It’s a new year, which means new picture books! I’ve had, for a while now, stacks of early copies of 2016 ones. There are several slotted for spring publications that I think are really good, and today in particular I’m going to focus on forthcoming spring collaborations—those books, that is, by author-illustrator duos, whether a familiar pairing or an all-new one. How about I feature seven very possibly winning collaborations before breakfast? Let’s get right to it.
1): Coming in February is When Spring Comes, a new picture book written by Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes and illustrated by Laura Dronzek. I always like to see this husband-and-wife team collaborate, which they’ve done twice previously (1999’s Oh! and 2009’s Birds). This sweet, but never saccharine, picture book is what you want to share with children in the dead of winter, as it’s a book that anticipates and celebrates the transformation from dark, frigid months to bright, bountiful spring. There are repeated refrains here that make this one an enjoyable read-aloud for young children (“Before Spring comes” and “But if you wait…”), as Henkes notes what spring will call forth: New kittens, bubbles, baby birds, and more are the gifts after the tired snow mounds, brown grass, and empty gardens of late winter move past. Dronzek’s warm illustrations, rendered in acrylics, nearly glow.
2): In the same month, readers will see the third poetry collaboration between Marilyn Singer and Josée Masse, Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths. A reverso, Singer’s own invention, consists of two poems, side by side. The second poem reverses the lines of the first one, and Singer allows herself only changes in capitalization and punctuation to offer two portraits from the same story. Readers were introduced to reversos in 2010’s Mirror Mirror, which was followed by 2013’s Follow Follow (which I wrote about here). Simple period and/or comma shifts can drastically alter the points of view in the tales, this collection focused on classic Greek myths. It’s a great topic for Singer’s reversos; you see each story (Icarus’ fall, Echo’s transformation, Midas’ folly, and many more) from multiple points of view. Masse’s palette for this one is dominated by cool blues and golds, and as she did in the first two collections, she plays with symmetry with eye-catching results.
3) Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder are at it again (see 2012’s Step Gently Out and 2015’s Sweep Up the Sun, which I wrote about here) in the beautiful Among a Thousand Fireflies, coming in March. This one, which Kirkus has already given a starred review, is a tribute to summer itself— “Night is black / and bright / and warm”—as well as one of the most intriguing insects of the natural world, the firefly (which are really beetles, I learned.) In Frost’s spare poem, filled with reverence for these luminous insects, and Lieder’s beguiling up-close photographs, the book lays out how male and female fireflies find one another “[a]cross a distance / wide and dark.”
4) My favorite of this bunch today is probably Shana Corey’s The Secret Subway (also already the recipient of a Kirkus starred review), illustrated by Red Nose Studio. This is the first time Corey and Chris Sickels (the man behind Red Nose) have been paired together, and it’s utterly captivating. This is set in New York City in the 1860s when Alfred Ely Beach had the notion to create an underground train, well before the NYC subway system was set in place, powered by a fan. He built this in secret, though the crooked politics at the time thwarted his efforts, once revealed. Corey writes with such seeming ease; she gets right out of the way of the narrative and draws the reader in. Sickels’ 3D illustrations are mesmerizing. Absolutely do not miss this one, come early March.
5) Author Ame Dyckman and illustrator Zachariah OHora are the pair who brought us 2015’s Wolfie the Bunny, a book garnering 2016 Caldecott buzz, and they’ll return in early April with Horrible Bear! This one, all about the art of the apology, had me at the opening endpages. They feature an extremely up-close and very funny painting of the main character’s unruly red hair. This girl loses her kite, which lands near a sleeping bear. She throws a fit after he rolls over it, he comes after her, and she eventually apologizes. It’s Anger Management 101. An author’s note explains that Dyckman once lost her kite, and OHora notes that this story helped him overcome his “fear of using the color purple.” And what a lovely shade it is. Look for the bear’s up-close, unruly hair on the closing endpages.
6) One of my favorite 2015 picture books was Mara Rockliff’s Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno and which I wrote about here. It’s a most excellent piece of nonfiction, and so is Rockliff’s and Bruno’s newest picture book, coming in mid-April—Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic. Herrmann was one of the first female conjurers, and Rockliff—in a note from the publisher that accompanies the book—notes that the idea for the book came to her when she was looking for a biography of a female stage magician for her daughter, yet found none. Herrmann’s story is riveting; to read Rockliff’s closing author’s note about her research is fascinating; and Bruno’s pencil illustrations, colored digitally, are dramatic and cinematic. Pure magic.
7) There are probably mighty expectations on Thunder Boy Jr., coming in May, as it’s the debut picture book from National Book Award–winning, bestselling author Sherman Alexie—and it’s illustrated by the critically acclaimed Caldecott Honor Medalist Yuyi Morales. “It’s almost too much talent for one picture book,” wrote Caitlin White at Bustle. But having seen a copy, I can say that this story of a young boy who wants a new name—he loves his father, but as a junior, he longs for his own dramatic name—is delicious. As Alexie has noted here, “I love that there will be a picture book with a happy [American] Indian family!” I also love that there will be a picture book with a mother who hops on her bad-ass motorcycle to get around. The whole thing is a breath of fresh air—and full-on entertaining. The cover gives you a hint to the happy ending too, but I won’t say more than that.
BONUS): Also in the category of new pairings (as Thunder Boy Jr. and The Secret Subway are) is Diana Murray’s City Shapes, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist and Coretta Scott King Award winner Bryan Collier. This is an at-the-end bonus book here, because it doesn’t come out till June, but be sure to look for it then. There are umpteen million books about shapes for very young readers, but in this one (as Collier notes in the book’s close), his 4-year-old daughter, who served as the model for the young girl in the book, guides readers. And it’s a vibrant, colorful celebration of city life and diversity. Murray, born in Ukraine but raised in New York City, writes in rhyme that flows beautifully.
It’s a promising start to the new year in children’s literature. 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.