Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid
Oliver sometimes isn’t as brave as he’d like to be, and that is especially true on the first day of school. So he headed to the swamp and picked up an alligator, “just in case things got rough.” When Oliver got to school a woman who was not his mother greeted him and asked his name. In his panic, Oliver couldn’t remember his name, but he could say “munch, munch!” and the alligator ate the lady. A similar thing happened when a little girl in the class asked Oliver what he loved. Oliver wanted to answer and even had a great reply, but he found that he could only say “munch, munch!” and the alligator ate the girl. As Oliver steadily had his alligator munch his classmates, the classroom got much quieter and lonelier. But what is a boy to do when everyone has been eaten?
Schmid tells this story with a wonderful matter-of-fact tone that leaves readers shocked at first but then delighting in this clever answer to the worries of the first day of school. I guarantee a wonderful stunned moment if you share this book aloud, and then a rush of nervous but genuine glee at it all.
The book is cleanly designed with very simple lines that allow the humor of the situation to really shine. The simplicity is beautiful and entirely modern thanks to Oliver’s oversized sweater and mop of hair.
Beautiful, clever and a joy to share aloud, this book is riotously funny and oh so true. A great addition to starting-school shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan
Octopus lives in a bustling reef filled with all sorts of sea life. She watches the activity from her cave and three little seahorses come and visit her. But Octopus just wants to be left alone, so she changes colors to hide and heads away from the reef. As she travels away, the seahorses continue to follow her, watching her change colors and hide until Octopus finally leaves in a cloud of ink. Eventually, Octopus comes to a very quiet part of the ocean where she can be left in peace with only silent jellyfish floating by and the drama of a whale zooming to the surface. Nothing bothers her or watches her, so she falls fast asleep. When she awakens, she starts to think about life in the bustling reef and she returns, ready to play once again.
This is a shining example of a book where the writing and illustrations work seamlessly with one another. The story of an introverted octopus who just needs a little time alone will speak to children who also feel that way at times. Best of all, there is no lesson learned where being alone is dangerous or wrong, instead it is embraced as a time to see other beautiful things and recharge. This is one undersea world where quietness and alone time is just fine, perhaps even spectacular.
The art in this picture book shines and glows. Octopus and the other sea life pop against the dark blues and blacks of the watery background. The art has a wonderful internal light that gives it a real sense of being underwater. When Octopus heads out to be alone, the moment when she sees the whale is one of the most powerful and beautiful in the book. It is handled with a lovely pause in the text and bubbles galore in the illustrations.
This is one glorious look at an underwater world that will speak to introverts and children who may feel shy at times. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
When No One Is Watching by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by David A. Johnson
With all of the discussion about quiet and introverted children in classrooms right now, this book could not be more timely. For those of us who were shy as children, you will recognize yourself in these pages. Told in first person, the young female narrator finds it easy to be herself when no one is watching. She is able to dance and spin when alone, but finds herself off to one side when her extended family gets together. Alone she can be brave and imaginative, when on the playground with other kids she leans alone against a wall. As the book progresses, another child suddenly pops out in the illustrations. It’s a new best friend, who is quiet and shy too. Together the two start to not care about who is watching them at all.
Spinelli does a great job of explaining the freedom of being alone, the imaginative play and the activity that happens when a child is comfortable and free. She contrasts that clearly in her poem, where the girl who had been brave and active is now quiet and unsure. Happily, Spinelli does not make this way of feeling seem wrong or strange. Rather, she has created a character who is shy but willing to make friends and starts to naturally progress to being more sure of herself.
Johnson’s illustrations have a marvelous texture to them. The main character pops on the pages, dressed in bright colors with wild curls and tumbling shoelaces, she is engaging and shining. The other characters fade into the background, until Loretta, the new best friend appears and is just as bright as the protagonist. It’s a subtle and successful look at connections between people.
A strong book that looks at shyness in positive and understanding way, this book will be embraced by children looking for someone just like them in the pages of a picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Disappearing Desmond by Anna Alter
Desmond and his entire family didn’t like to be the center of attention. He’d much rather disappear and be ignored. Sometimes even his teacher could not find him! But things changed when Gloria came to his school. Gloria liked to be the center of attention. After a bit, something strange happened and Gloria said hello to Desmond even though he was hiding. No one had ever seen him when he was hiding before. And it just kept happening, Gloria kept on talking to him until one day they read together for the entire morning. The two of them started playing together all the time, until Desmond came to school on a Monday morning ready to be noticed. Later, Desmond heard a sound in the bushes and found a kid hiding there. The three of them played all afternoon, but there were many more kids hiding around the playground.
This is a very nice book about shyness and wanting to be ignored. Alter found a great solution to the shyness issue by having a once-shy child make overtures to another shy child. That is the magic in this picture book. Readers will also enjoy the ending where the large number of other shy children is revealed. Alter’s illustrations have a similar feel to Nancy Carlson’s Harriet series. They have simple lines, bright colors, and animal characters.
A successful book about shyness without the focus on the painful nature of it, this book offers a hand of comfort and friendship to shy children hidden everywhere. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.
Willow’s Whispers by Lana Button, illustrated by Tania Howells
Willow’s voice was never any louder than a whisper. She wished it were louder because no one in her class could hear her speak. She got the wrong juice at snack, couldn’t tell others that she was playing with the toys, and never got picked as line leader because she couldn’t speak up. Her father knew that her voice was inside her and would find its way out. The next morning, Willow got up and made a magic microphone. When she spoke into it, her voice was strong and loud. She could speak to her classmates and ask for what she wanted. But disaster struck at the end of the day when the microphone was crushed. Could Willow find her her voice in time to be line leader?
Written with an understanding of being shy and the effort it takes to overcome, Button has captured the shy, quiet child perfectly here. The loving relationship between Willow and her father is also worth noting. He does not pressure her to change, rather it is her own decision and creativity that bring it about. Howell’s illustrations make great use of white space. They have a simple design and child-like feel to them that really works well.
This book will really speak loudly to those who are quiet. It also offers a window of understanding to those who aren’t. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
Also reviewed by Kiss the Book and BookDragon.
Brownie & Pearl Step Out by Cynthia Rylant, illustrations by Brian Biggs
In this simple, charming story, Rylant explores shyness. Brownie, the little girl, and Pearl, her cat, are going to a birthday party that cats are invited to too. Once they are at the door to the party, Brownie starts to feel shy about knocking. Pearl, though, is not shy at all and enters the house by the cat door, forcing Brownie to have to knock and join the party. By the end of the party, full of cake and ice cream and having played lots of games, Brownie is very happy to have come.
Rylant has created the first in another charming pairing. This book is for even younger readers than Henry and Mudge or Mr. Potter and Tabby. The vocabulary is kept limited and there are at most two short sentences on each page, usually as short as four words. Despite these limitations, Rylant has created a charming protagonist. Biggs’ illustrations are done digitally and have a nice warmth to them. The illustrations are simple and friendly for young readers.
Highly recommended, every library needs a copy of this first in Rylant’s new series. I can’t wait to see what adventures Brownie and Pearl head on next. Appropriate for new readers of any age, approximately ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.