Picture book of the day: Chris Raschka’s New Shoes gives the reader a you are there feeling

New Shoes, illustrated and written by Chris Raschka, Greenwillow Books, ISBN: 978-0062657527, Release Date: May 1, 2018.

I look at a LOT of picture books, and it amazes me how different artists find a new, unique way of telling a story or capturing a life event with their illustrations. In Chris Raschka’s latest New Shoes, the two time Caldecott winner takes what could have been a bland or routine account of a child (gender never specified) needing a new pair of shoes and then gives the situation a cool visual twist. We see everything from the child’s POV; we relate to the child because we become the child. The kid’s face is never shown; we look down at legs and feet. In some spreads we watch the first person narrator’s finger pointing at possible footwear choices. Raschka’s watercolors and gouache paint illustrations have that loose controlled chaos of his best work–he is in complete control of his imagery and yet things look slightly askew. The simple sentences jump off the page thanks to a large, clear font. This quite simply is a masterfully done “first experience” book for a young child, conveying the highs (those shoes look cool, I want to try them on!) and lows (ouch, but this pair squeezes my feet!) of trying on new shoes. And of course the excitement of showing them off to a good pal.

Picture book of the day: philosophical musings of a curious child in They Say Blue

They Say Blue, illustrated and written by Jillian Tamaki, published by Abrams, ISBN: 978-1419728518, To be released March 13, 2018.

When I briefly met Jillian Tamaki at a graphic novel convention in Chicago in 2015,  I congratulated her on Caldecott Honor win for the great (and yes controversial although the Caldecott Award covers books for young readers up to age 14) graphic novel This One Summer, written by her sister Mariko Tamaki. She was very thankful but admitted that as a graphic novelist who creates work for older audiences that the children’s lit world was something new to her. I became concerned that she would not create books for kids. So I gave a loud cheer when I saw an advanced reader’s copy of They Say Blue and then my applause grew louder when I flipped through the book and discovered how absolutely gorgeous and thoughtful it is. With swirling brush strokes and flowing vibrant imagery, this philosophical creation gets inside the head of a curious girl thinking about the natural world around her, and, when thinking about the blood flowing in her veins and the heart pumping said blood, inside her. Removing the cover offers an abstract visual treat: a special surprise painting of birds and splashes of color. There isn’t a plot per se, but we readers follow the girl as she thinks about the colors around her, trying, for example, to understand why blue ocean water suddenly becomes clear as you hold it. Some of the spreads take on a whimsical quality, especially the one that shows her in a boat trying to sail on a field of grass that looks like a golden ocean. Tamaki gives us a surreal moment when the child, stretching her fingers to the sky, becomes a tree. Throughout, Tamaki creates surprising moments like this. The book joins a growing list of other child-friendly works (like Antoinette Portis’ Now and the lovely Life, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel and written by Cynthia Rylant) that give thoughtful kids something to think about as they examine beautifully rendered art.

Picture book of the day: Hey Black Child introduces a classic poem to a whole new generation

Hey Black Child, illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Useni Eugene Perkins, Little Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316360302.

On Wednesday, December 13 I had the great fortune of welcoming poet, playwright, social worker, academic, activist, person with amazing career, and now debut children’s picture book writer Useni Eugene Perkins to our library. He was there  to celebrate the release of Hey Black Child, beautifully illustrated by multiple Coretta Scott King and Caldcott Honor winner (and all around genius) Bryan Collier, which introduces an inspirational poem first introduced as the closing song for his 1975 children’s musical Black Fairy and Other Plays to a whole new generation. Six-year-old Pe’Tehn, who also appeared (and is one of the people Perkins dedicates to the book to) demonstrated how powerful this poem is with her stirring recitation (she became a viral sensation after wowing crowds on Steve Harvey’s Little Big Shots and the Chicago-based Windy City Live). Later at the event another child grabbed the mic and said the first few lines too. Perkins wrote this lyric to tell young children they can achieve great things, to embrace what makes them absolutely special. And to hear actual children read the words with such dynamic emotion was incredibly moving. The poem speaks to children and you can hear that when children speak the poem’s and poet’s words. Thanks to Collier’s vibrant, colorful collages, the message of the poem comes through loud and clear. Balloons appear from page to page adding to a celebratory spirit. Each spread is a visual wonder, stylized, mixing in photographs, sometimes abstract, sometimes realistic, with drawings of children achieving greatness throughout, all the while looking to a future filled with promise and hope. Children in space suits, children playing music, children giving speeches to their peers, children winning trophies, children creating art. This is one stunner of a book.