It’s Thursday as I type this. I’ve been following the Kavanaugh hearings all day. And, like many women you may know, I was left feeling rage-y, so what am I going to do? I’m going to focus on three picture books that bring the joy. Joy joy joy. We could use a shot of that right about now.
First up is the most madcap of these books, one I fervently hope is followed by a sequel, Jacob Sager Weinstein’s Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian, illustrated by Vera Brosgol. There’s an evil genius on the loose, Doctor Glockenspiel; he’s escaped from the Depository for the Criminally Naughty. His demand? “One billion trillion dollars, or my army of giant moths will eat the world’s books!” When Glockenspiel’s henchmen overcome the world’s best secret agents, Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian, decides to take matters in her own hands. Brosgol gives her a distinctive look: bright pink bangs, big glasses, and a striped scarf. (Can I be Lyric for Halloween?) She’s a master of disguise, too (I suppose this is what makes her “secret”), and it’s big fun to watch her do her thing. As she works to conquer Glockenspiel, she leaves a trail of books for everyone — just the books they want to read, because a good librarian always knows the right book at the right time. Also, her story time SAVES THE DAY, but I’ll leave the how for you to discover when you read this.
Brosgol uses vivid, eye-popping colors, occasional panels, and lots of speech balloons in this briskly-paced tale, marked by Weinstein’s dramatic text: “Who loves books so much that she would risk her life to save them?” No hyperbole there, because Lyric really does risk her life. As a librarian myself, of course I love this book, but this entertaining adventure has something for child readers everywhere.
Caron Levis’s Stop That Yawn!, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, may be the most exciting bedtime tale you’ll ever see. Gabby Wild is supposed to go to sleep; her Granny, who is yawning, is there to tuck her in. Gabby begs Granny: “Let’s go somewhere A-WAKE!” They pack up their stuff and fly to Never Sleeping City and its thrilling carnival. It’s one hoppin’ place, but Granny keeps yawning, despite herself, and she lets loose a giant yawn that puts everyone in the bustling town to sleep. Gabby tries valiantly to get ahead of the yawn and, in the end, turns directly to the reader for help. But you, the reader, yawn too, and eventually Gabby herself succumbs.
This is a book, far from a yawner, that you have to see. I promise the description I provided above doesn’t do it justice. Illustrator Pham goes to town on this one (that’s professional speak for you); much like Brosgol in Lyric McKerrigan, she uses comics-like speech balloons and occasional panels to tell this story. When Gabby and Granny arrive at their destination, it’s mayhem — beautiful, delightful mayhem. The expressive characters (Pham nails body language); the rich nighttime palette; the way Pham so expertly composes an action-packed spread without overwhelming the reader: it’s all here. These spreads are jam-packed with details that I’d bet money the child readers you know will love. Expect re-reads. Lots of them. See what I mean?
Last, but far from least, is a book I read months ago that has stuck with me. Jane Breskin Zalben’s A Moon for Moe and Mo, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, is the gentle tale of a friendship found. “Moses Feldman lived at one end of Flatbush Avenue,” the book opens, “and Mohammed Hassan lived at the other.” The two don’t know one another but meet at a market. When each one’s mother calls out to him (“Moe, don’t touch!” and “Mo, be more careful!”), their heads turn and they lock eyes. The store owner even asks if they’re twins, what with the curly dark hair, brown eyes, and shy smiles they share. Weeks pass, the Feldman family prepping for Rosh Hashanah and the Hassans prepping for Ramadan. They boys see each other again at a park playground, and their friendship is cemented.
There’s a lot to like here — the tender friendship between the boys; the book’s exploration of both the Jewish and Muslim faiths (the book even closes with notes about Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan, including recipes for rugelach and date cookies); the compassionate, loving ending Zalben gives this story, in which each boy looks out his window at “the first sliver of the moon” to whisper wishes of peace to one another; and Amini’s textured, patterned mixed media collage illustrations (involving acrylics, photography, markers, and more).
It’s precisely the kind of genuinely sweet story needed in the midst of the current news cycle. Thanks, Moe and Mo.
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.
LYRIC MCKERRIGAN, SECRET LIBRARIAN. Text copyright © 2018 by Jacob Sager Weinstein. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Vera Brosgol. Illustration used by permission of the publisher, Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghon Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.
STOP THAT YAWN! Text copyright © 2018 by Caron Levis. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by LeUyen Pham. Illustration used by permission of the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York.
A MOON FOR MOE AND MO. Text copyright © 2018 by Jane Breskin Zalben. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Mehrdokht Amini and used by permission of the publisher, Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA.