In this modern reweaving of “Little Red Riding Hood” set on a modern, fanciful African savanna, readers meet a young, black Little Red who gracefully outwits the more-hungry-than-horrifying Lion.
The Lion imagines his “very-clever-plan” to sneak off to a spots-afflicted Auntie Rosie’s house to solve his grumbling tummy, just in time for Little Red to arrive. But of course, the perceptive Little Red instantly notices that the muumuu-clad Lion is not her Auntie Rosie. She forms her own plan to teach the naughty Lion a lesson. She heads first for the Lion’s unkempt mane with brush and comb, magically transforming it into a “lovely new look,” complete with pink bow-tie barrettes. Those pink bow ties inspire Little Red to find a much prettier dress for him to wear than the muumuu. The annoyed, fed-up Lion bellows his hunger only to be confronted with Little Red’s wagging finger as she explains in quick, calming, decisive fashion, “Well, trying to eat children and aunties is VERY naughty. If you were hungry, all you had to do was ask for some food.” They reconcile their relationship swiftly with a box of doughnuts as the tale comes to a close. Wonderful, jazzy illustrations feature brilliant oranges, yellows, and pinks underscored by vivid, playful language to add to the intrigue. Little Red is a mite with a red dress and two spectacular pigtails.
Great storytelling braided with lively color and a culturally affirming accent makes this book a real standout.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Wanting to become the “happiest book ever,” a personified book enlists its friends’ help—but things go awry when a “frowny frog” doesn’t fit in, hilariously teaching the book (and readers) kindness and acceptance.
A benign happy face enthusiastically greets readers and asks them to help. With each spread, the cheery mood becomes more pronounced, the face more exuberant, and the author’s signature humor more in evidence. Cheerful, appealing characters blossom, cute and full of whimsy, many with labels that emphasize their silliness or absurdity. These minimalist images are perfectly juxtaposed to a photo of a dour-looking frog, whose seriousness pervades the book. Soon the once-upbeat face reveals an accusatory, even aggressive side, proving the ends don’t justify the means. But through its friends’ guidance, the book learns tolerance and understanding, allowing for true happiness and cheer. Shea masterfully uses a simple format to introduce a complicated idea: how to illustrate the subconscious thinking of a fictional character. On the right page is the face and its verbal self, represented by the text. On the left is the visual manifestation of its thoughts (with some spillover to the right). There are levels of sophistication to this well-designed artwork done in a primary four-color palette with white accents. The interactive components will have readers shaking and flipping—and most of all laughing—their ways through its pages.
A wonderful rethinking of the picture book as its own character. Wacky, zany, and downright fun.
(Picture book. 5-8)
In the first few double-page spreads, the swaddled, white, potato-shaped infant presides over an adoring, diverse crowd of admirers as his proud parents look on. “But your king also has many demands!” reads a later page, and his mother and father patiently meet those demands in illustrations that show them becoming increasingly exhausted. It’s a well-worn theme, reminiscent of Marla Frazee’s Boss Baby (2010), but Beaton keeps her book feeling fresh through humorous illustrations that expand on the wry text and never shy away from exposing the extent of King Baby’s tyranny. As King Baby gets older, he learns to crawl (the sequence showing this achievement is a triumph) and then becomes “a big boy” astride a toddler’s balance bike at the playground. No longer King Baby, the big boy wonders, “But what of these poor subjects? / Who are they, without a king? // And who will lead them if not I?”—and a wholly satisfying conclusion arrives with Queen Baby.
Long live King and Queen Baby! (Picture book. 3-8)
A small goblin finds courage when he defends a friend.
Bug-eyed, green Goblin with his toothy underbite lights torches, feeds rats, and plans to hang out in his dungeon for the day with his Very Best Friend, Skeleton, who has a crown. But the ominous sound of “boots on stone” announces adventurers—light-skinned and medieval-garbed with a full-figured warrior woman in the lead—who come roaring into Goblin’s home to steal all the books, treasure, and worst of all, Skeleton. Shaken, Goblin sets out “into the wide world” to get his friend back, but his troll neighbor cautions, “Nobody likes a goblin.” A farmer with a pitchfork and a gang of elves prove quite serious in their antipathy. Themes of loyalty, courage, and friendship nicely complement the lively sense of danger. Diagonal lines invest each page with motion; full-color art with entertaining details—look for the small dragons on the rocks and for the kidnapped goose and girl on the adventurers’ cart—pulls readers in to the story. When a company of goblins asks our hero, still wearing Skeleton’s crown from before, “Are you the Goblin King?” he thinks a moment before responding “Yes….yes, I am.” Young readers will find themselves cheering Goblin on—he may not be lovely, but his sense of friendship and his loyalty are convincing and appealing.
Endearing and entertaining: what’s not to like—or love? (Picture book. 4-8)
A bear, a mother, and her child have lively two-way conversations.
Endpapers set a humorous tone with their depiction of bear tracks on an old-fashioned tiled floor. Readers then meet a big bear trying to hide behind a tree. They are invited to share in his escapade as he is next seen in an apartment house. Quiet, he signals, and the deadpan fun continues. A child, dialogue in black, announces that “there’s a bear at the door!” Mom answers, her dialogue in red, “But we live on the eleventh floor!” “That’s why he’s there,” says the child. (Duh.) The verbal mayhem continues as logic is stretched. The bear takes the bus and yes, he has a ticket, because how else could he board the bus? He is on their floor because he wants to see the sea. He can’t do that in the forest where he lives, which is why he has to look out their window. His objective met, he enjoys Black Forest cake, and then the bear and the child, properly helmeted, bus and bicycle back to the forest to enjoy a cozy nap. Lipan’s text, translated from German, recalls the rhythmic cadences of Remy Charlip’s classic Fortunately. Olten’s colorful, full-bleed artwork with reds and greens predominating imbues the characters with barrelfuls of personality.
Verbal and visual humor abound.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Occasional disagreements and the need to mend a friendship are universal challenges.
Omek and Yelfred sport the gap-toothed look of human 5- and 6-year-olds, but with sharper teeth. They are neon-berry colored—Yelfred is purple and Omek is pink—and they have tadpolelike tails and antennae. They have grown up together, eating together and playing eye ball, “best frints since they were little blobbies” among the bright and toothy landscapes of their far-off planet, Boborp. But when Yelfred rides up in a sleek new spossip, a blurfday gift, Omek longs to take it for a spin and won’t take no for an answer. As young readers might predict, the spossip gets shmackled. Yelfred is furious, and Omek is hardly contrite: “It was that way when I got it.” Tail biting and harsh words ensue. “Frints on Boborp have been known to use their teef and not their words. (Not like here on planet Earth),” Portis notes wryly. But a détente follows quickly, involving work with a spewdriver and copious amounts of taypo and twire applied to hold the vehicle together. Portis’ bright, odd landscapes, flora and fauna digitally colored in vibrant hues, and her two grinning friends are all sweetly demented and irresistible. An illustrated glossary appears on the endpapers and invites giggles, imitation, and the addition of Boborpian to languages spoken at home.
Rex offers a different perspective on the first day of school: that of the newly constructed school building itself.
Robinson’s illustrations of Frederick Douglass Elementary are anthropomorphized only from the front and side views (two doors with a window “eye” in each, the two handles making a nose, and mouthlike stairs). Throughout the book, though, the text relays the conversations the school has with Janitor as well as its often funny thoughts and feelings. The brand-new school isn’t so sure that he will enjoy having children inside its walls learning and playing. Once they are there, the school is shocked by a few of the older kids who remark “This place stinks,” and “I hate school.” And when one little freckled girl has to be carried in by her mother, he thinks, “I must be awful.” He’s embarrassed by his fire alarm and doesn’t like having milk snorted on him. But he enjoys learning about shapes with the kindergarten kids, and he likes the change he sees coming over the freckled girl. In fact, he has so much fun on the first day that he asks Janitor to invite all the kids back again tomorrow. “I’ll see what I can do,” says the laconic black man. Using his signature, simple style, Robinson alternates scenes of the building and its interiors with shots that show the boisterously diverse kids’ first day.
A unique point of view makes this school book stand out.
(Picture book. 4-8)
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)
Austrian and Curato turn the simple wedding of two worms into a three-ring circus that slyly turns the whole controversy over same-sex versus heterosexual marriage on its head.
“Worm loves Worm. ‘Let’s be married,’ says Worm to Worm. ‘Yes!’ answers Worm. ‘Let’s be married.’ ” Seems simple to the two worms but not to the other woodland critters. Cricket insists on officiating. “That’s how it’s always been done” is his oft-repeated refrain. Beetle wants to be the best beetle, the Bees want to be the bride’s bees, the worms must wear rings, and they need a band to dance to, flowers, and a cake. The intendeds solve all these issues as well as the question of who’s the bride, who’s the groom. “ ‘I can be the bride,’ says Worm. ‘I can, too,’ says Worm.” They both are also the groom. One wears a veil, bow tie, gold ring, and black trousers; the other sports a top hat, gold ring, and flouncy white skirt. The wedding party is in awe, save uptight Cricket. “ ‘We’ll just change how it’s done,’ says Worm.” And so they do, and they are married at last...“because Worm loves Worm.” Curato’s pencil-and-Photoshop illustrations use white backgrounds to great effect, keeping the characters front and center. The two worms are differentiated only by their eyes: one has black dots, and the other has white around the black dots.
As in life, love conquers all.
(Picture book. 3-8)