A small child plays hide-and-seek with a surprisingly elusive (except to viewers) elephant.
“OK. You hide,” says the child. Says the elephant: “I must warn you though. I’m VERY good.” The dark-skinned, springy-haired, and increasingly confused-looking child fruitlessly searches house and yard for the pachyderm—who positively dominates each scene whether “hiding” beneath curtains, under a coverlet on top of the bed, or behind a skinny tree. Applying thin color to rough-surfaced paper with splashy, Chris Raschka–style freedom, Barrow supplies the questing child with parents (a biracial couple, to judge from family portraits on the wall), legibly hand-lettered dialogue, and a small dog who has no trouble at all seeing the elephant. A tap on the shoulder brings the game to an end at last, whereupon a tortoise’s invitation to a round of tag presents an easier challenge. Or does it? “I must warn you though….” Beyond the sheer absurdity, children will delight in details, such as the wide-screen TV the elephant holds in one scene, the child’s dad so focused on the soccer game on the screen that he asks, “What elephant?” and the sly alterations to the family portraits on the rear endpapers.
Younger audiences will be screaming “There it is!” from the get-go.
(Picture book. 3-5)
One animal after another yawns with the lift of a flap…even the small child at the end.
A “yawner” in the best sense, this parade of sleepyheads isn’t just a series of variations on the same motion—it offers a mix of repetition and low-key interactive surprises. Each double-page spread features a big, simple, familiar creature whose rounded muzzle is a flap. In most cases, lifting the flap reveals a wide-open mouth—but partway through is an arctic fox who starts out gaping so that the flap action goes down rather than up. Similarly, along with patterned observations that each animal is “yawning,” occasional anxiety-reducing comments like “What a funny tongue!” or “Look at those funny teeth!” join interactive suggestions that young viewers grunt along with the piggy and help the hippo yawn three times. Finally, following an artful comment that the little turtle is ready for bed, a bald, light-brown–skinned toddler (“Is the little child going to bed too?”) yawns and goes “off…to…sleep.” On a final gatefold the entire cast nestles together in snoozeville.
One day the unceasingly cheerful Narwhal finds himself “in new waters” and meets his soon-to-be best friend, the slightly apprehensive Jelly the jellyfish. Narwhal has never met a jellyfish, and Jelly has never met a narwhal; the two learn about each other through a lively exchange of facts. Their aquatic adventures are plentiful: they read books together, try to form a not-exclusively-narwhal pod, and daydream about waffles and robots. Jokes abound, giving this a lighthearted animated sensibility. Cool pelagic blues mingle with a merry sunshine yellow over simple, line-based characters, creating a homespun, whimsical feel that works well to evince their buoyant escapades and uncomplicated happiness. Expression lines visually punctuate the illustrations, giving the characters a lively boost. When Narwhal gets a good idea, his tusk lights up to emit jolly, ochre lines; Jelly’s sometimes-dour moods are communicated with scribbly black clouds hovering overhead. Together, Narwhal and Jelly navigate the intricacies of making a friendship work, discovering that friends can share a great time together even when engaged in the most pedestrian activities. The incessant charm and unabashed joy should make this an easy sell.
Swimmingly delightful and a guaranteed smile-maker.
(Graphic fiction. 6-10)
By means of the alphabet, this bilingual book introduces the cloud forest habitat of the olinguito, a recently discovered mammalian species from the Ecuadorean Andes.
Via text that reads like poetry, readers join a zoologist in the cloud forest of the Ecuadorean Andes as he searches for the elusive olinguito. Using the alphabet as a device, Delacre presents the habitat of the olinguito. By focusing on the habitat rather than the animal the author reinforces the important concept of interconnectedness. In a nice departure from the usual bilingual book produced in the States, Spanish is presented first, and the alphabet includes the “ñ.” In another welcome departure, both languages have been allowed to breathe and sound fluent. The Spanish text, often alliterative, hews closer to the corresponding alphabet letter than the English does; if it doesn’t work for the English text the author has allowed it to be so. For example, “Pp: Pica, pica, picaflor del paraíso de las palmas de cera / A hummingbird sips nectar in this paradise of wax palms.” The beautifully detailed mixed-media artwork urges readers to look closely, and the author further encourages exploration by listing some of the things readers can go back and search for in the illustrations. The book is rounded out with bilingual backmatter.
Poetic and informative, a breath of fresh air in the too-often-contrived world of bilingual books.
(author notes, glossaries, author’s sources)
(Bilingual informational picture book. 5-9)
In this comical tale, one kingdom is fed up with its disobedient dragon.
This book may seem like your classic “bad dragon gone terrible” tale, complete with a king, a castle, and knights, but the text and illustrations work together to offer readers a different story—one that is modern and timeless. Dragon isn’t terrible in the way readers might suspect. Dragon is actually “super terrible” and spends his days spitting on cupcakes (“Who does that?!”) and stealing candy from baby unicorns (“Honestly, that’s terrible”). The illustrations add depth to each character and successfully integrate one contemporary character (a bespectacled, light-skinned child wearing sneakers and carrying a banjo) into the historical setting, which, in conjunction with the minimalist backdrop and modern narrative voice, creates relevancy and fosters a connection with readers. A valiant effort is made to include diverse characters, with a brown child, a brown wizard, and knights of varying skin tones. Perhaps the book’s most remarkable feat is its ability to gently and humorously suggest alternative, peaceable methods for dealing with negative emotions and destructive behavior while also reminding readers of the cathartic power of a good story. Astute readers will be able to pinpoint the moment when Dragon’s heart becomes open to change.
This is one terribly good dragon tale that will leave readers laughing and with an appreciation for the healing power of a good book.
(Picture book. 3-8)
When her mom and all her brothers are trapped in a bucket, it’s time for Teeny Tiny Toady to screw her courage to the sticking place and hop to the rescue.
As big of eyes, personality, and emotion as she is tiny and pink of body in Yamaguchi’s swampy ground–level scenes, Teeny is “toadally” terrific. Shoved to the rear by her seven hulking brothers after bursting through the door with the news of their mother’s plight, Teeny hops behind, “wishing she could be a bigger, stronger, / hero kind of toad.” Then, when her comically dim-bulb brothers not only fail to tip the bucket over, but manage (after ignoring or co-opting several of her savvy suggestions) to fall in themselves, it’s left up to her: “ ‘I’m too little,’ Teeny blubbered. ‘I can’t do it! Not alone!’ / But she had to, had to, had to. / Tiny Teeny, / on her own.” One unlikely but successful stratagem later, everyone is free, jubilant, and praising their diminutive rescuer. “ ‘You’re a hero!’ / ‘What a kid!’ / ‘Wanna ride home on my shoulders, Sis?’ ” No surprise—“She absolutely did!” Yamaguchi’s illustrations are every bit as adorable as Teeny, her wee pink form hilarious when juxtaposed with her brothers’, who resemble warty tennis balls with limbs.
A triumphant reaffirmation of the truth that large hearts can beat in small chests, told in playful verse that gallops along with nary a stumble.
(Picture book. 6-8)
Two sibling pigs who couldn’t be more different spend the day together.
Paul is a neatnik who loves to make “sure everything is sparkling and in its place.” Antoinette likes cleaning too, so long as it involves “licking the plates and sticky knives” after she’s made her Two-Taste Toasts. Paul’s idea of a good day is tweezing the parts of a model ship into place. Antoinette’s is finding dead birds, bugs, and beetles. When Antoinette finally hauls Paul outside, “he’s inspired to think deeply about Ikebana,” while she licks a snail, names it Edmond, and then tucks it into her pocket. Working in deeply hued watercolors, Kerascoët (duo Marie Pommepuy and Sébastian Cosset) creates an appealing, adult-free world, neatly expanding on their wry text. When Antoinette throws herself at what Paul sees as a “ferocious beast”—perhaps a bison, yeti, or werewolf—readers see an enormous, benign brown dog. Boisterous Antoinette has a perpetual (if ever changing) stain around her mouth; prim Paul wears glasses. It would be easy to paint Paul as an irredeemable prig, simply a foil to the dynamic Antoinette, but Kerascoët refrains, simply endowing each little pig with oodles of personality, however contrasting; Antoinette splashes in every mud puddle, while Paul leaps “elegantly over each” one. No matter the differences, the affection between the siblings is manifest.
That each little pig thoroughly subverts gender stereotypes is simply icing on one perfectly delightful cake
. (Picture book. 4-8)
Pill bug Hank’s day moves from ordinary to extraordinary when Amelia, a dark-skinned girl with huge eyes and black braids, gives him a ride on her pilot’s helmet.
Amelia’s appearance on the cover, gazing down at the diminutive, sweet-faced Hank, is a welcome addition to shelves groaning with light-skinned cover models. Amelia plays her stellar role after Hank begins his day. In large print against white paper, Hank’s daily ritual of crawling out from under a rock is related: as he “shimmies through tall grass” and “nibbles on a dead leaf.” Readers see and read about Hank’s world—including other insects—through his slow, ground-level progression, appropriately depicted in earth tones. Humorous labels (“weird worm”) are hand-lettered. One funny sequence shows Hank’s laborious climb up a tiny twig—his “exercise stick.” The climax arrives as Amelia carefully lifts Hank onto her helmet, then rushes around her yard, arms widespread, pretending to be Amelia Earhart. The narrative continues in large print, while speech bubbles are used for Amelia’s narration of their flight around the world: “In Paris, the plane just misses the Eiffel Tower.” After Amelia has set Hank back where she found him—a helpful hint to budding naturalists—Hank retraces his steps back to his home. The energy of art and text move seamlessly down to nighttime—and a young reader’s nap or bedtime.
Excellent layout, text, and illustrations make for a thoroughly satisfying story.
(Picture book. 3-8)
How a skunk came to have a magenta balloon tied to its foot is a mystery, but there it is, bobbing upside down through town on a wordless journey.
At first just the balloon and string are visible—on the endpapers and title page, then floating among an assortment of helium counterparts carried by costumed parade participants. The black-and-white creature moves on, rising and falling through differently sized and shaped sequential panels. It passes ethnically diverse individuals seen through windows in an apartment complex; the sight of it causes a woman below to be “watered” by the surprised flowerbox gardener above. Some characters attempt assistance: a crane worker offers a sandwich, an elephant extends its trunk. Each action causes a reaction, displaying Lam’s facility in arranging cut paper to show motion. Her colorful collages present a pleasing balance of white space, interesting patterns, bright solids, and stylized shapes. (Well-read viewers will find subtle references to Eric Carle.) She orchestrates suspense and comedy, as in the hilarious view of her protagonist’s puffy cheeks during an underwater scene. When the skunk finally frees itself, its rueful expression speaks volumes; ultimately, the creature masterminds a plan and resumes life aloft.
There are multiple reasons to return to the beginning, not the least of which is the impulse to figure out how to mimic such clever compositions.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Inside every kitten is a tiger…Stripes longs to let his out!
Stripes is not the fierce jungle beast he’d like to be. He imagines himself a tiger. “Sometimes Stripes’ shadow allows him to imagine he’s big… / …but his reflection always reminds him that he’s little.” Stripes won’t give up his dream; he won’t purr when petted—he roars. He’s also taken to chasing the dog (big game!) rather than mice. So his owner takes Stripes to the zoo to see what a real-life tiger is like. Stripes envies his idol’s awesome life…fortunately, it turns out the tiger is just as discontented with its life as Stripes is; and the two hit upon the purrrfect plan to realize their lives’ dreams. Leroy and Delaporte’s simple tale of feline wish fulfillment was first published in Canada in French in 2010, and the uncredited translation reads clawlessly—er, flawlessly. Delaporte’s scribbly, cartoon illustrations are dynamic and expressive; Stripes’ roar is audible (and adorable at the end, when he takes the tiger’s place in the zoo’s cage). Children with dreams larger than themselves will identify with Stripes and enjoy picking out the humorous details in the pictures.
In the forest, a little bear discovers an object he’s never seen before—a piano. At first the cub isn’t sure about the strange device, but over time he comes to love the instrument and the music.
The other animals in the bear’s forest home delight in his talent, but he dreams of bigger things. When the opportunity comes to play in the city, it’s a hard decision, but off he goes, and stardom awaits. The bear becomes famous beyond his wildest dreams. He finds great success, but eventually he comes to miss his home. He returns, nervous that his friends may be angry with him for leaving, but instead he finds the entire forest beaming with pride for all he has accomplished. This is one of those rare books that children can return to again and again through the years, each time finding new meaning appropriate to their varying ages and stages. In the emotive, whimsical illustrations readers will sense the bear’s hesitation to leave the forest, his exaltation at playing in grand concert halls, and his longing to return home. The forest seems to sparkle on the page when the bear returns to play for his friends once more.
Litchfield’s poignant debut picture book celebrates both the wonders of wandering far in pursuit of one’s dreams and the sweet comfort of returning home.
(Picture book. 4-9)
“Yap yap yap” has never been so expressive or so insistent.
Pug wants to go out, but it's snowing and no one wants to walk the dog. Using just 11 one-syllable words, Long tells a complete story that is familiar to any dog owner. The sentences follow a predictable, subject-verb-object pattern. The longest sentence is just four words long (“Pug wants to go”). The few words are repeated often, making this a confidence builder for the youngest beginning readers. Pug exudes energy, beginning on the frontmatter display of nine digitally manipulated images of this dog, which has the characteristic tightly curled tail and broad, flat, wrinkled muzzle of the breed. Young children will quickly chime in on Pug’s “yap yap yap” refrain, which dominates the pages. Charming and clutter-free illustrations match the brief text and add information for picture readers to glean. The humans—Dad, Mom, and Tad—are equally easy to read. On the final page the pugnacious pet's persistence wins out. When Pug finally catches up to Peg, both dogs and owners look shyly pleased to be walking together. Tad is white, while Peg's owner is curly-haired and brown-skinned. Perhaps a friendship is blooming.
New readers will be happy to yap along with this pup. How about a sequel? (Picture book/early reader. 3-7)
Following their Sibert Award–winning Parrots Over Puerto Rico, Roth and Trumbore turn to prairie dogs.
Each double-page spread includes a collage, a verse from a cumulative song based on “And the Green Grass Grew All Around,” and text detailing the evolving history and ecological significance of prairie dogs in North America. The clever layout makes this a book that can grow with its readers. For little ones, the large-print words of the song can be used along with the amazing artwork; older readers can move on to the highly informative, engaging narrative. The song teaches succinctly about the biodiversity of the prairie habitat before farmers and ranchers, the near-extinction of the entire habitat, and the return to biodiversity once the importance of the prairie dogs was recognized. In flowing, conversational language, the text for older readers includes such subjects as 19th-century, government-sanctioned prairie dog poisoning and how, in 1988, the prairie dog was finally recognized as a keystone species—one on which an entire ecosystem depends. The ongoing tale is uplifting, as individual people, organizations, and, finally, the government of Mexico have helped to bring back both the prairie dog and the prairie. Although the song’s scansion is rough at times—“owls bur-rowed” could have been “owls bur-rowed in”—adult readers can compensate for this, and the entire book is a worthy work of science-and-arts integration.
A mother bear and her newborn cub move through the seasons in this British import.
The text is brief and simple, the language lyrical. An adult female, Big Bear, introduces her Little One to new places and other animals. She demonstrates how to forage for food and, albeit somewhat obscurely, “how to enjoy the long summer days.” When winter comes she leads her cub back up to their den in the hills to settle down for their winter’s sleep. Beautifully designed and executed charcoal illustrations offer a single scene on each double-page spread. Debut author/illustrator Weaver uses the limited palette of black, white, and gray masterfully. She is particularly skilled in conveying the play of light, as in a picture that shows mother and child ambling into a forest glade, where black tree trunks and gray leaves are backlit by soft but bright sunlight. White space is used effectively, especially in the rush of a river and a blustery snowstorm. The texture of the paper the drawings were composed on shows through, enhancing the furriness of the bears and the blurred beauty of a stand of trees reflected in a lake. Although a few touches of anthropomorphism creep into the text, they don’t detract from the authenticity (and more than likely will add to the appeal) of this lovely depiction of the natural world.
A wealthy lord has everything, yet it’s never enough until deprivation teaches him life’s true riches.
Lying in luxury atop Hunger Mountain, a haughty cat lord lives in excess. His clothes are spun from silk and gold, and he always leaves his bowl of the finest rice half eaten. But a drought begins, and famine spreads. The villagers leave; still the arrogant feline stays, refusing to part with his possessions. Finally, starving and alone, the lord ventures out and must beg for food. When a kindly monk gives him a spoonful of rice—the grains of which were collected from the cat’s wasted extravagance at Hunger Mountain—the lord finally understands what it means to be blessed. The well-paced fable is visually stunning, as photographs, textured paper, string, and other materials combine into magnificent paper collage illustrations. At times abstract but always beautifully composed, the artwork shows a deep appreciation for its audience, boldly challenging readers to interpret and extract meaning. During the cat’s epiphany, the mountain and mist resolve into a symbolic panda servant dutifully washing the rich lord’s rice. In a time when almost all illustrators use digital manipulation, this artist only needs paper and scissors to assemble a brilliant image.
Young is at the height of his powers in this fable that offers a feast for the eyes, mind, and soul. A visual masterpiece.
(Picture book. 4-8)