Category: Picture Books


im my own dog

I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein

This dog takes care of himself.  He tells himself to roll over, he throws a stick for himself and then goes to get it, he scratches his own itches.  Except for the one in the middle of his back, he can’t quite reach it.  So when a human follows him home and knows right where to scratch, the dog adopts him.  He teaches the human how to hold a leash, how to play the stick game, and how to follow commands.  Yes, he has to clean up after the human, but in the end the two of them become the best of friends.

A clever twist on people getting a dog, in this book it is the dog that gets the person.  Stein plays up the humor with his short text that is done entirely from the point of view of this very independent canine.  The book is a quick read with a zippy pace that adds to the pleasure.  Stein’s illustrations are bright and loose.  The watercolor gives a flowing feel to the images and offer gorgeous colors on the page as they mix.

One dynamite dog book, this one will get kids giggling but ends with the honest truth of finding a new best friend.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

you are not small

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

An orange bear declares to a smaller blue bear that the shorter one is “small.”  The little one says that that is not true, rather the orange bear is “big.”  The orange bear shows that he has other big creatures just like him and just his size, but so does the blue bear.  The two groups start to argue and fight about whether they are big or small.  Then another creature arrives and another one yet that help put size into perspective for everyone. 

This very simple book has a great sense of humor throughout.  The creatures that seem like bears to me are fuzzy and friendly.  Against the white background, the bears pop on the page.  With only a few lines per page, this book will be enjoyed by small children learning about concepts like big and small.  The humor makes the entire lesson in size and relativity completely enjoyable and it will be a book that children will ask to be read again.  There is even a great little (or big) twist at the end.

Weyant’s illustrations are a large part of the appeal of the book.  The New Yorker cartoonist has created fuzzy creatures that are loveable and cute as can be, no matter what size they are.  Weyant has clearly loved playing with the differences in sizes, creating characters who live large on the page.

Bold illustrations, charming characters and funny situations make this a winning picture book for the smallest (and largest) among us.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from ARC received from Two Lions.

julias house for lost creatures

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

The author of Zita the Spacegirl has created his first picture book and it has all of the charm and zip one would expect.  Julia lives in a house carried on the back of a turtle.  They arrive on a quiet beach by the sea where Julia quickly settles in, but it is far too quiet.  So Julia makes a sign that says “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures.”  She didn’t have to wait long before something is at the door, and then more and more creatures.  Soon she has a house full of odd beasts, including a dripping troll, a patchwork cat, a dragon, a ghost, and a mermaid.  Things quickly get out of hand as they all make themselves at home.  Now Julia needs another plan, and maybe another sign or two.

Hatke’s jaunty protagonist is what makes this book work.  She moves quickly and with plenty of determination and is filled with ideas.  One can almost see her thinking on the page.  Perhaps the best part of the book is when she becomes overwhelmed and has to rethink.  The book has been galloping along and then pauses as Julia does, slowing to a pace that lets one catch their breath.  It’s a wonderfully done moment just like many others in the book.

Told very simply, the book relies nicely on the illustrations to show much of the action rather than the text explaining it.  This makes for a very readable picture book, but also one that is better for lap reading than for a group.  Listeners will want to look closely at the page even before the amazing creatures fill them.

An exceptional picture book debut, one hopes that Hatke keeps created both picture books and graphic novels for children.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

who was here

Who Was Here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks by Mia Posada

The riddle of animal tracks is deciphered here in a fun guessing game.  The tracks of each animal are displayed along with information about the tracks and the animal that left them.  Readers then turn the page to see whether they guessed right about what animal left those tracks.  The pages with the animal have scientific information about the animal, their size, weight and their tracks.  Tracks are left in mud, snow, sand and more.  These too are hints about the animals, making the book speak to habitat too.  This interactive book will have children embracing science and learning about animals without even realizing it.

Posada encourages children to learn more in the final pages of her book.  She gives hints to decode animal tracks, offering ideas of what to look for in unknown tracks to help identify them.  The book ends with links to websites and recommended books to read.  Posada uses the page turn to great effect in this book, allowing the reveal to be a big part of the delight of reading this book.  The guessing game element will be popular in story times but also for single readers. 

Done in watercolor and collage, the illustrations have dimension and texture.  The animals pop on the page and their tracks are clear and beautiful.  When Posada has two creatures from the same habitat, their tracks are well defined and clearly different from one another.  This adds to the fun of the read.

A nonfiction picture book that children will enjoy, this readable and accessible book will be a hit at any story time.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Millbrook Press.

miss brooks story nook

Miss Brooks’ Story Nook by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley

A sequel to Miss Brooks Loves Books, this picture book celebrates story telling.  Missy loves going to Miss Brook’s Story Nook right before school each day.  She takes the long way to school, because otherwise she has to go past Billy Toomey’s house and he steals her hat and yells at her.  Then one day at Story Nook, the power goes out so they have to tell their own stories.  Missy though insists that she’s a reader not a storyteller.  But soon she is telling her own story, inspired by Billy Toomey.  It is the story of an ogre named Graciela who has a pet snake that escapes.  The trick is that Missy needs to figure out a satisfying ending to her story of an ogre and a bully.

Bottner has created another engaging story filled with humor and clever solutions.  Miss Brooks is inspiring with her enthusiasm for books and stories and the way she encourages the children to keep making their stories better.  It’s a joy to see Missy tell her very creative story, struggle with some of it but persevere and create a satisfying tale for the entire class to enjoy.

Emberley’s illustrations add a lot of zing to the book.  He captures moods so clearly in his characters from the jaunty excitement of Miss Brooks to Missy’s ever-changing moods.  They are told through expressions and also body language. 

Smart and funny, this is a book to inspire young readers to create their own stories just like Missy.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Random House.

forget me not

Forget Me Not by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

This look at the impact of Alzheimer’s is personal and touching.  Told in the first person, the book looks at the changes of Julia’s grandmother.  Her grandmother used to make favorite foods, have her house just so, and even smelled of cinnamon and lilac when they cuddled.  But as time passed, her grandmother started forgetting more and more.  She made mistakes and even started to forget who her family members were.  A little later and Julia’s grandmother started to forget what they had done together in the past, she wasn’t allowed to drive anymore, and her cooking wasn’t the same.  She got worse and worse until she had to be given special care in a home.  Julia and her family have to make the best of it, and that means that Julia has to find a way to continue to connect with her grandmother even though she can’t remember her.

Van Laan uses a delicacy of language her to weave her story.  Since the entire book is about loss of memory and the loss of a grandparent to Alzheimer’s, this delicacy sets a lovely tone for the book.  As the changes start to happen, Van Laan describes them: “But ever so slowly, like a low tide leaving the bay, a change came along.”  Filled with constant change, the book captures moments along the way, showing how Julia’s grandmother is worsening but also how they continue to keep her spirit alive and well during the changes.

Graegin’s illustrations show the changes in the grandmother but also maintain a sweetness that never leaves the story.  Despite the grandmother’s decline, the light remains bright in the illustrations and the family stays close knit in a visual way.

There are many books about Alzheimer’s available now, but this one takes just the right tone and gives information that young children are looking for.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley from Edelweiss and Random House Children’s Books.

uni the unicorn

Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Brigette Barrager

Released August 26, 2014.

Do you believe in unicorns?  One might expect the main question of this book to be just that, but instead it’s a question of whether unicorns should believe in little girls.  Uni was a normal unicorn in most ways.  She may have had extra sparkly eyes and her mane may be extra luxurious, but she could heal with her horn like the others and make wishes come true too.  But the one thing that made Uni different was that she believed that little girls were actually real!  Her parents just smiled at her when she insisted little girls were real and her friends laughed at her.  But Uni just knew that somewhere in the world was a little girl just for her.  And out in the world, there was.

Rosenthal has written a book with a surprise twist that makes it fresh and radiant.  Using the unicorn as the heart of the book and indisputably real is a delightful way to approach this mythical beast.  Rosenthal writes that both the unicorn and the girl are looking for a friend who is “strong smart wonderful magical.”  The emphasis on that rather than beauty is appreciated, particularly in a book about unicorns. 

Barrager’s art is lush and colorful.  Her digital illustrations feel like pop art with their modern edge.  Showing Uni longing for her little girl by reading books and drawing pictures is a clever and clear way to tie her to the little girls who may be longing for a unicorn.

I’m not a huge unicorn fan and hate drippy books that are too sweet.  Unicorn fans will adore this book and those of us on the lookout for books that are saccharine will be pleasantly surprised.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC received from Random House Children’s Books.

flashlight

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Released August 12, 2014.

The author of the fantastic Inside Outside returns with another wordless book featuring the same little boy.  Here the boy is outside in a tent at night and uses his flashlight to explore.  As he moves around, his flashlight shows white and color against the deep black and greys of the rest of the scene.  He locates his lost yellow boot, finds different animals out at night, sees plants and fish, and finds an apple to eat.  But then he trips and his flashlight goes flying until it is found by a raccoon who uses it to show the boy himself in the beam.  Then all of the animals get a turn with the flashlight until they lead the boy back to his tent.

I adore this book.  It is so simple with the pitch blackness of the page, the grey lines that show the characters and nature, and then that surprising and revealing beam of light that cuts a swath through the darkness.  One reason it works so well is that the rest of the page is not complete darkness, instead you get a feel of the woods around and the animals, but when the light does shine on them even more is shown. 

Boyd uses small cutouts on the page to great effect.  They reveal dens, flowers, small touches.  In their own subtle way, they too shine a light of attention on even smaller components of the illustrations.  They are a subtle but important part of the book.

Beautiful, dark and mysterious, this picture book is a wordless story of exploration and wonder.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Two by Tullet

Herve Tullet is one of the most innovative picture book authors around today.  I look forward to his books to see what he will come up with.  This year, we have two new books by him.

help we need a title

Help! We Need a Title! by Herve Tullet

This first book is not quite ready to be read yet.  In fact, the characters inside are still getting ready.  There isn’t really a story, though they are looking for one.  And the characters themselves are rough sketches rather than lovely images.  In fact, the entire inside of the book is a mess.  Perhaps if we found an author?  But even that doesn’t help much, especially when the characters are disappointed in the story he creates for them.  Yet in the end, it is a book, with a story, some funny moments, and it even manages to tell readers how a book is created and what its elements are.

Quite clever, once you get past the rough illustrations and embrace them as part of the concept.  Tullet himself appears in the book, his photographed head and shoulders plunked onto a drawn body.  The entire book feel unfinished, but that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to feel.  This is a clever way to introduce young children to authors, writing, and how stories are crafted.

mix it up

Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet

Released September 16, 2014.

Following his clever Press Here, this book invites readers to touch the pages once again.  Except in this book, readers are mixing colors, mashing things together, combining things, and having a marvelous messy time.  Tullet excels at creating books that are immensely participatory despite having no flaps or pop ups.  It’s all in the readers’ imaginations and that’s such a wonderful thing.

I consider this one of the best picture books about color that I have ever seen.  Thanks to the feel of mixing the paints yourself, readers are left with a deeper understanding of color.  They will get to add white to colors and see what happens, and black as well.  They create secondary colors from primary ones and leave their own hands on the page too.  Clever, interactive and wildly imaginative, this is another winner from Tullet.

Both books are appropriate for ages 3-5 and both will be embraced by readers of all ages.

girl and the bicycle

The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

This follow up to The Boy and the Airplane features a girl who is longing for a new green bike that she sees in a shop window when walking with her little brother.  But she doesn’t have enough money for it, even after emptying her piggy bank, digging through pockets in the laundry and looking under the couch cushions.  She even tries selling lemonade and her toys.  That autumn, she has another idea to make money and finds someone willing to pay her for raking leaves.  She continues to do chores for them through the winter and into the next summer.  Finally, she has enough money for the bicycle.  But when she gets to the store, the bike is gone.  Don’t worry, her hard work will pay off in the end!

Pett has a touch for wordless picture books. The subtle humor throughout also helps make the book very readable and approachable for children.  They will relate to the longing for a new toy and through this book will learn about the power of resilience, hard work and patience. 

Pett’s subjects could easily veer into saccharine qualities, but that is nicely avoided thanks to his deft timing throughout the book and the way that the sweet endings come with real sacrifice and work on the part of the characters.  His illustrations have a vintage feel but also a modern cartoon aspect.  Done in sepia tones, the dark green of the bike pops clearly on the page. 

A wordless book for slightly older preschoolers, this book is a rewarding read.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

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