Swim, Duck, Swim! by Susan Lurie, illustrated by Murray Head
Told in rhyme, this picture book illustrated with large photographs explores one day in the life of a duckling who just won’t get into the water. His parents are with him, encouraging him to try and so are all of the other fuzzy ducklings that are already swimming around. But he is not sure that swimming is for him. He might sink! He hates to be wet! And this might just be the perfect time for a nap. But with his parents encouraging him to keep on trying, there is suddenly a splash and he is swimming around merry and proud.
Lurie’s rhymes have just the right amount of bounce and energy. She captures the obstinate toddler who just won’t do what his parents are pushing him to try. Children and parents alike will relate to this battle of wills where patient and positive parenting wins out in the end. The text is simple and jaunty, keeping the duckling clearly an animal but giving words and emotions to his actions.
I’m a huge fan of photographs in children’s picture books. Particularly when they are done as beautifully as Head’s. The large format of all of the illustrations works beautifully, and I appreciate that they run all the way to the edge of the page rather than being framed in white. The effect is an expansive one, these are pictures that pull you in until you too are pond-side and cheering on the duckling.
A great pick for kids heading to their first swimming lessons, this book would also make a nice addition to story times on ducks or trying something new. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Book of Babies by Il Sung Na
A duck takes readers on a tour of different sorts of animal babies. The duck heads around the world, visiting baby lions, baby lizards, baby polar bears, and baby kangaroos among many others. A trait of each baby is mentioned to distinguish them. Baby zebras walk right away. Fish are born with lots of brothers and sisters. Seahorse fathers carry their babies in a pouch. These small details add up to a kaleidoscope of different animals and offer lots of opportunities for parents to talk more about each animals as they share the book.
This author of The Book of Sleep always fills her books with rich illustrations. Here her gentle poem carries the duck from one place to the next, but it is the illustrations that make this such a special gem. Done in mixed media, they feature a variety of textured papers that become ice bergs, tree trunks and even the sky. He manages to make colors that seem to emit light, glowing on the page.
Perfect for toddler bedtimes, this book is radiant with baby animals. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Based on a true story, this book follows the walk of a mother duck and her small ducklings. They follow her out of the pond, through the grass of the park, and into town. They ate a bite from the overflowing garbage can and then headed off the curb and over a storm drain. But while Mama Duck made it over the grate with no problems, her ducklings fell through one by one. It could have been a sad ending to the story, but it wasn’t! The people who saw it happened called for help. It took firemen and someone with a winch on their truck to save all of the ducklings.
Moore has created a story that has a real appeal. It is the story of tiny ducklings that at first seems very sweet, then takes a very dangerous turn. Throughout, she tells the readers that that could have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. Using this device, she creates both drama and also the assurance that thing will be alright in the end. Her writing has repetition that makes it perfect for very young children. The environmental message is subtle but profound.
Carpenter’s ducks seem to be drawn with a nod to McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings. The book feels vintage with the small town coming together to save this small family of ducks. Carpenter celebrates both the natural setting and also the people themselves. Her use of separated images that form one larger image to name the little ducklings works particularly well.
Ideal for a duckling story time and perfect for spring, read this one alongside Make Way for Ducklings. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Orchard Books.
Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon
Theodora was a very busy duck. She exercised every day, she swam laps in the pond (with a teacup on her head), she ran her errands every afternoon, she rode her bike rather than flying, and in the evening she quietly watched the stars. She had the perfect life of routine and quiet until a strange duck moved in next door. Chad was not like Theodora. He was an artist who made sculptures out of found objects, he colored his feathers, and he liked dancing and swimming in a wild fashion. When fall came and the other ducks flew south, Theodora and Chad were the only two left. Over the winter, they became fast friends. But when someone implied that one of them as an “odd duck” the question became which of them they were talking about.
Castellucci beautifully tells the story of a duck who is obviously unique and then another duck who is unique as well. Readers will at first think that it is about accepting others who are different from you, but the author has something deeper in mind here. It’s about also accepting that you yourself are the odd duck. As we all know we are!
Varon’s illustrations have wonderful small touches. Make sure you check out the titles on her books, since they are good for an additional chuckle. Her characters are winning and cheery, both so very comfortable in their own skin.
Fun, buoyant and with plenty of depth, this children’s graphic novel should fly off the shelves just like a normal duck. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
Duck has lost his new blue socks. He searches in his box, but they aren’t there. He asks his friend Fox who hasn’t seen them either. Perhaps Ox knows where his socks are? Ox remembers seeing some socks down by the rocks. But those socks are purple, not blue socks, and they aren’t new either. Finally, Duck asks a group of peacocks about his socks. And they do know where his socks are! It turns out they are in a most surprising place!
Bunting has written a picture book in rhyme that dances along to a jaunty beat. The rhymes are merrily done, done in a humorous way. She makes it all look so easy and effortless, but rhyming picture books are some of the most difficult to do well. Kudos to Bunting for maintaining the joy in simple rhymes. Her words read aloud well and are also simple enough for beginning readers to tackle.
Ruzzier’s illustrations are the key to young readers spotting the blue socks which are slowly revealed as the book progresses. Expect eagle-eyed children to figure out the answer even before the adults. Ruzzier fills Duck’s world with lots of clutter from starfish to soccer balls to underwear. Done in ink and watercolor, the colors are bright and add to the surreal nature of the story itself.
Socks lost and then found, rhymes and rhythms, and a delight of a read aloud to share, this book has it all! Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay
Lulu loves animals, so she can’t understand it when people don’t love every animal, like her teacher Mrs. Holiday. In fact, Mrs. Holiday has asked Lulu to never bring an animal to school again after an incident with her dog. When their class is heading back through the park after swimming, something awful happens. Two dogs run rampage through the ducks’ nests in the park, scaring the ducks, ruining their nests and smashing eggs. So when Lulu sees the duck egg rolling down the hill, she just does what comes naturally and puts it into her pocket. Once back at school though, it is hard to figure out how to hide an egg without smashing it. It becomes even harder when the duckling decides to hatch!
McKay is one of my favorite British authors, capturing the unique qualities of her characters with a distinct merriment. In this short novel perfect for beginning readers, she changes the perspective up sometimes by offering Mrs. Holiday’s point of view too. It is done with a lot of humor and children will easily make the transition between Lulu and her teacher.
The writing is simple but great fun to read. There are plenty of jokes and moments of seriousness too that both help keep the book moving forward. It is a trick to offer depth of story in such a brief book, but McKay manages it.
I look forward to the next Lulu book and the trouble that she gets into there. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Acorns and Stew, Too by Ruth Orbach
First published 25 years ago, this book has a classic feel combined with a great story. Lenore loved a lot about her life, but most of all she loved the ducks who lived near the lake. She visited them every day and fed them bread and other food. But winter was approaching, so Lenore knew that soon the ducks were going to fly south. She made them little houses to live in, fed them on stew and acorns, even made winter coats for them. In the end, the ducks did not fly south. They stayed with Lenore.
I love the ending of this book, where the ducks stay for the winter. So often, children in stories are infinitely creative and resourceful, but they don’t create real change. Here the universe shifted a bit to make room for Lenore and her dreams. Orbach writes with real joy. She delights in the small moments of creation that Lenore has, the attachment of the ducks to Lenore is evident too. She has created a book where emotions are tangible and hard work really makes a difference.
Orbach’s art has a vintage feel. The illustrations are done in ink on white and then colored with wild bursts of color. The yellow is warm, the red pops, the pink is beyond bright, and the yellow is neon. It all makes for an eye-poppingly bright book. At the same time, the illustrations have a whimsical feel. The bright colors and the whimsy make for an interesting contrast with one another.
I hadn’t read this years ago, so I’m very happy to find it now. Here is a sweet, clever and empowering story for children. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Kane Miller.
Wanted: The Perfect Pet by Fiona Roberton
More than anything Henry wanted a dog. More than chips, more than a trip to the moon, more than world peace! Henry already has lots of frogs, 27 varieties, but they are boring compared to a dog. He knows just the kind of dog he wants: one with personality, one that does tricks, one that has floppy ears and a warm, furry tongue. So Henry posted an ad in the paper and waited. The ad was read by a lonely duck who decided that being Henry’s dog was the perfect place for him. So he disguised himself as a dog and headed to Henry’s house. Henry was very excited to see him, but got more and more puzzled as his dog failed to live up to his expectations. When the dog was revealed to be a duck, what would Henry do?
Roberton has created a book with an interesting feel and style. She includes clever asides and quirky perspectives. The book has a very charming style of writing that gives the illustrations enough space to help tell much of the story too. The illustrations are filled with white space and offer plenty of small details that readers will enjoy discovering. Watch for the sheep flying past in the background on a windy day.
A special, quirky picture book that takes selecting a pet to an intelligent and wise place. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.
The Duck and the Kangaroo by Edward Lear, illustrated by Jane Wattenberg
Combine Lear’s classic poem with funky, modern collages and you get a winner of a picture book! Duck is bored living in his pond. He wishes that he could travel the world the way Kangaroo does so he asks Kangaroo to carry him on his back. But Kangaroo has one major concern about the plan, Duck’s wet, cold feet would be awfully uncomfortable. Duck has already solved this problem by getting knitted socks and a cape to keep himself warm. So off they hop, the two friends around the world three times.
Lear’s poem would make a great pairing with his other more famous The Owl and the Pussycat. This poem is silly, wild and rather surreal, which matches well with Wattenberg’s illustrations. Her collages incorporate Lear’s own art and that of others, creating a cohesive and fascinating blend of old and new, all in vibrant color. Duck’s wide-eyed view of the world enhances the humor of the poem, as do other small touches like the rainbow of knitted socks perfect for webbed feet.
A wild and funny book that will find a niche of eager readers looking for something joyous and surreal. Just hop along with the story and you will find a real treasure of a friendship by the end. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.