Category: Picture Books

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse, illustrated by Jennifer Phelan (9781481471015, Amazon)

A boy finds a dog and takes him home. The two of them love playing together, but then the boy gets hurt. The dog is taken to an animal shelter and someone else adopts him. The boy is told that he simply isn’t old enough yet to care for a dog. Happily, the boy still gets to visit the dog and tries to grow up fast enough to take him back. As time passes, the boy grows up and the dog ages. When the dog is finally too much for his adoptive family, the boy is given the chance to take him. This book is an allegory for the love of pets and the unbreakable bonds they forge.

Strouse writes in prose that is simple and straight forward. Yet the story is much more of a fable, one that doesn’t follow logic but emotion instead. The story is about the bond between human and animal, one that defies time and distance to keep connections fresh and strong. Strouse embraces this even as he tells it in his simple prose, hinting at the true depths of emotion that lie beneath.

Phelan’s illustrations make this book sing. From the dogs in the shelter that are striped with bars to the way the black dog is such a strong graphic on the page, her images are iconic and beautiful. They match the simple prose with their own profound simplicity, allowing the white space on the page to speak too.

Strong illustrations make this allegory all the better to share with children and adults who love their pets. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

The Skydiving Beavers by Susan Wood

The Skydiving Beavers by Susan Wood

The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale by Susan Wood, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (9781585369942, Amazon)

When people start to move into McCall, Idaho in the 1940’s, they encroach on the beavers who were already living there. Soon the new human homes and roads are flooded as the beavers build their dams. In this sort of struggle, it is always the humans who win. But a unique conservation effort is undertaken by the Idaho Fish and Game Department to move the beavers to a safer and more sheltered habitat. The problem is how to get the beavers into the pristine wilderness where there are no airports and no roads. Perhaps the solution can come from World War II parachutes and one brave beaver named Geronimo.

Wood takes care with the amount of prose she has on each page, offering just the right amount of detail and action for young readers. Her prose is also playful, as she describes both the beauty of Idaho and the damage that the beavers can do. The tone serves the book well with the whimsical use of parachutes and boxes that can open when they hit the ground. The story is a fascinating one and the book makes sure to explain that this sort of solution would not be done today where it is expected that humans and nature find a way to co-exist.

The illustrations are a mix of workshop images and desks where plans are made and then the Idaho landscape and horizons. The images settle the book deeply into the wilderness and the setting in which the book takes place. There is a sense of isolation and beauty in the images where the beavers land in their new habitat.

Fascinating and fun, this nonfiction picture book tells the story of a unique solution to a wildlife issue. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Sleeping Bear Press.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (9780763678388, Amazon)

Jabari is ready to jump off of the diving board, or so he tells his father. Jabari has finished swimming lessons and passed his swim test, so he should be ready. He declares that he isn’t scared at all. Then they get to the pool, where he sees other kids diving off the board. Jabari lets others go ahead of him. He climbs part way up and then down again to rest a bit and stretch. His father tells him that it’s alright to be scared and how to handle it because it may feel like a surprise at the end. Jabari tries one more time, reminding himself that he loves surprises. Can he do it?

Cornwall depicts a very loving African-American family here with father, son and a little sister. Throughout, the father is very supportive. He is there to hold hands, give a little squeeze and then offer direct advice. Best of all, he is there to celebrate the success too. The writing builds the pressure and emotions that Jabari is experiencing as he keeps trying. It emphasizes the height, the fall, and the bravery that the jump takes.

The illustrations are done in pencil, watercolor and collage with digital color. They have a wonderful texture to them, the sidewalks with subtle words on them, the pool water a swirling blue-green. Again, the height of the diving board is emphasized to great effect.

A summery splash of a book that is just right for reading when afloat in a pool, whether you are brave enough for the diving board or not. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jaime Kim (9780763660710, Amazon)

With summer officially starting this week, the timing for this book could not be better. It’s a celebration of everything that makes summer great. Written in a consistent pattern of statements throughout, the book focuses on moving into summer from school and establishing summer traditions from year to year. There are lemonade stands, cleaning out lockers, green grass, bumblebees, ice cream, games, and even a visit to the lake and camping outside. Come along and enjoy summer in one big gulp!

Brenner truly shows what makes summer fantastic as a child. The focus is on being outside and playing with friends. There are all sorts of activities shown. Brenner also captures the little things that make summer special. There are smells and sounds, things to see and things to eat. It’s a smorgasbord of summer senses. Written with a light playfulness, the strong structure of the prose works well to set up a rhythm which makes it a pleasure to share aloud.

Kim’s illustrations are buoyant and merry. As children head out of school and into the summer, there is feeling of freedom on the page that continues throughout the book. Fireworks splash on the page, parades march, sprinklers spray.

A shining summery picture book, this is just right for celebrating this season with children. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins (9781452144016, Amazon)

Pete is a little elephant who prefers not to wear pants. He likes to pretend to be other things that are also gray and also don’t wear pants. Maybe he’s a boulder? But the boulders don’t like his knock-knock jokes and never respond. Maybe he’s a squirrel? But he manages to scare the squirrels away. A pigeon? A cloud? Or maybe, he’s exactly who he knows he is, a little one who doesn’t want to wear clothes.

I love that there is a moral here, but it’s for the parents not the kids. That is to let your little one be who they truly are. The ending has the mother elephant who is dressed quite conservatively and has been watching with a worried expression finally just accepting Pete for who he is. The writing is mostly done in asides spoken by Pete and the other animals. It’s wry and great fun, just right for reading aloud.

Watkins’ illustrations have a great softness to them, colors that are subtle and smear on the page. The background isn’t a pure white but a soft textured gray. The pages move from full double-page spreads to smaller comic-book framing that plays in tune with the speech bubbles on the pages. Don’t miss the denim end pages too, and notice the difference between the front and back ones.

A joyous call to support our children, whoever they are. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Escargot by Dashka Slater

Escargot by Dashka Slater

Escargot by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Sydney Hanson (9780374302818, Amazon)

Escargot is a small snail who has one big plan. He has to get to the salad at the end of the book. Along the way, Escargot tries to convince the young reader that snails should be their favorite animal. They will have to ignore the trails of slime on the page and focus on how very brave snails are and maybe how fast? The reader helps Escargot along the way, testing out ferocious faces, given him a little push, and offering kisses too. By the time Escargot reaches the salad, he will have won their hearts, just in time to try a new vegetable together.

Slater cleverly combines several themes in this picture book and melds them in such a way that they work seamlessly with one another. There is the interactive piece of the book that ask the child to participate and impact the story. There is the favorite animal part that is engaging and funny, filled with enough action and interaction to keep even restless children busy. The final aspect is the bravery piece, trying something new and being a friend.

Hanson’s illustrations add to the appeal of the book. Escargot wears a jaunty striped shirt, red scarf tied at his neck and a beret. He oozes French appeal and confidence even as he is willing to ask for help. He is expressive with his wide eyes and tilting antennae that he uses to gesture.

A stellar if slimy little hero that will wend his way onto your favorite animal list in no time, this picture book will work best with a small group or one-on-one. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.

Mine! by Jeff Mack

Mine! by Jeff Mack

Mine! by Jeff Mack (9781452152349, Amazon)

Two mice discover a large rock that they both want to own. What ensues is a one-word argument back and forth between them and an ever-escalating battle of dominance. The mice use cheese to tempt each other along with wrapped gifts. Other rocks also play a role and pile around the bigger rock. There are walls of rock, knocked down by a wrecking ball. Finally, the two mice are together on the rock, arguing with one another. That’s when the ending takes a great twist.

Mack has a delightful sense of humor and timing in this picture book. The writing could not be simpler, with only one word being used in the entire book. The illustrations work particularly well with their limited palette and bright colors. They have the feel of the vintage Spy vs. Spy, with the two mice in their distinct colors battling one another. There are sneaky attacks and all out blasts. It’s a wild look at the hazards of not sharing.

Great for toddlers learning about sharing, reading this aloud will have you shouting “Mine!” in all sorts of tones. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.