Quest by Aaron Becker
This follow-up to the Caldecott Honor winning Journey continues the wordless travels of the two characters from the first book. The two children head off on a fantasy quest this time after a king comes through a door and hands them a map. He is dragged off by soldiers but as he goes, he drops his orange crayon, one that is just like their red and purple ones. The two children go through the door and find themselves in a new world. They embark on a quest to bring all of the crayons together, venturing into the depths of the sea, onto desert islands, to pyramids and temples. At each one they gather another crayon color until they reach the pinnacle of the temple where the bad guys almost get them…
Becker has created a wordless book that has the same appeal as the first book. The pace here is rapid, giving only a few images for each color that is gathered. That offers the wild pace of an adventure novel or film, so it suits the subject. The fast ride adds greatly to the appeal here, never bogging down and always revealing new visual wonders to explore.
Becker’s art shines on the page. He creates entire worlds that have real depth to them, that take readers on amazing adventures. There are great details of color on the page, and I love the way that the various creative ideas of the children all remain in place at the end of the book, completely come to life.
A celebration of art and creativity, this book along with its predecessor will become beloved reads. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
Dory is the youngest in her family and her older siblings won’t play with her at all. So she is left to play on her own and thanks to her great imagination, Dory has a lot of fun. Dory has a best friend, Mary, a monster who sleeps under her bed and is always willing to play. There are also other monsters all over their house. When Dory continues to bother her brother and sister, they make up a story about Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a horrible woman who steals baby girls and is looking for Dory! So when the doorbell rings, Dory knows it is Mrs. Gobble Gracker coming for her. Hopefully the little man who says he’s her fairy godmother will be able to help defeat her. In the end though it is Dory’s own creativity and bravery that will save her and maybe even get her siblings to play too.
Hanlon brilliantly captures the wild imagination of a little girl who doesn’t slow down for a minute, zinging from one idea to the next even as those around her groan. Dory could have been a problematic character, but thanks to the book being told from her point of view, readers will get to see how strong a person she is long before she displays it to her family.
Hanlon’s art makes this a book that younger readers will happily pick up and read. Her black and white illustrations are more than paragraph breaks, they show the story of Dory and all of the characters she dreams up over the course of the day. On the page, we see what Dory sees, not what her family doesn’t see and it’s quite a world that she has created.
Fast moving, wild and full of laughs, this book is a dynamic introduction to a fresh new face that will appeal to fans of Junie B, Jones. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Draw! by Raúl Colón
In this wordless picture book, Colón recreates his love of drawing as a child and the way that it could take him to new places. Here a boy is sitting on his bed looking at a book about Africa. He sets the book aside and picks up his drawing pad and a pencil. Soon readers can see the images in his head as he puts them on paper. The boy is transported directly to Africa, setting up his drawing easel in front of each of the different animals of Africa. The elephant is first and after seeing his picture gives the boy a ride to met the zebras. The book moves from one animal to the next, the boy changing how he approaches them according to what animal it is. Until finally a group of monkeys make a picture of the boy. Readers and the boy return to his bedroom, now littered with all of the drawings of the animals.
This book nicely captures without using any words at all the transformative power of art and creativity. It beautifully shows how art can transport you to a different place and time, moving you into the flow of creating a work. It also demonstrates how inspiration can strike and the flow of creativity can overtake you in the best possible way.
Colón’s illustrations are done in pen, ink, watercolors and pencil. They move from line drawings with pastel tones of real life to a more lush and rich color and style when we are inside the boy’s imagination. Colón uses lines on these more colorful pages to give texture and movement to the image. They are illustrations that invite you to walk right into them.
Imagination, creativity and art come together in this book to transport readers right into Africa. Now it’s time to get out your own pencils and see where they will take you. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison
Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy. The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work. He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style. Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses. Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it. Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening. What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?
This is a wonderfully rich picture book. The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds. It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance. Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart. Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy. They are a solid pair.
Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work. Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s. The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself. It’s a delight.
Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
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.
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.
The Nowhere Box by Sam Zuppardi
George just can’t get away from his little brothers. They follow him everywhere, even into the bathroom! George has had enough. So when he finds the box from the new washing machine, George builds himself a way to travel far away. In fact, he goes to Nowhere. Nowhere is wide open and empty, but George quickly fixes that by dumping things out of his box. In no time at all, Nowhere is incredibly fun. But wait, there are no dragons to fight and no pirates to sail the seas. Perhaps there is room in this new space for a few more people to play.
Zuppardi takes a classic story of imaginative play and makes it rambunctious and fun. George’s frustration with his younger brothers is tangible in the early pages as is the relief of being alone for awhile. The story is simply told with a frankness and with the images and George’s own imagination carrying the tale forward.
The images are a huge part of what makes this book worth reading. They have a similar energy level to the “No, David” books. As the box becomes more of the story, cardboard is incorporated into the scenes, forming the ground and most of the objects. The images are bright and bold, perfect for high energy kids.
A story of imagination and being an older sibling, this book will be enjoyed by any child who has loved a big box. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes
Gabby has always been a daydreamer, but when her parents started fighting and then separated, she started retreating into her daydreams more and more. Now Gabby lives with just her mother, who is not a daydreaming type at all. So the two of them clash. Gabby also gets in trouble at school due to her dreamy ways and not paying attention to what is happening in class. But along the way, readers will see that Gabby is much more than a daydreamer, she is a poet. Eventually, her mother will come to terms with her way of thinking and she will find that she has a teacher who not only supports Gabby’s daydreaming but makes it part of his curriculum.
Grimes writes in short free verse, some of the poems only a handful of lines long. Yet because these are poems written by a master poet, they each speak truth. There are poems that talk about moving and autumn, others that celebrate family members, and at the heart of the book are the many poems that celebrate dreaming, lingering and Gabby herself. Grimes was clearly the sort of child who also daydreamed, since she captures it so well.
I deeply appreciate that this book does not “fix” Gabby’s daydreaming. Instead it is the adults who adopt a new attitude towards her once they realize that she is thinking and processing and writing in her head. Gabby is expected to change some of her behaviors in class and is supported in doing this by a very engaged and kind teacher who promises that she will have time to dream and to record those dreams she has. Gabby is the sort of heroine that one loves immediately, and she is also one that readers will cheer to see succeeding on her own terms.
Beautiful and strong poems support a world where imagination and creativity is accepted and poets survive their childhood intact. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.