Bunny is in search of a writer’s group, but her offbeat style is out of sync with both her wide-eyed, fluffy appearance and her cuddly counterparts working in clusters on the endpapers.
Following an arrow toward the “International Society for Writers of Odd and Weird,” she knows she has found her people. Unfortunately, Miss Mole and the other rough-hewn members—a giraffe-necked weevil, a babirusa, and a yeti crab—dismiss her after one look. She goes underground (literally), but the irrepressible rabbit can’t contain her contributions to the group’s unfolding narrative about a princess fighting to save the kingdom (and sandwiches), relayed in cloud-shaped thought bubbles. Santoso’s incisive designs range from sequential panels to full-page compositions. He differentiates the dual storylines by using earth tones for “reality” and a more vibrant palette for the invented action. Bunny’s interruptions force a confrontation during which the authors express frustration at the preponderance of adorable bunny stories, while the accused explains her misery regarding “all these ideas inside me” but no one to help with discernment. Happily, when the plot’s conclusion proves elusive, Bunny’s idea for turning evil grapes into carrot raisin salad is just the ticket. Falatko builds increasingly embellished sentences while also pairing terminology about and examples of story elements: “relatable characters,” an “inciting incident,” “rising action,” and a “climax.”
Showcasing the values of persistence and collaboration, this intelligent comedy offers substance alongside the laughter.
(Picture book. 5-8)
What’s wrong with Abuela Lola? Our birthday girl asked her three times for amusement-park tickets, and you know what? Abuela sent her a take-charge chicken styling yellow construction boots instead!
If that isn’t bad enough, the tool-belt–wearing denizen of the barnyard has subverted all the pigtailed Latina’s pets. Not a one has time for cake, no one wants to play, and everyone is ignoring the aggrieved narrator. To make matters worse, the chicken (via imperative-clause picket signs) demands that Abuela travel posthaste to the child’s backyard. Dogs wearing hard hats, birds hoisting girders, grandmas operating bulldozers—has the world gone mad? Gehl’s sparsely worded wink to Anne Isabella Ritchie’s evolving axiom, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for life,” is made into a masterpiece by Horne’s distinctive and humorously sly illustrations. The raucous colors pop against the wry, understated refrain, “I got a chicken for my birthday.” Practically every clever detail begs to be the center of attention. Is the chicken’s scrolled supply list with the sneakily embedded song lyrics the pièce de résistance, or is it the hamster powering the monstrous Ferris wheel? Visual puns compete with subtle tweaks to the funny bone, and each deserves to be savored in its own right.
Either Horne was in Gehl’s pocket or vice versa, because this utterly seamless blend of story and art is an ingenious treat for all ages.
(Picture book. 3-8)
When a young T. Rex named Penelope starts school, she learns some lessons about her classmates; most importantly, they are not for eating.
Higgins’ starts out as most back-to-school books do: A nervous youngster equipped with an awesome new backpack and hearty lunch worries about her classmates. But then the orange-and-white dino, who’s clad in pink overalls, is taken aback to find that all her classmates are children—the human kind. And “children are delicious,” so she eats them. Mrs. Noodleman forces her to spit them out and reiterates the titular rule. Penelope’s classmates, covered in disgusting spit, express their displeasure with hugely expressive faces and postures. Penelope’s efforts to make friends are unimpressive to the kids (and will have readers in stitches!). A sad and lonely dino trudges home to some advice from her parents, but the temptation the next day is just too great. “Mrs. Noodleman, Penelope ate William Omoto again!” The whole class is afraid of her, except Walter, the goldfish. But when she extends the hand of friendship to him, he gives her a taste of her own medicine, leading to a change of heart and some new friends. Higgins’ illustrations combine scanned textures, graphite, ink, and Photoshop elements, and they feature a wonderfully diverse class that includes a girl in hijab, a tyke in glasses, and a boy wearing a kippah amid classmates of varying skin and hair colors and body types.
Fans of macabre, tongue-in-cheek humor (and twist endings!) will enjoy time spent with Penelope.
(Picture book. 3-7)
The mice in the barn have a cat problem and must rely on their own wits to solve it.
After taking pity on a poor starving tabby cat named Marmalade, the barn mice learn that no good deed goes unpunished when she becomes a tyrant, terrorizing the very creatures who nursed her back to health. When life becomes intolerable, the mice craft a collar with a bell to warn them of Marmalade’s approach, but who will take on the perilous duty of belling the cat? In this book, published posthumously, the beloved, multiaward-winning McKissack leaves readers one more insightful tale that teaches the value of self-reliance and gently cautions against believing preconceived notions. Reminiscent of Margery Sharpe’s The Rescuers, the classed society of mice enlists aid from the dreaded rats and even a barn bird before they are forced to rely on a most unexpected ally. Cyr, in his debut picture book, creates an atmospheric and precarious landscape through brilliant use of shadow and color. Marmalade’s eyes, a lugubrious shade of yellow, convey the full extent of her villainy, while the scale of the mice in the shadowy barn reinforces the danger that they are in. A black nuclear family is seamlessly integrated in the conclusion.
A lovely posthumous gift that will undoubtedly draw readers into the prolific author’s body of work.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Once children can recognize and read the title, they will easily be able to navigate the rest of this book. “Dude!” is (almost) the only word uttered throughout the story.
Sometimes it is printed in large capital letters, sometimes in diminutive lowercase. The word may be surrounded by a jagged speech bubble, stretched out with five U’s, spoken by one or many, or decorated with sprinkles, but part of the fun of this picture book with graphic-novel overtones is interpreting the proper intonation from the context. A platypus and a beaver are the first two friends to call out to each other as they race to the beach, surfboards at the ready. After an encounter with sea-gull droppings (heralded with one of the few additional words: “SPLAT!”), a shark is spotted. It is cajoled with ice cream, so the nervous duo’s chorus is soon voiced by an exultant trio. Santat varies the page design to pace the over-the-top emotions and action, employing diagonally framed panels, cameos, small insets, and full-bleed double-page spreads. Disaster occurs at the rocks, and if observant readers hadn’t noticed the warning sign at the story’s opening, subsequent readings will reveal this foreshadowing and other clever details. The three dudes resolve the damage, ultimately sharing a sweet denouement under the sunset.
Surprises, mayhem, potty humor, sharks, and ice cream: What’s not to like? (Picture book. 4-6)