Danny McGee Drinks the Sea, illustrated by Neal Layton, written by Andy Stanton, published by Schwartz & Wade, ISBN: 978-1524717360. The little old lady who swallowed a fly has nothing on the ravenous Danny McGee who brags to his sister Frannie that he can drink the entire sea. First published in Great Britain in 2016, this rollicking import explodes with infectious energy as Stanton rhymes with Seussian glee as Layton, using mixed media, shows Danny McGee chowing down on everything in sight. Once he swallows the sea, Danny starts chomping down trees, swallowing birds and, oh no!, even cats drinking tea. What’s fun about the book is you don’t know what the munching hero is capable of eating next. I like surprises in my comedy and Stanton delivers them, offering bizarre moments like Frannie watching Danny creep up on a smiling unsuspecting TV personality to eat her. The font adds bounce to the story (the book’s design is crisp, conveying chaos without feeling overly cluttered), with some key words large and bold. Layton manages to make the possibly morbid material feel breezy and light. When Danny starts eating the world we dig the silliness of it all, although we probably should be terrified. Without delivering it with a heavy hand, we get the book’s moral about greed and being a little too darn arrogant. The book also has a cool meta moment–Danny even eats author Andy Stanton who makes a cameo, seen writing the very book we are reading inside of Danny’s tummy. I love a good surprise ending, and Danny McGee has a doozy that feels just right. A three course comical meal that delights from start to finish.
The Blue Hour, illustrated and written by Isabelle Simler, published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0802854889.
Full disclosure: my favorite color is blue, but I can honestly say that until I had the chance to enjoy Simler’s exquisite celebration of this color that I didn’t realize how many shades of blue exist. The front matter gives us 32 splotches of different kinds of blues, everything from azure blue to cyan blue. The book that follows is visually spectacular as Simler immerses the reader in the “blue hour,” that special time that happens when the day ends and the night falls. Each turn of the page introduces an animal with primarily blue features such as blue jay, a blue fox, and a blue poison dart frog. Simler masterfully uses the book’s large dimensions (9.3 x 0.4 x 13 inches) to stunning effect; the illustrations leap off the page. The non-blue colors pop out of the blue-dominated spreads. There isn’t a story per se, just little moments happening in the natural world during this precious hour. A bluebird’s egg cracks, a blue racer snake coils itself. The book was originally published in France in 2015 and has been beautifully translated; the spare poetic text casts a quiet spell. The Blue Hour works as a color book, a nature book (love the map on the end pages that show you where around the world the animals live), but most of all, this emerges as an effective bedtime offering. That final silhouette of the creatures standing under a full moon and a multitude of stars soothes and comforts. Quiet surely follows.
The Good for Nothing Button!, illustrated and written by Charise Mericle Harper (with some special Elephant & Piggie content by Mo Willems), published by Hyperion, ISBN: 978-1484726464. When Mo Willems announced that the 2016 Elephant & Piggie book (the gloriously funny The Thank You Book) would be the last in that famed duo’s series, I, like most children’s books lovers, screamed “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” at the top of my lungs. But then Mo offered comfort: there would be a new series called Elephant & Piggie Like Reading which would have the characters briefly appear to introduce a brand new story created by a top-notch creative comedy genius. The books would have the same physical dimensions as the Elephant & Piggie books as well. So far the series is off to a fabulous start with Laurie Keller winning the 2017 Geisel Award for We Are Growing! and Dan Santat giving us a Cookie Fiasco for the ages. And in October, the award winning legend Bryan Collier will be jumping in with It’s Shoe Time!–I cannot wait.
A snappy commentary about eyebrow-raising gadgets, Charise Mericle Harper’s The Good for Nothing Button! does an impressive job of capturing the spirit, feel, and pacing of a typical Elephant & Piggie book, and yet Harper brings her own signature wit to the story. It’s a rollicking book about emotions as three birds interact with the titular object, a button that seemingly does absolutely nothing when you push it. The tone of wondrous silliness is set when yellow bird calls its feathered pals over to look at its new acquisition–the blue bird bursts with excitement, a huge “wow” and then a quieter “what is it?”. Red bird automatically feels a connection with the button because it’s, well, red. The yellow bird brags that this is an amazing button because it does nothing when you press it. However, the others beg to differ saying that the button makes you feel different things–so the button actually does something. This contradiction of course causes the yellow bird to have a meltdown reminiscent of a certain pigeon I know. Harper brings on punchline after punchline with this bouncy story. And as Travis Jonker pointed out on his essential 100 Scopenotes blog, the book reminds one of a certain craze going on. Easily one of the funniest books of the year–and timely to boot.
Firefighter Duckies!, illustrated and written by Frank W. Dormer, published by Atheneum (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 978-1481460903, release date: 5/30/17. What’s that sound you’re hearing right now? Probably my squeals of anticipation about finally being able to read this book (I’m writing this on 5/12/17 and the release date for the title is 5/30/17) to the little ones in my drop-in storytime. Or it might be the wee-ooo-wee-ooo-wee of the fire trucks belonging to the feathered titular characters, a charming and resourceful team of firefighters that goes way beyond the call of duty and pretty much rocks. The ruckus is all good. In Dormer’s madcap world, these brave, strong heroes (whose fire hats barely balance on their round heads) perform amazing tasks such as putting out a fire on a chef’s hat worn by a…gorilla…holding the angriest-looking cupcake in the world. After showing us this amazing good deed, Dormer fills the page with a bold font announcing that they are the (all caps) FIREFIGHTER DUCKIES! Now I love a great page turn and this book has many. Dormer builds suspense by saying the duckies are about to rescue someone–you race to flip the page to see the next creature about to be saved. Dormer then rewards the reader with such goofy, absurd surprises as the ducks rescuing a whale caught in the grip of an evil-looking tree (I love the duck scolding the dastardly leaf-covered villain!). Dormer’s art looks simple; he makes all this brilliant comic timing seem so effortless. And each spread is filled with hilarious details–the characters’ facial expressions alone provide laughs galore. What’s also remarkable about the book is how it can be used as a community helper story that celebrates good behavior. Or it can be simply embraced as a joyous romp that makes young readers laugh giddily at its surreal weirdness.
Be Quiet!, illustrated and written by Ryan T. Higgins, published by Disney/Hyperion, ISBN: 978-1484731628. I read this book just today to a room of preschoolers (many heading to Kindergarten this fall) and their teachers, oh, and a parent or two. First off let me say that this book gives the storyteller a host of opportunities to ham it up–it’s quite a workout vocally and even physically (sometimes a book inspires me to happily throw myself into the material), and I mean that as a high compliment. But what really struck me is how this dynamic piece of meta hilarity works on different levels–the adults in the room laugh at some jokes, and the little ones others. That said, the communal joy in the room spreads, the giggles magnify. It’s the greatest feeling in the world being engulfed by the sounds of laughing audience members. Be Quiet! is a work of supremely funny meta fiction, so clever and surprising you never know what you will encounter with each page turn. A bespectacled mouse named Rupert (who appeared in Higgins’ beloved Bruce books) happily finds himself the star of his own title, and he wants the story to be wordless because, as he dreamily proclaims, wordless books are so artistic. However, all aspirations of achieving this goal fly out the window when his clueless mice pals enter the picture, disrupting the wordless calm by begging to become part of the plot. Using speech bubbles to great effect, Higgins has fun with wordplay and goofy dialogue. His zesty, witty drawings skillfully help the comic momentum build. Bruce the bear makes a cameo (the kids in my storytime were overjoyed to see him). It all leads to one of the funniest frustrated monologues ever in a children’s picture book; one that takes it as far from a wordless book as possible. Be Quiet! is sharp and smart with expert comic timing, offers a bathroom joke mixed in with a Vincent Van Gogh reference, mixes mock-philosophical debate with slapstick. It can happily take its place with on the shelf with the other great meta picture book comedies.
Princess Cora and the Crocodile, illustrated by Brian Floca, written by Laura Amy Schlitz, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763648220. Usually I focus on picture books on this blog (hence the name of the blog, ha), but every once in a while I must give a special shout out to a longer work of heavily illustrated non-fiction or, in the case of Princess Cora and the Crocodile, an immensely entertaining early chapter book with lots and lots of, well, pictures. Told in six fast-paced chapters, and feeling like a rediscovered long lost folk tale from a time when children’s stories had a certain edge and danger to them, Princess Cora had me laughing from start to finish, especially after the crocodile makes its entrance. Brian Floca’s fantabulous ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations are perfect for this delightfully twisted tale of a bored princess with overzealous parents who never allow her a moment’s rest. She has to study, work out, study, work out, study, work out… Floca’s work here is so satisfying. When Schlitz mentions something in the text and you want to see that moment depicted, you better believe Floca is right there with the illustration you most want to see. The plot kicks into high gear when the crocodile dons Cora’s clothes and pretends to be her so she can finally run outside and frolic. The story deftly cuts back and forth between Cora embracing freedom (even stepping on a cow pattie is a joy) and the crocodile terrorizing Cora’s domineering yet clueless elders. This crocodile isn’t a sweetheart–his actions literally have a bite to them (but although the reptile gnaws and snaps, there’s still a playful warmth to Floca’s art that keeps things from becoming too scary). Ultimately this is the work of two celebrated children’s book creators (Schlitz’s Newbery win for Good Masters, Sweet Ladies is still one of the coolest Newbery wins of all time) at the top of their respective games. Snappy fun!