2 Great New Swedish Picture Books

These two picture book are imported from Sweden. Each one is written by one of the Adbage Sisters, two of Sweden’s top picture book makers.

The Grand Expedition by Emma Adbage

The Grand Expedition by Emma Adbage (9781592702459)

Two children head out into the backyard on a camping adventure. For their expedition, they try to pack everything they need. Unfortunately, there are no snacks to take along although their father offers them some pickles for their adventures. They head out to the backyard where the tent is already set up. They make their beds and discover a squished ant in one of the books they brought along. Soon they were out of pickles, one of them has to poop, and there’s a mosquito buzzing around. They head back to the house, tell their father about their adventure, and watch a movie all together.

There is something entirely lovely about this quiet book. Any child who has camped in the backyard will see themselves here. From the little drama of the ant in the book to the pickles to the need to suddenly return home, each element is so clear, so child centered, so realistic. The strong relationship the children have with their father is another highlight of the book. The illustrations have a supporting quiet simplicity to them and yet the busyness and clutter that also accompanies childhood.

A charmer of a picture book that is recommended reading at your next camp out in the backyard. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Koko and Bo by Lisen Adbage

Koko and Bo by Lisen Adbage (9781592702589)

Koko is always saying “I don’t want to” to her caregiver Bo. Over and over again, Koko refuses to cooperate. She stays in the park alone because she doesn’t want to leave. She doesn’t want to go to bed, but eventually sees how cozy it is. She doesn’t want to wake up in the morning and almost misses breakfast. Each time, Bo allows Koko to decide and to live with the results of her decision. In the end of the book, Bo turns the table a little bit on Koko and uses her phrase back at her.

Like her sister’s book, there is a beautiful tone throughout this picture book. The playfulness and love shines on the pages, gently demonstrating a way of parenting a child who is going through a contrary phase. Both characters are wonderfully depicted, each of them dancing along gender lines in a natural and open way.

Another charmer of a picture book just right for bedtime, even if someone doesn’t want to read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Both books provided by Enchanted Lion for review.


The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner\

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner (9781626723313, Amazon)

Fox is always trying to sneak into the henhouse at the farm and steal a chicken. He’s so hungry, and so very tired of the turnips that the pig provides him after every defeat. No one on the farm is scared of him, particularly the chickens themselves. Fox turns to Wolf to get some tips on being more frightening and getting chickens. Wolf comes up with a plan to steal some eggs from the chickens and hatch their own meals. But Fox gets a lot more than he bargained for when three little chicks hatch from the eggs and suddenly think that Fox is their mother!

This graphic novel is exceptional. Renner uses perfect comedic timing throughout the book. He melds slapstick comedy with real heart throughout the book and gives readers a villainous but incompetent Fox that they can root for. Readers will adore the rabid little chicks who consider themselves foxes rather than chickens. It’s the Wolf that continues to be a shadowy dark force and one that will eventually have to be dealt with.

Renner’s illustrations are done in watercolor and don’t use traditional comic book framing or speech bubbles. Instead he keeps them very simple, using lines to show who is speaking and open spaces to convey a sense of framing each image. The illustrations are energetic and funny as well with the expressions on even the tiny chick’s faces easily understood.

A great pick for children’s graphic novels, this one is very special. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

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.

Review: Following Papa’s Song by Gianna Marino

following papas song

Following Papa’s Song by Gianna Marino

Little Blue and his Papa are traveling farther than they ever have before as they migrate, following the song of the other whales.  Little Blue has lots of the questions and his father encourages him to keep listening for the song.  As they travel, Little Blue learns about the different layers of the ocean.  Then he notices light in the darkness below and just has to head down and see what it is for himself.  He discovers a magical layer of life in the ocean, but when he heads even lower there is darkness and no other creatures are there.  Little Blue tries calling for his Papa, but his little voice doesn’t carry far in the cold water.  Then he remembers that he needs to listen and he hears his father’s call from above.

Marino paints a beautiful picture of father and child care and love.  Her use of whales and their calls is a smart choice that really makes the theme of being lost as a child work well on a higher level.  The advice to stay still and listen will also work for young humans hearing the story.  The book is simply written so that even the youngest of children can enjoy this underwater story.

Marino’s art is filled with currents and colors.  She creates light and water that dances and moves on the page, clearly creating different layers in the ocean.  I particularly enjoyed the use of bright pink to show the layer of the ocean with all of the life in it that tempts Little Blue downward.  The greens and blues of the ocean water truly come to life on the page here.

A lovely story about fathers, children and the importance of listening when you are lost.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

Review: Little Cub by Olivier Dunrea

little cub

Little Cub by Olivier Dunrea

The author of the Gossie books returns with this companion book to Old Bear and His Cub that explains the way that Old Bear and Little Cub met.  Little Cub lived all alone near the forest with ono one to take care of him.  He was often hungry and slept alone and cold outside.  Old Bear lived alone too.  He had plenty to eat and a warm place to live, but no one to share it with.  Then one day, Old Bear heard odd noises coming from a pile of rocks.  It was Little Cub, trying to sleep curled into a ball.  It was Old Bear who named him Little Cub and Old Bear who took him home, gave him food, tucked him into a warm bed, and promised to teach him how to fish.  And it was Little Cub who filled up that empty bed so that neither of them had to be alone any more.

This is such a warm story.  Showing the way that Little Cub and Old Bear came together to be a family is honey rich.  Dunrea takes him time showing the parallels between the two bears’ lonely lives.  Though they are different in age, in being able to care for themselves, they are alike at heart and searching for something new. 

Dunrea’s writing is simple but also cheery.  Though it explores a child alone in the cold wilderness, one doesn’t worry because there is a sense of safety throughout.  Children will understand the hunger and chill and also that level of joy that is clear.  A large part of this are the illustrations that show blustery winds but also have the security and solidity of Old Bear right there too.  He is the hope for Little Cub, one that radiates across the pages.

Fans of Dunrea will enjoy this new series and those who read the first in the series will cheer to see Old Bear and Little Cub return.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.

Old Bear and His Cub


Old Bear and His Cub by Olivier Dunrea

Old Bear and Little Cub live together.  Old Bear loves Little Cub with all his heart, and Little Cub loves Old Bear with all of his heart.  Old Bear makes sure that Little Cub eats all of his porridge, wears his scarf in the snow, doesn’t get hurt, and takes his nap.  But when Old Bear catches a cold from not wearing a scarf himself, it is Little Cub that knows exactly what Old Bear needs to feel better.  This is a delight of a book that will have children laughing as the roles reverse between the adult and child.

Dunrea’s latest has such a winning tone to it.  Reading just the first few lines, I knew I was in for a treat.  And it just kept getting better.  Dunrea uses repetition to great effect here, as Little Cub refuses to do what Old Bear is telling him, insisting that he won’t and Old Bear insists that he will.  Then Old Bear stares hard at Little Cub and Little Cub does as he is told.  The same exchanges happen when it is Old Bear who won’t do what is best for him, complete with the hard stare. 

I also appreciate a book where the adult’s relationship to the youngster is not clarified.  This makes the book work for many families, allowing them to see themselves reflected here.  Whether it is a grandparent raising a child, a single parent, an uncle, this book reflects that relationship and that love.

Dunrea’s illustrations center around the pair of bears and their relationship to one another.  Both obviously headstrong and very loved by one another.  The bears are shown against Dunrea’s white backgrounds that are a mark of his work.  While the white could be stark, here it serves to highlight the warmth of the relationship.

A great winter read, this book is all about loving and families.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.

Make sure to check out the sketches and studies for the book at Olivier Dunrea’s website.


Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Liam is a twelve-year-old who looks like a he’s thirty.  He’s the tallest in his class and even has a wispy beard growing in.  So Liam is able to do things that other kids his age can’t.  He rides carnival rides that they are all too short for.  He is mistaken for a teacher on his first day of school.  He pretends that a girl in his class, Florida, is his daughter.  And he almost test drives a Porsche before his father stops him.   Thanks to these mistakes, Liam lives in a place between childhood and adulthood.  So when Liam is asked to bring his daughter on the trip of a lifetime to the best theme park in the world, Liam easily decides to do it.  He needs to pose as one of the world’s best dads to get on the spaceship, and it just may take a child to be the best father in the bunch.

I love Boyce’s books because you never know what journey you are about to start out on.  The book will seem to be one thing and delightfully morph into something else along the way.  Readers will start out thinking this is a book about space travel, but it is so much more.  It is an exploration of what age means, a novel about what it takes to be a parent and what it takes to be a kid.  It is a deep book that never loses its light heart and sense of fun.

Liam is a great character who even when he is acting like a great father never could be confused with an adult.  Boyce has written a wonderful hero here who is smart, intuitive and thoroughly juvenile in a great way.

I only have one teeny quibble with the novel.  Boyce uses World of Warcraft as one of Liam’s main interests.  I play WOW and so will many of the kids who read this novel.  The problem is that Boyce gets a lots of the details of the game wrong.  Some he has right, but others are really jarringly off.  This doesn’t detract from the book’s quality, but it may really bother some young readers.  I know that whenever he got a detail wrong it pulled me right out of the story, which is unfortunate.

Highly recommended, even for WOW junkies, this book is a beauty of a novel filled with humor, grace and a hero for our times.  Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Nayu’s Reading Corner and Fuse #8.