Meet the numbat, fairy armadillo, zorilla, banded linsang, hirola, and a world of lesser-known animals.
Martin takes on his first written and illustrated project in an experimental, factual study of unfamiliar animals that offers a cheekily entertaining collection of fascinating creatures. Each double-page spread features one animal and related data: its size, what it eats, where it lives, a general description of the beast, comparisons to other animals, and, crucially, the animal’s status—ranging from endangered to “least concern,” with a couple who are “data deficient.” Sharing space with the (mostly) realistic depictions of these animals are cartoons, many of them with quips or other remarks young readers will appreciate. Martin creatively offers as thumbnails often humorous illustrations of other animals as comparison, and he depicts their ranges on unlabeled but recognizable maps. The solid background colors vary from blue ocean depths to sandy African and Middle Eastern desert lands. Young readers will chuckle multiple times or simply ask questions; the word “ass” or “asses” is used eight times in the onager entry, and there’s a tidbit about British explorer John Speke, who suffered “the unhelpful setback of dying.” What is perhaps the most important feature is the book’s not-at-all-subtle mission to encourage the protection of status-threatened creatures.
This ambitious nonfiction picture book uncovering extraordinary, rarely spotlighted creatures is both informative and funny—quite a feat.
(Informational picture book. 7-10)
A lost polar bear strikes fear into the woodland animals until his extraordinary efforts to return home bring help, hope, and understanding.
A lone figure, balanced on a miniscule shard of ice, floats toward land under a moonlit sky. It covers itself in leaves and finds shelter in an old, abandoned cave, while the native animals watch and discuss, scared of the unknown. Every day they gossip, naming him Leaf, but none talk to the mysterious creature until Leaf attempts to fly home. The crows rescue him, and the animals promise to tell Leaf’s story, so no polar bear will “ever get lost again.” The illustrations, done in pencil, pen, wash, and paint with collage, are infused with a European folk-art aesthetic. Dieckmann plays with scale and proportion for dramatic and psychological effect. Grand spreads contrasting the mountains and sea offer a wide, dreamlike sensibility, whereas the portrait of Leaf in his cave brings forth the bear’s emotional isolation. Skilled linework provides depth and detailed information; and the artist’s appealing patterning acts almost like hieroglyphs, with the green plants and vibrant flowers indicating a foreign world to the bear, compared to the blue environment of his home. A timely story, one that yields multiple interpretations and meanings, from the “othering” of unfamiliar populations and those seeking refuge from a changing world to the impacts of climate change.
Dieckmann beautifully weaves together some of today’s most difficult themes into a deceptively simple tale.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A small child, a fox, and the deep forest: not a grim tale at all but rather a magical journey culminating in an act of mutual kindness.
Front endpapers show a shelf with dolls, stuffed animals (including a stuffed fox), and books, including Adventures of a Small Fox and The Magical Unicorn, which foreshadow the story to come. The protagonist, a brown-skinned child with a black pageboy, brings the much-beloved fox to show and tell and then takes it out to the playground at recess. But when the child plays on the swings, a real fox takes the stuffed fox and runs off with it through the woods. Up to now the wordless panels have been tinged with blue; the live fox is a vivid orange. The child and a light-skinned friend with close-cropped hair and glasses follow, the pages becoming more varied in hue and highly saturated before bursting, Oz-like, with color when they reach the fairy-tale town where the fox lives. The little fox and the child exchange hugs and stuffed animals, the child returns home, and the endpapers now show a polka-dot unicorn in place of the stuffed fox. (Unfortunately, this unicorn, crucial to the arc of the wordless narrative, is mostly covered by the flyleaf.) The illustrations are rendered in pencil, watercolor, and ink, assembled and colored digitally. Young children will pore over this wordless picture book again and again, finding something new to enjoy each time.
A wordless picture book that makes a great read.
(Picture book. 3-7)
Pete, a badger, is intense and intent on neatening his forest—no holds barred. “He tidied the flowers by checking each patch, / and snipping off any that didn’t quite match.” He grooms a dubious fox (using, hilariously, a hedgehog as a brush); he sweeps, scours, and vacuums; he brushes birds’ beaks with toothbrushes. When autumn leaves swirl down, he bags them and stands atop the mountain of newly filled black plastic trash bags. A quick uprooting of every tree and a flood drop readers suddenly into a new visual world. Gone is the friendly vibe; gone are autumnal oranges and greens; gone is any background white space. In gray rain and murky brown mud, Pete’s sharp black-and-white face and his red mop and bucket stand out, alien in the watery landscape. Still, Pete won’t yield to nature. While excessive tidying isn’t exactly industrialization or climate change, Pete’s result—a concrete wasteland—invokes both. The rhyming verse regularly changes structure, reflecting the uncertainty of this environment. Artistic virtuoso Gravett wields her pencils, watercolors, and wax crayons (and a nifty, layered cover die cut) to create detail that’s tender and sharp, with backgrounds both lush and quirky. This is an exploration of innocence, loss, the surrender of control, and—thankfully—the option of changing direction before it’s too late.
Alarming, timely, gorgeous, and open-ended, allowing readers the time to think for themselves.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Creatures great and small spring into action on a sunny day.
With a determined cadence and a graphic bang, Lawson and Bisaillon wed their talents in presenting a sumptuous snapshot of nature on the go. Lawson’s animated poem starts small with an irritated flea’s decision to “LEAP!” that then leads to other creatures making similar jumps in a great crescendo of movement that climaxes when a horse leaps a fence before things return full circle to the flea at rest. Motivated by the irresistible impulse to move, the flea hops “into the path / of a little grasshopper,” who then lands on a bunny, who “bounds out / as the clouds roll in,” inspiring a dog to jump into a lake and scare the fish “wide awake,” as they “break the surface with a / flip, flop, shake” and “knock off a bullfrog’s / lily-pad crown” as he springs and lands right “next to the nose / of a high-strung horse,” who rears back from taking a drink of lake water, and…one gets the idea. Bisaillon’s vibrant, watercolor-inspired mixed-media illustrations capture the fullness of the domino effect of Lawson’s action-packed lyric, vibrantly showcasing the interconnectedness of flora, fauna, sun, and sky.
Like a ball rolling downhill, the combined momentum of verse and page turn should impel pre-readers to leap and then sleep—but not before demanding that those reading to them repeat: not to be missed.
(Picture book. 3-7)
A fully anthropomorphic mother rabbit carries her sleepy bunny home as the youngster contemplates the comforting sights and sounds of the city at night.
Illuminated windows glow like portals into other worlds, capturing reassuring vignettes on Miyakoshi’s pages. Steam rises around a restaurant chef; bookstore displays are taken in; a TV light flickers, and the scent of pie beckons. When father lovingly tucks his bunny in bed, the heaviness of sleep, the warmth of the blankets, and the gentle night air are so deliciously palpable young readers will be lulled into a soporific state. Through the artist’s use of perspective and environment, she cleverly makes readers feel like observers, much like the bunny narrator. Done in pencil and charcoal on textured paper, this combination suggests the illusion of film grain; in addition, the use of rounded panels offers a cinematic feel, like frames in a moving picture. A mostly monochromatic palette highlights the warmth of the bunny’s home and the evening lights, and Miyakoshi’s use of singular images creates a calming pace.
Originally published in Japan, this reflective, dreamy tale with its timeless art is a must for the bedtime shelf
. (Picture book. 3-7)
Lone wolf Edmond Bigsnout sets off from his country home to kill and eat a “city bunny”—and becomes enmeshed in a life-altering adventure.
From the start, the text and the masterful, mixed-media artwork are both funny and suspenseful. The elegantly dressed wolf strides across the autumn-tree–studded initial pages, sharp knife in carefully manicured paw, as he heads for his urban craving: “a grain-fed, silky-haired rabbit, one with just a hint of sweetness.” The wolf rides his bike to the city, soon finding an apartment building with a promising tenant for his culinary desires: “Max Omatose, miniature rabbit, 5th floor.” In his haste to reach said floor, Edmond leaves his knife in the elevator, where it is soon appropriated by a third-floor turkey. Edmond pedals back to the country, this time grabbing his chain saw. Each time he arrives with a different sinister tool, some other resident, thinking Edmond is a new tenant, gratefully borrows the tool. (Edmond may be bloodthirsty, but he is unfailingly polite.) By the time he has lugged a barbecue to the apartment house, the hungry lone wolf is greeted by the most come-hither–looking lupine lady in picture-book history: Miss Eyestopper. Edmond is still determined to eat that rabbit, but fate steps in and ensures a happy ending for everyone.
As funny and as exquisitely put together as Edmond Bigsnout himself.
(Picture book. 4-9)
Pinkney adapts the classic Norwegian tale, adding dramatic textual and visual details honoring the value of second chances.
Three hungry goats, eyeing the lush grasses on the opposite riverside, “trip, trap” onto the bridge, each tussling with the troll barring passage. Snaggle-toothed, green-skinned, with a tail like a lion’s, the hungry troll allows the first two across, since each promises even bigger eats to come. Pinkney’s panoramic watercolor-and-pencil compositions visually differentiate the goats’ sizes. The littlest, with stubby horns, squeezes through the bridge’s gate. The bigger billy, with longer horns, leaps it. The largest, with full, curving horns, bursts through the gate with a “CRACK!” and “CRASH!” (A gatefold page amplifies the drama.) The threatened goat charges, butting the troll off the bridge. A giant, toothy fish yells, “WHO’S THAT SPLISH-SPLASHING IN MY RIVER?” Pinkney deals a lucky break, wryly speculating that “the troll was probably a bit too sour and green to make a tasty meal” for the retreating fish. Meanwhile, a whole “herd of billy goats” trip-traps over to enjoy that lovely green hill. Observant readers will detect, on the last spread and endpapers, that the goats and troll (who’s building a new stone hut) have swapped riverbanks.
Pinkney’s graceful note invites readers to ponder issues of forgiveness, redemption, and peaceful coexistence in a terrific tale well-suited to family and group read-alouds.
(Picture book/folk tale. 3-8)
Reynolds and Brown have crafted a Halloween tale that balances a really spooky premise with the hilarity that accompanies any mention of underwear.
Jasper Rabbit needs new underwear. Plain White satisfies him until he spies them: “Creepy underwear! So creepy! So comfy! They were glorious.” The underwear of his dreams is a pair of radioactive-green briefs with a Frankenstein face on the front, the green color standing out all the more due to Brown’s choice to do the entire book in grayscale save for the underwear’s glowing green…and glow they do, as Jasper soon discovers. Despite his “I’m a big rabbit” assertion, that glow creeps him out, so he stuffs them in the hamper and dons Plain White. In the morning, though, he’s wearing green! He goes to increasing lengths to get rid of the glowing menace, but they don’t stay gone. It’s only when Jasper finally admits to himself that maybe he’s not such a big rabbit after all that he thinks of a clever solution to his fear of the dark. Brown’s illustrations keep the backgrounds and details simple so readers focus on Jasper’s every emotion, writ large on his expressive face. And careful observers will note that the underwear’s expression also changes, adding a bit more creep to the tale.
Perfect for those looking for a scary Halloween tale that won’t leave them with more fears than they started with. Pair with Dr. Seuss’ tale of animate, empty pants.
(Picture book. 5-8)
A philosophical fox full of questions boards a ship with strangers and discovers that finding friends is even better than finding answers.
Russet-furred Marco wonders about everything. His fellow foxes care mainly about dinner. When a great, antlered wooden ship, captained by a deer named Sylvia, docks in the harbor, Marco goes down to see it. Intrigued by the possibility of finding other foxes who share his curiosity, Marco decides to set sail, as do an adventurous flock of pigeons led by Victor, pictured as a one-legged bird in a bandanna. While they struggle a bit with the unfamiliar tasks and are beset by the typical dangers that sailors face, Marco, Sylvia, and Victor each contribute to the success of their journey. In the mostly dreamy, delicate pen-and-pencil illustrations, colored digitally, Marco the fox and the other animals are shown as sapient but not completely anthropomorphized. The antlered ship is delightfully detailed and decorated, the pirates our heroes encounter are appropriately toothy and threatening (even the cutlass-wielding mouse), and the sepia-colored maps on the endpapers feature deliciously evocative names. The old-fashioned appearance of the Fans’ artwork perfectly suits Slater’s contemplative, musing tone. While the ending is hardly a surprise, it feels right, true, and not the least bit clichéd.
A beautifully composed package filled with whimsy and wisdom—the story of this unique vessel will inspire and entertain thoughtful listeners.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Williams guides readers through the multifarious world of sharks and offers a disconcerting glimpse into our world without them.
For approximately 450 million years, sharks have played a role in balancing our oceans’ ecosystems. Following a young ocean enthusiast of color, the text explains that, as predators at the top of their food chain, sharks help maintain the species below them, as they “typically eat sick, slow, or weak prey,” keeping populations healthy and numbers in check. But due to overfishing and other harmful human impacts, more than one-quarter of shark species are approaching extinction—a threat that not only endangers the aquatic ecosystems of which sharks are a part, but could also “spread like a wave…until animals around the globe are affected.” From the beauty of the great white shark to the easy-to-overlook plankton, the cheery illustrations paired with a gently insistent call to action are all the more haunting when they show the bleak future without sharks. The apocalyptic nature of this very real possibility is offset by Williams’ reminder that, for now, sharks are still here—underscored in a gorgeous vertical gatefold depicting a healthy marine ecosystem—and that by remembering the importance of our planet’s trophic reciprocity, readers can keep it that way. Often directly addressing readers in the text, Williams provides an action checklist and bibliography to get them started.
A successful balancing act between heralding disaster and promoting change—an informative debut.
(Informational picture book. 5-10)