Kids know vegetables can be scary, but rarely are edible roots out to get someone. In this whimsical mock-horror tale, carrots nearly frighten the whiskers off Jasper Rabbit, an interloper at Crackenhopper Field.
Jasper loves carrots, especially those “free for the taking.” He pulls some in the morning, yanks out a few in the afternoon, and comes again at night to rip out more. Reynolds builds delicious suspense with succinct language that allows understatements to be fully exploited in Brown’s hilarious illustrations. The cartoon pictures, executed in pencil and then digitally colored, are in various shades of gray and serve as a perfectly gloomy backdrop for the vegetables’ eerie orange on each page. “Jasper couldn’t get enough carrots … / … until they started following him.” The plot intensifies as Jasper not only begins to hear the veggies nearby, but also begins to see them everywhere. Initially, young readers will wonder if this is all a product of Jasper’s imagination. Was it a few snarling carrots or just some bathing items peeking out from behind the shower curtain? The ending truly satisfies both readers and the book’s characters alike. And a lesson on greed goes down like honey instead of a forkful of spinach.
Serve this superbly designed title to all who relish slightly scary stories.
(Picture book. 4-7)
It’s bedtime for the mouseling brother and sister—but not before plenty of horsing around and a deliciously scary expedition into the backyard.
As little Penny quietly tries to wash up and pretend-read a story (“One day the princess was sent to her room for being bratty. But she had a secret door…”), her restless big brother interrupts obnoxiously with warnings about the Boogey Mouse, loud belches and other distractions. When Benny realizes that he’s left his prized pirate hat in the backyard, though, Penny braves the Boogey Mouse to follow him out of the window and prod him into reclaiming it from the spooky, dark playhouse. She also “reads” him to sleep after the two race, giggling at their fright, back indoors. Framed in sequential panels that occasionally expand to full-page or double-spread scenes, the art features a pair of big-eared, bright-eyed mites (plus the occasional fictive dinosaur) in cozy domestic settings atmospherically illuminated by the glow of lamps, Benny’s flashlight and the moon. As in this popular series’ earlier episodes, dialogue in unobtrusive balloons furnishes the only text, but the action is easy to follow, and Hayes provides plenty of finely drawn visual cues to the characters’ feelings.
Another outing positively radiant with child appeal, featuring a pair of close siblings with complementary personalities.
(Graphic early reader. 5-7)
During the tumultuous days of the Arab Spring when Egyptians marched to bring down their government, youthful demonstrators and library staff stood together to protect the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, contemporary counterpart to the Great Library of Alexandria, from vandalism. Roth’s exuberant collages capture these heady moments, blending photos, papers and fabrics to bring the people’s positive actions and the building’s intriguing facade together in a celebration of patriotism and libraries. The co-authors personalize the historical events by using Shaimaa Saad, a former children’s librarian, as the narrator. The text begins traditionally but quickly changes to indicate that this is a contemporary story: “Once upon a time, / not a long time ago, / many people in Egypt / were sad and sometimes angry, / because they were not free to speak, / or vote as they wished, or gather in groups.” Young people one by one join Dr. Ismail Serageldin, the library’s director, in a human chain around the building and unfurl a giant Egyptian flag on its steps (also shown in photographs at the end) with palpable ebullience. Extensive and accessible backmatter includes information about the ancient and modern libraries, the January 25, 2011, Revolution, an author’s note, resources, protest-sign translations and graphic motifs.
A stunning visual recreation of a recent historical event.
(Informational picture book. 6-9)
A quietly magnificent paean to the wonder of nighttime and the solidity of a family unit.
Unlike picture books that use evening settings to address fears or coax kids into bed, this creative debut makes night-living a valid choice. The city-dwelling Insomniacs aren’t originally “a night family. / But when Mrs. Insomniac found a new job, Mother, Father, and little Mika traveled twelve time zones to their new home,” northern and remote. Hot baths and mugs of milk don’t adjust their internal clocks. Perky all night and dozing all day, they seek counsel from their new neighbors: lynx, bears and bats. “And then the Insomniacs noticed: the darkness was full of life.” Why force it? They decide to “give night a try.” Mika keeps pets—a bandicoot and a fennec fox, among others—and attends night school online; Mother continues her (undefined) science career by studying night stars; Father develops photos in his darkroom. The family catches the bakery opening at dawn and then “bundle[s] into bed.” Prussian blue dominates the offbeat pencil-and-charcoal illustrations, with whites and yellows glowing as moon, snow and lamplight. Figures are thin-armed and deliberate. Composition varies entrancingly, including full spreads, sequential boxes and dotted lines pointing to enlarged details.
What first seems an eerie, baby-goth vibe is held steady by the stable, close-knit family and lack of crisis in this atmospheric, calmly splendid piece.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Chilean author/illustrator Valdivia highlights the notion that although different kinds of people live in different places around the world, we share many things in common. The title subtly references the Earth's northern and southern hemispheres, launching readers into a picture book with spreads characterized by a line bisecting each page into upper and lower halves. This graceful attention to design contributes to the great success of this title, in which stylized characters populate both realms. Straightforward, lyrical text describes opposing seasons and other ways in which life in both places differs and coincides. Design and illustration take center stage in this book’s achievement, with eye-catching compositions that revel in muted tones, employing well-placed spots of blues and greens to highlight various details. The concluding line, “They can all look at the world the other way around,” gently underscores the book’s central message about the importance of considering other perspectives and seeing the common ground we share.
A visually stunning, gently restrained picture book that should be high up on readers’ lists
. (Picture book. 4-8)
The vaudevillian Wing Wing Brothers’ attempts to outdo and upstage each other are sure to cause some giggles…and ideally some math learning, as well.
Act 1 is all about comparing amounts and introduces children to the equal, less-than and greater-than signs. Wendell and Wilmer try to one-up each other in the number of spinning plates they are able to balance. In the end, 10=10 predictably becomes 0=0. Act 2 focuses on addition and subtraction and stars Willy, who holds one pie. His brothers each try to nail him with more pies, but he just adds them to his juggling act. When Willy is juggling 4+1=5 pies, the slapstick ending (and subsequent subtraction problem) is not hard to guess. The third act mixes up the addition and subtraction problems with a magic box that causes the brothers to appear and disappear. When all the brothers disappear into the box, green clouds give a hint as to the final slapstick joke. Long seems to know just how long to draw out the shtick so it doesn’t lose readers’ attention, ending on a comical high note. His humorous illustrations—black pencil outlines with digital color that are reminiscent of Mo Willems’ pigeon—will keep kids riveted with the birds’ fantastically expressive faces.
This is how learning math should be—painless, comical and, yes, spectacular.
(Math picture book. 4-8)
Restless, sleepless Lucy decides to climb out of bed and wander through her hushed house.
Meandering rhyme bobs up and down in this nocturnal tale, rocking readers with its subtle irregularity and soft tonality. It drifts as Lucy drifts, around her house, into closets and the fridge, onto the porch, back upstairs and, finally, into bed. Dusky blues, purples and pinks establish a muted nighttime world, one through which Lucy perambulates quite comfortably. Children who fear separation and isolation at bedtime might find eye-opening solace in Lucy’s soothing ramble. Quiet solitary play (dressing-up, snacking, listening to far-off music outside, petting the family pup) suddenly seems exactly the way to find peace and slumber. Being alone in cozy darkness ain’t so bad! Lucy’s pleasantly blank, flat face, her wide-set dot eyes and simple u-shaped smile encourage children to identify with her, easily swapping their own experiences, their own faces, with hers. Schwartz’s deceptively simple paintings and line-work deliver enough domestic details (a coiled hose, a stray doll, dirty laundry, scattered bath toys) and slightly skewed perspectives to keep readers engaged, looking into every corner of the family home (just like the nomadic Lucy).
A bedtime book with sweetly anarchic undertones (why stay in bed?), in which verse and artwork lull and soothe to soporific effect.(Picture book. 1-4)
Goldstone departs from his usual math picture books to deliver one of the most comprehensive books about autumn available for kids.
Revolving around the idea that “Autumn is a season of awesome changes,” the text takes readers through some of them: Days get colder and shorter; frost forms; farmers harvest their crops; some animals migrate, hibernate, change color or get ready for the cold in other ways; people play soccer and football, rake leaves and celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving. Sometimes-lengthy paragraphs with vocabulary defined in the text inform readers; the best ones introduce the process of leaves changing color and separating from the tree. Goldstone seamlessly intersperses pages into this discussion that talk about the tastes, sounds, sights, textures and shapes of fall, making this a solid choice for audiences of mixed ages. One- and two-page spreads, as well as collages and vignettes of beautiful photos, evoke fall. Many of the photos are cropped in the shape of leaves or words, as on the sound-sense page—“Hooray” is cut from a photo of fans in a stadium. The final few spreads give photographs of and directions for some fall crafts, including gourd geese, leaf rubbings, roasted pumpkin seeds and a fall mobile.
Wonderfully apropos pictures, solid information and sheer breadth are sure to make this an elementary-classroom staple. The cover blurb says it all: “All kinds of fall facts and fun.” (Nonfiction. 5-10)
Primitive-looking cut-paper illustrations depict an apple’s travels from tree to kitchen to backpack to picnic and eventually into soil, where it takes root as a new seedling.
Run your fingers across this satisfyingly square book’s cover and feel the subtle, smooth outlines of a ripe apple and simple letters. You’ll immediately sense the solid, soothing storytelling at work inside, achieved through astute manipulations of paper. McClure’s masterful cut-paper pictures appear more chunky and primitive here than in other works (To Market, to Market, 2011, etc.), appropriate in a book about plant processes as old as the Earth. Solitary verbs centered on white left-hand pages definitively describe the apple’s journey. Their red, all-uppercase, hand-drawn block lettering compliments rustic black-and-white pictures that look a lot like whittled woodblock prints. Beginning readers can latch onto these firm words, point at their hefty letters and discern sounds and meanings. Older readers will appreciate McClure’s use of a velvety, Valentine red to highlight the apple; these isolated instances of color pull children into each leg of a small odyssey, making a little apple’s peregrinations seem deserving of acute attention. Backmatter includes “The Life Cycle of an Apple Tree” and “Composting,” described in simple language that manages to be both sophisticated and conversational. Four panels capturing the four seasons sit on the opposite page: a summation of an apple’s year in pictures and an assured ending.
This deconstructed lesson in plant regeneration, composting and life cycles will reach apple-eating readers of many ages
. (Picture book. 3-8)
Janson lives in a museum, in a cozy corner with a pillow and a rose-speckled blanket. One day, she stumbles upon something new, “and her little world opened.” Striding across a gray page, with a soft white glow around her figure to show energy, Janson emerges into a white background and finds—art! Immediately entranced, this self-possessed, humble rodent sets to work copying the masters. A grid of pop-art self-portraits (Janson’s face, with her tenderly expressive eyebrow angle) pays homage to Andy Warhol’s Marilyn series; Janson reclining in a jungle recalls Rousseau; Janson’s snout, elongated and triangulated into cubism, echoes Picasso. Each clean, white page centers Janson at work; an occasional wall angle, easel or dropcloth nimbly enhances the minimal composition. Janson’s gray body and striped skirt are warm hues of low saturation, sending focus to the colors within her artwork: Campbell’s red soup can with mouse face, à la Warhol; blues and yellows for van Gogh’s Starry Night; primaries for a geometric Mondrian mouse and a Munch mouse Scream. When museum renovation bars Janson from the art wing, she weeps, truly bereft, then forges ahead, painting from memory and defining her own style. Discovery and an exhibit follow. Janson’s climactic mousterpiece features canvas texture showing through the paint, honoring her beloved medium.
The joyful clarity of both vision and execution thrills.
(notes on 22 artists referenced)
(Picture book. 3-7)
An interactive look at a young boy’s school day teaches those new to school about routines and manners.
Calmenson, a former kindergarten teacher, savvily encourages the youngest listeners to chime in and be part of the reading process, inviting them in from the very first page: “Would you like to read an Ollie story?” From there, the text takes on a question-and-answer format, with three outlandish questions followed by one realistic one. For school today, will Ollie put on "A bathing suit?...A space suit?...A police officer’s uniform?” Each of these questions is punctuated by a “NO” in large and colorful type. A page turn asks, “Will Ollie put on pants and a shirt, socks and shoes? YES!” Readers are sure to catch the pattern and relish shouting out the answers…after they finish giggling at the silly scenarios, which Carter plays up in her watercolor vignettes and one-page spreads. Ollie is an adorable, rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed blond who ping-pongs between the mischievous imp who practices playing the kazoo during storytime and the perfectly mannered little boy who teaches readers how to behave when meeting friends, answering a teacher’s questions, and getting ready to go home. And when he does get home, he finds not a whale, a juggler or a robot waiting, but someone who loves him.
Will this be a popular and raucous first-day-of-school favorite? YES! (Picture book. 3-6)
Little Nutbrown Hare bravely ventures out to the Far Field and back in four sweet new outings illustrated “in the style of” Anita Jeram.
With Big Nutbrown Hare still in attendance, Little Nutbrown nerves himself for a bit of climbing after his favorite Hiding Tree falls in a storm. He is also (very) briefly lost in fog on Cloudy Mountain, and he finds an interesting burrow in distant Far Field (but heeds his inner voice’s warning that dark holes are dangerous). Finally, he invites Big Nutbrown to guess his favorite place as the two are “wandering home at the end of the day.” Complementing McBratney’s mastery at capturing the feelings and concerns of toddlers in words, Wagner and Tarbett channel his original illustrator in posing sinuously drawn characters, alone and together, in ways that subtly but clearly express joy, anxiety, excitement and curiosity. Most strongly of all, they capture the intimate attachment that lights up all of the Hares’ appearances from Guess How Much I Love You (1995) on. Low tufts of wildflowers and other foliage backed by thin washes of pale greens and blues create a properly idyllic natural setting. Despite some unfortunate Americanizations and a picture of flying insects that are confusingly called "daddy-long-legs," this book is still close to sublime.
Required reading for all young children taking their first ventures into the wide world beyond immediate parental reach.
(Picture book. 2-5)
A small boy’s response to a beetle in the garden triggers profound moral questions in this arresting visual tour de force.
When Stephen spies a wee beetle in his garden, he instinctively removes his shoe and raises his arm to crush it. Oblivious to its impending demise, the beetle goes “on about its business.” Then Stephen pauses and wonders where the beetle is going and what it is doing. He muses, “If I drop my shoe…the day will go on just the same, except for one small thing.” Instead of killing the beetle, Stephen lays his head on the ground and observes it. Up close, the beetle resembles a “terrible triceratops” poised for attack. Then the beetle seems to remember something and walks off. This simple yet powerful life-or-death drama between the boy and the beetle is vividly captured in Carrer’s striking, highly original acrylic, ink pencil, oil pastel and collage illustrations. Using naive outlines, Expressionistic color washes, open spaces and constantly changing perspectives, she creates tension between the aggressive boy and the passive beetle. Initially Stephen dominates the page, but following the existential moment of choice when he realizes the consequences of his intended action, the beetle becomes the visual focus, eventually assuming gargantuan proportions during their eye-to-eye standoff.
A memorable lesson in mindfulness.
(Picture book. 2-5)
“My daddy has warm hands. His fingers taste like applesauce. I wish he had a thousand hands.”
Spare of words but rich in feeling, this love note tracks some ups and downs but circles back to an attachment so warm and close that only the stoniest of hearts will remain unaffected. Tagging along as his father washes up in the morning, sacks out in front of the television after some vigorous outdoor play and then goes on into the kitchen to peel apples, the young narrator makes contented comments about dad’s hands, muscles and stomach (“soft as a pillow”). When an unspecified offense brings on “thunder daddy,” though, the miffed lad heads for “the forest of Other-and-Better”—a staircase, in the pictures, that transforms into a dense, dark forest of trees with shouting mouths—in search of a nicer parent. The scary experience drives him back into the kitchen where dad, who had himself transformed into a hairy, scowling gorilla, offers a bowl of applesauce and reverts bit by bit over a wordless spread as amity is restored. Aside from an early remark that papa “sounds like a mom when he sings in the bath,” there’s no sign of a second adult.
Reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are in its visual transformations and emotional intensity, but with a more present and openly loving parent.
(Picture book. 4-6)