Category Archives: picture books

A new favorite book to give

welcomeNew parents need books almost as much as their babies do.  What’s wonderful about this one is that it’s maybe for the baby, but maybe even more for moms and dads.  There are fantastic mirror-like pages and bright colors for infants to gaze upon, but the words – happy and sad — speak to parents.

You will get it if you read the book, and I fear any attempts I make to describe it further would pale in comparison to the book.  So, just read the book.  And maybe buy a copy for a friend who’s a new parent.  (I did.) They’ll appreciate it.

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals by Mo Willems

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Are Colette’s pants on fire? Or is she just blessed with an awesome imagination?

colettes lost petPerhaps a little of both.  Colette might be wanting a pet.  A LOT. Other neighborhood kids seem to be looking for something to do.  Clearly they don’t have 24/7 access to electronics, because so many of them are playing outside.  Before you know it, they rally to look for the pet, not even seeming especially bothered by the Colette’s announcement later on that her pet bird became so large it wouldn’t fit in the house anymore.

It might be an interesting book to read with a child who has a flimsy grasp on honesty.  How would they react to Colette’s story?  Or you might just like to read it for its whimsical and imaginative journey through an afternoon with some neighborhood kids.  It’s a sweet read either way.

Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault

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A B for you, an Ethel for me

Did you take the B from my –ook? is one of those books that speak directly to the reader, engaging them in the storytelling and creating some silly situations.  “Here’s a pair of –lue –oots” and so on.

It’s kind of like something we used to do when our son was little.  We’d make every word of a story start with B – maybe that’s where all those missing Bs went! – so that you’d have “Biddle Bed Biding Bood”.  Bandma had all kinds of boblems, you know.

Fun and silly, and the simple drawings add to the wackiness of it all.

Fortunately, Jennifer Black Reinhardt was not missing a B when she wrote Blue Ethel.  Ethel is an old, fat, black and white cat, who’s somewhat set in her ways and enjoys a good roll on the sidewalk before taking her afternoon nap.  One day, she rolls as she usually does and becomes blue.  What kind of horrible industrial accident or plague has hit?  (It’s a picture book, so rest assured, it’s probably just some especially powerful sidewalk chalk.)  The effects don’t seem lasting, however, and Ethel finds that being colorful is pretty cool.  The word play and illustrations are a joy, and Ethel is delightful.

Did you take the B from my –ook? by Beck and Matt Stanton

Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

 

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Beware of plankton and reach for the stars

I’m always looking for smart, science-based picture books.  Being an adult has not stopped me from wanting to learn cool things about the world and occasionally bolster my decades-old knowledge of biology a bit.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams is really perfect for that particular reading mood.  There are child-friendly (and beautiful) explanations of evolution and how food chains work.  If the sharks go away, all kinds of environmental chaos might ensue.  Coincidentally, I heard Paul Nicklen, a conservation photographer, speaking on a very similar topic on NPR’s Fresh Air just a few days ago. It’s definitely worth a listen, too, if you need any reminders of how fragile our life on this planet is.

Meanwhile, over at NASA in the 1960s, Margaret Hamilton was figuring out how to use computers to get astronauts into space and land the lunar module.  Having questioned why girls were not expected or sometimes even allowed to do certain things at a young age, she charged ahead and rose to the top of her profession, becoming a role model for many women in computer science and engineering.  This is an especially fun read for kids who like thinking outside the box and challenging stereotypes.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams

Margaret and the Moon: how Margaret Hamilton saved the first lunar landing by Dean Robbins and Lucy Knisley

 

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Not just for the 4th of July

blue skyI have such a deep admiration for Kadir Nelson’s work.  When I’m thinking of children’s displays, I often check to see if he’s done illustrations for books that would fit in with the theme, because they are always so perfect when they do.  His illustrations rarely even need words to accompany them, and he’s a genius at finding ways to amplify already powerful language, creating art that expands an idea as much as it represents it.  Adults who think they’re beyond picture books could benefit from a few hours just looking through his work.

Blue Sky, White Stars – from a poem by Sarvinder Naberhaus – is no exception.  Looking at these paintings, you see our country – not all of it good – in its many layers and complications.  For younger kids, it might be a simple walk through our past, our present and our future, but there is more if you take the time to look, and you should.  You really should.

Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus and Kadir Nelson

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The Treasure Box

treasure boxThis one’s not a happy book.  There is war, there is death, and there is disruption in this boy’s life.  The one thing he holds onto, after the library is destroyed, he has to flee, and he loses his father is a book.

There’s no backstory tying this to any real world event, but it’s easy to imagine this happening – with a book or another cherished item – in any number of recent or past situations where refugees arrive in a new land and rebuild their lives.

There are so many levels to this book for someone reading it to young children – the fact that wars take place, that libraries and other community organizations are destroyed, that people sometimes have to flee, that people die because of this, that people arrive in a new place with nothing and manage to survive and thrive…and more.  Of course we want our children to feel safe and not dwell on the darkness in the world, but talking about it helps them begin to understand the world and their place in it.

The art in this book is detailed and atmospheric and perfect.  Faded, torn book pages act as a background.  Since I didn’t recognize the language (and I love languages), I put a phrase into google translate, “hogy ne olvassak,”  and learned two interesting things.  First, the words were Hungarian.  Second, the random phrase I picked means “do not read it.”  But do read it.  Definitely read it.

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood

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Wordless, wonderful

little foxA girl.  A stuffed animal/cuddly toy.  The toy goes missing.  Will it be found?

It’s not a revolutionary idea for a picture book; all kinds of great books have started with this simple idea:  Knuffle Bunny and Hitty, Her First Hundred Years (a Newbery Medal winner in 1930) to name two.

Little Fox in the Forest takes this and moves it to a whole different level.  It turns out the fox who’s stolen the toy lives in a little town of animals – complete with soda fountains and grocers – and even finding it may not mean it returns to its owner.

The ending is sweet, and the illustrations are wonderful—full of light and shade and colors that fit the scenes perfectly.  This would be a great book for early readers who are a little afraid of the printed word.  They can “read” the story and tell it without getting slowed down by those pesky letters.

Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin

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Some of these are just for me

carrot and peaCarrot & Pea: an unlikely friendship is one of those incredibly sweet (not saccharine) picture books we could use to talk about tolerance and acceptance, how all of us have something to add to the world, no matter how different we look or seem to be.  And that is exactly what I thought when I read it last night.

And then I woke up this morning, wondering.  Why is the carrot a rectangular carrot stick and not a carrot with greens on top?  Or is it a carrot that’s been processed?  And all the peas are out of their pods, right?  So maybe these peas and carrots are in a vegetable processing plant, which makes the absence of other carrots suspicious.  Why is this carrot the only one?  What has happened to all of the other carrots?  Has there been some kind of epic disappearance?  A plague on carrots alone?

Ok, so maybe I think ridiculous things when I first wake up.  When I told my son about it, he said, “Well, obviously they’re all in a bag of frozen peas and carrots, and some human has eaten all the carrots but just can’t stand peas.  The carrot that’s left was just missed in the massacre.”

Well, at least I’m not the only one in the house with an imagination.

Read this one, though.  It’s a treat, as long as you can handle the suspense and sinking feeling that something is not quite right in Pealand.  Kidding.  Really.

Carrot & Pea: an unlikely friendship by Morag Hood

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More on pants

green-pants-coverAre pants – wearing them or not? – a theme in picture books now?  Hard to say.  It’s probably just a coincidence that I just read Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins, and here we are with Green Pants now.

They’re very different books.  In one, an elephant is taking off his pants.  In the other, a boy will only wear green pants.

Every parent I know has some version of the green pants in their life.  In our house, certain young people had a strange fascination with wearing all red for a while – red shirt, red sweatshirt, red sweatpants, red underwear, red socks and red shoes.  Actually, it was a bold fashion move, and I approved.

Jameson’s problem comes when he’s asked to be in a wedding and wear a tuxedo – no green pants.  Yikes!  What to do?  There will be disco moves.  That’s all you really need to know.

Green Pants by Kenneth Kraegel

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When you are young and you have an imagination….

petewithnopantsHere’s what I love about Pete With No Pants:

·         Pete is an elephant.  Pete does not want to wear pants.

·         Pete uses his imagination to become a boulder and a squirrel, because they’re gray and they don’t wear pants.

·         Pete’s mom is cool, although she wears hats and dresses and–I’m sorry to say this–old lady pajamas.

This is a sweet book, with a lot to look at.  I don’t think I could pull off a read-aloud with it – the details are too small to really share well with a group.  But it’s funny and cute and ends with a rainbow, even if I secretly wish Pete’s mom was wearing yoga pants and a ball cap.

Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

 

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