The young first mate on the Cuffee sightseeing boat, descendant of generations of men who worked whaling ships, compares whaling long ago with a whale-watching excursion today.
The cover reveals what makes this enjoyable field trip stand out; the narrator is female, a child of color. In her chatty spiel, the fictional tour guide offers plenty of facts. These are set on spreads that contrast views from the present-day expedition with the past. (The sepia tones of the latter add historical distance). She contrasts historic and modern attitudes toward whales, shows ways in which times have changed on shore and on the boats, and describes whaling techniques. She points out that the crews of early whaling ships included "escaped slaves and free blacks," and indeed, the crews in the historical pictures, like the crowd of tourists, are racially diverse. A double-page spread shows the excitement of a whale sighting today; the next spread shows a tiny whale boat from the past, its sailors attacking a massive whale with puny lances and a harpoon. Their sailing ship waits in the background. Backmatter provides further information about commercial whaling and whale watching, a glossary and good suggestions for further research. Karas’ pencil drawings, colored with gouache and acrylics, add intriguing detail.
This inventive look at maritime history has significant modern child appeal.
(Informational picture book. 5-9)
A young boy yearns for what he doesn’t have, but his nana teaches him to find beauty in what he has and can give, as well as in the city where they live.
CJ doesn’t want to wait in the rain or take the bus or go places after church. But through Nana’s playful imagination and gentle leadership, he begins to see each moment as an opportunity: Trees drink raindrops from straws; the bus breathes fire; and each person has a story to tell. On the bus, Nana inspires an impromptu concert, and CJ’s lifted into a daydream of colors and light, moon and magic. Later, when walking past broken streetlamps on the way to the soup kitchen, CJ notices a rainbow and thinks of his nana’s special gift to see “beautiful where he never even thought to look.” Through de la Peña’s brilliant text, readers can hear, feel and taste the city: its grit and beauty, its quiet moments of connectedness. Robinson’s exceptional artwork works with it to ensure that readers will fully understand CJ’s journey toward appreciation of the vibrant, fascinating fabric of the city. Loosely defined patterns and gestures offer an immediate and raw quality to the Sasek-like illustrations. Painted in a warm palette, this diverse urban neighborhood is imbued with interest and possibility.
This celebration of cross-generational bonding is a textual and artistic tour de force.
(Picture book. 3-6)
Clara (named only on the book jacket) narrates her own story of the first time she goes to Grandma’s house on the bus by herself.
Of course, she isn’t really alone. Quite a cast of characters joins her on the wide, spacious vehicle. They are all animals dressed (more or less) in people clothes and doing what people do on buses: knitting; reading the newspaper (whose headlines often relate to the action); napping. In fact, the sloth pretty much sleeps through the whole trip. Clara shares a cookie with a friendly wolf tot, is kind of freaked out by the darkness as the bus goes through a tunnel, and notes the mix-up when the knitting owl’s blue chapeau ends up on someone else’s head and the baby wolf’s binky ends up in his dad’s mouth. She even helps thwart a robbery! In delicately sketched but clear strokes Dubuc takes characters and readers through countryside and forest, and Clara reaches her destination, where her grandmother waits for her at the bus stop, looking very like Clara’s own mom but with silver hair. The exaggerated proportions of the book (6.75 inches high and 11 inches wide) echo that of the bus Clara rides in and make for dramatic double-page spreads.
Good for imagination and travel, this merry bus ride has glimmers of “Little Red Riding Hood” but is entirely itself.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Pura Belpré winner and Newbery honoree Engle, known for writing free-verse historical fiction, introduces readers to Millo Castro Zaldarriaga with this illustrated poem, inspired by her subject’s childhood.
Millo became a world-famous musician at quite a young age. Before fame, however, as Engle’s account attests, there is struggle. Millo longs to play the drums, but in 1930s Cuba, drumming is taboo for girls, “so the drum dream girl / had to keep dreaming / quiet / secret / drumbeat / dreams.” This doesn’t stop Millo; she dares to let her talent soar, playing every type of drum that she can find. Her sisters invite her to join their all-girl band, but their father refuses to allow Millo to play the drums. Eventually, her father softens, connecting her with a music teacher who determines that her talent is strong enough to override the social stigma. The rhythmic text tells Millo’s story and its significance in minimal words, with a lyricism that is sure to engage both young children and older readers. López’s illustrations are every bit as poetic as the narrative, a color-saturated dreamscape that Millo dances within, pounding and tapping her drums. Though it’s not explicit in the text, her mixed Chinese-African-Cuban descent is hinted at in the motifs López includes.
A beautiful account of a young girl’s bravery and her important contribution toward gender equality in the creative arts.
(Picture book. 3-8)
But Small Elephant loathes bathtime, even when his mommy adds extra bubbles and toys. His boxy body, dot eyes and wide-set ears all telegraph absolute opposition to watery fun in the tub. Bright, bleach-white backgrounds and a limited palette of primary reds, blues and graphite grays make Small Elephant's flat pencil-outlined form and his fierce refusal of bath quite vivid. Scarlet text with large letters and arresting placement on the page contributes to the artwork's success, while understated, deadpan facial expressions (achieved through minute adjustments to tiny eyes, eyebrows and trunks) make a familiar no-bath picture book effortlessly amusing. Watercolors occasionally appear (on shower curtains, as a roiling red tantrum backdrop, on flapping ears), adding appropriately watery depth and undulation to the starkly one-dimensional illustrations—so perfect for a story about a binary bath experience. After Daddy squeezes himself into a much-too-small tub, Small Elephant happily hops in and promptly refuses to get out.
Charming, brilliant in color and execution, and funny to even the most indignant foot stompers, NO! screamers and bathtime boycotters.
(Picture book. 2-6)
A child in a red hoodie and a man on a cellphone navigate an urban landscape, the child picking flowers from cracks and crannies along the way.
Best known for his nonsense verse, Lawson here provides a poignant, wordless storyline, interpreted by Smith in sequential panels. The opening spread presents the child and (probably) dad walking in a gray urban neighborhood. The child’s hoodie is the only spot of color against the gray wash—except for the dandelions growing next to a sidewalk tree, begging to be picked. The rest of their walk proceeds in similar fashion, occasional hints of color (a fruit stand, glass bottles in a window) joining the child and the flowers she (judging by the haircut) plucks from cracks in the concrete. Smith’s control of both color and perspective is superb, supporting a beautifully nuanced emotional tone. Though the streets are gray, they are not hostile, and though dad is on the cellphone, he also holds the child’s hand and never exhibits impatience as she stops. Once the child has collected a bouquet, she shares it, placing a few flowers on a dead bird, next to a man sleeping on a bench, in a friendly dog’s collar. As child and dad draw closer to home, color spreads across the pages; there is no narrative climax beyond readers’ sharing of the child’s quiet sense of wonder.
Bracketed by beautiful endpapers, this ode to everyday beauty sings sweetly.
(Picture book. 4-7)
An oversized, interactive board book in which a rectangular die cut becomes a window on the world.
Children are encouraged to peer through the window that appears when this book is opened to identify certain types of “things”: red, orange, blue and green things, things high and low, things that move and stay still, things in different sizes, shiny things, things that make noise and more. The illustrations are strategically kept to a bare minimum. For example, “high” and “low” are demonstrated with two simple red circles, one above and one below the viewfinder, while moving and stationary things are represented by two blue circles on strings, one fixed and one that swings. The pages that ask readers to look for noisy things open with a satisfying crunch, as they are cleverly stuck together with a square of Velcro. The page spread that asks kids to find things they’d like to touch includes no illustrations at all but is entirely covered in an orange, velvety material that inspires the search for interesting textures.
This clever, engaging offering invites children to review basic concepts while seeing the world around them in new ways.
(Board book. 2-5)
Roberton tells her story in two parts. Part 1: A little girl, in a jaunty red beret and matching sweater, is walking home from Grandma’s house when she spots a strange little creature hanging upside down from a tree branch. (It's a furry critter with a striped tail. A raccoon? A ring-tailed lemur?) She wraps him in a green scarf, names him Fang and takes him home. Though she gives him a bath, a cute outfit like hers, a bowl of nuts and a little house made from a cardboard box, he doesn't look very happy. When she opens a window to get some cool air, her strange creature rips off his new clothes and runs to freedom in the dark woods. But late one night, he appears in her bedroom window, and they frolic in the woods. Part 2 of the book tells the scary story of an innocent little critter who's minding his own business when he's ambushed by a "terrible beast"—a little girl in a jaunty red beret and matching sweater. And readers know the rest. Roberton's premise is as sublime as it is simple, with a subtle message. Brilliantly, the illustrations vary just slightly from one version of the story to the next; it’s their juxtaposition with the radically different textual perspective that generates the laughs.
When a blizzard stops the mighty trucks of the city from working, it’s Supertruck to the rescue!
In this metropolis, a cadre of brave trucks fixes electrical lines, extinguishes fires, and tows buses in need. But the garbage truck? He “just collects the trash.” That is, until a snowstorm hits the town and he becomes Supertruck. With his mighty snow plow, he clears the roads all through the night. And in the bright, clear morning, the other trucks are left to wonder about the identity of the “mighty truck who saved them.” Exciting, one-sentence-per-spread text is reminiscent of a Superman cartoon narration. (This is no coincidence; in his secret identity, Supertruck wears Clark Kent–style glasses.) In combination with crisp graphics and bold colors, the text makes the story accessible to young readers, while the sophisticated digital illustrations will appeal to all. Using a cool palette, Savage exploits shapes and colors to create interesting imagery and atmospheric environments for the truck that show that collecting trash is just as heroic as powerfully plowing through snow.
A serious treat for truck lovers.
(Picture book. 2-6)
With lyrical words and striking images, a poet, photographer and veteran natural history writer celebrates rain.
“Rain plops. / It drops. // It patters. / It spatters.” From the beginning of a storm to the return of the sun, this splendid presentation reveals the wonder of water in the form of rain. Short, rhythmic lines, often only two words but rhyming or alliterative, are set one to a page against a full-bleed photograph. Sayre’s close observations, many in an ordinary garden, will lead readers and listeners to look more closely, too, both at her photographs and at the world around them. There are insects hiding from a shower; drops cling to flowers, leaves and insect legs. There are even tiny reflections in the globules. Raindrops bend down grasses, highlight shapes and band together. Some of the pictures harbor extra secrets. (A fly is barely visible on the front cover photograph.) These carefully chosen images have been thoughtfully arranged and beautifully reproduced. Preschoolers can appreciate the poem and pictures, but middle graders will want the facts in the concluding “Splash of Science,” which provides some background and explanation for the short statements and goes on to describe “Raindrops Inside You,” connecting the reader to the water cycle.
Wonder-full in every way.
(Informational picture book. 3-8)
Four seasons, as seen through the eyes of a country mouse.
The book begins in spring. “In the middle of the meadow, under a clump of dandelions, there is a hole.” Out pops “[s]uch a little mouse,” with “ears pink as petals” and a tiny smile. He sees bees on clover blossoms and his own reflection in a puddle. Each season is represented in one exploratory day. In summer, the mouse sees beavers and a porcupine; in autumn, rustling leaves, honking geese and busy ants. When winter arrives, he sees his landscape covered in snow. “Brrrrrrr,” he says, retreating underground to his cozy burrow, which features tunnels and many discrete rooms—a bedroom, a kitchen and a fully stocked larder. All year he’s been storing seeds, watercress and acorns; now he can bake acorn bread and cook seed-and-watercress soup. Preschoolers will recognize the wooden alphabet blocks that form the base of his counter. Seasons and animals aren’t new topics, but Yue’s idyllic meadowscapes are full of clean, fresh air. From full-page to spot illustrations, from the breezy greens, blues and yellows of spring to the rustic browns of underground, her colors glow gently. Her lines have a light touch but feel grounding; fine details, shadings and a real feel for weather make this special. Shelve with Richard Scarry’s I Am a Bunny (1963) and Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams’ Little Fur Family (1946).
Nothing will deter Sadie from her mission of transporting an elephant to her beloved Great-Aunt Josephine, who “lives almost completely alone and could really use the company.”
When the postmaster brings out a wheelbarrow full of stamps and a calculator, however, the carrot-topped heroine realizes she will need to find an alternative to mailing the pachyderm. She borrows a conveniently located biplane. Insiders will recognize this plane (inverted on the book jacket as it was on the most famous misprint in philatelic history); those who don’t know the reference will just laugh at an upside-down airplane with a goggle-wearing elephant. After it crashes in a river, Sadie boards, in succession, an alligator, freight train (commandeered by bean-eating masked monkeys) and an ice cream truck. When readers finally meet the aunt, it becomes clear that she has been the recipient of many similar presents. Stead’s fans will recognize the unique blend of quirky logic and compassion that drives his persistent wayfarers. Cordell’s carefree lines and dappled watercolors draw viewers in with bold action and tiny touches of humor. Portions of text are treated graphically, and it is likely that “chugga chugga chugga BEANS BEANS BEANS” will linger in children’s lexicons. Stamps do get their moment—in the conclusion and on the seek-and-find case beneath the dust jacket.
Animal lovers and stamp collectors, especially but not exclusively, will be enthralled.
(Picture book. 4-7)
A little hedgehog hurries home in an effort to avoid a coming storm in this bilingual board book.
A baby hedgehog is out rooting around for “good things to eat.” Suddenly, storm clouds appear on the horizon, an owl hoots a warning, and soon the little critter is on the way home to Mama. The bottom half of each double-page spread is filled with beautiful, inky illustrations. The top half is further divided in two: the right side dedicated to English text and the left devoted to corresponding Mandarin Chinese (with the occasional exclamation point or question mark). Little ones will thrill at the hedgehog's ever-so-slightly perilous journey home, and older ones will enjoy figuring how the English words translate and vice versa. The hedgehog’s flight introduces the vocabulary of the natural world—clouds, wind, pine cones—as well as onomatopoeia and a fresh cultural reference: “Rain falls hard like soybeans.” Stylized animals and flora have good, distinct outlines and are filled with bright but still-natural colors. The final pages of the book supply a helpful glossary of tones and the story reproduced in both characters and pinyin. A companion board book entitled Squirrel Round and Round publishes simultaneously.
A sweet story with lovely illustrations to boot, developmentally pitch-perfect for older babies and toddlers.
(Board book. 1-3)