As the days get longer and the nights get shorter, we start to see evidence of the changing seasons which tells us spring is coming. On March 20, we will welcome the first official day of spring. What better way to shake off the winter doldrums than to dive into some children’s picture books about the changing of the season!
In Daniel Kirk’s new picture book The Thing About Spring, Mouse, Bird and Bear are excited to see the buds on the trees and the little tender shoots coming up from the ground. Their friend Rabbit does not share their enthusiasm. Rabbit loves everything about winter. He can find his friends by following their tracks in the snow. If spring comes and the snow melts, he won’t be able to make snow bunnies or snow forts. In order to keep some of his favorite season around, Rabbit scoops some snow into a bucket in order to save it. Will Rabbit’s friends be able to convince him that spring is going to be great? Digitally enhanced pen and ink illustrations help to bring the story to life as we watch the season change through pictures.
A school field trip to the country is just the thing to chase away cabin fever. It's also a great way to explore the opposites found on every page in Sun Above and Blooms Below: A Springtime of Opposites by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky with boldly colorful, collage-style illustrations by Susan Swan. Whether it’s open and closed, up and down or many and few, children will delight in seeing the seasonal changes that bring about new life on the farm.
Paul Gude’s picture book A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant highlights the close friendship between a silent, thoughtful giraffe and his constant companion, an enthusiastic, loquacious elephant. The second outing for this dissimilar pair, Surprise features three funny, knowing stories that manage to distill the essence of what true friendship entails. In the first, Giraffe struggles to find the right time to play his alpine horn. The second depicts Giraffe working through the night to honor Elephant’s wish for a toboggan. The final story finds Elephant diligently preparing to throw her friend the perfect surprise party. Gude’s simple yet expressive line drawings and bright, zingy color palette are immediately appealing to young readers.
BTC: Congratulations on the publication of the new Giraffe and Elephant book. I understand that this duo has been around for quite some time. Tell us their origin story and a little bit about their history. And why a talking elephant?
Paul Gude: My standard line when people ask me why Giraffe doesn't talk is to say, "You're less surprised about the talking elephant?" So, you've beaten me at my own game. My hat is off to you. Giraffe came first. I would draw little pictures for my friend with little captions. I drew one that said, "Here is a giraffe eating some leaves!" She made some comment like, "I like giraffes almost as much as I like elephants!" I drew another picture with a giraffe and elephant eating ice cream cones together with a caption like, "You don't have to choose! Giraffes and elephants are friends!"
I had this crazy idea of just drawing the giraffe and elephant doing all sorts of things together. So I kept at it. The very next thing they did was steal a van. Then Elephant shot Giraffe out of a cannon. They invented new words. Every day it was something new. That was in 2000. In 2001, my friend KMO at C-realm.com gave me space to publish them. This was before Tumblr and its ilk, so having a place to put an archive of comics was kind of a big deal. I just kept doing them over the years, until I amassed almost a thousand.
I flirted with publishing a collection of them in the mid-2000s, but nothing came of it. Later on, a friend of the editor who had been trying to get someone to publish the book asked her if she knew anyone who might need representation. She put him in touch with me and that's how I got my agent.
We sent out the collection, and the feedback was, "We like the characters, but can they be involved in a story?" At one time I would have taken this to mean, "We don't like your book," but I had matured enough by then to know it meant, "We like the characters, but can they be involved in a story?" My agent was smart enough to make sure I understood that this wasn't a brush-off, and set me to work telling the stories. That became When Elephant Met Giraffe, which my agent sold to Disney/Hyperion. That's kind of how they solidified into the personalities that they are today. Granted, they're drawn a bit better now as well. Years of practice can help in that regard.
BTC: What medium do you use to create your art?
PG: While I like pen and ink just fine, Giraffe and Elephant were born as crudely drawn characters using a mouse and Photoshop. They've been mostly digital from then on, although I do experiment from time to time. The artwork for both When Elephant Met Giraffe and A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant was done on an iPad 2 with a program called iDraw. It was actually the cheapest option and I was short on funds.
BTC: When I read the Giraffe and Elephant books, I was reminded of both James Marshall’s George and Martha and of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie. Did they come to mind as you were writing the books? Which children’s authors or illustrators inspire you?
PG: I love Mo Willems. I was lucky enough to interview him back when that was part of my day job. He's very friendly and super funny. It's worth noting that he and I are both published by Disney/Hyperion and he was there first. So, I'm hoping the fact that we both have characters who are elephants will stop being a sticking point for some folks eventually. Your question was very polite, but others have been quick to criticize as though my elephant is derivative. I think it's a little unfair. First of all, his elephant's name is Gerald. Elephant's Gerald. Say it out loud, and you get what kind of a genius that man is. Second, anyone who reads Mo's books and mine knows that his are mostly dialog-driven, whereas mine are more narrative. In short, they are much more like George and Martha. More of what I was reading as a kid, I suppose. Maurice Sendak was a big one for me. Also, I loved Shel Silverstein. Other favorites from my childhood include the Ann Trompert and John Wallner book Little Fox Goes to the End of the World. So many others I know I'm forgetting. In these modern times I'm a big fan of Zoom and Re-Zoom by Istvan Banyai and Jon Klassen's hat books. Again, I know there must be more. I'll have to check my daughter's bookshelf.
BTC: One of the things I loved about both When Elephant Met Giraffe and A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant is that they’re picture books adults also enjoy — they’re droll, and not preachy or sappy. How does being a parent affect your work?
PG: The funny thing about the publishing world is that it moves so very slow. When I was writing When Elephant Met Giraffe it was a little too advanced for her. By the time it was published, she had already outgrown it. She's 9 now, way outside of the target demographic. Still, she's the one looking over my shoulder when I'm working. So, I suppose in a way that's a big reason why I throw in humor that everyone can enjoy. I want my kid to still think I'm funny. In a more pragmatic sense, the parents are the ones who are going to have to read the book over and over again, so I try to make it as painless as possible. Very few words. Funny pictures. You can't go wrong. Well, you can go wrong, I suppose. It depends on who you ask.
BTC: One "quirk" of Surprise mentioned by a major review publication is the fact that Giraffe uses an acetylene torch to build a toboggan. Were you surprised by this bit of criticism?
PG: Oh, boy. Yes. This was brought up as the book was in production, and I was like, "No, no, they can be wood or metal. I know. I had a metal one." Apparently I am one of the few people who remembers these types of toboggans that had metal scoops on the front, though. If you look for pictures of them online, the curved part at the front is almost always wood. I kept searching and searching until I found a picture of one. I thought I was going crazy. They exist, though. I've seen them. I've linked to one on my blog. It's odd to me that people leap to the idea that Giraffe is erroneously using a torch on a wooden object rather than the thing he's constructing being partially made out of metal. I assume they simply don't have the design skills of a giraffe.
BTC: I recently followed Giraffe on Twitter. I’ve enjoyed having a look into his psyche. What prompted him to get on social media? What kind of device does he use?
PG: It's always been in the back of my mind that Giraffe has a very rich inner life. When Elephant isn't distracting him from his studies, he's pursing art and science through his own self-taught methods. As an offshoot of this, I had an idea that Giraffe has built himself this amazing contraption that allows him to communicate on Twitter via Morse code. There's a pressure plate he uses to tap out words, and then this complex series of switches turns it into text. Where does he get his Wi-Fi service though? Giraffe keeps secrets even from me.
According to Chinese astrology, time passes in a 12-year cycle with each year associated with an animal. On February 19, it will be time to welcome in the Year of the Sheep (or Goat). Those born in the year of the sheep are believed to be cooperative, kind-hearted and creative. These aspects can be seen in the main character, Sydney, in The Year of the Sheep: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin.
The sheep family welcomes a new year and a new baby, Sydney, into their herd. The shepherd’s daughter, Zhi, and Sydney become great friends, and Zhi teaches Sydney how the people and the sheep take care of each other. Most of the sheep would stay together when going out to pasture, as there is safety in numbers. However, Sydney wants to explore and has a tendency to stray off the beaten path. Luckily, Zhi and her dog Dao come to her rescue as her curiosity results in Sydney getting stuck in a tree and later falling down a chimney. When a storm comes, it causes the land to become a mess. The pasture withers and the river no longer flows with water. Can Sydney discover what has caused this devastation and rally the animals of the zodiac to help Zhi bring the water back to the riverbed?
With themes that include cooperation, friendship, creativity and even a dose of engineering, this delightful picture book is an excellent choice to share with young children. The soft watercolor illustrations by Alina Chau are a perfect fit for the story. My favorite picture is towards the end of the story where the tiger is taking a “well-deserved rest” and is counting sheep with numbers written on their wool in Chinese.
It’s no secret that dads can have tremendous influence on their children’s lives. Here are three very different picture books from 2014 which highlight the myriad ways in which dads positively shape their little ones, whether over the course of an hour or a lifetime. Here’s to you, dads!
A rainy day. A bored little girl. A dad who takes time to spur his child’s imagination by asking “If you had your druthers, what would you do?” Flights of fancy ensue. In the space of a few pages, author Matt Phelan demonstrates the impact of a dad who simply takes the opportunity to engage in a little play time in Druthers.
From author Daniel Beaty comes a tale of the strong bond between father and son over the chasm of many years’ absence. Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me begins with one young boy’s loving memories of his father and the knock-knock game they used to play every morning. One day, there is no knock, and a new and palpable absence begins in the boy’s life. Missing his father, the boy writes a letter urging him to come home. In time, he receives a poignant letter in return. In it, his father encourages his son, reminding him of his love and all the ways in which he will always remain with him. As the letter unfolds, illustrator Bryan Collier’s richly evocative images foreshadow the boy’s path to adulthood and his eventual reunion with his father.
Young fans of illustrator James Dean’s Pete the Cat series will warm to his latest Mighty Dads, created in collaboration with author Joan Holub. Sing-song, rhyming text pairs with appealing illustrations of construction machinery in dad and child sizes. Hardworking, protective, patient and encouraging, the mighty dad machines act as teachers and role models to their young companions, who help them over the course of a day at the construction site. Punctuated by satisfyingly repetitive and onomatopoeic descriptors (“Crash, bang, boom!”) and bold, colorful illustrations, Mighty Dads is a deceptively simplistic picture book with an underlying message about the important roles dads can play in their children’s lives.
This year marks three important anniversaries for everyone’s favorite reindeer. In 1939, advertising copywriter Robert L. May wrote Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the request of Chicago’s Montgomery Ward department store. The retailer wanted to use the story in a promotional booklet for its customers. That year, Montgomery Ward distributed over 2 million copies of the booklet featuring the story of Rudolph. A new 75th anniversary edition of May’s original rhyming story was just published with beautiful new illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo. This oversized book’s rich illustrations make it a great way to share this version of Rudolph’s story.
Ten years later, May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks adapted the story into the unforgettable song, and Gene Autry's recording topped the charts in December 1949. From there, Rudolph’s popularity skyrocketed. Then, on December 6, 1964, a new Christmas tradition was born. That night, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired on NBC. The stop motion animation TV special narrated by Burl Ives now airs on CBS each year, and watching it has become an annual tradition for many families.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the animated TV special, two new books have been released featuring its familiar plot. Thea Feldman’s retelling of the story combined with Erwin Madrid’s illustrations, which are very similar to the TV special’s art, make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Classic Story a sure bet for die-hard Rudolph fans. Families with younger children may prefer Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Special Edition Pop-up Book. This shorter version of the story with large-scale pop-ups using movie stills to capture memorable scenes from the TV special will become a family favorite.
A picture book with no pictures? Leave it to Emmy Award winning actor B.J. Novak to create just that with his innovative and interactive The Book with No Pictures. Sure to be a repeat story time request, this is one that parents won’t tire of either.
There is one rule when reading this gem that begs to be read aloud – everything written on the page has to be spoken out loud by the reader. The reader may be compelled to sing or even scream as the words could be a zany song about eating ants for breakfast or just a list of splendiferously ridiculous sounds like Fa-rumpa-jumpa and BA-DONGY FACE!!!!!!
A white background carries the varied font types, sizes and colors which are expertly employed to emphasize a change in tone and voice for the reader of this story. Novak also creatively breaks the fourth wall with direct address allowing for interaction as the reader beseeches the listener to let him stop throughout and even at the end begs, "please please please please please choose a book with pictures." Novak, whose author picture is appropriately a verbal description, is a beloved and talented comedian who has achieved great success making grown-ups laugh and has now charmed a whole new audience who won’t stop giggling. Find out for yourself by watching this YouTube clip of Novak’s delightful reading in front of a roomful of laughing children.
It’s October, and that means it’s time to carve the pumpkins, get out the spooky decorations and get the candy ready for the trick-or-treaters. It’s also a time for great Halloween-themed picture books! Stories that feature our television friends are always popular with the kids, but Sesame Street: Happy Halloween!, written by Lillian Jaine and brightly illustrated by Ernie Kwiat, has an added treat for grown-ups. One by one, Elmo, Big Bird and the rest of the monsters from Sesame Street rap upon the Count’s castle door to visit him on Halloween. After all ten of the friends arrive, they hear another tap, tap, tapping. “Deep into that darkness peering, long they stood there wondering, fearing.” Who could it be? With literary elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” the lilting cadence of the text makes this a great story to read with your kids and discover the identity of the final guest coming to join in the spooky fun!
If your children enjoy songs as well as stories, then there are two great new picture books by Helen Ketteman to share! The Ghosts Go Haunting lends itself to be sung to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching.” At M.T. Tombs Elementary, things are getting a bit spooky as the ghosts go haunting one by one, black cats go hissing six by six and even the zombies are stumbling ten by ten looking for brains all over the school! With green faced witches and big eared goblins, Adam Records pictures are lively and fun. Ketteman’s other sing-along Halloween story is At the Old Haunted House, with darkly delightful illustrations by Nate Wragg. Anyone familiar with the children’s song “Over in the Meadow,” may find themselves singing the text of this story to your wee witchy one.
We library-goers are in the know: Reading to your little ones from an early age can provide an early literacy boost. And the earlier you start, the bigger the boost! Of course, for parents of more than one young child, the two or three year gulf separating bouncing baby from precocious tot can complicate communal story times. Baby has a penchant for crumpling pages in picture books. Your toddler is easily bored by the simple words and lack of plot typical of board books.
Enter Charles Reasoner.
This veteran author/illustrator features indestructible reads which are nevertheless engaging for older siblings. Bright, full-color images and sturdy board pages will hold a baby’s attention, while die-cut pages and rhyming text will keep older siblings amused. Eschewing the traditional rectangular shape, Reasoner’s playful curvilinear pages combine to mimic a three-dimensional picture, inviting young readers to enter the book and explore its interior scenes in greater detail. Beyond the colorful images and rhymes, Reasoner’s books also boast some surprisingly subtle touches, such as background character comments and seek-and-find opportunities for older children.
Reasoner is the author and/or illustrator of over 200 works, but the following series are particularly well-suited to bridging the young sibling story time age gap: Nursery Rhymes, Holiday Books and Peek-a-Boo!. Be sure to check out the newest titles to hit your library shelves this fall, including Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock and Jack and Jill, as well as fresh holiday favorites: Peek-a-Boo Elves, Peek-a-Boo Reindeer, and Peek-a-Boo Snowman.
As summer draws to an end, it’s time to start getting the little ones ready for school. This new adventure can be a little scary for kids. What will they do at school? Will they make any friends? Will their teacher be nice? Help your child prepare for the first day of school with these new picture books.
Being the littlest Valkyrie in Asgard is a lot of fun, but sometimes Edda wonders what it would be like to be with kids her own age. Fortunately, Edda’s papa knows just what to do in Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School, written and illustrated by Adam Auerbach. Flying down to earth for her first day of school, Edda is worried. She’s never been away from Asgard and isn’t sure that she will fit in. Things are a lot different at school on earth than they are in Asgard, but Edda is brave and, through a writing assignment, soon makes some new friends. Auerbach’s simple pen and ink illustrations have been digitally colored and help tell this mythology-meets-real-life story.
Monsters love adventures, but with summer coming to an end, Blue must prepare to go on his biggest adventure of all in Monsters Love School, written and illustrated by Mike Austin. With the help of his monster friends, Blue makes sure he has all the supplies needed to start school. But why does he have to go to school? “I already know my ABGs and 413s and XYDs!” says Blue. Children will be able to relate to Blue’s worries and cheer him on as he experiences all the wonders of his first day at school. Digitally enhanced illustrations with monsters reminiscent of Monsters Inc., Austin’s book is sure to please your little monster.
Caldecott Honor winner Mo Willems has brought back his beloved pigeon character in the funny new picture book The Pigeon Needs a Bath! The bus driver, this time clad in a shower cap and bathrobe, once again needs your help. Pigeon is absolutely, positively filthy. It’s been about a month, maybe even longer, since Pigeon had a bath. Goodness sakes, Pigeon is really starting to smell. He’s so stinky that the flies buzzing around Pigeon don’t want to be near him. Can you help convince Pigeon that he should take a bath?
Sixth in the Pigeon series, we last saw Pigeon two years ago co-starring in The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? Duckling makes an appearance in Pigeon’s new book in the form of a rubber ducky in the bath tub. Cartoon-like illustrations transition from muddy brown to bright, clean colors as Pigeon finally gets into the bath and starts to get clean. He’s having so much fun, he may never get out of the bath tub!
Whether it’s driving a bus, finding a hot dog, staying up late or wanting a puppy, Pigeon is sure to delight young children with his requests, which may also mimic some of the desires of the audience as well. Willems, both author and illustrator, has been awarded three Caldecott Honors, two Theodor Seuss Geisel Medals and Three Geisel Honors for his children’s books. And as your little ones progress from picture books to beginning readers, they are sure to also enjoy his Elephant & Piggie series.