If you saw this post, published earlier this month, from Betsy Bird over at A Fuse #8 Production, then you read that it seems to be a strong year for high-quality board books, and you also read about some of those 2018 books. I’ve two I’d like to add, if I may, to her list — Will Bear Share? and Will Sheep Sleep?, both scheduled to be released later this month.
Both books come from author-illustrator Hilary Leung, who has previously worked in the realm of picture books. He’s the illustrator of the popular The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear, originally self-published with author David Bruins and then published in 2009 by Kids Can Press. (This book was published back before you could throw a rock — or, er, shuriken — and hit a picture book about ninjas. They are still the relatively popular subject of many a picture book.)
Leung’s new books are the first in a series of what he calls “animal question stories,” which will all be in board book form. These are the first board books he’s written and illustrated. “I originally pitched Will Bear Share? as a 40-page picture book,” he tells me via email. “Fortunately, my brilliant art director, Patti Ann Harris, saw the potential for it to become a board book series instead. I couldn't be happier with how everything worked out.”
Readers will be, too. Both books feature a cast of endearing animal characters, rendered via basic shapes and bright colors, sure to attract the toddlers at which they’re aimed. There’s Sheep; Bear; Frog; Ladybug; Giraffe; and Crocodile. Much dry humor is conveyed through their facial expressions — in particular, their eyes — and the simplest of gestures. The books cover uncomplicated concepts (sharing and sleep) with short sentences in a bold font.
As with any good character-driven board book, Leung develops memorable characters in a very tight space. “I love puzzles,” he says. “Crafting these stories has been a challenging puzzle at times, but ultimately more enjoyable and satisfying.” He credits his team at Scholastic Books for assistance with the story-making. “They always elevate my craft,” he adds. “It's been a dream working on this series with all of them.”
Part of Leung’s puzzle-solving was knowing how to surprise readers, too: “Will Bear share her umbrella?” we read, as Bear stands next to Sheep, who is getting soaked in the rain. “Oh yes!” we see on the following spread, but instead of covering Sheep with her umbrella, Bear has turned it upside-down, and the two ride a big wave, as if it’s a boat. Expect shouts of delight from toddlers. “My favorite part of the process,” Leung tells me, “is actually audience-testing. It's magical when you can surprise and delight kids. And it's golden when you can engage them in a fun and meaningful way.”
Children who enjoy Sheep, Bear, and their friends will be happy to know more books are coming in the series. “The entire series deals with daily childhood struggles,” Leung explains, “and is loaded with subtle humor and unexpected twists.” Coming in September of this year is Will Ladybug Hug?, which Leung says is a story about consent. Will Giraffe Laugh?, to be published early next year,is a story about grumpiness. (Perhaps Leung will mine his own memories of discontent, since he tells me he relates to Giraffe the most.) “I also have a couple of ideas percolating for Frog and Crocodile, but nothing is set,” he adds. (I’m partial to hapless Crocodile, so this is potential good news for me.)
One thing is for sure: Leung’s joy in crafting these books is almost tangible. “I have two young kids,” he says, “and we devour a lot of books together. My kids provide a lot of inspiration, and it's been fun creating something we can all enjoy.”
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
WILL BEAR SHARE? and WILL SHEEP SLEEP? Copyright © 2018 by Hilary Leung. Published by Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. Illustrations reproduced by permission of Hilary Leung.