An informational picture book about monkeys throughout the world.
Tackling a topic as general as monkeys is a tall order for a picture book, but this one succeeds admirably. Author/illustrator Davey begins with the basics: what a monkey is (part of the mammal group of primates), when they evolved (about 35 million years ago), where they live, and what they eat. He moves on to more specific information, such as the differences between Old World and New World monkeys (following this with a colorful visual quiz), social life, size and physical characteristics, and monkeys in mythology, and he ends with a section on the deforestation of monkey habitat that manages to deliver at least a sense of hope. All this information is related in an engaging conversational style—“ ‘But why such colourful bums?’ I hear you ask.” Davey keeps things lively by relating specific traits of various monkey species; for example, long-tailed macaques swim underwater, mandrills have colorful rumps, black-capped capuchins use tools, and these serve not only to pique readers’ curiosity, but also to highlight the primates’ diversity. The design of the book is stellar, interweaving text and stylized-but-accurate illustrations into a vibrant, cohesive whole that stands out for its appeal and clarity.
A vast amount of information on monkeys is expertly delivered in both text and image without patronizing either readers or monkeys—a delight.
(Informational picture book. 5-10)
A half-pint warrior princess wants a battle-ready horse for her birthday but instead receives a little farting pony—who brilliantly defies all expectation.
Pinecone is small and young, and normally she receives cozy sweaters for presents, but she has a warrior’s determination. With this, she attempts to train her sweet, round pony—but to no avail. They are clearly outmatched at the big battle, yet Pinecone shows her mettle, and under the pony’s innocent gaze, hardened warriors melt into sweater-wearing softies. The artist’s digital illustrations, done in an earthy palette, have a warm, handcrafted feel. As majestic horses, iconic warriors (from Genghis Khan to Robin Hood), and cool tools are juxtaposed with Pinecone and her vacant-eyed pony, differences in stature, weaponry, and achievement are cleverly emphasized. Cinematic in layout and perfectly set-dressed, each page will elicit a new round of giggles. Beaton blurs the boundaries of traditional storytelling, marrying fantasy elements to pop culture with a free-associative swagger. This emerging genre, with its zinelike irreverence and joyful comedy, is hip, modern, and absolutely refreshing. Where else can readers find hipster warriors, anime influences, perfectly placed fart jokes, a hidden ugly-sweater contest, and a skirmish packed with delightful nonsense (llamas! knights! hot dogs! turtle costumes!)—and have it all make such wonderful sense?
Instead of breaking bones, this warrior princess breaks the mold—and Beaton is in a class of her own.
(Picture book. 3-8)
Two cats find friendship in their seemingly opposite (yet, oh so similar!) lives.
Black Cat is black from his ears to his paws, and he is only awake by day. White Cat is white from her nose to her tail, and she lives by night. But curiosity gets the better of both, and they set out into the unknown and meet. Together they travel, as reciprocal tour guides, each delighting in the wonders of the other’s world. The artist’s illustrations, done in black and white, skillfully play with negative space and composition. Cleverly, she reverses images from spread to spread, flops the values, or changes just one pattern to encourage readers to look for similarities and differences; taken altogether, it is a wonderful exercise in juxtaposition. Basic shapes and minimal linework will appeal to the very young, while sophisticated patterning will appeal to all. The charming, cheery text also holds a surprise ending, for which giggles are sure to ensue!
Borando creates a genuine affinity between the two felines, her art and text, and readers and page. Simply captivating.
(Picture book. 2-5)
The young first mate on the Cuffee sightseeing boat, descendant of generations of men who worked whaling ships, compares whaling long ago with a whale-watching excursion today.
The cover reveals what makes this enjoyable field trip stand out; the narrator is female, a child of color. In her chatty spiel, the fictional tour guide offers plenty of facts. These are set on spreads that contrast views from the present-day expedition with the past. (The sepia tones of the latter add historical distance). She contrasts historic and modern attitudes toward whales, shows ways in which times have changed on shore and on the boats, and describes whaling techniques. She points out that the crews of early whaling ships included "escaped slaves and free blacks," and indeed, the crews in the historical pictures, like the crowd of tourists, are racially diverse. A double-page spread shows the excitement of a whale sighting today; the next spread shows a tiny whale boat from the past, its sailors attacking a massive whale with puny lances and a harpoon. Their sailing ship waits in the background. Backmatter provides further information about commercial whaling and whale watching, a glossary and good suggestions for further research. Karas’ pencil drawings, colored with gouache and acrylics, add intriguing detail.
This inventive look at maritime history has significant modern child appeal.
(Informational picture book. 5-9)
A dedicated postal worker, who happens to be a small mouse, makes the daily deliveries in a lively dispatch from Dubuc.
Mr. Postmouse is a busy worker; he tirelessly pulls a wagon stacked high with packages for the animal residents who make up his daily route. That means climbing ladders to get to the Birds’ several homes, scaling snowy peaks for the Mountain Goats, and hoping that scary Mr. Snake isn't receiving anything today. The double-page spreads that make up each leg of the journey are rendered in sneakily detailed cross-sections of the interiors of these homes. The Rabbit family's house, with carrots planted in the roof, leads to underground rooms that feature high-stacked bunk beds and, amusingly, a toilet in use. Mr. Snake's hothouse home stretches over multiple pages, while the Ants have a predictably busy belowground infrastructure. Young readers may miss a few jokes, allusions, and background stories along the way, but it's all the more reason to revisit Mr. Postmouse's mail duties again. The scenes playing out in the various tableaux are playful but never cutesy. Mr. Postmouse's fear of Mr. Snake and the stacked sheep inside Mr. Wolf's home allude to dangers in the animal world that Mr. Postmouse seems adept at avoiding.
Like a mailbox overstuffed with gifts, Dubuc's animal scenes are a delight and well worth the wait.
(Picture book. 3-7)
An anthropomorphic beaver child makes driftwood boats and sets them to sea, hoping they’ll reach his father, who has passed away.
Buckley and his mama “didn’t have much, but they always had each other.” Their house by the ocean is small and spare, but because of this, items of great import are visible: a family portrait, a snapshot of a moment at the beach, Buckley’s artwork. Buckley spends his days exploring the beach, finding serenity and joy in the natural world. From its driftwood he makes a boat for Papa, casting it off on his birthday with a note: “For Papa. Love Buckley.” This physical connection, with its message of love and longing, inspires Buckley to continue to create. With practice and care he learns to make wondrous boats, sending his best ones to Papa. Repeat reads reveal how deeply Mama treasures and supports Buckley, how much she wants to make life beautiful and full of wonder for him, and how much he appreciates her in turn. The simplicity of the artwork enhances the quiet, meaning-drenched moments—a solitary walk under the moonlight; the reassurance of a hand held; the warmth of a goodnight kiss. Done in washes of color in a gentle, earthy palette, the ink drawings have an honesty and earnestness worthy of the story.
Heartbreaking and hopeful, innocent and wise, a gentle story about healing and finding connection—both in the past and present.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Left alone when her mother leaves for work, a child amuses herself with television, dolls, and a toy deer before boarding a bus for her grandmother’s house.
The ensuing experience, in which she falls asleep, misses her stop, and runs scared into the woods, is pulled directly from the author’s childhood in China. In this wordless, 112-page graphic novel, her constantly-in-motion protagonist is rescued by a mysterious stag that leads her up a ladder of clouds into a puffy paradise. The animal is a perfect playmate. Humorous close-ups reveal a hands-on exploration of the animal’s muzzle, toothy smiles, and affectionate nuzzling before the afternoon’s excitement. Guojing’s telling is skillfully paced. Early on, a sequence of 12 nearly square panels on a page conveys the child’s sense of confinement, loneliness, and boredom. Varying in size and shape, digitally manipulated graphite compositions create a soft, quiet atmosphere within which a gamut of effects are achieved: brilliant, snowy light, the etched faces of shivering street vendors, nuanced cloudscapes, and the pure black of a whale’s interior after the duo and a new friend are swallowed, Jonah-style. Majestic settings, tender interactions, and pure silliness lead readers to pore closely over these images, pulled along by shifting perspectives, ethereal beauty, and delight in the joy born of friendship.
Rare is the book containing great emotional depth that truly resonates across a span of ages: this is one such.
(Picture book. 5 & up)
Wit, imagination, and a bit of the impossible combine with chilly shades of icy blue and stormy gray for an elegant beauty of a book.
Combining panel storytelling with full-bleed artwork, succinct word use, and creative text placement, Heder’s tale comes alive as a picture book accessible to younger readers yet engaging to more sophisticated audiences. It’s the story of young Sophie, who’d rather watch television than do her homework assignment on polar bears. “They are big / they eat things / they are mean.” That seems to be all the young girl can think of, until a polar bear visits her living room and whisks her off to an artfully constructed Arctic, complete with ice floes, whales, and snow rabbits. In this follow-up to Fraidyzoo (2013), Heder captures the spirit of a child’s imagination, allowing readers to watch as Sophie transforms from boredom to curiosity to pure delight. Heder uses sumptuous watercolors to depict girl and bear laughing, learning, and tumbling through the wintry background. Wry, hand-lettered dialogue is the only text. “What else is under here?” the girl asks. “Seals…foxes…snow rabbits,” the bear responds. “But they avoid me.” The author teaches about life in the Arctic in the best way possible—by making it feel like she's not teaching at all.
Gorgeous to look at and a tummy tickler to read, this is a very fine book indeed.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A crotchety bear unwillingly raises four goslings.
Bruce is a stocky, black-and–dark-indigo bear with a scowling unibrow. He dislikes sunny days, rainy days, and cute little animals. He likes one thing: eggs, cooked into gourmet recipes that he finds on the Internet. He “collects” eggs from Mrs. Sparrow or Mrs. Goose—asking, hilariously, whether they’re “free-range organic”—but the pictures reveal the truth: he’s clearly stealing them. As Bruce brings home some goose eggs that unexpectedly hatch and imprint on him—“Bruce became the victim of mistaken identity”—wry text and marvelously detailed pictures juxtapose uproariously. Setting out to “get the ingredients” means wheeling a shopping cart into a river; “for some reason” he loses his appetite placing a pat of butter atop a live gosling’s head on his plate. Grumblingly, Bruce rears them from “annoying baby geese” through “stubborn teenage geese” (wearing headphones, naturally) into “boring adult geese.” Still they won’t leave him. Rather than migrating (by wing or by the giant slingshot Bruce builds for the purpose), they don winter hats and coats. Befitting Bruce’s personality, there’s no sappy change of heart, but this family is forever. Higgins’ softly fascinating textures, deft lines, savvy use of scale, and luminous landscapes (which evoke traditional romantic landscape painting, atmospheric in air and light) make for gorgeous art.
Visually beautiful, clever, edgy, and very funny.
(Picture book. 3-6)
With the help of his two dogs, a boy attempts to tackle his fears—both imagined and real.
Opening the book is a list of four scary things: monsters, ghosts, witches, and trolls. At first the boy doesn’t want to reveal them to his dogs, a pug and a bull terrier. “Can’t tell you. It’s too much terror.” But the bull terrier persists, and the two discuss each creature’s scariness quotient. This hilarious back-and-forth conversation occurs in dialogue bubbles as the quizzical pug looks on. The boy then turns to scary “stuff that definitely exists,” such as his nasty cousin, the bossy crossing guard, big growling dogs, and swimming pools that might have sharks in them. The terrier breezily brushes away each fear until the boy mentions the dark. “Okay,” says the terrier. “Now that’s a little scary.” As the boy says, “Nameless evil could be lurking” there. The page turn reveals the boy and both dogs on a pitch-black spread with only eyeballs and dialogue to convey the heightened fear they are experiencing. The boy’s solution is obvious but feels absolutely perfect given the scenario. Readers and their grown-ups will howl with laughter at the dry humor and the detailed illustrations that capture every eye roll and skeptical sideways glance.
Jenkins and Yum perfectly portray the anxiety and false bravado of this delightful cast of characters who ultimately find fun in the scary stuff.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Tapir’s courage and quiet steps show a leopard how to change his ways and avoid a human hunter.
This charming pourquoi tale is set in a Southeast Asian jungle where tapirs, rhinos, hornbills, apes, crocodiles, porcupines, and leopards coexist. Ably translated from the original Korean, the text is spare, gentle, and repetitive. “The leopard ran with loud, heavy steps. / THUD, THUD, THUD. / Tapir ran with soft, silent steps. / Hush, hush, hush.” In the art, created with watercolor, drawing ink, and marker pen, most animals have a distinctive color. Tapir is gray and white, while Little Tapir is a pleasing reddish brown. The jungle is more suggested than shown in these allusive images, reminiscent of Korean landscape paintings, and the figures and text both are set on an expanse of white. The placement of text and picture varies, sometimes together, sometimes opposed on a spread, but each spread is a self-contained idea until the climactic page turns of the leopard attack. The pacing is perfect. There is humor in the tiptoeing animals, the dancing rhinoceros and elephant, and Little Tapir’s dream of a birthday mud cake, but it is gentle, befitting the overall quiet tone of this appealing import.
Animals turn topsy-turvy in fear of things that go bump in the night.
Nighttime can be scary, but Marino’s black cover uses a supershiny silver title and a opossum with comically exaggerated trepidation on his face to assure that this story isn’t spooky—at least, not for readers. It sure spooks the splendid animal characters, who pose fabulously on the inside of the jacket next to nonfiction zoological details. In a dark forest, Possum hunkers inside a hollow tree. A skunk joins him. They scrunch down together, bodies merging with hole’s blackness so only their googly eyes and the skunk’s white nose-stripe show. A gray wolf and grizzly bear appear, frightening the others but terrified themselves. The animals hug trees, clutch and cling to one another, and tumble about in fright. The skunk holds Possum upside down by his tail over the wolf’s back; Possum repeatedly plays dead, even assuring himself in a thought bubble, “I’m not here.” Every page is visually funny, with hilarious close-ups and slapstick animal postures. A bat asks what they’re scared of, and they answer, “night animals”; the bat’s reply, though obvious, is still uproarious: “But you ARE night animals.” Gouache-and-ink illustrations place the animals’ antics in a smooth, two-dimensional black forest background with sparse, beige-gray birch trees.
A giggle-inducing new gem for the night-fears bookshelf.
(Picture book. 3-7)
In the short information page that follows this artful, gladdening story, readers learn that spider mites are “smaller than the head of a pin,” which also makes them cousins to angels, and Harry couldn’t be much sweeter. As Miller dreamed him up (some 50 years ago and only now seeing the light of print), Harry has an itch to know what lies beyond his little patch of sidewalk. Harry’s grandfather is a wise old geezer sporting overalls, a pipe, and a boater who encourages Harry to live his wildest dreams in his head. When Harry declares he is running away, his grandfather says, “go right ahead, Harry. But it will take you more than a week to reach the end of the sidewalk.” OK, right, then he’ll stay there and become a famous hunter, until he considers the beasts’ poisonous fangs and spooky eyes. He’ll escape on the back of a flea and join a flea circus, and so on. After a series of further imaginary adventures, Harry sighs. He’s a little tired. “Now I must rest and play with my friends.” Harry may flag, but this tale won’t burn out, nor will Cucco’s illustrations, with their M&M colors and their shared aesthetic with William Steig, Jules Feiffer, and Quentin Blake.
Just so, a story that celebrates the dreams of even the smallest of us—the really, really smallest.
(Picture book. 3-6)
A lonely crow tries to make a friend, literally. As the seasons progress, the plans change. In the fall, he uses sticks for a body, a crabapple for a head, and leaves for wings. But when the wind blows, his friend is gone. In winter, he piles snow, adds a seed for an eye, and sticks for wings. But when the sun shines, his friend is gone. When spring comes along, a bird calls, and this time Crow finds a real friend. Together they build a nest, and come summer, Crow has a family. Children taking their first steps into reading will easily follow the simple text on each page. The illustrations complement the text brilliantly. Done in ink and watercolors, an iridescent crow, his colorful creations, and his final true friend stand out against a white background. Readers will appreciate Crow’s resourcefulness as he creates his friends and will not need any prompting when they read the “Oh no!” text as the wind blows the fall creation to pieces or the sun melts the winter creation. The overall message of the importance of friends and family is sweet but not cloying.
A brightly illustrated story perfect for the very beginner reader.
(Early reader. 4-7)
The tale of a sizable sidekick for one competent kid.
Leonard, a curly-haired, brown-skinned little boy, finds an egg in the park one day and takes it home to his apartment on the top floor of a tall building. In the morning, Leonard witnesses his “lizard” busting out of its egg, prompting the name “Buster.” Though a trusty companion who accompanies Leonard on all of his jaunts around the city, the lizard soon grows to a problematic size. The annual parade (with floats like those in Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade) offers just the opportunity Leonard needs to find his buddy a new home. Pett’s simple and sparse illustrations focus on Leonard and Buster by illustrating the pair in bright colors and other people and objects along the city streets in grayscale or dull colors. This highlights the book’s amusing irony: despite the presence of a large green dinosaur in a busy city, nobody pays any attention to Leonard or Buster. In fact, Leonard roams the city from day to day without interruption or attention from parents or other interfering adults. He solves his own problems and takes care of the pet he has acquired of his own volition.
As independent as Max and Ruby, as creative as purple-crayon–wielding Harold, and as dedicated a friend as Charlotte’s Wilbur, Leonard will delight kids of all ages, regardless of habitat.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Caldecott Medalist Pinkney returns to Aesop, recasting the familiar fable as a meditation on the importance of sustaining both body and soul.
As industrious ants ferry seeds and leaves to their colony throughout spring, summer and fall, Grasshopper—a veritable one-bug band with banjo, drum kit and concertina—fishes, frolics and plays. Though he exhorts them to join in, the single-minded ants stick to their tasks. Grasshopper welcomes “the sparkle of first snow,” making “snow angels and snow-hoppers.” In the lonely cold, his bright mood, colorful markings and checkered vest grow dim. He peeks into the ants’ well-lit abode. A gatefold reveals an underground colony humming with activity: Ants stoke a wood stove, spin fiber from leaves and flowers, and prepare a meal. Compassionate Queen Ant appears at the door, offering Grasshopper hot tea. Cozy concluding spreads show everyone making joyful music within, while back endpapers signal a new role for Grasshopper come spring. Pinkney’s four-season watercolor palette is more vibrant than ever. Grasshopper’s iridescent wings contrast with his scarlet instruments; the ants’ earth-brown bodies anchor spreads brimming with lush flowers or whirling autumn leaves. Pinkney’s delightfully forthright artist’s note identifies Grasshopper as “an artist in his own right.” Acknowledging liberties taken with the ants’ size, he includes a thumbnail depicting the actual, relative size of both ant and grasshopper.
From an unparalleled artist, another brilliant work.
(Picture book/folk tale. 3-6)
The deceptively simple counting story of two mice, their adventure, and friendship.
One morning in Ruzzier’s imaginative and colorful world, two mice wake to explore. The tiny window above the bed beckons: water, mountains, and sky are waiting for these two. Starting before the title and ending on the copyright page, minimal text says all that is needed: “One house / Two mice / Three cookies. / Three boats / Two oars / One rower. / One nest / Two eggs / Three ducklings.” New readers will soon notice the number pattern and slow down to see how the droll illustrations extend the story. For instance, the mouse with one cookie has an angry expression and a rather tightly curled tail, while the loose-tailed mouse looks gleeful as it chows down on two cookies. The sunny rowboat scene is not so sunny for the mouse who has to manage the two oars. By the time the two buddies return to their home, all is forgiven when the delicious soup is served. (And, in a visual nod to Sendak, it is clearly “still hot.”) The small trim size and careful attention to details give this book enormous appeal; the decorative floor tiles, ornamental feet on the kitchen table, and mismatched stools fit right in with the red hills and ever changing sky. The simplicity of the text means that the earliest readers will soon be able to pick it up and will return to it over and over.
One story. Two mice. Three cheers. Lots to love.
(Picture book. 3-8)
A confident owl employs ace hunting skills—sort of—to fill his tummy.
Hoot Owl’s hungry, but he isn’t worried, because he’s an excellent predator. His first quarry’s a “tasty rabbit,” wide-eyed and innocent. Hoot Owl has a special technique, which becomes a refrain: “Everyone knows owls are wise. But as well as being wise, I am a master of disguise.” He dresses up as a carrot and sets himself down. The bunny smiles in the carrot’s direction and hops away. Undeterred, Hoot Owl restarts the pattern, targeting a bespectacled lamb and a pigeon, to no avail. Hoot Owl talks a fierce and uproarious game—“I swoop through the bleak blackness like a wolf in the air”; “The lamb looks cuddly, but soon I will be eating it”—but he never actually attacks anything. He merely camouflages himself—but not really—and waits. Jullien’s bold, black outlines, expressive animal eyes and positioning (Hoot Owl is frequently sideways) hilariously complement Taylor’s text, which reveals the predator as both melodramatic (“The shadowy night stretches away forever, as black as burnt toast”) and unflustered. Rich, matte colors and a flattish, zoomed-in perspective of the nighttime scenes keep the vibe immediate and nonthreatening. Never fear: Hoot Owl’s “deadly-dangerous beak” eventually chomps on something that even squeamish readers will approve of.
A father’s thoughtful explanation provides a helpful perspective for a child’s loss.
Sonya is bereft when a fox takes one of the three chickens she’s cared for like a mother, but her papa comforts her with the idea that the fox is also trying to feed his family. Her family acknowledges Sonya’s grief with a small ceremony, and the child and her chickens move on. There’s an old-fashioned feel to this simple story and its timeless illustrations, created with watercolor, collage, and colored pencil and reminiscent of Goodnight Moon in mood, design, and palette. Inside, Sonya’s house is cozy and dark. In contrast, the world outside shines white, as background to text, with vignettes or a frame or portion of the opposite image spilling across the gutter. A warm scene of Sonya’s mixed-race family having dinner together is mirrored later on by one with the fox curled up with its kits, each family shown opposite a page with an egg-shaped text frame. Both words and illustrations emphasize comfort and the security a family can provide. But this is also a realistic description of chicken care, including preparing, cleaning, and repairing the coop, feeding the chickens, and making sure they have water and fresh straw—even finding eggs.
A reassuring story about death in the natural world, thoughtfully designed and illustrated.
(Picture book. 4-8)