Though I’ve never written one myself, I’ve no doubt that picture book sequels are challenging to write. As Cynthia Leitich Smith wrote in this 2012 post at her site for an interview with picture book author Kate Hosford, the author has to ensure that the sequel is more than a “thinly veiled rehashing of the first book.” Given the brevity of your typical picture book, such a copycat arrangement might be easy to fall prey to.
Today I take a look at three new picture books which constitute a pleasing return of characters, sequels of sorts that I think are well worth readers’ time. First up is a book hot off the presses.
Coffee and donuts. Peanut butter and jelly. Laurel and Hardy. Gillian and David. Some things just go together. So do Bink and Gollie, who are back in their third volume of stories, Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever, from Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by the talented Tony Fucile.
When the second volume of stories, Bink & Gollie: Two for One, was released last year, I was hesitant to read it, having fallen deeply in love with 2010’s Bink & Gollie, the award-winning debut of these two unforgettable characters. Could a second set of stories be just as good, I wondered? But DiCamillo and McGhee nailed it in 2012, and they nail it again with this new set of three tales, released just this week, in which Bink and Gollie’s friendship is tested more than once.
Heaven help us all, Gollie discovers that royal blood flows in her veins after seeing a 1908 photo of her great-aunt, all bedecked in a crown. Those of the royal persuasion—or so Gollie decides—don’t cook for or with their friends, nor do they have time for anything but waltzing through town to declare and declaim and elocute and such. It turns out this can get pretty lonely, and it also turns out, lucky for Gollie, that a true friend can forgive such snubs. Later, in the second tale of the volume, Bink fumes over her size and tall Gollie’s attempts to reach over her at all times to assist, another test of friendship overcome—with lots of humor to boot. And in the final tale, their best-friends-forever status is sealed, as if readers were ever in doubt.
When it comes to the spotlight, it’s easy to overlook titles in a series, but these are such well-crafted books on every level that each new volume never fails to impress me. The elements that made the first two volumes of stories work—the sharp characterizations (in large part thanks to Fucile’s detailed, expressive illustrations), the distinctive setting, the abundant humor and energy, and the spot-on dialogue—make this one stand out amongst a sea of new picture book releases. As the Kirkus review notes, no new ground is broken here, but with shiny, new adventures for this irrepressible duo, fans will be pleased.
In 2011 here at Kirkus, I wrote about Ole Könnecke’s Anton Can Do Magic, originally released in Germany but imported to the U.S. by Gecko Press. If that post didn’t convince you then to find a copy and read it to your favorite child, let me reiterate that it was one of 2011’s funniest books. To call Könnecke’s newest release, Anton and the Battle, a “sequel,” as if it’s the second title about the boy, is a stretch. There have been many books about this character over the years, not all released in the U.S. But this is another winning tale from Könnecke, perfect for very young readers. This time Anton and his friend Luke duke it out with their imaginations, all in an attempt to determine who’s stronger. It’s very funny (and, incidentally, would be great paired with Antoinette Portis’ Not a Box), and once again Könnecke proves that he instinctively understands the way children think.
Finally, I must mention (especially during this last gasp of National Poetry Month) Marilyn Singer’s Follow Follow, illustrated by Josée Masse, a “companion” book to 2010’s acclaimed Mirror Mirror. This is another collection of reverso poems, in which Singer creates poems that tell one story when read down, yet another story when read up. Only changes in punctuation and capitalization are allowed; the words remain the same.
Just as with the first title, Singer here focuses on fairy tales, telling two sides to one story. Double lives. Changed perspectives. Inner conflicts. Fun with symmetry! It’s captivating poetry, accompanied once again by Masse’s dynamic and smart illustrations. As I wrote at my own site when Mirror Mirror was released, such cleverly-constructed poetry makes me want to be an elementary language arts teacher right about now. This is pure fun with words and would make such an excellent writing prompt with students.
So, here’s to a successful picture book sequel. Let’s hope, I dare say, we see all of these characters—and even more of this poetry—once again.
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.