You know those children who nearly always have their noses in books? I have one like this, who came home from school one day last year and told me with unmitigated joy that she discovered it was okay with her teacher if she read in the cafeteria. The three picture books I have in mind today are ones that such children may appreciate. For them, reading these might be an awful lot like they’ve just made a new friend who gets them.
Bob Staake’s My Pet Book is a joyful take on the I-want-a-pet picture books of the world. In it, a young boy longs for a “pet that’s easy.” That’s when his bibliophile father pipes up that he’s fairly certain pet books don’t run away.
So, the boy walks right past Petville, the local pet store, strolls into a bookstore, and picks out a bright, red (and frisky, no doubt) book—just the one for him. The boy quickly discovers it’s the perfect pet: It doesn’t shed; it never has fleas; and it doesn’t even poop. [Cue the preschool giggles.]
Best of all, his new pet is full of tales of “awesomeness and glory.” As he reads, his imagination puts him right in the center of all the action. (There is one delicious spread, featuring nothing less than a rocket ship, an octopus and a dragon.) Eventually, the boy misplaces the book, but he sets off on a big adventure to find it—and all ends well when he finds it hiding in, of all places, a pet shop.
Staake’s colorful illustrations pop off the page. There’s a near manic energy on many spreads, much like Rilla Alexander’s The Best Book in the World, coming from Flying Eye Books in July. Alexander is an Australian born designer and illustrator, based in Berlin, and it’s the sleek artwork that takes center stage here. The story itself is simple: A young girl spends the entirety of The Best Book in the World with her face in a book, and the text is a celebration of story: “Take the first step. Turn the first page.…” The girl starts out reading on the subway but is soon traveling her imagination, letting the book she’s reading take her on flights of fancy—from snowy landscapes to deserts and from sky to water to earth. The book’s pace slows nicely at its close (“Slow down! Rest your eyes”), as the girl sleeps, knowing that the story won’t go away if she goes right back to the beginning the next day. The artwork, which manages to feel retro yet fresh, communicates—like Staake’s book—a giddy and lighthearted cheer.
Staake’s and Rilla’s books are celebrations of reading and, in many ways, tributes to books as objects. Though it’s more of a celebration of language, I’d be remiss to not mention here Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus, a picture book biography of the great man himself. It is absolutely not-to-be missed, though it won’t be on shelves still September. Word-lovers everywhere, get ready to be delighted. And remember: One of the last times Bryant and Sweet paired up, a Caldecott Honor was awarded (A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams). That’s to say that sparks fly when these two collaborate.
With an affectionate (and even infectious) reverence, Bryant writes of the life of Peter Mark Roget and his passion for lists and words, which eventually led to his Thesaurus, originally published in 1852. Sweet’s illustrations are a wonder. (In a closing Author’s Note, Bryant thanks the “always astonishing Melissa Sweet.” That pretty much covers Sweet’s talents, doesn’t it?) The book’s design is superb, and the endpapers and closing notes—selected bibliography, notes for further reading, and sources—are thorough. (And even these pages are illustrated in remarkable and loving detail by Sweet.) The book’s passion for words and language is a triumph, and it’s one of the most outstanding picture books you’ll see this year.
Here’s to book-lovers—of all ages.…
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.