It’s been a while since I’ve done a picture book round-up, and today I’ve got three satisfying, brand-new picture books of the animal variety. If you’re up for some stories about bunnies, crocodiles, tigers, and/or badgers, you’re set.
First up is Viviane Schwarz’s How to Find Gold, which hit shelves earlier this month. Schwarz has quickly become one of my favorite (relatively) new author-illustrators; she thinks highly of the child reader and makes smart stories for them. This one is charming and delightfully offbeat, without ever being too earnest. And Schwarz gets right to the point: “Let’s find gold,” says a young girl named Anna to her friend, Crocodile (who is, yes, a crocodile), on page one. Even better are the following lines:
“’That would be dangerous and difficult,’ said Crocodile.
‘Good!’ said Anna. ‘Let’s go!’”
Willing to embrace adventure with all its perils and uncertainties, they plan, make some maps, and find the gold. The planning involves very funny secret faces and an even funnier map, courtesy of Crocodile, of sunken gold (and sea monsters). They dive for gold---fueled by a strong collective imagination---in a fabulous red boat, complete with a pirate flag. When the story opens, Anna and Crocodile are the only characters in color on top of pencil drawings. When their high-seas adventure begins and they head under the waves, the spreads open up in more ways than one with vividly colored, child-like crayon and watercolor paintings. In the end, they decide to bury the gold---and even its map---proving that the real treasure in the end was time spent with a best friend.
Let’s stick with duos and take a look next at Tiger and Badger, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. This is the story of two fussing friends, and I love how it’s a series of fusses. It’s not like these two, brought to life by the illustrator as an actual tiger and badger, have one giant disagreement. They play; they argue; they make up. Repeat. This mirrors real friendships, especially with children, quite well – though, really, adults in relationships of all stripes do the same thing. When you spend so much time with that one someone so close to you, well … ennui can sometimes set in. And it’s perfectly normal and solve-able.
These two argue over a favorite chair, ice pops, and whether or not they’re best friends anymore. But they also easily find peace and work together to solve problems. It’s the rhythms of this type of best-friend dynamic that Jenkins nails, making the pace work and propelling the story forward. Mary Louise-Gay was a great choice for this text, and she brings these characters and their world to sunny life, as they romp and play outdoors. My favorite detail? Badger has a spatula tucked under a sash he wears as a belt. The spatula even helps save the day and solves a dilemma at one point.
Rifts between friends were never so fun.
Last but not least, because Spring is oh-so close and because BUNNIES, we have Peter McCarty’s newest picture book, Bunny Dreams. It may be my favorite McCarty yet (though Hondo and Fabian will always call to me). This is wonderfully bizarre. We meet, on the first spread, a bunch of bunnies hopping around. “What do bunnies know?” McCarty asks. They know vegetables and to eat them, they know to run from the farmer’s dog, and they know when it’s time to rest and when to hide. They do not know their names.
After noting that bunnies sometimes hide in underground tunnels, McCarty then explores---since bunnies are safe to sleep and dream in these hiding places---their dreams while they doze. In their dreams, they fly; they see a big blue dog; and, since they know their alphabet, they know their names and how to write them. In the end, a bunny wakes to see the moon – and a bunny on the moon, no less. “Can you see it, too?” McCarty asks the reader. The end.
Right? This is an unconventional, even spectacularly loopy, narrative -- one that will speak, I think, to very young children who don’t always think in straight lines. The whole package here is almost slightly surreal – and not just because some of it takes place in dreams. It’s worth the price of admission alone to see McCarty’s floating bunnies with wings, flying over a big blue dog, not to mention the chicken who shows up out of nowhere in the bunny land of dreams (as well as on the endpapers). The palette here is muted, primarily browns and rusts; it’s the opposite of most picture books marketed at this time of year (lots of in-your-face bright yellows and pinks). There’s a good deal of humor here, and the detours the story takes from a logical storyline make for entertaining surprises.
Until the next picture book round-up, happy reading!
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.