Forgive me for doing that thing where I skip ahead a whole book season (Summer 2016) to talk about what follows it, but this is the time of year when—if you write about picture books, as I do—you start to get a lot of Fall and Winter picture book galleys (called F&Gs, which I also sometimes mutter under my breath as a curse word, because don’t you think it sounds like one?). It’s more than a little bit thrilling, when you like to keep up with picture books in any given year, to get a sneak peek at what your favorite illustrators will be releasing. Before we know it, summer will be over, and these will be some of the new offerings on bookshelves. Let’s take a peek at some of them.
I’ll start with one of the most anticipated releases, Jon Klassen’s final book in his so-called hat trilogy. We Found a Hat, on shelves in October, follows 2011’s I Want My Hat Back (named a Geisel Honor Book) and 2012’s This Is Not My Hat (the 2013 Caldecott winner) and tells the story of two turtles who, together, find a hat in the middle of a desert. Each longs to have it. There are no did-he-or-did-he-not-get-eaten mysteries in this one, but for all intents and purposes it is, like its predecessors, a morality tale of the most entertaining sort. The first time I read This Is Not My Hat is seared deeply in my brain, because, for one thing, I knew I was reading a book that would change the picture book landscape. (For another thing, I love it so.) The closing book in the trilogy, lo these five years later, wraps things up beautifully – with humor and heart. The delicious mischief and deceit are almost there – just avoided. (We all know anyway from the first two books what happens when you commit an act of thievery, yes?)
Unless I’ve missed something, which is altogether possible, it’s been about five years since Javaka Steptoe, whose work I always like to see, released a picture book. In October, readers will see Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which Steptoe both wrote and illustrated. He tells the story, beginning in his boyhood, of Basquiat’s rise to fame. Instead of reproducing Basquiat’s paintings in the book, Steptoe decided to create his own interpretations of his work and motifs. Seeing Steptoe’s style merged with Basquiat’s, rendered on textured wood pieces, is unlike anything you’ll see this year. And while we are on the subject of the boyhoods of legendary figures, Jabari Asim tells the story of civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis’s childhood in Preaching to the Chickens, illustrated by E. B. Lewis and also coming in October. The title isn’t a metaphor of any sort: The young Lewis would actually preach the word of God to the chickens who lived on his farm, and he also worked to keep them from being traded to neighboring farmers, even baptizing the chicks: “John learned,” Asim writes, “to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.” Lewis’s cinematic watercolors shimmer and shine.
In September, readers will have a chance (barely!) to meet Shy in his self-titled book from Deborah Freedman. Shy loves birds and enjoys reading, but he’s painfully timid, so hesitant to be seen that he quite literally hides between the pages of the book. As you can imagine, Freedman, as the story progresses, plays with the book’s gutter, bringing happy reveals to the young readers at whom the book is aimed. The soft-focus illustrations on a primarily sunny palette are spacious. They sparkle, much like the yellow bird with whom Shy is infatuated. Two-time Caldecott Honor winner Pamela Zagarenski also returns with another story she’s both written and illustrated. Henry & Leo will be on shelves in October and is a tale of true-blue friendship. Zagarenski’s mixed-media paintings are resplendent, and---unless the colors in my F&G are off (which sometimes happens)---she is exploring a slightly richer palette here, especially in her forest scenes. The colors are lush, and the book features a mammoth bear that will take your breath away.
Want to hear about some pretty splendid Fall collaborations? Cynthia Rylant and Christian Robinson pair up in October’s Little Penguins, the joyous celebration of winter. It turns out that even flightless birds in their icy igloos look forward to venturing out when winter comes. Small humans reading about it will relate. Mac Barnett and Adam Rex team up in September for How This Book Was Made, which (if memory serves me right) is a picture book adaptation of a book talk for children that each has given before—and that they often give together. It’s the elaborate send-up of the picture book process (from first draft to landing in the hands of the reader), and it involves a tiger’s posse, an editor’s fancy lunches, dogs playing poker, pirates, and much more. Vera B. Williams’ final book before her death last October, Home at Last (also coming in September), illustrated by Chris Raschka, tells the story of a young boy, named Lester, adopted by Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich, and his struggle to feel at home. There is a tender, throbbing heart at the center of this story that respects and honors the fears of children—and Raschka could illustrate my car manual, and I’d read it (in fact, it would make my car manual immensely more interesting if he did)—and it’s made all the more tender, knowing it was Williams’ last story to tell. And that Williams had told Raschka, as he notes at the book’s close, “Lester is really me.” Finally, master biographer Jen Bryant brings readers in September the story of a young Louis Braille and his invention of the Braille alphabet in Six Dots, illustrated by the talented Boris Kulikov. Braille’s story is a fascinating one, and Bryant relays it with great wonder and reverence.
I think it’s going to be a good Fall. I don’t even have room here for Bob Shea’s The Happiest Book Ever (which is extremely funny) and Patrick McDonnell’s Tek: The Modern Cave Boy, a social commentary designed (with good reason, of course) to look like an iPad. And I haven’t even seen yet—only heard immensely good things about—Michelle Cuevas’ The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, illustrated by Erin E. Stead.
For now, I return to my Spring and Summer titles, but come the cool winds of September, my mug for hot cocoa and stack of books will be ready and waiting.
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.