Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards, illustrated by Eric Barclay (9781524773748)
A very naive king and queen tell their fairy godmother that they want to start a family. They’d like a child that they can place either on the hearth next to a vase or out in the garden by the roses. They say that a boy would be great, but “any kid will do.” So at the next full moon, they open their castle door to discover a baby goat on their doorstep. They reluctantly bring the goat into their perfectly designed home where it immediately starts eating things, butting statues, and even pooping on the floor. When they remove the goat to the garden though, they eventually rush out on a rainy night to rescue it and bring it back home. They think it is only for one night, but soon the goat has lived with them for months. When the fairy godmother returns though, she is surprised about the goat and realizes that a mistake has been made! When the human child is discovered living with a goat family, she abruptly moves the children back to their biological parents. However, families aren’t quite that simple.
This fractured fairytale sets up the scene very quickly and the entire story moves at a wonderful pace. The text is simple and carries the story well, offering just enough detail to create plenty of humor. The chaos of a goat in their perfect lives is just right, eating everything in sight and destroying plenty of the rest. It’s a great metaphor for any new child entering a home and the destruction of the ideal plans that have been made. The resolution of the confusion of the child and kid is very satisfying and will have readers cheering along.
The illustrations by Barclay are wonderfully detailed and rich. He uses a nice mix of simple scenes and then more elaborate ones with some images having elaborate borders and others showing the splendor of the castle. The mix is very successful, always paying attention to leaving enough white space for the eye.
Let’s not kid around, this is a great picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
King Alice by Matthew Cordell (9781250047496)
Home on a snow day with her family, Alice declares herself “King Alice” and demands that her father plays with her. They settle on making a book together, a story about King Alice and her royal knights. At first, the book is really short, just one chapter. But after her parents suggest that there may be more to the tale, Alice has more ideas. She occasionally takes a break to play with toys but is soon back again creating more chapters. After lunch, the idea is a Unicorn Party in the book but when King Alice gets too enthusiastic and hits her father with her unicorn toy she has to sit in time out. With apologies made, the book and the story continue with new ideas all the way through dinner, bathtime and in bed.
There is such honest on the pages of this picture book. From parents who are loving and also set limits and consequences to Alice’s attention span for a large project like this. It is delightful to have a creative process documented with new ideas taking time but also being immensely exciting. Alice’s parents are involved, but it is also her book done with her father’s support. It’s great when he is caught up in the project and Alice is ready to walk away.
The illustrations are loose and flowing. They show an active family willing to make messes with their daughter. Alice’s book is shown in crayon illustrations and neatly written words by her father.
A creative and imaginative picture book sure to be king of the shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Feiwel and Friends.
Bring Me a Rock by Daniel Miyares (InfoSoup)
A demanding grasshopper wearing a crown insists that the other insects bring him a rock! Big rocks to build his pedestal so that it is suitable for a king. So the insects bring back rocks and the king accepts most of them with little grace. One though, carried by the smallest insect is not worthy of being part of his pedestal and is rejected along with the little bug who brought it. Now the grasshopper king has created a pedestal to sit high upon with all of the rocks piled one upon another. But it is not balanced and begins to tip. Luckily though, the small pebble that the little bug brought is just right to save the day.
Miyares has written this picture book entirely in dialogue and almost all of it in the imperious and demanding voice of the grasshopper. That makes for a great read aloud where storytellers can get into the character and exaggerate it for comic effect. Then the little bug also speaks and in the end equalizes the roles of all of the insects alongside the king. The end is a welcome twist where the kind is on his pedestal but so are all of the other bugs too.
The illustrations are done in watercolor and digital resulting in a book that is filled with light and lush greens. The grasshopper and the other insects are colorful against the yellow sky and greenery and the critical pebble glows white on the page, immediately showing its importance even before it is used.
Read this one aloud with plenty of energy and dynamics and it will add plenty of zing to any summer story time. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch
Told in 21 tiny stories, this is the life of a king as he moves through the world he rules and encounters the many ways in which a king is just as powerless as any human. The king declares again and again that he is king, but things like the ocean are not impressed and others like the queen bee assert their own authority over his. Other times, the king is reminded of more important things than power, like spending time in the sunshine, letting the rain wash over his face, and the importance of the stars in the sky.
This lovely picture book is stunningly effective. The short stories are wonderfully brief, all of them less than half a page of text. Each is profound in its own way, showing the importance of the here and now, the limitation of personal power over the universe, and a quiet acceptance of the way things simply are. Translated from the German, the short stories keep their quiet power and their truth.
Erlbruch’s illustrations are delightfully childlike and yet sophisticated too. The King is drawn as a cutout of construction paper drawn on with what looks like crayons. The background he is against in each dual page spread changes, sometimes with elegant vintage prints, other times with the blue of the sea and still others with the simplicity of white snow.
A completely surprising and amazing picture book, this one is perfect for sharing whether with one child or many and looking forward to the discussions it generates. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Potato King by Christoph Niemann (InfoSoup)
A Prussian king named Fritz loved the idea of the potato. It was easy to grow and healthy too and could just solve the hunger problems in his country. So he went to a nearby village and told them about the potato and its benefits and planted some potatoes for them. But people don’t like to be told what to eat, and the village rejected the potato entirely. Then King Fritz had an idea. He ordered his army to go to the village and guard the potato field, telling them to be very lax about it. Suddenly, the people were very interested in a food that they were being stopped from eating and that was valuable enough to guard with soldiers. They snuck into the field and stole the potatoes, planting them in their own gardens. It was a clever use of reverse psychology to create a crop that would end up being a staple of the area.
Translated from the original German, this picture book is told very simply. The book ends with a brief history of the potato and how it came to Europe from South America. It also admits that this tale may be a myth, but that’s part of what makes it all the more fun to tell. Niemann manages to take a moment in history and turn it into a rollicking tale that young children will enjoy immensely and will relate to immediately.
The illustrations in the book are done entirely in potato prints of different colors combined with actual potatoes too. The prints work particularly well when used to create larger scenes of hills of grass and crowds of soldiers. Somehow the crude images have their own personality too, particularly the king himself whose open mouth and bright red color mark his as unique right from the start.
Nominated for a German Youth Literature Prize, this picture book has a wonderful organic charm all its own. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Tiny King by Taro Miura
There once was a very tiny king who lived all alone in a big castle, guarded by an army of big soldiers. He ate at a huge table with an enormous feast that he could never finish. He rode a big horse that threw him off every time. He had a big bathtub with a fountain. But all of these things did not make him happy. He slept alone in a big bed and could not sleep very well. Then the tiny king married a big princess and they were very happy. They had ten children and everyone was happy. The soldiers were given a vacation, the castle was bright and busy, they finished the entire large feast, they all rode together on the big horse, everyone bathed together in the big fountain, and best of all, the king could now sleep soundly with all of them fitting perfectly in the big bed.
Miura is a graphic designer from Japan and he has created a book that is gorgeously designed. His illustrations are big and bold, strong shapes popping with color against the solid backgrounds. The backgrounds change as the tone of the book changes. When the king is lonely, the backgrounds are solid black. The page where he meets the big princess is white. Then the pages where he has a family are bright colored. Throughout, Miura incorporates pieces of paper with letters, writing, or stylized vintage objects making it even richer.
The story is a simple one, but also one that speaks volumes about how riches and power do not mean that you are living a fulfilling life. It was not until love and people entered this tiny king’s life that he was happy. Don’t expect a subtle storyline here. It is too basic a book for that, one appropriate for very small children to enjoy.
The story of a tiny king with a big heart and huge amount of love to share is one that toddlers and young preschoolers will enjoy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.