Set in Pakistan during Basant, “the most exciting day of the year,” this story focuses on the strength and resourcefulness of a child in a wheelchair as he navigates the skies at the spring kite festival.
Perched on the rooftop and assisted by his brother and sister, Malik launches his small but swift creation, named Falcon, into the stratosphere, where it defeats both of the kites that belong to the bully next door. (Unlikely as that may be, it will undoubtedly please the intended audience.) Falcon sends many others to the ground, where “they’ll belong to whoever finds them. But at least they will have tasted freedom.” Silk, burlap, brocade, embroidery, ribbons and rice paper mingle with light brown figures outlined in black within exquisite and dynamic mixed-media collages. In one particularly successful scene, layered buildings and billowing laundry form a backdrop, the three siblings dominate the middle ground, and Malik’s white robe becomes a sky against which small figures cycle in the foreground. Pointed Moorish arches are a design element on almost every page, often framing the text and lending a cultural reference. Displaying another side of his personality, the “King” concludes his day of warfare with a secret act of kindness. Krömer’s inventive compositions are a visually exciting match for Khan’s introduction to an appealing event (originally published in Canada in 2001 with art by different illustrators).
This story soars.
(Picture book. 4-7)
The season’s turned from summer to fall since Baby Bear learned about the colors in his world (Baby Bear Sees Blue, 2012). Now, as he and Mama observe many creatures getting ready for winter, he learns to count.
In every way a lovely companion to the previous tale, this also stands well on its own. Baby Bear plies Mama with incessant questions—as preschoolers will do—and his patient parent answers and instructs. With each successive question and answer, the cub counts one more than before, from one to 10. As Mama forages for roots at the pond, Baby Bear asks, “Who is clapping for us, Mama?” “Those are the beavers,” responds Mama, “gathering twigs before winter comes.” A page turn reveals a trio of them, gnawing brush, swimming and slapping the water with an impressive, paddlelike tail. “Baby Bear counts 3.” Wolff’s lush watercolors illuminate black-inked linoleum prints. Her striking compositions play with perspective and depth of field, enabling children to enjoy bird’s-eye views as one woodpecker and then nine geese fly high, then higher, above Baby Bear. When the cub sprawls among wildflowers counting seven bees, readers are eye to eye at ground level, amid fallen apples, snails and a fuzzy caterpillar.
Brimming with visual treasures and ending with snowflakes—“too many to count”—this joyous treat will reward both family and group sharing.
(Picture book. 2-6)
The moon follows a girl home, takes up residence in her yard and stays put—keeping the sun from rising and the town stuck in a drowsy stupor. Enchanting language and a jaw-dropping premise place readers under a similar somnolent spell.
Gentle rhymes, recurring consonance and almost subliminal rhythms make murky, dreamy paintings vivid and the surreal story sleepily spectacular. Who wouldn’t close their eyes and rock to these soothing lines, as startlingly brilliant as moonlight? “That was when the tide came in. / It trickled in to our backyard. The tide came in, smooth and thin, / and settled underneath our moon.” Their moon, cratered, full and luminous, hovers low just off the back porch; the girl walks its circumference and asks from upside down, “What now?” When teachers nod off and punk bands sing lullabies, the moon’s family decides to drive back up the mountain, where they first picked up their round friend, in the hope it will follow. Children familiar with soporific car trips will appreciate these commonplace scenes that frame such a fantastical story. Straightforward illustrations and traditional sepia, aerial renderings of the town make this fantastical lunar story all the more wondrous.
This mashup of the ordinary and the far-out, of a little neighborhood and a giant, glowing orb from outer space, thrills.
(Picture book. 3-6)
A sumptuous edition of the old fairy tale uses striking design to place readers in the forest with the children.
The title is laser cut into the all-black cover in a Gothic script that, pleasingly, makes “Hansel and Gretel” look much like “Hansel und Gretel”—the first of many touches that tell readers this is no ordinary book. The stitching of the case is in orange thread that is visible through the clear plastic overlay that protects the cover. The orange appears again, through the die-cut window of the poor woodcutter’s cottage, seen in silhouette against a lowering sky. From the outside, it looks cozy, but with the turn of the page, readers see the wicked stepmother with finger crooked, talonlike, against the now-ominous orange background. This page is semitransparent; a flock of birds can be seen taking flight on the next page. Silhouetted ferns, birds and trees appear and recede in spooky, disorienting fashion, visible in both directions through the many semitransparent pages. Delicate pencil and ink drawings complement the heavy silhouettes, which are reminiscent of the work of Nikki McClure. The witch’s cottage itself is a wild crazy quilt of patterns (including a bit of digitally collaged candy bar) placed on a deceptively safe-looking chintz background. Adapted by West from a public-domain edition of the tale, the text has an appropriately old-fashioned feel that supports Schenker’s masterful interpretation.
Spring arrives, and a neighborly duck leaves his own nest of ducklings to greet new animal babies far and wide.
He pops up in unexpected locales, observing infant fish, monkeys, zebras, lions, kangaroos, sea horses, polar bears and lizards—all snuggling with mommies and daddies in their habitats. Children never cease finding pleasure (and embedded reassurance) in domestic scenes brimming with love, which this cozy book provides in spades while also offering up some zoological facts in wonderfully plain language. Every double-page spread highlights differences in animal baby characteristics: Some babies arrive alongside their siblings, some come solo, some ride in their mommy’s pouches, some nestle in their daddy’s, some can walk right away, some get carried around, some have fur, and some have scales. Undulating rainbow colors, circular patterns and fibrous textures swirl across leaves, animal bodies and sky, creating a lively natural world. Here’s evidence that digital tinkering can yield richly layered, cohesive artwork that captures the kaleidoscopic beauty of the animal kingdom, its shadows, lights, colors, textures and shapes. Night falls and finds all the newborns ready for sleep, nudging little readers to shut their eyes too.
Sweet, stimulating illustrations offer up baby basics for bedtime.
(Picture book. 2-4)
The terrifying experience of being alone in the woods is rendered through the eyes of a young Indian boy.
Assuring his ailing mother that he’s grown-up enough to get wood from the forest near his home, Musa sets off happily with his axe, only to be frightened by a loud noise. Hiding in the hollow of a large tree, he imagines himself trapped in a circle of wild boars. He waits in the dark, convinced he will never escape. The illustrator, a noted Gond tribal artist, conveys the boy’s experience convincingly with evocative and elegantly produced images. Patterns of lines, dots, and chains fill the figures, which are enhanced with solid blocks of colors. There is no depth to these scenes, but there is great variety. The cheery daylight of the beginning turns to a foreboding darkness; the text is white on a black background. The stylized trees, birds and squirrels of the forest are reduced to a maze of branches through which readers see Musa’s terrified eye in close-up. The emotional spell of his fear is broken by a squirrel and then a friendly, familiar cow who leads Musa home to safety. “He didn’t have any wood, but he was very proud of the story he had to tell.”
A familiar story arc conveyed through traditional art captivates with its freshness and originality.
(Picture book. 4-7)
A powerful summer storm careens through a Midwestern farming community in six hours, leaving an uneven wake of destruction.
Geisert’s pictures (wordless except for selected times of day) incorporate vast expanses of sky and earth. Intricate cross sections show the interiors of houses, barns and animal homes. As the storm builds, fox families take to their dens, and rabbits hie to their warrens. A lightning strike cuts off power at 12:15 p.m.; roiling funnel clouds fell trees and pulverize a farmstead on the horizon. A family in a red pickup towing a trailer of baled hay makes deliveries, stopping to help elders prepare. When the truck breaks down, it’s towed and repaired—but the family must shelter under a stone bridge for the worst of the storm. The next spread is the story’s most dramatic—a flash flood sweeps through, propelling house parts, uprooted trees, fences, a tire swing and more. It takes two tense page turns before readers know that the community’s inhabitants are intact: They’ve all gathered to repair the house and barn of hard-hit neighbors. Geisert’s meticulous line compositions are etched onto copperplate, inked and hand-colored. Masterfully, he captures the shifting light as thunderheads build, rain sheets and the night-dark storm moves through.
Though children might need some reassurance, this beautifully nuanced meditation on the power of nature—and community resilience—will reward repeat readings.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A beautiful collection that manages to be both near-universal and deeply personal.
Wilder Award winner Paterson offers an essay before each section: “Gather Around the Table,” “A Celebration of Life,” “The Spirit Within” and “Circle of Community.” In each, she illuminates a small moment: the scent of an orange; watching a cicada emerge from its shell over a steamy summer hour. The words that follow come from the King James Bible and Hildegard of Bingen, from speeches (“I Have a Dream,” by Martin Luther King Jr.) and from poetry (snatches from Wendell Berry and e.e. cummings), from non–Judeo-Christian traditions (the Navajo “house made of dawn”) to songs (Bill Staines’ delightful “All God’s Critters”) and spirituals (“All of God’s Children Got a Song”). All of them indeed give thanks and praise. Readers can give thanks and praise for the illustrations, too: Scherenschnitte, cut-paper illustrations of extraordinary power. In borders and full pages and spot images, Dalton once again wields her scissors in pursuit of magic. From deceptively simple (a grasshopper, a bird’s nest, a candle flame) to extraordinarily complex (a border of sunflowers, a plethora of vegetables), the pictures are as meditative as the words. The final page is “Blessed be” in the calligraphy of Anne Robin.
Suffused with and inspiring gratitude and joy. Amen.
(Picture book/poetry. 7 & up)
A rhythmic poem explores origins, both physical and abstract.
A boy sits in his room, serving tea to his stuffed animals, when a feather wafts in on the breeze. It prompts a string of wonderings, each with its own spread and paired by rhyme. “Does a feather remember it once was… / …a bird? // Does a book remember it once was… / …a word?” Every left-hand page shows a small scene of the boy with the named item (the feather; a book). The corresponding right-hand page shows a larger scene that’s related to the small one (an owl at the barber’s, feathers falling; animals patronizing a bookstore); these are softly round-edged. Many animals in the larger scenes are the child’s toys come to life. Laden’s impeccable cadence wanders into nature (“Does a cake remember it once was… / …grain? // Does an ocean remember it once was… / …rain?”) and some gentle, child-friendly philosophy (“Does an island remember it once was… / …unknown?”). One origin’s too narrow—not all families “once [were] two,” nor are all parental sets heterosexual, like the male and female mallard depicted. Liwska fans will recognize her carefully detailed sketches and their fine, soft crosshatchings and shadings. Colors are grays and browns with muted red, green and blue highlights; animal characters are tender and genuine. These musings on memory and change are thought-provoking, yet the piece also works as a lullaby.
An old man, wise to the life of the African desert, finds a treasure.
Issa is the most sought-after guide in the desert, as he sees, hears and smells so keenly. A mysterious ribbon, torn loose in a desert storm, leads him to an amazing discovery—a baby girl he raises as his own. When Issa loses his sight, the young girl, a gift from God he names Mariama, learns to use words to describe colors and shapes. The mountains are a “deep, dark blue, like the scarves of the camel traders who came from the north.” Then, one day, travelers come from the distant east. Their impatience and disdain for Issa almost results in disaster, but Issa and Mariama save them, and a family is reunited after many years of searching. Peet and Graham have crafted an elegant story filled with gorgeous descriptions of the desert world and its storms. Their characters have strength gained from their Islamic faith, abiding love and respect for their harsh land. Lynch’s mixed-media paintings, some framed in borders, capture the grandeur of the people and their landscape using a color palette saturated in golds, coppers and blues. The story, perhaps set during the time of the kingdom of Timbuktu, resonates and would be a beautiful read-aloud.
A sumptuous, memorable tale of family ties.