Two new picture books use animals to teach the alphabet. In A is for Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan, readers learn why every letter in the alphabet is for “musk ox.” This hysterical take on the classic ABC book begins with Joseph the Musk Ox ruining Zebra’s alphabet book by eating the apple. Claiming it would have been boring to start ANOTHER book with “A is for Apple”, Joseph takes this opportunity to describe the greatness of musk oxen. Not sure what musk oxen are? Read this book and you will discover numerous tidbits like “Eskimos call musk oxen Omingmak” and “the soft underwool of a musk ox is called Qiviut.” Hilarious illustrations by Matthew Myers will have readers giggling non-stop as they watch what happens to the original subject of each letter after Joseph is done.
All the Awake Animals Are Almost Asleep by Crescent Dragonwagon takes a more gentle approach to the topic. The mother in this book uses alliteration to describe sleeping animals while tucking her young child into bed. Inclusion of less common animals, such as an Ibex who “inches his way up the icy incline toward a good day’s nap” adds to the charm of the story. Starting and ending the story in a lyrical rhyme, the soothing text calms the restless child and lulls the animals into a peaceful sleep. The soft watercolor illustrations by David McPhail match the tone of the story perfectly. This is a wonderful bedtime story and will quickly become a favorite.
Who would have thought that Bigfoot would make such an engaging picture book protagonist? Two recent tales put this elusive hairy man-beast at the forefront of literature for young readers. In Ashley Spires’ charming Larf, the title character leads a solitary but fulfilling life in a cabin in the woods, save for his pet bunny Eric. He worries that if people found out he was real, he would attract the wrong kind of prying attention. But one morning’s newspaper article proves life changing when he finds out he may not be the only sasquatch in the world. Larf knows he must travel to town to find out. But what if the other sasquatch doesn’t like him? What if he eats meat instead of vegetables? And worst of all, what if he is a she? Spires’ watercolor and ink illustrations lend a gentle, quirky and humorous tone to a story that ultimately explores what it means to open yourself to the possibilities of friendship.
Kent Redeker’s Don’t Squish the Sasquatch! is a raucous ride on a city bus where the first passenger to be picked up is Señor Sasquatch. Boldly colored digital art with a retro feel by illustrator/graphic designer Bob Staake completes a picture book chock full of absurd creatures and sly humor. Each new rider to enter the bus (including Mr. Octo-Rhino) receives the same direction from the driver, Mr. Blobule. “Don’t Squish the Sasquatch!” Of course, the bow-tied bright green Sasquatch, all gangly spiky arms and long legs, can’t avoid being crowded out, which leads to a horrible crash and a surprise ending. Expect this winning read aloud to become a family and storytime favorite.
What is the color of a happy cat? In Red Cat, Blue Cat, written and illustrated by debut British artist Jenni Desmond, two jealous cats try to figure it out. Red Cat is nimble and lives downstairs; Blue Cat is clever and lives upstairs. Whenever the two meet, much caterwauling ensues. Little do they know that each secretly longs to be like the other. Whimsical and bright, the playful illustrations of colored pencil, collage, water color and ink spill over each page as the cats try wacky ideas to make themselves over. “If I turn myself red, I will become fast and bouncy!” thinks Blue Cat, as he eats an assortment of red things, like cherries, watermelon, even rose petals, to no avail. Red Cat, who really wants to be smart, then tries blueberries, bluebells, blue pudding and certain cupcakes, with no better luck. It’s not until the two work together that they understand that each has special qualities to appreciate and share. Until they spot a yellow cat - Meow!
Finders Keepers, written by William Lipkind and illustrated by Nicolas Mordvinoff, first delighted children and families in 1951 and won the Caldecott Medal for distinguished American picture book. This classic tale of two dogs and one bone, is charmingly illustrated with simple, vintage line drawings and a measured color palette. Reminiscent of Aesop’s or La Fontaine’s fables, the dogs, Winkle and Nap each lay claim to a bone in the barnyard. They then query the farmer, the goat, and others in the quest to determine rightful ownership. Fooled by greed and tricked into tasks along the way, they too work together in the end to reclaim and share their bone.
Jacqueline Woodson successfully teams up once again with illustrator E.B. Lewis in Each Kindness, a picture book that tells a difficult, haunting, but vital story about passive bullying, an all-too-common form of persecution among children. In the style of a person looking back on life, Woodson instantly grabs the reader’s attention: “That winter, snow fell on everything…” When Maya, a young girl, arrives at her new school in tattered clothes and damaged shoes, she shyly greets her new classmates. However, the narrator, one of Maya’s classmates, shuns the new student for her appearance. Despite Maya’s varied attempts to break down the walls put up by her fellow pupils, they refuse her each time. One day, when it is clear that the new student has left and is not coming back, the narrator realizes her mistake and laments her unkindness toward Maya.
Lewis’ slice-of-life pastel watercolors enhance the poignancy of the story. Expressions on the faces of the children are precisely defined, and the beautiful pastoral setting stands in counterpoint to the cruelty exhibited by Maya’s peers. One double-page spread showing Maya’s now-empty desk is gripping, as are Woodson’s word choices as the narrator contemplates her actions at the conclusion: “…the chance of a kindness with Maya / becoming more and more / forever gone.” Readers who savoured E.B. Lewis’ illustrations when he paired with Woodson on The Other Side will recognize his brilliance here as well. Each Kindness is a natural companion to Eleanor Estes’ classic The Hundred Dresses and, for slightly older readers, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, previously reviewed.
Three picture books recently published use the power of simplicity and silence to communicate strong messages of warmth, friendship, and love. Homer, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper, is a sweet story of an older dog who prefers to spend his days just watching the world go by. When asked to join the others on a frolic on the beach, or a romp through the field, Homer is content to witness the proceedings from the comfort of the porch. Cooper’s illustrations are pitch-perfect, using watercolors in warm sunset tones to capture the satisfaction of a life well-lived.
Bear Has a Story to Tell, by the husband-and-wife Caldecott-winning team of Philip and Erin Stead, is an autumnal tale of a bear and his forest friends. When Bear wants to tell his story, his friends Mouse, Duck, and Frog each politely decline, as all have preparations they must finalize before winter sets in. With Bear’s help, each of them gratefully attain their goals. When Bear wakes from his hibernation, will he remember the story he wanted to tell months earlier? The Steads once again bring elegance and charm to each page. The illustrated expressions of the sleepy inhabitants of the woods are captured beautifully.
The Swiss import Little Bird is a fable of sorts. A man drives deep into a desert landscape to release the birds he carries in the back of his truck. All of them fly away, except for a little black bird. No amount of coaxing by the man seems to get this small bird to fly. With minimal text, a cinematic feel is portrayed. While having a very different tone and feel to most American picture books, this unusual but ultimately gratifying tale sends a message that should resonate with both kids and adults.
SWISH, SWASH, SPLASH, SWOOSH -- get ready to become reacquainted with Lyle, the loveable green crocodile happily installed in the bathtub of the Primms’ new townhouse in New York City. Readers can celebrate the endearing croc’s 50th birthday with the Lyle, Lyle Crocodile Storybook Treasury. This big, beautiful book includes an introduction by author Bernard Waber, four classic Lyle stories, author biography, a new Lyle story adorably illustrated by Waber’s daughter, Paulis, and a bonus downloadable recording of Waber reading The House on East 88th Street.
The pages are filled with engaging, black and white line drawings, dotted with splashy washes of color, timeless stories, and endearing, gentle characters. Children will love Lyle’s sweet ways and silly adventures, and adults will love sharing a special friend from their own childhood with the little ones in their lives.
Do you have a reluctant reader? Learning to read is a challenge for many children, but reading with or to a friend can make it a bit easier. If you missed the New York Times bestseller, How Rocket Learned to Read, Rocket the lovable pup is back and learning new things in Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills.
Rocket loves books and new words. Working with his teacher, the little yellow bird, Rocket heads off to sniff out new words and bring them back to the classroom to hang on the word tree. When he gets an idea to write a story, Rocket discovers writing is hard and he needs inspiration. Sitting beneath a tall pine tree, Rocket decides writing about the tree and its nest would be a great story. The next day he finds a new word scratched beneath the tree - owl - a gift from the little owl at the top of the tree. Rocket adds this wonderful word to his growing list and from there a story and a friendship blossom as Rocket reads to his new, shy friend. Parents and kids will be inspired by the gentle story and charming, softly colored illustrations in oil and colored pencil.
They say dogs are man’s best friend. Turns out they’re great listeners too. Shy or reluctant readers can find out by registering to read with one of the specially trained Karma Dogs from the H.E.A.R.T.S. program offered throughout the year at participating library branches. How can Karma Dogs help your child learn to read? These dogs are friendly, nonjudgmental, and skilled listeners. By reading in a safe, comfortable environment, children can increase their confidence and vocabulary and become better readers. H.E.A.R.T.S. sessions work best for school age children 6-12 years old who can read or are learning to read. To find out more about the Karma Dogs or find a participating branch near you, check out Karma Dogs, pick up a DateLines calendar of events, or visit our website.
Pass it On! by Marilyn Sadler recalls the classic children’s game known as 'Telephone' or 'Pass the Message'. Hilarity ensues when a message is misheard and passed from friend to friend with ridiculous results, and that’s just what happens when cow gets stuck in the fence. "Cow put a duck in a tent? Pass it on!" The silly combinations will have both children and adults chuckling as the animal friends continue to fracture the story.
The whimsical illustrations by Michael Slack make this story all the more fun. Brightly colored characters and scenes have a real retro look, with a Miró meets Fractured Fairy Tale feel. The clever story and artwork make this a book to look at again and again, and might inspire you to start a game of pass it on yourself!
In Flabbersmashed About You, by Rachel Vail, Katie Honors describes her hurt feelings when her “best friend in the whole entire world” plays with someone else at recess. Illustrator Yumi Heo’s bright childlike pictures capture Katie’s loneliness and bruised feelings perfectly. She’s “Flabbersmashed” about her best friend, but learns that playing with other children can be fun, too.
Bullying and loyalty are the two issues tackled in Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship. Mac was a good apple. One day, he fell asleep in the rain and Will the Worm got into his head (literally!) Will and Mac become fast friends. They have fun together flying kites, swimming and reading; but when Mac and Will return to the orchard, the other apples tease them and call Mac “rotten.” Even the crab apples won’t play with them. Will leaves the orchard in hopes that it will stop the teasing, but Mac is sad without his new friend. As an added conversation starter, the author tucks a bystander into the story in the form of a Yellow Apple. Yellow Apple doesn’t bully the friends, but doesn’t stick up for them either. The illustrations were done in oils on canvas. It is written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway (Ernest’s grandson), whose beautiful artwork enhances Bad Apple’s message of ignoring bullies and staying true to your friends.
Horsefly and Honeybee by Randy Cecil tells a tale of enemies who must work together to defeat a common foe. Honeybee tries to take a nap in the same flower as Horsefly and a terrible fight ensues, leaving each with just one wing. Left vulnerable, they are both caught by a hungry bullfrog and must work together to escape. The new friends soon realize that there is room enough for both of them in the flower. Cecil also illustrates the book. Using oil on paper, he cleverly manages to show a myriad of expressions on the simply illustrated, bug-eyed characters, which is sure to delight the reader.
Traditional children’s songs and nursery rhymes get a modern twist in two new picture books. I Know a Wee Piggy, by Kim Norman, follows the familiar cumulative rhyming style of that childhood favorite, "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly". Instead of swallowing creatures of ever greater size, this little piggy wallows in the kaleidoscope palette of a colorful country fair. Illustrator Henry Cole uses acrylic paints and colored pencil on hot press watercolor paper to create the brightly colored, action-packed artwork. Piggy leads his boy on a merry chase as he samples red tomatoes, green grass, pink cotton candy, black paint, gray clay, and more. All that madcap action results in a perfectly piggy abstract body painting which ends up winning first place in the fair’s art show. If it hasn’t already, the song is guaranteed to stick all day long!
"Hey Diddle Diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon". After hearing the old nursery rhyme one night, the cows in the barnyard debate whether it is indeed possible for a cow to jump over the moon. Cindy Moo by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Jeff Mack, explores that age-old question. Even though the other cows scoff, Cindy Moo is of the mind that if the cow in the rhyme can jump the moon, by golly, she can too, and sets out to prove it can be done. After her first attempt fails – she gets no farther than over a prickly weed – the other cows say “I told you so” and suggest she give up her quest. But Cindy Moo has made a vow, and being a very determined cow, she continues to give it a go, alas, with no better results. Crestfallen, she thinks perhaps the herd was right, until she spies the moon’s reflection in a large puddle. Will Cindy Moo finally jump the moon? Colorful pencil illustrations fill the pages with bustling bovines, but Cindy Moo, whose brown and white coat is topped by a pink bow, stands apart from the crowd in looks and determination.