Vernon Is on His Way: Small Stories by Philip C. Stead (9781626726550)
Vernon has returned for a second book following A Home for Bird, along with his friends Skunk and Porcupine. In three short stories, readers get to delight in even more time with these characters. The first story is told almost entirely in images since it’s about waiting. Vernon waits and waits until he suddenly realizes that he’s under way already! In the second story, the three of them head out to go fishing. Porcupine though worries that he is ruining the trip for everyone because he’s never been fishing before. As the story goes on it becomes apparent that none of them know what fishing trips actually are, but their version is a huge success for all of them anyway. In the last story, Vernon creates a special garden for himself filled with things he loves and that remind him of Bird. Porcupine and Skunk want to help Vernon feel better about missing Bird, but they struggle to find the right thing to bring him. Along the way they accidentally find exactly what he needs.
As always, Stead hits just the right notes with this book. The three characters are each unique and interesting. Vernon stays as the focal point of the stories but shares the limelight particularly with the worrying Porcupine this time. These books feel like instant classics, the characters will remind readers of Pooh and Eeyore. They are characters you want to spend more time with as they head out on their small adventures together. The illustrations are classic Stead where he uses the white space on the pages very effectively to create space and sometimes longing.
Another winner from Stead that belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Night Animals by Gianna Marino (InfoSoup)
When Skunk walks by, he notices that Possum is hiding and asks why. She’s hiding from “the night animals” and hushes Skunk. The two hide together in a hollow tree until Skunk hears Wolf coming. Wolf shouts for help and says that something big is chasing him. Meanwhile Skunk has gotten alarmed and released his scent which has Possum fainting. Bear arrives in a panic saying that something HUGE is following him! It must be a night animal. Logic is restored by a little bat who informs all of the animals that THEY are the night animals. So what could they be afraid of? You will see!
Marino captures the hectic pace of panic neatly in this picture book. It builds from one animal to the next until it reads at almost breakneck speed as the animals grow in both size and number. The text is very simple and lends itself to lots of voices and humor when read aloud. Children may realize that all of these are nocturnal animals right away, but the final twist of the book will have even those clued into the lack of reason for any panic laughing.
The illustrations add so much to this book. With backgrounds of the darkest black, the animals pop on the page with their light coloring. Speaking in speech bubbles, they are funny and frightened. The addition of Skunk’s overuse of his scent makes for an even funnier read, particularly with it being Possum who is always hit with it.
Funny and a delight to read aloud, this picture book is ideal for sleepovers and bedtime reading, particularly if done by flashlight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
The Skunk by Mac Barnett, illustrations by Patrick McDonnell
When a man wearing a tuxedo leaves his home, a skunk is sitting on his doorstep. The man slowly backs away and heads off. But the skunk seems to follow him. Even when he hops into a taxi, the skunk hops into another one and follows him closely. The man escapes to the opera, sure that the skunk will not be able to get in, but suddenly the skunk is right next to him, sitting on a woman’s head. The skunk continues to pursue him across a cemetery and even around and around on a ferris wheel. Finally the man escapes down into the sewers. He finds himself a new house and leaves his old life behind. But even as he celebrates with his new friends, he starts to think about the skunk and why the skunk was following him. It’s up to him to figure it out. Maybe the skunk won’t even notice the man following him!
Barnett and McDonnell are an incredible pairing in this picture book. They feed off of one another, each lifting the other up. Barnett’s writing is just as quirky as ever, creating a zingy dynamic between the two characters of the man and skunk. Full of dry humor, the book has a deadpan quality that makes it ideal for sharing aloud with children. The twist at the end of the man searching for the skunk is really well done and sure to get hoots of laughter. Expect children to read this at different levels and see different things in the story, all the while with them having an equally great time.
McDonnell channels the feel of vintage comics in his illustrations. Done with limited colors of only black, white and red, the illustrations change to full color when the man creates his new and different life only to change back when he returns to his original place. Both the man and the skunk convey emotions and a sense of jaunty determination.
A great read aloud pick, this picture book is one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Come Back, Moon by David Kherdian, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian
In this quiet book, Bear blames the moon for not being able to fall asleep. So he pulls it out of the sky. Fox notices that the moon is gone and so do Skunk, Opossum and Raccoon. Crow asks Fox why he doesn’t know where the moon is, since he’s so clever. So Fox takes them all to talk to Owl who is wise. Owl knows where the moon is, since he saw Bear take it. So they head off to retrieve the moon from Bear. But how will they get it away from him?
This book has a wonderfully clear and simple story line that makes it ideal to use with toddlers. It also has a deep quiet to it that will work for good bedtime or naptime reading. Kherdian uses repetition throughout the story, having the different animals share ideas and echo back decisions.
Hogrogian’s art also has that simple style. She has wonderful images like the one on the cover that speak to the darkness and loss of the moon. Her animals are realistically depicted and appear against white or tan backgrounds with few details.
There is a place for quiet books for small children and this one has just enough activity to keep it moving too. It would make a great board book. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.