Robinson reimagines the 1958 story originally illustrated by Remy Charlip, in which children find a dead bird and offer it a send-off through ritual and song.
Brown’s lovely, gentle, and reassuring text remains the same. The children find a still-warm bird and experience its loss. Knowing it will never fly again, they create a grave—wrapping the bird in grapevine leaves and burying it with sweet-ferns and flowers. Both innocent and wise, the children sing about the bird’s death and cry before inscribing a stone to place on top. Robinson stays true to the intent of the original text and illustrations but elegantly improves upon it with cinematic storytelling. His setting is a lush urban park filled with trees, bridges, and ponds, framed by a city skyline. And his characters are diverse in gender and ethnicity but universal in their emotions, curiosity, and playfulness (one wears fairy wings and another a fox costume). While simply rendered, with basic shapes and few brush strokes, the design of the spreads and the progression of images are spatially sophisticated. As in his illustrations for Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street (2015), the artist’s characters and environments have a realness to them, perhaps because Robinson portrays them with such respect, love, and ease.
A story about the importance of ritual and the ability for renewal, itself magnificently renewed by Robinson.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Only the last page features the titular pickle—the rest of the book is a tribute to the five senses that will resonate with young readers.
Highlighting sensory experiences that will be familiar to the majority of readers, Isadora focuses on one sense at a time, progressing from hearing to smelling, seeing, touching, and tasting (readers can track their progress with a list in the upper right of each spread); she devotes three spreads to all but taste, which gets only two. An ethnically diverse group of young children tell readers what they sense—or don’t—in simple declarative sentences that are sometimes embellished by the kids’ thoughts: “I don’t smell. I have a cold.” “I don’t see the words in my book. / I wear my glasses. I see the words!” “I touch the egg. Oops!” While one girl enjoys PB&J, another says, “I taste a jelly sandwich. I’m allergic to peanuts.” Isadora’s ink-and-watercolor artwork uses vignettes and white backgrounds to bring each sense to the forefront, and children of most skin and hair colors will find at least one face like their own in these pages (glasses are the only depicted disability, however).
Teachers, make sure this is on your shelves—it’s a great read-aloud, an easy read for beginning readers, and a model for student books.
(Picture/concept book. 3-6)
Viewers follow the unfurling of an exotic woodland plant through the actions and invented language of beautifully coiffed and clothed insects.
The nonsense narrative is presented through dialogue. Because the conversations connect to specific phenomena and many words are repeated, decoding occurs fairly quickly. “Du iz tak?” (Probably: “What is that?”) “Ma ebadow unk plonk.” (Perhaps: “I think it’s a plant.”) The true meaning is anyone’s guess, but therein lies the fun. A large trim size and an abundance of white space on the opening pages send readers’ eyes to the delicate ink-and-gouache winged creatures and the small green shoot at the base of the spreads. Over several days and nights, the scene builds: a caterpillar forms a cocoon; a snail emerges from its well-appointed log to lend a “ribble” (“ladder”) so its friends can build a “furt” in the rising stalk; a cricket fiddles in the moonlight. Danger appears—a menacing spider that seems intent on caging the plant in its web until an enormous bird swoops in, altering the course of events. But there is glory too as the “gladdenboot” blooms and the encapsulated moth takes flight. This is certain to ignite readers’ interest and imaginings regarding their natural surroundings.
Following the minute changes as the pages turn is to watch growth, transformation, death, and rebirth presented as enthralling spectacle.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Shy (his name as well as his defining characteristic) is happiest “between the pages of a book.” This is both metaphorical—he’s happiest when reading his stack of bird books—and literal: Shy isn’t depicted on the page, and a thin arrow indicates he’s hiding in the spine of Freedman’s book. The illustrations show tiny rocks, bits of grass, faint airborne bubbles and musical notes—and a small yellow bird who perches on the stack of books, capturing Shy’s whole heart with her song. He’s too bashful to reveal himself, but when she departs, he follows. Only his footsteps can be seen. Shy journeys across landscapes to the ocean, seeing animals—walrus, elephant, aardvark, hippo, whale—and, finally, his bird. Again, he can’t speak. She disappears; he heads home, heartbroken. But she flies by, and this time, Shy emerges from the book’s spine to greet her—musically. This is the first time readers see who he is, though in hindsight, they’ll realize he may have appeared earlier. Freedman’s fine pencil lines, graceful animals, superb compositions, and spare text are virtuosic, but the backgrounds are the soul of Shy’s tale: breathtaking watercolor washes blend hues softly from one section of the natural color spectrum to another, opaquely connoting desert, mountains, skies, dawn, and night.
An exquisite treasure for bashful readers, animal lovers, and anyone who’s ever wanted a friend.
(Picture book. 3-7, adult)
Like a Zen koan, this story draws readers’ attention to silence, that vanishingly rare attribute of modern family life.
Yoshio, wearing the classic bright cap and backpack of the Japanese pupil, sets jauntily off on his way to school through the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Along the way he meets an elderly woman playing the koto, a traditional stringed instrument, who tells him that “the most beautiful sound” is in fact ma, or silence. Puzzling over this conundrum as he moves through his noise-filled day, Yoshio eventually becomes aware that silence is always there too, if only one learns how to notice it. Every detail of this book brings Japan vividly to life, from popular storefronts and cartoon characters to commuters wearing surgical masks and children removing their outside shoes at school. Japanese is rich in onomatopoeic sounds, and Goldsaito and Kuo convey this linguistic quirk to English readers both visually and verbally. The elegantly expressive text and illustrations together create an immersive sensory experience for readers.
An inviting tale that will stretch inquisitive and observant young minds—and may even lead children to a greater appreciation of that golden commodity, silence
. (Picture book. 5-9)
Sleeping children on different sides of the ocean are linked by nature’s sounds.
The sun moves west, and an evening breeze “carries the song of crickets” to a sleeping child. Outside, cricket song merges with the “kreck” of frogs and the “poorwill!” of a bird listening for a fox’s woodland footsteps. While the fox sniffs rabbit’s field burrow, she listens to owl’s “hoo” over the ocean, where “sea otters doze” in the bay and whales sing “deep in the sea.” The same breeze draws fishermen to another shore. Here, parakeets “scrawk” in a palm tree growing in the yard of a girl sleeping while crickets sing outside the window. The sonorous text, laced with soothing onomatopoeic animal sounds, transports wee listeners from the bedroom of one sleeping child to that of another. Soporific illustrations in pen, ink, and watercolor realistically capture nature’s creatures in the muted hues of dusk, while deft use of crosshatching suggests nightfall’s atmospheric shadows. The double-page spreads progress from bedroom to yard to woods to fields to shore to ocean and finally to another shore and a different bedroom. A panoramic border at the foot of each spread holistically spans both coasts, transitioning from temperate to tropical worlds as each new page turn reveals minute visual changes reflecting the text.
This describes itself as “a counting book about building,” but it is so much more.
Vying for readers’ attention are the snappy rhymes that both count and instruct and the artwork, the details so vivid and the bricks so real that some of the stacks might just fall with the touch of a counting finger. With each turn of the page, what appear to be the members of a community—young and old, male and female, black and white and brown—add more bricks to create a masterpiece. Starting with “two, four, six. / Look at all the bricks! / Red and rough, hard and tough. / Two, four, six,” the piles of bricks get larger and larger as readers are treated to a view of how bricks are made. Some mix the mortar, some lay the bricks, and one white boy, having been given one brick by what could be his grandmother, can be seen on every page, carrying or offering his brick to workers. Past the halfway mark, Cyrus continues to use numbers in his rhymes, but readers will be unable to match them with bricks to count. No matter. This is an amazing feat of architecture and artistry that kids will pore over long after the last brick has been laid.
After sharing this, readers will have a new appreciation for bricks and will want to count all the ways they’re used in their own communities.
(Counting/picture book. 4-7)
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)