8 July Picture Books to Wake Your Brain Cells

Here are a nice summery bunch of picture books all published in the month of July. They have all gotten some buzz in review journals.

Catch that Chicken! by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank

Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim

Finding Francois by Gus Gordon

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago

I Got the School Spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison

If You Want a Friend in Washington: Wacky, Wild and Wonderful Presidential Pets by Erin McGill

We Will Rock Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

 

 

In the Woods by David Elliott

In the Woods by David Elliott

In the Woods by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey (9780763697839)

Enter the woods through this book of poetry for children. The picture book volume shares insight into the different animals living in the woods. First is the musky bear, emerging from his den in the early spring. The red fox also appears in the melting snow, hunting to feed her kits. A scarlet tanager flashes past announcing spring alongside the cowslips. Soon the grass greens, the opossum and her babies bumps along with skunks and their perfume too. Porcupine and fisher cat are also there, quiet and fierce. Hornets buzz in the air while millipedes munch on rotting leaves. Moose, beaver, turkey, raccoon, bobcat and more appear here, each with their own poem that eventually has winter returning with deer appearing ghostlike through the snow storm.

Elliott chains his poems together leading readers steadily through seasonal changes as each animal appears on the pages. The focus is not the seasons though but the animals themselves. Some get longer poems while others get a couple of lines that capture them beautifully. There is a sense that Elliott is getting to the essence of many of the creatures he is writing about here. Each poem is focused and very accessible for children.

Dunlavey’s illustrations in watercolor and mixed media are rendered digitally. Their organic feel works well with the subject matter. Each creature is shown in their habitat and turning the pages feels like rounding a new corner on a walk in the woods.

A poetic journey through the forest that is worth taking. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Hurry Up! by Kate Dopirak

Hurry Up by Kate Dopirak

Hurry Up! by Kate Dopirak, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9781534424975)

A child with wild black hair wakes up to a ringing alarm clock, rushes down the stairs and off to the school bus. At school everyone continues to rush and hurry throughout their day, until they hurry back onto the bus. The child rushes home, dashes through their homework, and then hurries to walk the dog. Stop! Slow down and look around at the day. Spend time with your dog and take a breath. Stay out until the stars emerge, find fireflies, and then head home. The rush is done.

Dopirak creates a breathless beginning to her book that is impossible to read without your heart rate increasing a bit. The hurried and harried life of this child reflects many of our own. The slower part is just as successful, encouraging the character and the reader to breathe and slow down. The abrupt STOP! is very effective in changing the pace and insisting upon a new one.

Neal’s illustrations provide us with a young protagonist who could be any gender. With a shock of wild hair that captures the frenzy of the early part of the book, this character is central to the story and manages to slow down and point out the small things that make a day special.

Trying to slow down to pandemic speed? This picture book shows alone time outside as one of the best times of day. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann (9781536207361)

The little girl narrating this picture book has never been camping before. So she is very excited when her Aunt Jackie and cousin Samantha ask her to come. She just knows that she is going to love it. She packs using a list from her aunt, then leaves her father behind and heads out on the journey to the camp site. It’s a long drive to Cedar Tree Campground. When they reach it is it big and quiet with lots of trees and a lake. They set up camp, then they go swimming. But swimming in the lake with fish isn’t at all like swimming in an indoor pool. They go hiking, but hiking has a lot more hills than walking around town. Dinner is tofu dogs and broccoli salad, which is actually pretty good. Smores are munched before bed. But sleeping in a tent is something else that is pretty different, though it might help to look at the stars until you get sleepy. The next day, even the lake doesn’t look quite as scary anymore.

Mann celebrates the big outdoors and the joys (and pains) of outdoor activities. She nicely shows things that the narrator can learn to love, like swimming in a lake and going on hikes, rather than mosquito bites. Mann shows how high expectations of having tons of fun can feel horrible when reality comes along, but also how being open to new experiences allows us to love new things just as they are, fish and all.

Mann’s illustrations are done in pencil on tracing paper which is then digitally collaged and colored. The picture book reads more like a comic book with panels and lots of speech bubbles. The Black family at the heart of the book gives it a fresh and inclusive take on being outside.

Perfect for reading when camping in the wilderness, backyard or living room. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (9781534405868)

When a storm blows in, the farm animals and wildlife take shelter together in the barn. There are pigs, goats, horses, cows, sheep, geese, cats, dogs, chickens, raccoons, turtles, turkeys, squirrels, mice and more! But outside in the storm, a fox family is caught in the rain after their home is flooded. The adult fox heads to the barn, carefully looking inside. She is sent away, the other animals saying that the barn is too full to take her in. But then one little yellow duckling steps out into the darkness and a connection is made. Soon all of the animals are inside drying off together. Other wild animals come later and more room is found, room for all.

Vaught writes here in simple paired rhyming lines that carry the story forward. She is incorporates interesting words into her poetry, such as “asunder” and “dapple.” They will have children stretching and building vocabulary in the most organic and natural of ways.

The illustrations are truly the star of this beautiful book. Filled with a compelling mix of two-page spreads, one page images and sometimes groupings of vignettes, the illustrations are detailed and just right to pore over. Murphy’s art gives each of the animals their own personality, showing clearly how attitudes change from the beginning to the end of the book. The final pages offer a wordless look at the farm after the storm with everyone happily mingling together.

A look at prejudice and inclusion in a way that all children will understand. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Hello, Neighbor! The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell

Hello, Neighbor The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell

Hello, Neighbor! The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell (9780823446186)

Journey into the gentle world of Fred Rogers and the neighborhood and community he created on his iconic television show for children. Children are immediately shown the sets for the TV show and then carried back to Fred’s childhood playing the piano and making puppets. When he first saw television, Fred realized that an opportunity was being wasted and that this new media could be a tool for education. He began to work in television as well as studying about children and their needs. His television show launched in 1968 and quickly became embraced by children and families. His show broke many barriers, speaking to children with respect, broaching difficult subjects, and offering real diversity and inclusion in his neighborhood.

There are several picture book about Mister Rogers out this year, but this is the only authorized one. It is also the only one created by Caldecott Medalist Cordell who beautifully captures the spirit of Mister Rogers on the page. From his way of looking directly into the camera and right to the child in the room to his songs, his puppets and much more. Just as with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Cordell’s entire book has a gentle nature to it, offering a place to find safety and acceptance.

Given his skill as an illustrator, it should be no surprise that Cordell’s illustrations are well done. Here they invite readers behind the scenes of creating a TV show. They also capture the lyrics of songs sung on every episode by Mister Rogers. Glimpses of important shows are offered throughout, something that will offer a little thrill to fans of the series.

Gentle, lovely and pure Mister Rogers. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by April Harrison (9780525581130)

When Zura’s teacher announces that next Monday is Grandparent’s Day, Zura isn’t as enthusiastic as her classmates about her grandmother visiting the class. Her grandmother, Nana Akua, is one of her favorite people on earth, but Zura was worried that the other children and families might laugh or be mean. Her grandmother looks different than most people in the United States. She has marks on her face representing her tribal family as well as beauty and confidence. When Zura admits to being worried for her grandmother, the two work together on a plan which involves bringing Zura’s quilt with its Adinkra symbols from Ghana. Monday arrives quickly and several other grandparents do their presentations. Zura introduces her grandmother who explains the marks on her face and the important tradition they represent. Then it’s the class’ turn to do their own marks in removable makeup.

Walker explains in her author’s note how she learned about the Adinkra symbols and the tradition of facial marks in Ghana. She uses these elements to tell the universal story of children of color whose parents or grandparents immigrated from another country and whose culture carries through in stories and traditions to the present day. Walker shows how such visible differences can cause pain and worries but also how they serve as a bridge to a deeper understanding as long as we take the time to listen and learn.

Harrison’s art is beautiful. She fills Zura’s classroom with children from a variety of races and cultures. She uses patterns and colors, almost creating the effect of stained glass on the page. The faces of her characters shine, sometimes looking right at the reader, as Nana Akua does when explaining her marks.

A celebration of diversity that show how openness to being different creates community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

In My Garden by Charlotte Zolotow

In My Garden by Charlotte Zolotow

In My Garden by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Philip Stead (9780823443208)

Explore the seasons in a personal and close up way with master storyteller Zolotow. Originally published in 1960, the story has been updated with new illustrations from award-winner Stead. Each season starts with one thing that the narrator loves best about their garden during that time. But then they also include a bunch of other lovely things about their garden that season. In spring, the favorite is birds building nests. In summer it is roses. In fall it is chrysanthemums. In winter it is snow. But there is so much else to love too, mostly centered around a lovely pear tree in the garden too.

Zolotow’s writing is lovely, exploring the seasons in a round-about way through gardening and time spent outside. The book meanders with a sense of curiosity about what might also be lovely about the garden in each season. The exploratory nature of the text invites conversations with children about their own loves in each season.

Stead’s illustrations are dreamy and lovely. The colors are bright but also flow together creating a world to experience, remember and adore. His process creates an organic feel with fine lines that offer details but are also filled with blurs of color and cloud shapes.

A lovely new edition of a beauty of a book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.

Rot: The Bravest in the World by Ben Clanton

Rot The Bravest in the World by Ben Clanton

Rot: The Bravest in the World by Ben Clanton (9781481467643)

This follow-up to Rot: The Cutest in the World is a squirmy, squelchy, muddy read. Rot is a mutant potato and just like all mutant potatoes, he loves mud. They play in it, eat it, even sleep in mud. So when Rot found a massive mud pit, he couldn’t wait to jump right in. But before he can, his older brother Snot tells him to watch out for the Squirm, a monster that lives in deep mud, slimy and gross and hungry! Snot leaves laughing, but Rot is not deterred. He just needs a good plan. Perhaps a superhero costume will make him brave enough? When that wasn’t enough, he adds a knight costume on top, but even that doesn’t work. Perhaps adding something that loves mud too? Soon Rot is dressed up as “Sir Super Rot, the Pigtato!” When he goes back to the puddle, he discovers that there is something squirmy in the mud. Will he be brave enough to find out what it is?

Clanton imbues his picture book with a marvelous sense of humor from beginning to end. At the same time he has created a picture book with a strong story arc with Rot as a central compelling character that children will root for. When he begins to put on costumes to make himself more brave, the humor is there but also a strong sense of empathy for this courageous potato.

As with the first book, the art is bold. It is filled with rich potato and mud browns. The handwritten dialogue is shown in bubbles that look like potatoes too. Keep an eye out for the little pink insect who follows Rot on his adventures.

Squidgy and muddy fun. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.