At an exotic pet store, a boy picks out a rhinoceros as a pet. But when he gets the rhinoceros home, he realizes that his pet really doesn’t do anything at all. He won’t chase balls, or sticks, or frisbees. He doesn’t roll over. He keeps to himself and is very quiet. So the boy asks a rhinoceros expert what the problem is. She informs him that rhinos only do two things: pop balloons and poke holes in kites. The boy thinks that that is completely pathetic, but he decides to test it out. He heads to the park where there was a balloon vendor. Nothing. Then they walk past children flying kites. Nothing. Maybe his rhinoceros is a clunker? Until their walk back home, then suddenly his rhinoceros does amazing things, but you will have to read the book to see what they are!
Agee has a wonderful knack for taking a simple idea and running with it to the extreme. Here the concept of buying a pet and figuring out that pet is taken to a wild and amazing place. Agee allows the situation itself to provide the humor, making it more subtle and understated than many children’s books. So while this is a wild and zany book about rhinos, it also has an air of sophistication about it.
Agee’s illustrations are also an important part of his books. His unique style is done in thick black lines and washes of color. The illustrations are almost like coloring books at times, if coloring books were cool and about pet rhinos.
Another winner from Agee, children who read this book may want to find their own exotic pet, probably a rhinoceros of their very own. It’s also a perfect surprise addition to story times about pets. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Floyd’s kite gets stuck in tree and what is a boy to do? Well, he tries to pull on the string and swing on it, but the kite stays stuck. So he throws one of his shoes up to try and dislodge it. His shoe got stuck too. The other shoe didn’t work either. Now what could he do? Well, the cat was lingering nearby… And so begins the wild and very funny story of a boy, a stuck kite, and a tree with an amazing propensity for keeping things stuck. The story goes wild with what Floyd has thrown into it, never letting up on the joke. In fact, at the end of the story, which I want you to experience for yourself, the humor is still just as strong as in the beginning and the joke stays true.
Jeffers is one of the kings of picture books. His books love to stretch reality to almost breaking, creating new worlds that readers long to get lost in. Here he takes getting a kite stuck in a tree to the extreme, resulting in a very funny book that will have young readers giggling along. The book will also get readers thinking about what they would throw into a tree, so it becomes a great conversation and creativity piece.
Jeffers art is whimsical, funny, and adds a zany edge to the book. He plays with colors throughout, with the character, objects and tree all changing colors as well as the background. It makes for a dynamic read.
This would make a great final book for a storytime, because children will tune back in for the silliness. I can also easily see it as a flannel board story or a jumping-off point for a creative project. This is great fun combined with effortless storytelling and dynamic art. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Based on a true story, this picture book follows Jessie, a subway car, from her “birth” until her unusual ending. Jessie was a New York City subway car that carried people and things around the city. At first, she was new and shiny, but eventually she was covered in graffiti and then painted red. She kept on working, running on tracks around the city. Then she was used only in the winter because her fans could not keep up with the heat, and finally she wasn’t used any more. But Jessie’s travels and adventures were far from over! Whatever will happen to her when she is shipped by barge and taken far from land!
Sarcone-Roach has created a picture book that seems to be quiet and then takes a turn into the unexpected. She begins with a true story and then personalizes it through the eyes of one specific subway car. It works really well as a technique to make the subject very child friendly and to invite readers in to experience the story. The writing is clear and Jessie’s perspective is strong and active.
Her art is also very successful. The colors are deep and jewel-like, showing the beauty of the city as well as the subway lines. She plays with perspective throughout, stacking the subway lines like shelves, showing both the outside and inside of the subway cars, and always showing Jessie with her smiling headlights and chains.
This is a lovely book that works well on many levels. Use it for an unexpected take on recycling, add to your transportation stories, or just share it to see the children guessing where Jessie is headed on that barge. They are sure to be entranced by the answer. I certainly was! Appropriate for ages 4-7.
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.
Inspired by a true story, this picture book shows the power of books and reading. Ana is a small girl who lives in Colombia and adores books. Her village is very remote though, so there is no library to go to. Ana has just one book, given to her by her teacher, and she has read it over and over again. Ana makes up her own stories that she tells her little brother at bedtime. Then one day a man with two burros comes to their village. The burros carry a library of books and he invites all of the children to select books to keep until he returns. As she waits for the librarian to return, Ana creates her own book about him, his burros and his books.
Brown has created a book that is gentle and beautifully written. Ana’s life is shown as loving and filled with blessings. It will contrast vividly for American children with their own lifestyle. Brown also focuses clearly on books and the power of reading and stories. The story here is told clearly and warmly with sprinklings of Spanish throughout.
Parra’s illustrations have a lovely folk art feel to them. Done in acrylics on board, they have a texture adds another dimension to the book. The colors are bright, the storytelling portions filled with wild and amazing creatures, and the entire work makes a complete and unified package.
The entire book sings, revealing a different culture and the power of words (and librarians.) Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Kirkus has posted their Best Children’s books of 2011. We will have to wait until November 28 to see their best Teen Books. You can browse the book list in its entirety or nicely, they have also broken the list into themes. So if you just want to look at nonfiction, you can.
I see many of my favorites of the year. Then there are others that I read but didn’t adore. And happily, there are others that I’ll add to my list to read.
The incredible Anne McCaffrey has died at age 85. Her work has had an indelible effect on the world of science fiction and fantasy. She created worlds that came to life and were embraced by fans.
Personally, I have read most of her books. I loved the Pern books, raced through The Ship Who Sang series, and later discovered the Crystal Singer series and loved that too. Her books were infinitely readable and shareable.
Now I have to find some of them and get them in the hands of my teenage son. I know no better way to celebrate her life than sharing her books with a new reader.