The Numberlys by William Joyce, illustrated by Christina Ellis
In a world where there are only numbers, everything is very orderly and neat. But it’s also very gray, even the food. Then five friends started to wonder if there was something more than numbers, something different! So they started inventing and they slowly came up with letters. And when they reached the final letter Z, things started to change. Color entered their dreary lives as the letters fell into place. Once the letters formed words, real changes started and the entire world was flooded with color and yummy foods and possibilities.
Based on the app, this is a second picture book from the creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which also started as an app. Joyce creates a numeric and order-filled world reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 in the first pages of the book. The text here is very simple, allowing most of the storytelling to be done by the illustrations. Joyce keeps a light hand here and uses humor to show how dark the world is. Who could imagine a world without jellybeans?
It is Ellis’ art that brings this world to life. Her orderly world has the feel of wooden toy soldiers and the five friends are wonderfully different and unique even before they invent the alphabet. The gray tones of the early part of the book give way to jellybean colors that jump on the page.
This celebration of words and books also examines the importance of independent thought and creativity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
It’s an Orange Aardvark! by Michael Hall
Five little ants are woken up by the sound of rain outside their tree stump. In order to figure out what is making the noise, they drill holes in the stump to look outside. One ant explains that aardvarks are gray and sneaky, and of course hungry for ants! But when they drill the first hole, they see orange not gray. Perhaps it’s an orange aardvark come to eat them! They drill another hole and that one shows blue, so they think it’s an orange aardvark wearing blue pajamas. As they drill more holes, more colors are shown and their story about the orange aardvark gets more and more elaborate. Savvy young readers will know what all of these colors mean, but the pleasure of this book is seeing just how silly the little ants become.
Hall is the author of My Heart Is Like a Zoo and continues to display his skill with bright colors, large formats and die cuts in this new title. The mix of surprise, guessing and silliness makes this book great fun to read. Add in identifying different colors and the book becomes almost a game to read aloud. Even better, there is wonderful suspense with each page turn as the ants come up with their next spectacular speculation.
Done in large format and pops of bright colors, the illustrations have the same appeal as Lois Ehlert and Eric Carle with their sharp edges and cut paper format. The die cuts are used just enough to make the book more suspenseful and fun. They also all line up, consistent throughout the book.
A jolly picture book that is full of fun, this is a colorful and witty way to learn about colors and aardvarks. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.
My Blue Is Happy by Jessica Young, illustrated by Catia Chien
Colors can be seen in many different ways and the little girl in this picture book tends to see them very differently than her family and friends. Her sister says that blue is sad, but for her blue is happy like favorite jeans or the swimming pool. Her mother says yellow is cheery, but for her yellow is worried like a wilting flower. Her father says brown is ordinary, but it is also the color of chocolate syrup so it’s special too. Useful for color identifying, this book takes it a level deeper to the feelings that colors evoke in each of us.
Young has created something of a poem here in her prose. She uses a format with repetitive structures, each new person and their reactions to colors a stanza and also a set of pages. Within this strong format, the exploration of feelings is done with a confidence that will allow young readers to voice their own. Young takes unusual reactions to colors and makes them concrete with her examples too.
Chien’s illustrations have a wonderful softness to them that frees the imagination. Filled with the color that is being discussed, the illustrations celebrate each color and invite thoughts from children listening to the book.
A lovely take on colors, this picture book will lead to plenty of discussion and would be a great jumping off point for craft and art projects. Appropriate for ages 4-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Moods are matched with colors in this jazzy picture book. Jamie is having a really great day, feeling purple and just being. But when his brothers kick him off the couch, his mood turns stormy gray. As he draws, his mood turns green and easy. Then his older brothers make fun of his drawing and Jamie’s mood turns black. Basketball gives him a swishing orange mood and running home almost late has him racing red. Family dinner is lemon pie yellow and washing up brings on tides of bluesy feelings. The day ends with that same cold plum purple mood as it began with. What color is your mood?
Brown’s poetry has a jazz beat and lots of metaphors that make it dance in your mind. Children will immediately recognize the moods and easily relate the colors to them. From the teasing of older brothers to the pleasure of making art, Jamie’s moods are universal. Brown’s writing begs to be read aloud, written so that it tumbles off the tongue.
Evan’s illustrations have a jaunty vibe that matches that of the poem. The art is digital collage created with oil paints and graphite. The illustrations have a great depth of color, something that makes this book all the more vibrant. They also have a wonderful texture from the paint and from swirls in the color.
This is a positive way to look at complex emotions and would make a great book to start a discussion about feelings and moods. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier, illustrated by Suzy Lee
Open the full-sized picture book and inside you find a series of nesting books, each smaller than the one before. The stories in the books also nest with one another. First the reader opens the Little Red Book and discovers ladybug who is opening the Little Green Book where frog is the character. On and on it goes, until the story reaches a little twist in the little books. Then the stories unwind as the books are closed one by one. It’s impossible to not be charmed by the design and concept.
Debut author, Klausmeier has created a seamless partnership with illustrator Lee. The book is so much a marriage of their work that one might think it was done entirely by one artist. The story is simple yet fully engaging. The problem you may have with little listeners is having them slow down opening the next book in time to read the words on the page. Lee’s illustrations add to the charm, hearkening back to vintage picture books but still carrying a modern vibe. The scale of the books is perfection, like opening a Russian nesting doll.
Engaging, interactive and oh so much fun, this book looks at colors, sequence and a love of reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Red Car, Red Bus by Susan Steggall
Turn to the first page of this picture book and you will see people waiting at a bus stop. Another page turn has them aboard the bus and only two words: “Red bus.” The next page has a red car join the red bus and readers will see two people dashing for the bus stop. By the time the bus reaches its next stop, the page is filled not only with a yellow van, yellow car, the red car and the red bus, but the people running for the bus have dropped their teddy bear. As the pages turn, the road gets more crowded with vehicles and it becomes all the more fun to figure out what the story is on the side of the road. The only words in the book describe the colors of the vehicles and name the vehicles themselves, otherwise it is more of a wordless book as the complicated action takes place in pictures only.
Steggall has created a picture book that really plays with the reader. At first, I thought it was going to be a very simple color and vehicle book for toddlers, but it is something much more. The intricate cut paper illustrations tell the story along the roadside, as each page turn moves the reader further down the road. There is a wonderful sense of motion to the entire book. The vehicles appear in patterns with colors and sorts of vehicles.
This is a delight of a read, surprising in its depth and yet fully appropriate for the youngest reader who enjoys cars and trucks. This is one to linger over and discuss, talking about the story that is told wordlessly, perfect for curling up with your special little one. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds
This is another charmer of a picture book from Reynolds who wrote the popular Ish and The Dot. Marisol considers herself an artist. She paints lots of pictures, carries art supplies with her, and sees an artist in everyone. So Marisol is thrilled when she learns that their next project will be a class mural. Marisol wants to paint the sky. The only problem is that there’s no blue paint. How can she paint the sky without any blue? Happily, the sky itself shows all of the colors possible to Marisol and she is inspired to paint the sky in many colors.
Reynolds uses simple text very successfully here, just as he has in his previous books. This book is all about embracing the inner artist, expressing creativity, and finding inspiration in the world around you. These are huge concepts that Reynolds makes tangible and possible even for young children to get inspired by. A great idea would be to share the book with children and then have everyone paint the sky without using blue.
Reynolds successfully turns just a few lines into great illustrations that capture emotions and full characters. Many of the pages are black and white with bursts of color, but when artistic inspiration strikes, the colors bloom.
Clever, colorful and filled with artistic inspiration for young readers. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff
Baby Bear wakes up next to his mother in the den. Sunlight peeks into the den, warming him and Baby Bear sees yellow. At the entrance to the den, the oak tree waves its leaves at him, and he sees green. The jays in the trees are blue. The trout in the stream is brown. The scent of the strawberries leads him to discover red. The tickle of a butterfly on his fur shows him orange. The storm clouds are gray, but then they leave behind a rainbow. Finally, at the end of his day, Baby Bear sees nothing but black.
Wolff has created a lush and rich picture book that truly celebrates colors in very natural way. All of the elements of color seem unforced and honest. She embraces cadences that roll off of the tongue, giving this book a wonderful rhythm. The patterns create a book that will be loved by toddlers who will enjoy exploring colors alongside Baby Bear.
What makes this book really work are the illustrations that are linoleum block prints painted by hand with watercolor. This creates a combination of strong black line and foundation and then colors that have light and glow on the page.
A top pick for color concepts, this book is a work of art that has plenty of toddler appeal. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
This color concept book introduces young readers to Islam and the many gorgeous colors of that religion and culture. So when the red of the prayer rug is talked about, so is praying five times a day. There is the blue of her mother’s hijab, used to cover her hair. Orange is the color of henna. Yellow is the box for Eid gifts for those in need. Green is the color of the Quran. In each instance and others, the culture is woven into the colors in a beautiful and effortless way. This is a look at Islam that is lovely, welcoming and filled with light and color.
Khan’s writing is very simply done. The colors are natural fits with their objects in Islam, none of them seem forced at all. She explains each color and object in only a few lines, leaving the bulk of the book for the beauty of the illustrations. Amini’s work has a wonderful richness to it where she dedicates the entire two-page spread to one specific color, changing the background too. She also uses textures throughout and a softness that makes it all the more inviting.
A beautiful tribute to Islam, this book will fill a niche in many public libraries. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Wow. That could be my entire review, just WOW.
Let me try to do better than that though. Seeger looks at the different sorts of green that surround us. There is sea green, shown with a turtle gliding through not only green but purples, reds, oranges and yellows too. Lime green, pea green, faded green and fern green. There are odd sorts of green too like wacky green, slow green and even no green at all. The book is written simply with only a couple of words per page, making the focus of the book the illustrations. And what illustrations they are. This is my pick for the Caldecott winner so far this year.
The illustrations are paintings that are done with plenty of thick paint, the brushstrokes visible making the pictures tactile. They have a great depth of color and maintain a playful lightness that speaks to the young audience. Turn the first page and you will be astonished to find die cuts in the page, done so smoothly and carefully that they don’t ever look like holes in the page until the page is turned.
The book is a delight of surprises, new perspectives, and just speaks to everything that this format can be for children. It is an unrivaled success as a concept book. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.