Where’s Rodney?, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, written by Carmen Bogan, published by Dream On Books and Yosemite Conservatory, ISBN: 978-1930238732.
Artist Floyd Cooper is on a roll. Earlier this year he gave us the beautiful family story The Ring Bearer (reviewed on this blog here). And now there is Where’s Rodney?, a terrific celebration of being a child experiencing the wonder and glory of the outdoors, more specifically the breathtaking national park Yosemite. Author Carmen Bogan’s lively story introduces Rodney, an instantly likable kid who fidgets a bit in class, all the while eyeing what’s going on outside the window. When we first see him, Cooper shows him from behind as he leans up to the window watching a blackbird. His left foot rises off the floor, indicating that this is a boy constantly in motion.
After his teacher, Miss Garcia, tells him and his classmates that they will be heading to a park, Rodney scoffs, thinking they are merely traveling to the humble little park near his house. Little does he know they will be heading to a massive jawdropper of a natural wonder! Cooper’s use of perspective in this book quietly astounds. He knows where to place Rodney on the page for maximum effect. As Rodney travels on the bus to the park, we feel as if we are sitting next to him as he looks out the window. So far everything has felt a little confining, so when we arrive at Yosemite, yowsah! it’s a marvel. Cooper gives us a series of spreads showing Rodney’s delight in being outside. A double page spread showing him from afar, standing on a high rock, is a beaut. Then with a flip of the page we see reclining in a mountain’s crevice. Another great juxtaposition is the spread that shows Rodney looking like a giant as he investigates an anthill on the verso, and tiny as he stands at the base of a tree on the recto. Bogan’s series of opposites (“He was louder./He was quieter./He was faster./He was slower”) keeps the action moving at an exciting pace, and leading up to a beautiful moment with Rodney standing with his hands outstretched and a drop of rain on his forehead and the words “Rodney was outside–more outside than he had ever been before.” I am hoping this beautiful book doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of all the hot fall releases. It’s a joyous celebration of nature and childhood wonder.
When’s My Birthday?, illustrated by Christian Robinson, written by Julie Fogliano, published by Roaring Brook, ISBN: 978-1626722934.
A co-worker of mine enthusiastically read this to me as soon as the book arrived, and what I noticed at first is the beat. Wow, Fogliano’s text bops along with great excitement, making you wish that your birthday could be every single day of the year. The glorious refrain: “when’s my birthday?/where’s my birthday?/how many days until/my birthday?” is wildly catchy, getting the ole heartbeat racing. And she doesn’t let up for a moment, we turn the page and we read “will my birthday be on tuesday?/will my birthday be tomorrow?/will my birthday be in winter?” and find our bodies dancing along with the bouncy words. All the while Christian Robinson’s adorably witty illustrations join in the fun, filling each spread with child-like wonder and warmth. A smiling butterfly wears a birthday hat, a girl unwraps a present that’s several times larger than her (love the string that’s part of the collage), a child climbs a ladder to point at the six candles on a ginormous birthday cake. You practically want to join in a conga line during the part when the narrator says “and you’re invited to my birthday/and she’s invited to my birthday/and he’s invited to my birthday/and you and you and you” (Robinson on this spread gives us a giraffe and a sloth with birthday hats, and a birthday hat on a goldfish bowl). The action only slows down for one hilarious moment as the narrator, anticipating the birthday that’s about to happen tomorrow, starts falling to sleep while speaking, resulting in them saying “blurfday” instead of “birthday” before the snoring begins. And then we’re up, wide awake again, and flip out because TODAY IS THE BIG DAY! Artfully done, with cool book design (credited to Kristie Radwilowicz), with dimensions that remind one of a birthday candle (without a wick of course), this is pure picture book goodness. LET’S PARTY!
Robinson, illustrated and written by Peter Sís, published by Scholastic, ISBN: 978-0545731669. Release date: September 26, 2017 (Advance Reader’s Copy reviewed).
According to the back matter, Peter Sís won a costume contest as a child after his artistically talented mother crafted him a nifty Robinson Crusoe outfit. And an old photo of him accompanies this personal anecdote. The costume is both a marvel and amusing. He admits that although his Crusoe threads look cool, they made him feel itchy and uncomfortable. And worse still, his classmates laughed at him. Later, when he became ill, he had a fever dream of going off solo to live on an island. The Caldecott Honor winning Sís uses this childhood story as a springboard for the visually arresting Robinson, done in his usual dynamic style, with large cinematic, often swirling spreads. He gives us a lot of overhead shots of the action. His use of borders (that offer more visual information) and graphic novel style frames are masterful. When the boy Peter feels humiliated at the costume party and retreats to bed, we enter his dream world. The drawings of the island in all its glory are thrilling, creating a vivid sense of place. He throws in moments of whimsy (a meal at a table with wild animals). But then loneliness sets in (the way it does for another boy who heads off to an imaginary island, Max in Where the Wild Things Are), and Peter wishes to see his friends again. They appear, apologize, and it all comes to a cheerful end, with the promise of new adventures for the reconciled pals. This beautifully rendered and personal book looks and feels like no other picture book this year. However, it would team up nicely with other recent and/or upcoming picture books set at sea: Mighty Moby, The Only Fish in the Sea, The Boy and the Whale, and The Antlered Ship.
The Boy and the Whale, illustrated and written by Mordicai Gerstein, published by Roaring Brook, ISBN 978-1626725058, release date: November 21, 2017 (review of the Advance Reader’s Edition).
When I briefly met Mordicai Gerstein, I told him “I’m happy that The Man Who Walked Between the Towers won the Caldecott, and he responded with a laugh, “So am I.” He said it with such a jovial tone and we both laughed. In Gerstein’s books you see an artist who loves using vibrant imagery to create thrilling children’s books, and his joy is captivating. The Boy and the Whale crackles with intensity as it tells the story of the young son of a financially strapped fisherman who sees a whale trapped in their only net. After plunging into the water, and looking at the still living whale in the eye, the emphatic boy remembers how he too was once caught in a net and almost drowned. Although his father instructs him not to do anything about the matter, the kid decides that he must try his best to save the struggling animal. The images in Gerstein’s book haunt the reader long as they close the page: the morning sun reflecting off the waves, the boy under water fighting to free the whale from the net, the lad bursting out of the water to BREATHE. There is a thrilling moment when, after a spread conveying silence after a good deed has been done, the whale explodes out of the water and spins in the air. The use of perspective is incredible in this spread; it’s a faraway shot showing the magnitude of the whale dwarfing the boy standing on the boat. Although we cannot see his face, we can tell from his body language (he bravely stands and watches the glorious sight) that he is awestruck. So are we. The Boy and the Whale then ends with a moment of hope between father and son. This is easily one of the very best coming of age picture books ever, and can be added to the long list of Gerstein’s very best works.
Professional Crocodile, illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio, written by Giovanna Zoboli, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-1452165066. This hilarious nearly wordless picture book import from Italy has a twist ending so surprising I could not stop laughing. I will not spoil this surprise, but will attempt to describe what makes this delightful creation work. Presented in a graphic novel format and possessing longish dimensions perfect for a book about crocodiles, this title shows an anthropomorphized crocodile rising from bed in the morning and going through his daily ritual of picking a tie for work, enjoying a quick breakfast, and heading out for the commute. Di Giorgio’s humorous yet gorgeous art is packed with amusing details (for example, one funny sequence shows the crocodile sharing an awkward elevator ride with a shy stranger) as the protagonist makes his way across a crowded cityscape. He peeks in stores, gets soaked thanks to a careless driver driving through a curb-side puddle, and ends up smooshed on a packed subway train (adults will relate to this scenario). As he heads to his final destination, we feel as if we have walked a mile in his shoes. This is the kind of book that you can look at again and again and find new details to savor. It also emerges as a surprisingly indelible character study. Fans of Bernard Waber’s Lyle books will find another crocodile to cheer. Those who like funny books, wordless books, and/or picture books starring affable animal characters will love this book.