The Fall season in any given year is always a busy time in children’s book publishing. October seems to be the sweet spot for new titles, often ones that generate buzz for months in advance. This Fall, in the world of picture books, there are a handful of new titles in which readers will have the chance to reunite with some favorite characters. I’ve got several of them today. Let’s start with two imports – both from Japanese authors and illustrators.
I have previously written here at Kirkus about Kazue Takahashi’s tiny Kuma-Kuma Chan books: Kuma-Kuma Chan, the Little Bear was released in 2014 (and is included in this round-up of mine), and Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Homewas released here in the U.S. two years later (which I wrote about here).
Coming to shelves in early October will be Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Travels, probably my favorite of the three. These books, let me remind you, are the antidote for your overscheduled, hurried and harried child. Kuma-Kuma Chan is a bear, who lives alone, and he lives a simple, unfussy life. In this one, he travels, as the title tells you. Well… he travels in his mind’s eye, to be precise about it, and it is funny stuff. Expect laughs from preschoolers who see that Kuma Kuma-Chan has carefully packed and is napping on a tropical island – but then they see on the next spread: “Well . . . he daydreams about it.” With Kuma-Kuma Chan as a stand-in for small children, the book captures well the caprices of toddlers (in one moment, we see the bear just angrily rolling about on the ground), as well as their abundant imaginations. All the charms of the first two books are here. Long live Kuma-Kuma Chan.
Also back, by way of Japan, is a third Chirri & Chirra story, The Snowy Day, coming to shelves in mid-October. (In late 2016, I wrote here about the first book in the Chirri & Chirra trilogy.) Everything about this new book communicates cozy, snuggly, soft and warm. It’s a delight. The two girls head out on a snowy day on their bikes and discover “a door made of ice.” Inside, there are small, furry creatures with small cups of warm beverages; a great hall filled with the small creatures doing small things in small groups; a hot spring with small flower buds that pop open in the water, where everyone heads to warm up (the spread where they all sit peacefully, with eyes closed, in the restoring water is perfect); and “rainbow-colored steamed buns from the hot spring, sprinkled with sugar.” In the end, they find an igloo just the right size for a “big, cozy bed.”
When I was a child, I’d imagine stormy weather and that I could save my stuffed animal toys from said weather by putting them under my covers or building a fort. I liked the feeling of knowing I was keeping them safe and warm. This book is that.
Also from overseas, but this time from England, is the return in early October of author-illustrator Bethan Woollvin, who last year won a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book award for her minimalist illustrations in Little Red. This time, Woollvin takes on the classic fairy tale “Rapunzel,” in her book of the same name. Whereas Little Red was dominated by monochromatic shades of grey with pops of the color red, yellow is the one popping in Rapunzel (the yellow of Rapunzel’s long locks). Much like Little Red, Rapunzel isn’t easily frightened; she has some agency and tenacity in stories usually featuring passive princesses. Rapunzel takes matters into her own hands with, primarily, a pair of scissors, even becoming her own hero in the end. Rebel Rapunzel: She’s tough.
If you missed last year’s Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!), you missed one of the year’s funniest picture books. So, go find a copy, and then, come early October, find the sequel, Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably). Poor Snappsy. He’s still just trying to live his fairly secluded, introverted life, but that chicken is back, narrating Snappsy’s life, embellishing and exaggerating all the while. In fact, we learn later, the chicken never actually left the party at Snappsy’s house, the one we read about in book one. (I love this. We all have a friend like this.) This tension between what Snappsy wants and what the chicken is dictating is funny stuff, just as it was in the first book. But in this one, we learn a bit more about the two and are even left with another cliffhanger: “They had such a wonderful time that they decided Bert should move in,” the narrator declares at the end.
Speaking of Bert, the book’s most laugh-out loud moment is when the chicken puts on a shirt that says “BERT.” “Who’s Bert?” Snappsy asks. “Me. I am,” says the chicken. “You never told me you had a name,” says Snappsy. “You never asked,” the chicken replies. This manages to be funny as hell and a tender kind of sad, both at the same time.
Finally, there’s Laurel’s Snyder newest installment in what I hope is an ongoing early reader series, Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy. Charlie and Mouse’s grandfather, Grumpy (who never is actually disgruntled, and I love that we’re left wondering about that name), comes to visit in this collection of four short stories. We learn a great deal more about Charlie and Mouse in this new set of tales, and the tender affection they feel for their grandfather is sweet and real, never cloying. Grumpy’s departure is a tough one for both boys, who love spending time with him, but readers are left hoping that perhaps he will make another appearance. Such welcome and endearing stories these are. If you know a beginning reader who fell for book one, they won’t be disappointed with book two.
Old friends. Happy returns.
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.