It’s that time of year. Time to spend a small fortune on school supplies and convince children to brush off the ol’ backpack (not to mention to forget everything they learned about sleeping in during the lazy summer). It’s a particularly anxious or exciting (or both) time of year for incoming kindergarten students, prying themselves away from Mom and Dad and heading off to make new friends (anyone else humming a certain song by the White Stripes right now?), learn all about their letters—and the very basics of reading.
Read last week's Seven Impossible Things on her favorite picture books of 2011.
Fall brings three picture books that are perfect for reading with your kindergartener, books that address all these things: friendship, letters, reading basics, a bear on a bike forcing her hand at friendship with everyone from frogs in swimsuits, to ostriches in leg warmers, to fish in plaid sweaters. Wait. You’re right. The latter isn’t typical, but it does make for a great picture book.
Remember Peter Brown’s Children Make Terrible Pets last year, in which Brown introduced us to Lucy, the young bear who takes on a boy for her pet? That was truly one of 2010’s most outstanding picture books, and Brown is back to tell us another of Lucy’s tales. You Will Be My Friend! will appear on bookshelves in time for those kindergarteners arriving at school to forge their own new friendships.
Here, Lucy is determined to make a brand-new pal. “The forest is crawling with fun critters,” she says to her mother one morning. “Surely ONE of them will want to be my friend.” Things don’t go as planned, mostly because Lucy tries entirely too hard, forgetting that new friends tend to show up when you aren’t necessarily looking for them and that yelling “you WILL be my friend!” isn’t always the most pleasant technique. Brown loads this one up with funny details for observant eyes in his pencil illustrations (pencil, that is, with the addition of construction paper and wood, all wrapped up with a bit of “digital tweaking”). It’s so good to see Lucy again. She’s full of heart and means well, even if she learns things the hard way the first time. (That’s a fairly accurate description of childhood, come to think of it.)
There is no shortage of alphabet picture books in this world, but this September Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberley—the creators of last year’s triumphant (Best Fist Pump by a Protagonist in a Picture Book) Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t)—bring us a particularly impish and delightful one in An Annoying ABC. It’s a quiet morning in what looks like a kindergarten classroom when suddenly “Adelaide annoyed Bailey. Bailey blamed Clyde. Clyde cried. Dexter drooled on Eloise.” Notice the letter choices here?
(Yes! You get a star today!) Adelaide, with her simple moment of aggravation there, starts a chain reaction of sheer distress in the classroom, but by the end, Bottner and Emberley turn things around with some kindness and forgiveness. The narrative is never forced, as can often happen with alphabet books that try to tell a tale, and Emberley’s spirited pencil and watercolor cartoons nearly sing from the pages.
And for kindergarteners who are already game for the most basic of beginning readers, consider handing them Adam Gudeon’s picture book debut, Me and Meow. The longest sentence here is five words—we’re talking very short sentences in a simple narrative featuring a young girl and her cat. “Good morning, Me! Good morning, Meow!” she declares at the book’s opening, and they spend an emotion-packed day together, playing and sharing. Gudeon’s minimalist, uncluttered illustrations are devoid of any pretense. This is very accessible, childlike art. A joy for the youngest of children, particularly cat lovers.
All are slated for September releases. Until then, pack a good lunch and a healthy snack, and work on finding some new friends with whom you can share these great books.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.