I’m a Big Brother Now, illustrated by Sylvia L. Walker, written by Katura J. Hudson, published by Marimba Books (distributed by Just Us Books), ISBN: 978-1603490146.
One of the questions I often get at the children’s reference desk is for “big brother” or “big sister” new sibling books. And then the person asking for titles will say “please, let me rephrase it–can you find me positive, honest, and/or reassuring books that don’t make the new addition seem like a complete bother?” Yes, as much as I love subversive picture books that have characters mailing their new baby sister or brother to another locale (and possibly even outer space), it’s refreshing to discover such a loving, seemingly simple, emotionally direct book like I’m a Big Brother Now. Sylvia L. Walker’s warm watercolors introduce young readers to a charming boy who cannot wait to take on his exciting new role as big brother. This helpful, resourceful little guy helps even before the baby is born: talking to his mommy’s tummy, painting the baby’s room, and making sure his mother’s bag is by the door when she has to quickly leave for the hospital. Katura J. Hudson’s succinct, child-friendly first person text walks the audience through what to expect when the baby first arrives (lots of sleeping and dirty diapers–but the protagonist’s patient smiles show it’s not completely horrible). I love how Hudson calls the new addition “the baby,” resisting gender specification and thus increasing the title’s universality (so many times I’m told by patrons “oh, my child has a new baby sister so books with baby brothers won’t work” or vice versa). Although the book is snark-free, it doesn’t feel sappy or cloying. The boy endures some minor disappointments (like needing to be quiet around the sleeping tot and not being able to engage in loud play). But when the child says that it’s all good at the end, you believe him thanks to the tender beauty of Walker’s art and Hudson’s prose. A beautiful little gem of a book, unassuming and universal.
Quiet!, illustrated and written by Kate Alizadeh, published by Child’s Play (International), ISBN: 978-1846438875. Once while I was on the library reference desk a patron asked for books about noises people hear in different rooms in a house. I found some titles but wow, I wish Quiet! had been around at the time. This charming, lovely book somehow makes everyday routines seem compelling and exciting, inviting young readers to join in on every eeeeek, pitter patter, swish, and bang. This celebration of onomatopoeia begins on the opening pages, filled with sound effects. The young preschooler at the center of the book delights as they walk us through their day (no gender specification, a beautiful touch), but first asking us “what’s that noise?”. Each colorful double spread gives us a widescreen view of rooms buzzing with activity. The child’s father, a bearded cool dude in a striped shirt and possessing a captivating laugh (hee hee hee ha ha ha), prepares a meal (dinner I presume) as the blender whizzes, a pot bubbles, the microwave pings, and the baby brother burps. Young readers/listeners will love making these noises or hearing the storyteller imitate them. We then follow the kid as they hear other noises throughout the house, entering various rooms where a computer whirrs, a dog snuffles, a wide-screen TV blah blah blahs, a faucet drips. And so it goes. Nothing monumental or earthshattering or life-changing happens in Quiet!, and yet despite its title, it is far from a serene book (it’s the exact opposite). And that’s what makes it such a fun addition to the storytime shelf. It invites kids (and adults) to cherish the everyday, and to tune into the various everyday noises that surround them on a daily basis. Also, this effectively shows the love between a father (possibly single, possibly with a partner/spouse at work or traveling) and child. Pleasantly noisy, this also works as a bedtime story, the coziness apparent on every lovingly rendered page.
Claymates, illustrated and photographed by Lauren Eldridge, written by Dev Petty, published by Little, Brown & Company, ISBN: 978-0316303118.
Sometimes certain picture books boggle my mind, making me wonder “how did this come together?” For example, what did Dev Petty’s manuscript for the clever and inventive Claymates look like when it arrived in the able hands of Lauren Eldridge? How many visual cues did Petty give Eldridge? Usually authors and illustrators don’t really meet with or talk to each other, but this work feels as if two talented minds got together and shared the same unified vision. I know, I know…I can probably do a search and find a making of Claymates article, but on another level: I want the mystery of this collaboration to remain a mystery.
Claymates is one delightfully strange book that celebrates creativity, taking chances, breaking the rules not only when it comes to art, but also when it comes to self-identity. Two balls on clay (one gray, the other brown, both with googly eyes) sit on a desk in a photographer’s (Eldridge’s I assume) studio. On the title page the gray blob of clay gives a smirking naughty sideways glance to the startled-looking brown blob who turns out to be a newbie in this creative space. I don’t know how Eldridge makes these characters so expressive in her photographs, but wow, each glance is extremely amusing. Just watch the gray one look pensive when the brown one asks “What do you think is going to happen?” and then giddy when it replies “Probably something wonderful.” Suddenly human hands appear, and they shape the clay balls into a gray wolf and a brown owl. After this interfering human leaves, the book explodes with zany comical energy as the gray character becomes rebellious, trying to convince its peer to join in some shape-changing mischief. And yowsah, do they ever transform themselves… into elephants, peanuts, an alien peanut, a dinosaur so large it cannot fit into the frame. Meanwhile, Petty’s amusing dialog appears on what looks like torn off pieces of post-it labels.
I look at a LOT of picture books. I admire books that feel and look like no other, and Claymates emerges as it’s own unique self. Funny, the work it reminds me of most is the classic Daffy Duck cartoon “Duck Amuck.” The photography is crisp and clear (I love the blurs when they change shapes); the dialogue clever and lively; and the resolution perfect (the brown clay is hooked on creative rebellion–hurray!!!).