Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (9780399167898)
With a gentle tone and a comprehensive eye, Jeffers welcomes someone newly born to our planet. He does a quick tour, whisking past the land, the sea and the sky. He mentions being careful of your body, since the part don’t just grow back. Jeffers celebrates life on earth in all of its diversity, both human and animal. There is night and day, slow and fast. The book ends with a message to share the earth with others, since there is enough for everyone. It is the tone of this picture book that is particularly effective. Jeffers embraces the contradictions of our world, the beauty of life, and the spectacular nature around us. His illustrations show the vastness of the universe and the wonder of our planet. Meant for older children who will enjoy the tone and the joy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (9780374335083)
Cloudy days are the best days to look for elephants. You will need to head into the wild, so make sure to pack some food and supplies like a flute, blanket and binoculars. You will need to enter the jungle and search. Look for footprints, but don’t expect to hear footsteps. Ask at any houses you find, drink at waterholes and take shelter from rain under large leaves. Have lunch, swing with a chimpanzee and fly with an eagle. You will probably find an elephant when you least expect it, so keep your eyes open! This picture book is written with lovely details that invite young readers and listeners deep into the story. There is a sense of adventure throughout, particularly due to the illustrations that cleverly hide elephants on each page. Sharp-eyed children will suddenly glimpse them and you may need to go back and find any that they may have missed. Beautifully illustrated, this book makes a great read-aloud but make sure that everyone can see the images up close. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.)
Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon (9781626723498)
George Laurent is not like other birds. He doesn’t go anywhere, not flying south or north, just staying at home. He always had something delicious cooking in his oven and the other birds would come and visit. They would invite him on their next adventure, but George would always decline and have some kind of excuse. When winter arrived, George met Pascal, a bear, out in the cold. George tries a series of excuses to explain why he is still there and then finally admits that he doesn’t know how to fly. Pascal decides to try to help George learn but they keep failing. Then they discover the hot air balloon that just went up in France. Can a goose who loves staying home love to travel too? This picture book balances a strong story line with simple text that is very inviting for young children. The book is fast paced and yet tells a deeper story of being ashamed of not knowing how to do something and how friendship can create new opportunities to learn and grow. The illustrations are a warm mix of watercolor, pencil, crayon and collage. The collage offers vintage papers that add an additional level of interest and flair. A great book to offer alongside others about learning to fly. This one just takes a very different route! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)
How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy (9781626721784)
This picture book celebrates elephants in a way that invites readers deeply into the life of a newborn elephant calf and all that that baby has to learn. The book opens with the birth and then the family of female elephants that will raise the infant together. The elephant’s body is explored from the way it walks and balances to the way its ears help handle the heat to the dexterity of the trunk. Sounds and food are also explored along with the habitat the elephants live in. Throughout, the book offers scientific information in a conversational way. The book is almost like a readable version of nature documentaries where facts celebrate and delight. The art of the picture book is rich and warm showing the elephants in their habitat. It also shows scientific information about structure and sound that is presented graphically and with just enough detail for young readers. An exceptional science and nature nonfiction picture book, this is one stellar pick for library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Book Press.)
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (9780062657602)
A child and their mother head back to a small cabin on a rainy day. The child just wants to play their video game, but their mother insists on them heading outside. It is bleak and raining out but as they head into the woods, the rocks in the pond beckon them forward. Leaping from rock to rock, the video game falls into the water and is lost. The child is devastated by the loss but is soon distracted by some of the wildlife around from glowing snails walking in rows to mushrooms. The beauty of the rich earth below and the sun coming through the clouds above. There is rolling down hills, quiet time in the woods, and getting soaked through. Once back home, the day is transformed entirely into something new.
This picture book is an interesting look at the tug between technology and spending time outside. I enjoyed the child realizing that the world is fascinating and a place to explore that is far better than the small world of the game that they have already played. The warm little cabin and the isolation also add to the appeal of the book and the pleasure of a newfound way to spend time outdoors. Throughout the book there is a sense of quiet and wonder. That is emphasized by the images that fill the pages with trees, water, dirt and plants. It is rather like being immersed in a rainy day yourself. A great book to read and then set off on outdoor adventures together on a rainy day. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
The Pond by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Cathy Fisher (9781912050703)
Told in the voice of a boy who has lost his father, this book shows the connection of people to nature and through that connection to one another. The boy’s father had always wanted a pond in the backyard, but when he died all he left behind was a muddy hole. Ducks tried to land in the mucky hole and the boy tried to fill it with water, but it created an even larger mess. Then one day, his mother lined the hole and surrounded it with rocks. Soon there was an ecosystem forming with tadpoles, insects, algae and newts. When the water lily finally bloomed, it was time for the family to move to a new house, but the memory of the pond would stay with them forever and they would create a new one in their new place. Written with deep emotion both about grief in a family and also about connection to nature, this picture book shows rebirth in a very organic way. The illustrations are rich and lovely, celebrating the transformation from a hole to a pond with life. A touching and hope-filled book. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)
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.
Thank You and Good Night by Patrick McDonnell (InfoSoup)
Clement, Jean and Alan Alexander were having a pajama party at Clement’s house. The three bounce on the bed together, do the chicken dance, and have a funny-face contest. They played hide-and-seek, had a snack and watched the stars. They all started to get sleepy, so they got ready for bed but still had enough energy to listen to a bedtime story. They ended their party with a list of the things they were thankful for, a very long list.
McDonnell channels the energy and feel of every great classic bedtime read in this new book. He lets us in on the fun of a sleepover, focusing on all of the small things that make for a wonderful night with friends. His recap of the day with gratitude is something that many families can incorporate into their days, whether they are having a pajama party or not. It again returned the focus to those simple joys of life and time spent with one another.
The art has a gorgeous dreamy quality to it at times and other times has a zesty playfulness. The pleasure of the small animals playing with one another and not being sleepy at all transitions beautifully to sleepy creatures headed for bed. The final scene where they are revealed to be stuffed animals belonging to a little girl is particularly lovely.
A gentle bedtime story filled with lots of play and then bedtime for everyone. Yawn! Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Small Elephant’s Bathtime by Tatyana Feeney
While Small Elephant is happy to play in water or drink it, he doesn’t like taking a bath at all. His mother tries all sorts of thing to entice him into the bathtub. She fills it with plenty of toys. She blows bubbles in the air. But nothing works. Small Elephant tries to be too busy to take a bath and gets very mad when his mother insists on a bath. He has a tantrum and then hides from the bath. Then his father gets involved and makes Small Elephant giggle enough to try out the bath after all. But who will be able to get him out when he discovers how much fun he is having?
The author of Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket and other picture books has a winner with this title. Just the right playful tone is set here for toddlers who are also reluctant to stop what they are doing to take baths. The gentle approach of both parents is great to see, offering options towards tantrums and reluctance that are inventive and filled with humor.
As always Feeney’s art has a refreshing looseness about it. Line drawings with splashes of watercolor color, the book has an aesthetic that will appeal to children and adults alike. It uses limited colors to great effect, creating a cohesive and playful feel.
Soapy, sudsy, bubbly fun for small children who will relate to the emotions Small Elephant feels. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Sadie knows that you can’t just put an elephant in the mailbox, instead you have to go to the post office. So she heads there to see how many stamps it will take to send the elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine who lives alone and could use the company. It takes far too many stamps and too much money to mail the elephant, so Sadie looks for another solution and decides to fly. But elephants are heavy and the plane sputters out and crashes before they reach their destination. Sadie asks a nearby alligator to guide them down the river and then jumps aboard a train where a group of monkey bandits armed with bananas try to rob them. Sadie and elephant join them and have a great time until they tire of eating beans for every meal. Finally, they board an ice cream truck after purchasing ice cream sandwiches for the bandits and arrive at Great-Aunt Josephine’s. However, she may not be as lonely as Sadie thought!
Stead has written a rich imaginative tale that takes readers on a wild journey. Sadie is undaunted by adversity, simply figuring out what to do next to get them closer to their destination. The entire book is unhindered by logic like pilot licenses and the thought of mailing an elephant. Instead the world in this picture book is filled with an off-center zing that means each of Sadie’s original ideas are embraced by everyone. It’s a refreshing and fun approach to the story.
Cordell’s illustrations are wonderfully scribbly and loose. They capture the wild spirit of the book, the silliness and the move from one awesome idea to the next. I particularly enjoyed the illustrations of the post office and the great-aunt’s home. Both are simply people standing underneath trees that are shedding their leaves. This cheery openness and connection to nature immediately will have every reader knowing that this is an unconventional book.
A terrific picture book that offers up a cheery, silly and fun-filled journey with an elephant as a companion. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato
Eliot loved living in the big city, but sometimes it was hard being such a small elephant in such a huge place. He had to watch out so he didn’t get stepped on, doorknobs could be too high, and he could never catch a cab. Even at home, Eliot had to find a way to make everyday things work. Eliot also loved cupcakes, though when he tried to buy one in a shop he couldn’t get noticed by the person at the counter. He felt very small and invisible then, but on the way home he discovered a mouse trying to reach some food and found that even though he may be small he can make a big difference. Even better, he can make friends!
Curato uses only a few words to tell his story, making the most of the illustrations to show the ways that Eliot solves his height issues at home as well as how the new friends solve the cupcake buying problem. Children will enjoy reading about this little polka-dotted elephant who faces the same issues that they do in life. They will easily relate to the sadness of being ignored too.
The illustrations in this book are filled with charm. Eliot himself is a wonderfully unusual little fellow, shining on the page. The images of the city are mostly done in a dark and subtle color palette. The entire book has a fifties vibe to it and some of the images are pulled right out of an Edward Hopper painting. It’s a courageous choice that works particularly well.
A charmer of a protagonist and an urban landscape make this one delicious cupcake of a picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.
Oliver’s Tree by Kit Chase
Oliver, Charlie and Lulu are three best friends who love to play together outside. When they play hide-and-seek though, Oliver doesn’t have as much fun as the others. Lulu is a bird who loves to hide in the trees and Charlie the rabbit does too. But Oliver is an elephant, and he doesn’t like trees at all, since he can’t climb them. So the three friends set out to find a tree that will work for Oliver. The low trees are too small for him. Trees with big branches are too tall. When they finally find a big low branch, Oliver is thrilled. But then the branch breaks. Oliver has had enough and runs off to be on his own. He settles down on a huge tree stump and dozes off. That’s when his friends have one great idea that saves the day and creates a tree that even an elephant can love!
Chase sets a pitch-perfect tone here for young children. It’s a pleasure to see three children playing together in a picture book that is not about jealousy. This instead is a book that celebrates differences and has children who work together to solve a problem in a creative way. The result is a jolly book that has a fast pace and a cheery personality.
Chase’s illustrations have the same bounce as the text of the book. They have a friendly quality that children will immediately respond to as well as a sweet humor that is cheerful.
It’s perfect tree climbing season right now, even if you are an elephant! Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.
Hide & Seek by Il Sung Na
The author of several lovely picture books returns with another beautiful book. This time readers are part of a game of hide and seek with jungle animals. Elephant offers to seek while the others hide. There is a slow count from one to ten as the animals search for places to hide. Giraffe opts for a tree to hide behind. Gorilla stands atop Tortoise’s shell like a statue. Elephant searches for everyone and one-by-one he finds them all, except for Chameleon. All of the animals finally have to give up and Chameleon reveals himself. Young readers can search for chameleon throughout the bright illustrations, participating in the game themselves.
The text here is fairly basic, allowing the game to create the pacing and story. The counting from one to ten creates an effective counting book that is nicely married to a hide and seek game that will challenge young children.
It is really the art that is special here, glowing with light from within and filled with bright colors. None of the animals are colored as expected. The elephant has vibrant ears in red with hearts. The giraffe is a fiery yellow with red. Tortoise is a rainbow of pattern and color. The trees themselves are topped with colorful clouds of leaves. It all creates a very dynamic and fanciful world.
Colorful counting and a game to play make this a great pick for lap sharing with your favorite toddler or preschooler. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.