Category: Picture Books


201126

The Guardian has shared a video celebrating the 25th anniversary of the beloved We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.  In the video, the two sit down and discuss the origins of the story and the impact of the art work.

fox and the crow

The Fox and the Crow by Manasi Subramaniam, illustrated by Culpeo S. Fox

A new version of a classic Aesop fable, this picture book explores the tale of Fox and Crow.  Crow is all set to perch with his fellows on a wire but then smells the bread cooling in a window below.  Down he swoops and heads into the woods with it.  But Fox is there too, sneaking along.  Fox howls, singing beneath Crow.  Crow must respond in song, opens his mouth and down falls the bread into Fox’s waiting mouth below.  It’s a tale we all know, but told in such a masterful way that it is made new again.

Subramaniam’s text adds to the drama of this short tale.  This is writing with lushness and body, using words that will stretch young children in just the right way.  Words like raucous, wafting, twilight and temptress fill the story and enrich it.  They cleverly play up the darkness, the wildness and the tricks that are being played.

Fox’s illustrations are just as rich and dark.  Each illustration is a painting that stands on its own in composition and beauty.  Fox uses spatters to add texture to his deep color palette that evokes the encroaching twilight and evening.  On some pages the colors of the sunset enter, adding more drama.

A reinvention of an old tale, this is an incredible new telling.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

tap tap boom boom

Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Join a group of city kids as a thunderstorm bursts overhead.  It starts with just a “tap tap” of rain and the umbrellas come out.  Then a “boom boom” enters and a “crackle” of lightning too.  Puddles form and the wind swells.  So the children head down into the subway to get underground.  Lots of people gather and shelter in the subway, including some very wet dogs that shake themselves dry on everyone.  People stop, talk with one another, share umbrellas.  Then the storm ends and there is a gorgeous surprise in the sky.

Bluemle offers a jaunty rhythm in her poem that also has rhymes that work well.  She captures the unexpected nature of a summer storm and combines it with the camaraderie that forms when people shelter together.  This is a very positive book, one that has all different sorts of people put together in one large urban community. 

Karas’ illustrations are done in his signature style.  His pictures are a mix of drawings, paintings and photographs.  The combination creates a slick urban feel with added warmth from his very personable characters who fill up the space. 

A great choice for thundery spring weather, this picture book celebrates storms.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

may the stars drip down

May the Stars Drip Down by Jeremy Chatelain, illustrated by Nikki McClure

Quiet and lovely, this is a picture book version of the lullaby by indie rock band Cub Country.   That song is haunting and beautiful with its slow pace.  This book is much the same.  The lyrics to the song read as a poem on the page, one that takes a child on a journey of dreams before returning back home again.  It is a book designed for reading at bedtime in the same soothing pace as the song. 

McClure’s cut paper art adds to the beauty of the book.  Done entirely in blues and whites, the book invites children to twilight and darkness.  Throughout the book the night is celebrated in its beauty, from the moon on the sea to the the owl winging past.  There is a sense both in the poem and the art that you are seeing into the secrets of the evening.

A gorgeous new version of a song, this book is ideal for bedtime reading and dreaming.  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.

jacobs new dress

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case

At school, Jacob loves to dress up as the princess during play time.  Christopher though doesn’t approve of Jacob wearing girl clothes even to pretend.  Jacob’s teacher steps in and explains that you can imagine being anything you like.  At home, Jacob tells his mother about what Christopher said and she says that he is welcome to get out the dress he wore for Halloween and play in that.  Jacob loves the witch dress and wants to wear it to school, but Jacob’s mother doesn’t think that’s a good idea.  So Jacob creates his own dress from a towel that he wears to school, but Christopher pulls it off at recess and teases Jacob about wearing it.  Back at home, Jacob asks his mother to make him a real dress to wear.  She is reluctant, but agrees, and then Jacob has a new dress that is all his own to wear whenever he wants.

The authors take the issue of gender variance head on in this picture book, keeping it firmly at a level that children will understand.  The focus is on Jacob’s desire to wear a dress, not the complexities of what that may mean to label him in any way.  That makes this a book that is about inclusiveness and bullying as well as addressing the need for children who have gender differences to see themselves in a book.

I also appreciate the way the authors included not just Jacob’s emotions about asking for a dress from his mother, but also her own complex reaction to it.  While the entire exchange was positive and supportive, the pauses placed in the text spoke volumes about the emotions happening at the same time.

Case’s art is colorful and cute.  The characters clearly show their emotions on their faces.  The various dresses that Jacob wears are cleverly depicted.  The lace on his final dress is clear but so are the dirty spots from playing in it. 

An important book for libraries to have, this book will speak to children exploring their own gender roles and would make a great addition to diversity units.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

thomas jefferson

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

The author of Looking at Lincoln takes on Thomas Jefferson in her newest picture book biography.  The focus in this biography is on the wide range of Jefferson’s interests and how he truly was a Renaissance man.  Monticello, the house Jefferson designed and built, serves as a fine background to his interests since the home itself was ever changing and also housed many of his interests as well.  The book looks at fascinating small details like the design of Jefferson’s bed, the extensive vegetable gardens, and his hours spent practicing music.  After fully exploring Jefferson personally, the book turns to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson becoming the third President of the United States.  Then the book also explores the fact that Jefferson had slaves and fathered children with one of them, Sally Henning.  This is a complex and thorough look at a man who was brilliant in so many ways but troubled as well.

Kalman writes biographies with her own opinions right on the page.  So when she addresses the slave issue, she speaks of “our hearts are broken” and then speaks to how tragic it is that Jefferson’s children who could pass as white had to hide who they really were.  This adds a personality to the book, making it far richer than simple facts would.  It will assure young readers that it is good for them to have opinions about history and to express them too.

As always, it is Kalman’s art that sets this book apart.  Her illustrations range from more serious portraits of the historical figures to eye-popping bright colors in the vegetable gardens where paths are pink next to the bright green of the grass.  It is all entirely rich and joyful.

Another dynamic and unique biography from Kalman, this book belongs in every public library serving children.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.

scraps

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert

This nonfiction picture book allows readers a glimpse into Ehlert’s creative process as well as her personal history.  The book begins with a very young Ehlert and how she was raised by parents who enjoyed making things with their hands.  She even had her own art space in the house.  After art school, she worked on her own art in the evenings and in an art studio by day.  She wasn’t creating books right away, but when she started she found inspiration right in her own life.  At this point, the book focuses on Ehlert’s previous work and the process she uses to create her beloved books.  This is a colorful and delightful visit to an artist’s studio.

Ehlert approaches this biographical book just as she does her fictional picture books.  The pages are scattered with scraps, cut out objects, designs from her previous work, and photographs from her past.  The result is a book that shines with her own personal style and energy.  This could be no one else’s studio and no one else’s art.  Ehlert invites young readers not only to explore her own history and approach to art, but also to seek out their own and create things themselves. 

Bright, beautifully messy, and wonderfully creative, this book will be inspiring to young artists and authors.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane.

run dog

Run, Dog! by Cecile Boyer

One red ball and one yellow dog create lots of merry chaos in this picture book.  The dog chases the red ball from one scenario to the next, interacting with the people in the scene until finally one of them grabs the ball and throws it off the page.  The pages are filled with action thanks to a tiered page system where you turn on section of the page at a time and the scene changes along with it.  As the sections are turned, the ball bounces in different ways and the dog reacts making the people in the scene react too!

Near wordless, this book just has single words as the ball is thrown to the next page.  The illustrations are bright and pop off the page.  They are as simple as the words but are also very cleverly done.  The structure of the book creates a very dynamic feel and invites small hands to turn the pages to see what happens next.  There is a sense as one reads the book that the reader is the one setting the pace and creating the changes that unfold.

Very engaging, dynamic and great fun, this book is ideal for toddlers who are willing to be careful with the pages.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

one busy day

One Busy Day by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Jessica Meserve

The siblings from One Special Day return a little bit older in this follow-up picture book.  Mia wants to play with her older brother Spencer, but he’s too busy playing on his own.  So Mia starts being busy herself.  She paints pictures, dances, explores caves, makes mudpies, and builds castles.  Slowly as Mia plays, Spencer starts joining in with her, until they are playing together side-by-side.  That’s when Mia’s castle needs defending from a dragon!  And the two played together until bedtime. 

Such a positive approach to getting an older sibling to play.  The two children don’t have any negative interactions, it’s just that Spencer is simply not interested in playing with Mia right then.  This gives Mia the space to react without anger, instead enticing Spencer to join her.  I always appreciate a book that shows no fighting between siblings but also isn’t the picture of perfection either.  This picture book has a much more complex approach to sibling interactions and it’s a welcome change.

Meserve’s illustrations add a warm richness to the story.  As Mia plays, she does something in real life then the page is turned and you can see what she is doing in her imagination.  So on one page she is making mudpies and on the next they are grand cakes and pies.  Empty boxes become pirate treasure chests.  The freezer is an icy mountain.  The images of the backyard are filled with details just like Mia’s imagination.  So there is no lack of lushness in reality, especially when Spencer plays too.

A positive and affirming look at the joy of playing together as siblings and the power of imagination.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

extraordinary jane

Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison

Jane lived in an extraordinary world at the circus, but she was just an ordinary dog.  Her mother could do tricks on the back of horses.  Her father could lift an elephant.  Her brothers got shot out of cannons and her sisters performed on the high wire.  But Jane didn’t do any of that.  She tried to find her own special talent, but nothing seemed to work.  She even managed to cause some disasters along the way.  Jane was just ordinary, but in her own quiet way she was very special too.

Harrison has created a quiet heroine in her picture book.  This book will speak to dog lovers but also to children who feel that they don’t live up to their older siblings.  It is a story that celebrates kindness, supportiveness and just being yourself whether that is loud or quiet, flashy or subtle.  The setting of a circus was an inspired choice, offering the most contrast between a regular dog and the daredevil family she has.

Harrison’s art is wonderfully detailed.  She offers spreads of the entire circus and its three rings filled with action.  The dogs fur is shown in individual hairs, the wrinkles on the elephants are striking, and the perspectives are engagingly diverse.

For all of the quiet stars out there, this amazing dog will be inspiring for them to just be themselves.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

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