Two children think about some big questions in Britt, Qualls, and Alko’s quiet picture book.
As the sun sets, two children—one with light brown skin and carrying a skateboard, the other light-skinned (possibly Asian or mixed-race) toting a guitar—travel home on the train. At almost the same moment each child happens upon the same thought: “Why am I me… / …and not you?” Deceptively simple, the question is nearly fractal in its infinite scope, and the children silently connect with each other as they explore some of its depth. Ponderings such as “If I were someone else, / who would I be? // Someone taller, / faster, / smaller, / smarter?” are echoed and expanded by corresponding thoughts: “If someone else were me, / who would they be? // Someone lighter, / older, / darker, / bolder?” No answers disrupt the silent exchange between the children—the questions are thrilling, and the adventure is in the asking. The illustrations’ mix of paint and collage style shows the fluid kinesis and multiculturalism of the world and people outside the train even as they fall subject to the children’s musings. A stunning visual climax that expands from children to stars and back again elegantly captures the boundless immensity of self within an individual, between two, and among many that the protagonists have been exploring.
A mindful, captivating ode to wonder and a must for any story- or bedtime repertoire.
(Picture book. 4-9)
A lion accompanies a child on a walk home during a day in the city in this wistful tale of parental absence.
The story begins with a simple gesture: a nameless, light-skinned child in a school uniform holds out a flower to a lion. “Keep me company on the way home,” says the child. The lion then follows the child, terrifying adults—and delighting other kids—at school and on the city’s streets all the way home. The pair dashes by crowded buses and cars, stops to pick up the child-narrator’s younger sibling, and even shops at “the store that won’t give us credit anymore.” (Fortunately, the ferocious feline can help with the last difficulty.) At home, things start to settle down as the trio prepares a meal and waits for Mama to return from the factory. The day soon ends, and the lion departs, though the child-narrator hopes it returns when called. Similar to Buitrago and Yockteng’s previous collaborations, the story ends on a poignant and unexpected note. The first-person narration tugs readers along with ease, deftly eliciting compassion from the performance of seemingly mundane tasks. Yockteng’s muted illustrations depict the city as full of cracked buildings, drab colors, and expression captured in movement. Minor details in the pictures, including environmental print in Spanish, take readers in different directions all at once, adding to the low-key narration.
Emotionally resonant in the loveliest of ways.
(Picture book. 4-7)
The struggle to survive and find a home in nature is told in verse.
For those who don't appreciate children’s books that sugarcoat the harsh truths of survival in the wild, there's this spare and beautiful book in which a bird, a rabbit, a mouse, and a wolf travel with their respective offspring, trying to find a home, sometimes while outrunning death. With the refrain, "This road is hard, this road is long, / this road that leads us home," it's critter tales as if told by Cormac McCarthy. But rather than seeming scary or unsettling, the effect feels truthful and significant. Any child will understand that the stakes are high for the rabbits on the run ("For Wolf is near. His name is Fear. / He wants us for his own"), but the resolution is lovely and comforting. "This road is hard, this road is long, / but we are not alone. / For you are here, and I'm with you… // and so this road is home." The highly textured illustrations keep a respectful distance, allowing a glimpse of these creatures without losing the scale of the world they're up against; the backgrounds are moody and at times foreboding, but the last two spreads, in which the journeys of all the sets of animals come together, are breathtaking.
These nameless animals make the journey count. With gorgeous artwork and a striking, poetic approach, the bond of parent and child is successfully conveyed.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A pale-skinned child crosses a blank, white page into a screen of trees, where “wonders await.”
Readers entering this book’s varied landscape encounter similarly wondrous pictures and words. They stand in the child’s shoes, enveloped by forest under a lush canopy of green leaves, looking skyward at brilliant birds darting from limb to limb. Verdant watercolor illustrations describe both the density and individuality of the myriad botanicals entwined in woods: fronds, leaves, branches, twigs, stems, grasses, and blossoms. Gentle imperative urgings pull readers into a lush, wooded embrace (“Run wild in the jungle!”; “Follow footprints. / See where they lead you”). Dek’s evocative woodland pictures, earnest phrases, and unhurried pacing evoke the quiet pauses and exhilarating discoveries experienced during a walk in the forest. Inventive compositional choices and surprising, shifting perspectives keep readers alert, expectant, and fully engaged. They look from above in all-encompassing aerial illustrations; they burble underwater, examine nests, seeds, blossoms, and wild strawberries, gaze eye to eye with a fox, and survey upper branches from a bough. Deer and birds come and go across the page. Vines creep. Footprints meander. A breathless quiet falls on wordless spreads, conjuring that feeling of clearheadedness offered by nature.
A startling, successful evocation of the natural world and an urgent entreaty for young people to immerse themselves in the outdoors.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A character who resembles the Kilroy image of World War II—with the addition of a mobile body—reveals himself as an imaginative introvert.
His simple, cartoonish, acorn-capped head sways flawlessly from side to side, as the single-mittened character/narrator expresses his irritation: “Darn, darn, and more darn. Where’s my mitten? I don’t see it anywhere.” His decision to choose a strongly mismatched mitten from “the Lost & Found” (lockers in the background imply it’s at school) leads to musings—not over someone else’s missing mitten but over being mistreated if you are different. This segues into the character’s assertion that he is a loner who likes his life that way. Lively illustrations of solitary fishing, baking, one-sided chess games, and nighttime skateboarding—in a graveyard!—back up his claims. Finally, readers meet the ancient, titular oak tree, among whose branches the narrator has spent many enjoyable hours. Tangents emerge as readily as Bertolt’s branches—among them, furtive lives of townsfolk (all of whom appear to be white, including the narrator) and observations of wildlife and weather. When Bertolt does not produce leaves one spring, it takes a while for the truth to sink in. In a burst of ingenuity that leads readers all the way back to the story’s opening, the narrator memorializes his arboreal friend. Fine, black inked lines, occasional washes, and the remarkable use of textural colored pencils never miss a beat in extending the text.
Humor, contemplation, and masterful illustrations.
(Picture book. 6-12)
Friendship blossoms between canine and rodent in this paean to the sheer joy of being alive.
A greyhound and a groundhog are startled to meet, one waking from a nap and the other popping out of a burrow. Before long, however, they are frolicking together, romping about and running through meadows before finally collapsing in satisfied fatigue. Jenkins’ playful text (“A round hound, a grey dog, a round little hound dog. / A greyhog, a ground dog, a hog little hound dog”) has a catchy rhythm that begs to be read out loud. The text dances across the page, perfectly in sync with the watercolor pictures; on one page the line “and a sound” hovers beside the splash created by the greyhound’s foot, its curvature visually echoing the arc of the water. By varying perspective and distance, Appelhans creates dynamic, high-energy illustrations that maintain interest despite featuring only two characters against a plain, minimalist background. Readers look down on the two friends from above as they spin in giddy circles and see them in comical close-up as a butterfly flits past. Groundhog bursts from the end of a hollow log, paws outstretched, about to soar above the heads of readers, who have a ground-level view of the action.
This delightful story is a feast for the eyes and ears, and it will hold up well to repeated demands from eager young listeners.
(Picture book. 2-6)
Like the handle on a windup toy that moves clockwise until it stops and spins in reverse, the 2014 Hans Christian Anderson Award winner manipulates a chain of actions and consequences—and then imagines the momentum flowing backward with entirely different outcomes.
As a barefooted gardener keeps watch over a white rose, the reasons for and importance of his shoelessness are traced through the motivations of eccentric characters. They include a man who dies brokenhearted after a seamstress’s love letter is dropped by a letter carrier preoccupied with retrieving a ring and Rajah The Malodorous, whose sour-milk baths, prescribed by a charlatan, lead his betrothed to engineer her own kidnapping. Ultimately everything hinges on a map whose compass rose has been stolen, an unidentified someone claims, by the white rose. But wait—the narrator announces that the white rose couldn’t have stolen the compass rose, thereby altering everyone’s fates. Elegant linework mixes with torn paper and soft, textured colors as a parade of luminous, exotic caricatures and their accouterments unfold against a white backdrop; the effect is magical. The interactions probe issues around wealth, possession, and compassion. Mello’s plot is made all the more mind-boggling with framing and intermediary scenes that are either voiced by an unreliable narrator or require fresh listening and looking.
Complex and provocative, this Brazilian import will intrigue readers who like puzzles and frustrate those who don’t.
(Picture book. 8-12)
Spare, bilingual text written in Cree (in both the standard Roman orthography and in syllabics) and in English presents a multigenerational harvesting of wild yarrow.
The first-person narration tells readers that a little girl and her mother await Nôhkom (Cree for “my grandmother”) as she prepares to harvest yarrow flowers and leaves. Accompanying illustrations rendered in acrylics on canvas depict the girl and both women and then follow them as they venture out into the fields, accompanied by a brown-and-white dog that’s unmentioned in the text. The palette is gentle and the style soft, with art that invites contemplative engagement in this small moment of family togetherness. In three separate full-page illustrations, each worker prays, then the work begins. “Nôhkom picks. / I pick.” But—“Mom?” The book catches Mom in a playful moment, blowing at a yarrow puff. Daughter and grandmother wait for her. When the narrator pronounces the task “done!” her face is utterly overtaken by delight. Although the book ends with pictures of the girl and women with the flowers in the fields, backmatter provides a simple recipe for yarrow tea, often used medicinally, which suggests the reason for their harvest.
A quiet, gentle picture book about a contemporary First Nations family and their ties to one another, their heritage, and their homeland.
(Picture book. 2-6)
A wordless musing on the nature of disagreements and friendship.
Two children, of differing skin tones, one with a shock of black hair and the other with a shock of light, draw lines on the ground. Loops and folds curl round each other until—amid a smack of violet watercolor backdrop—the lads bump into each other. Rueful surprise turns into pure glee when the children realize that if they connect their lines they can pick them up and play. Otoshi’s landscape-oriented spreads make expert use of the book’s gutter, each child on either side, with only the line allowed to cross. Emotions change when one child accidentally knocks the other over (the angry violet cloud appears again). Each tenaciously grabs hold of the line and pulls mightily. This fierce tug of war causes a crevice to appear in the gutter, feeding on anger, growing larger and larger. Clenched fists and taut muscles seethe with rage. But then, silence. The line they had been holding is now the horizon, with a spot of bright yellow peeking through the violet. One moment is all that is needed to choose to let go, mend rifts, and walk into future possibilities with a friend. Otoshi’s fluid watercolors are sheer loveliness, surpassed only by her ability to communicate big concepts with no words.
A simple, beautiful concept whose reach grows with each rereading.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A mix of comical vignettes and broad vistas illustrates an account of the lives and misadventures of a clan of tiny Twims.
It must have been a challenge to translate: the oversized album, originally published in French in 1998, is narrated by Poochie-Blue—who introduces Sowhatty, Nothin’-Doin’, and many like-named members of a teeming extended family as the book opens. He then takes readers on a tour of his hollow cliffside House Tree, the Forest of Lost Children, the Theater of Hissy Fits (where grievances can be acted out), and the cemetery gardens especially tailored for lovers of music or mountains, for haters, readers, or Twims just “waiting for the Goochnies to return.” In between, he tells of the mushroomlike Goochnies’ mysterious disappearance, of children who fell from the sky (actually from a passing windblown apartment house), of a Sad Giant’s visit, and of weather and seasons in the idyllic seaside valley. Along with a labeled area map and a cutaway of the House Tree, Ponti alternates panels of Twims, who look like anthropomorphic lemmings (uniform in color but a little varied in features and dress), in action with immersive, full-page or larger land- and seascapes that seem to go on forever while offering multitudinous crags, glades and foreground features to investigate.
Like Poochie-Blue, visitors to the valley will be in no hurry to leave.
(Picture book. 5-9)
A young girl lives in the moment, her mindfulness of the world distilled into a list of favorite things whose ephemerality she celebrates now.
Running barefoot in the grass, a cinnamon-complexioned girl meets the breeze with open arms. Readers are swept up by the girl’s joy as the text exclaims, “This is my favorite breeze.” With the same enthusiasm, she shares a burnished red leaf, a puddle of mud, and a flower’s scent. For this auburn-haired child, the natural world is full of wonder and beauty; and nothing is so gratifying as what is being done now. Repetition of the simple sentence structure makes for a perfect read-along as the author creates a lovely rhythm layered with meaning. When the girl’s list moves from outside to inside, a similar progression is made from the external world to the internal. The pajama-clad girl hugs her cat, stares up at the moon, and reads a book with her caregiver. What seems to have been a collection of simple thoughts now leads to a profound revelation—that the child fully appreciates this time with her loved one. Text and art enhance each other, both like an East Asian sumi-e painting: deceivingly simple but highly sophisticated, every mark with meaning and purpose.
Portis perfectly captures how children experience the world, the immediacy and magic of it all; exuberant and quiet, simple and complex, and extremely satisfying.
(Picture book. 2-7)
Sís takes readers on a journey to a Slumberland-esque island that reinforces the joys of storytelling and would make Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo proud.
In this gorgeously illustrated picture book, the author pays homage to his literary forbears and allows readers to experience the seductive imaginative power that enables readers to disappear into and embody the stories they love. The protagonist—based on Sís himself—and his friends (a multiethnic group) love nothing more than playing at being pirates. When their school hosts a costume contest, the white boy’s mother convinces him to dress as Robinson Crusoe, his favorite hero, instead of a pirate. Like Michael Ende’s Bastian Balthazar Bux, the boy is teased for daring to be different and escapes into his imagination to find courage and adventure. As the sepia tones of the real world give way to the luxuriant, water-colored dreamscape, readers will lose themselves in the lush greens of the trees used to build the protagonist’s forest home and long to swim in the deep blue water swirling around the island paradise (populated only by friendly animals—no Man Friday here). Experimentation in different artistic styles further enhances the creativity and otherworldly quality of Sís’ landscape. The author’s note at the end also proves delightful.
An enchanting love letter to the magic of childhood and the fertile relationship between good literature and young readers’ imaginations.
(Picture book. 4-8)
As loved ones leave this world, others arrive in this existential meditation on the cycle of life, an import from Mexico.
On the title page, a girl sits in an older woman’s lap, and together they read this very book: And So It Goes. Primitive representations of winged people and pets float across a blue background as the text matter-of-factly states “Some have already left”—this includes the neighbor’s cat, a beloved aunt, and the fish from a prior day’s meal. Yet even with these losses, there is cause for celebration as others are born and welcomed. Beautifully depicted tears and memories heal, and Valdivia offers the transcendent thought that those leaving and arriving “wish each other happiness” when their paths meet across the sky. Few words populate each page, yet the text is dense with meaning and the artwork rich with joy. Life and death are a mystery, and so readers are reminded to treasure their time here. Sophisticated concepts are visually explained while still leaving room for interpretation; repeat visits bring added depth and dimension. On the closing page, the girl, slightly older, returns to her chair and the book, with her loved one still close and dear.
A tribute to those who pass, a celebration of time here, and a multilayered rumination on the cycle of life.
(Picture book. 4-8)