunned, gazing out at readers.
A captivating winner—start to finish! (artist’s note, design notes) (Picture book/folk tale. 3-6)
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.
An ambitious project: The text on each vibrant, double-page collage, arranged vertically, intersperses the near-extinction and slow comeback of the Puerto Rican parrot with over 2,000 years of human history.
“Above the treetops of Puerto Rico flies a flock of parrots as green as their island home….[T]hey nearly vanished from the earth forever. This is their story.” From this dramatic beginning onward, both artwork and text encourage slow absorption of each spread before the turn of the page. Various peoples—from unnamed aboriginals to Taínos, Europeans, Africans and eventually North Americans—brought with them new flora, fauna and habits, all contributing to the demise of the native birds. Finally, in 1968, two governments began the work that continues today to restore the wild flocks. There are fascinating details about a 1539 fortress wall, leather jackets worn by parrots during hawk-avoidance training and materials used to mend an injured wing. The onomatopoeic derivation of the parrots’ Taíno name, iguaca, is developed nicely in its repeated use as the parrots’ call. By turns poetic and scientific, the text offers a wealth of information. Every paper-and-fabric collage is frame-worthy, from depictions of waterfalls and rain forest to sailing ships, hazards and, of course, parrots.
From the commanding cover illustration to the playful image on the back, simply spectacular.
(afterword, photos, chronology, sources)
(Informational picture book. 8-14)
Goat can’t stop comparing himself to Unicorn and coming up short.
With slumped shoulders and a sulky frown, Goat is the picture of dejection. Before Unicorn moved in, he thought he was pretty cool. But now? He just can’t compete. Goat bakes marshmallow squares to share with his friends, but Unicorn makes it rain cupcakes! (Brightly colored ones with adorable smiles, at that.) Goat tries to wow everyone with his new magic trick, but Unicorn is able to turn things into gold. “Dopey Unicorn! Thinks he’s so great!” Goat scoffs and stamps in a jealous huff. But suddenly, one slice of goat-cheese pizza changes everything. Goat finds out that Unicorn is actually envious of him, too. Who knew that cloven hooves were so awesome? Shea examines a universal struggle that readers of all ages face: The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Unicorn may seem like he has it all—on every page he is surrounded by a glow of love and adoration, with rainbows and sparkles ready to burst forth at any moment—but that doesn’t mean he’s content. Even unicorns want to eat something besides glitter now and then.
Brilliant in execution and hysterical in dialogue; Shea’s pretty great, too
. (Picture book. 3-6)
This clever circular tale with a curious title opens with a common scene: a party including chocolaty treats. The authors explain, “[Y]ou can’t make chocolate without… / …cocoa beans.” With the turn of the page, readers find themselves in the rain forest microhabitat of the cocoa tree.
In each spread, the authors take children backward through the life cycle of the tree: pods, flowers, leaves, stems, roots and back to beans. The interdependence of plants and animals is introduced in the process: Midges carry pollen from one flower to another; aphids destroying tender stems are kept in check by an anole. Graceful ink-and-watercolor illustrations range from an expansive view of the rain forest to a close-up of aphids. Explanations are delivered in a simple manner that avoids terms such as pollination or germination. “Bookworm” commentators in the corner of each spread either reinforce the concept—“No lizards, no chocolate”—or echo youngsters’ impatience: “I thought this book was supposed to be about monkeys.” Indeed, the book closes with a monkey sitting in a branch with an open pod, eating the pulp and spitting out the beans, which fall to the ground and take root: no monkeys, no chocolate. Backmatter helps young naturalists understand why conservation and careful stewardship is important.
Children—and more than a few adults—will find this educational you-are-there journey to the rain forest fascinating.
(Informational picture book. 4-8)
A brilliant modern fable—eloquent, hopeful and heart-rending—about a rabbit family whose members cross the border in search of a better life, and each other.
Drought forces Papá Rabbit to leave for the great carrot and lettuce fields of the north, hoping to make money for his family. Years pass, but when he doesn’t arrive home on the appointed day, his eldest son, Pancho Rabbit, sets out to find him. Heading north, he meets a coyote who promises a shortcut in return for food. At each step of their treacherous journey, the coyote demands more food in exchange for Pancho’s safe passage. The food finally all gone, Pancho is about to be consumed when Papá Rabbit rescues him. Reunited, Pancho learns all the money Papá saved for the family was stolen by a crow gang. Pancho guides them home, but happiness is short-lived, as the family must decide who will—and how to—return north if the rains still refuse to come. Textured earth tones are digitally collaged to create Pancho’s world, where the river’s darkness and desert’s sweltering heat are inescapable. Geometric shapes define the characters’ faces, making them reminiscent of Aztec stone carvings. But Tonatiuh’s great strength is in the text. No word is wasted, as each emotion is clearly and poignantly expressed. The rabbits’ future is unknown, but their love and faith in each other sustains them through it all. Accessible for young readers, who may be drawn to it as they would a classic fable; perfect for mature readers and the classroom, where its layers of truth and meaning can be peeled back to be examined and discussed.
An incandescent, humane and terribly necessary addition to the immigrant-story shelf
. (Picture book. 5-9)
A house cat pooh-poohs most proffered toys and gets his comeuppance tangling with a tiny alien spacecraft and its penny-sized adventurers.
Peppered with speech bubbles in English, alien- or insect-speak, Wiesner’s multipaneled tour de force treats the green ETs to maximum upheaval. Their initial celebration at landing turns to mayhem as their craft is buffeted by Mr. Wuffles. The aliens assess a smoldering engine part and disembark for help. The ensuing comic interplay pits cat against aliens as the tiny ones flee beneath a radiator cover. A ladybug and several ants assist them, and the repair’s successfully made by harvesting cross sections of detritus: pencil eraser, M&M, marble and metal screw. The insects have decorated the wall of their lair with drawings à la Lascaux, the menacing Mr. Wuffles depicted prominently. After sketching a game plan, with insects playing transport and diversionary roles, the crew escapes back to the ship. Against oak floorboards and wallpaper prettily conveyed in ink and watercolor, the now-crazed Mr. Wuffles is riveted to the radiator, perplexing his human. Final panels show the cat gazing out the window, claws fruitlessly deployed; ants draw new scenes on their wall. Wiesner truly “gets” cats: An end-flap photo shows that the artist’s “model” for the beleaguered Mr. Wuffles is indeed a household denizen.
Expertly imagined, composed, drawn and colored, this is Wiesner at his best.
(Picture book. 4-8)