Picture books of the day: chaos and rumpuses in 4 funny romps: The Great Outdoors, Harold & Hog, Little Guys, and Vroom!

One of the fun things about writing these blog entries is finding connections between new releases that seem otherwise unrelated. For example, the four titles discussed here all offer wild rumpuses and chaos. And this equals of course surefire storytime success for those who like to inject a little wildness into their programs. So let’s go to where the wild things are and celebrate these vibrant, fast-moving delights.

The Great Indoors, illustrated by Ruth Chan, written by Julie Falatko, published by Disney/Hyperion, ISBN: 978-1368000833.

The members of a human family heading out on a camping trip have no idea that their temporarily vacant home will attract a bunch of thrill-seeking forest creatures looking for adventures in the–ta da (and I’m loving the wordplay here)–Great Indoors. Falatko grabs the reader with the very first line: “The bears always arrived first.” Ooh, consider me intrigued. And then she fills her story with comical details (a teenage bear calling dibs on the bathroom with her blow-dryer in hand) that build with giggle-inducing intensity. More animals arrive: beavers set up camp in the kitchen, the deer rock things up dancing to their karaoke machine, and so on. Of course they start damaging the house and getting on each other’s nerves. Illustrator Ruth Chan’s delightful drawings serve up wildly expressive cartoon characters. I love the wired skunk who has drank too much coffee. She fills each spread with perfectly rendered slapstick. It’s a manic triumph of picture book hilarity.

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real! (An Elephant & Piggie, oops I mean a Harold & Hog, Like Reading book), illustrated and written by Dan Santat (with contributions from Mo Willems), published by Disney/Hyperion, ISBN: 978-1368027168, to be released: May 7, 2019.

Many young readers love Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie series, following the easy reader-style, speech bubble-packed adventures of a carefree pig and her more careful elephant pal Gerald. Caldecott winner Dan Santat takes the Elephant & Piggie formula and spins it on its head with this witty, meta new installment of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading series. Harold & Hog adore the beloved characters and decide to emulate their heroes by pretending to be them. The only problem is Harold the elephant is the carefree one, and Hog, well, Hog is a bundle of neurotic nerves. It’s an absolute joy watching Santat take this comical conceit and running with it, especially when Harold dances and flies across the page while trying to teach Hog how to stop being so uptight. And yet under all the goofiness emerges a message about individuality and friendship that remains true to the very best of Willems’ stories.

The Little Guys, illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol, published by Roaring Brook, ISBN: 978-1626724426.

The great Vera Brosgol received a well-deserved 2017 Caldecott honor for Leave Me Alone! (wow, who were those smart people on that committee?), an ingenious mix of old-fashioned folklore and outlandish sci fi. The Little Guys is her first picture book as illustrator and writer since that honor, and it’s an idiosyncratic cautionary tale that mixes a lesson with the laughs. Wearing acorns on their heads, these multi-colored little guys with their stick legs seem endearing and adorable at first. We’re on their side, applauding the fact that they show no fear in the big, dark forest, and that they exude resourcefulness as they search for a piece of cake. But then Brosgol pulls the rug out from under the reader. The little guys start getting, well, downright jerky: knocking chipmunks and foxes out of their homes and joining forces to steal a berry from a bird’s beak. Brosgol’s art is remarkably fluid here (this would make an excellent animated film). I love the facial expressions on the various animals (I seriously think that Brosgol ranks with the very best in terms of giving each character she draws vivid features and characteristics). Thankfully the Little Guys learn their lesson by the end. Phew!

Vroom!, illustrated and written by Barbara McClintock, published by Farrar Straus Giroux, ISBN: 978-1626722170, to be released: July 2, 2019.

I have always loved the work of Barbara McClintock, and associate her with more history-minded picture books (such as last year’s glorious Nothing Stopped Sophie, written by Cheryl Bardoe). The fact that I love her new book, Vroom!, is no surprise. But I am genuinely surprised by its content and story, although it does celebrate girl power like many of her books. This title has a more contemporary feel than her previous works. Vroom! stars a red-haired young girl named Annie who loves hopping into a race car and soaring out her second floor bedroom window (love that moment of subversive surrealism) and out into the great wide open. The book’s rectangular dimensions serve the story well as she glides through the prairie, over the mountain, into the desert, city, and onto a race car track. Always zooming forward to the next page. McClintock offers a variety of views of the girl in action: over her shoulder, in front of the car, off to the side, up above. The book emerges as another prime example of picture book as cinema. I love the wild moment when she returns home, zipping through the livingroom, whipping by her family and her pets all lifted off the ground by her triumphant entrance. This book would be the perfect end to a storytime celebrating movement and the joy of creating wild rumpuses.




Picture book of the day: just look at that art in Going Down Home with Daddy


Going Down Home with Daddy, illustrated by Daniel Minter, written by Kelly Starling Lyons, published by Peachtree, ISBN: 978-1561459384.

On the reference desk I am often asked for beautifully done picture books that depict extended families. The stunner Going Down Home with Daddy, about a young boy named Lil Alan heading to his Granny’s house to celebrate the history of his family, will be one I highly recommend when this question arises. Kelly Starling Lyons’ evocative, empathetic prose is a poignant delight to read, filled with details that capture the closeness and love that the relatives feel for one another. All the children will do something special for Granny: recite a poem, sing a song. The drama at the heart of the story revolves around the protagonist’s fear that he won’t have anything to offer. He can feel the stage fright weighing down on him. Yet something magical happens: after Lil Alan hears about his ancestors, about his dad’s own past nervousness during a similar occasion, everything clicks and he delivers a moving tribute.

Daniel Minter’s paintings, done in an acrylic wash, add to the book’s power. Experimental and unique, his art captures the haziness of a warm summer day, of a beloved memory. Yellows, earth tones, swirls, dusty textures all take us to that farm where Granny lives, feeding her stylized chickens. Deep blues convey serenity of a family happily reuniting, remembering. Figures often appear as semi-silhouettes. Images of trees populate the spreads. The accumulation of these dramatic spreads creates an unforgettable picture book experience. This is one of the very best books of 2019.




Storytime Success Story: warning–these three books will cause raucous, rollicking laughter

The Very Impatient Caterpillar, illustrated and written by Ross Burach, published by Scholastic, ISBN: 978-1338289411.

Bears Don’t Eat Egg Sandwiches, illustrated by Rachel Suzanne, written by Julie Fulton, published by Maverick Publishing (distributed by Lerner), ISBN: 978-1848863583.

Let’s Have a Dog Party!, illustrated and written by Mikela Prevost, published by Viking, ISBN: 978-0451481177.

Once a month I read stories and sing songs with 4 and 5 year olds who travel from their nearby preschool to the public library where I work. These kids and teachers are every children’s librarian’s dream: they absolutely love books, especially funny, goofy, outlandish, silly, preposterous ones. They adore singing their hearts out. They are also enablers, allowing me to become extremely hammy and go over the top with character voices, sound effects, and slapstick shtick. It’s a blast trying new material out on them.

For the April storytime, I began with Ross Burach’s The Very Impatient Caterpillar, and oh wow Burach delivers one giddy deliriously funny romp. It’s an absolute blast reading the conversation between the titular character, exasperated that the metamorphosis progress will take TWO WHOLE WEEKS!, and a far more patient peer. Burach tells the tale completely with speech bubbles. His wildly expressive cartoon characters whip fast-paced dialogue at one another. Burach takes us inside the caterpillar’s chrysalis where it engages in a frenzied self-directed “you can do this!” “no you can’t!” monologue that is an absolute joy to act out (I adore the moment we see a perplexed squirrel observe the shaking chrysalis, hearing the caterpillar’s argument with itself). I love humor that surprises me and it’s a thrill to report that I never knew what Burach was going to do next. The kids in my audience laughed with glee at every line and every colorful illustration. Many funny picture books I have read this year have great scenarios but don’t quite stick the landing, this one does (and more), ending with a very funny punchline. Burach makes it all look easy, when we all know that creating a brilliantly funny picture book with expert page turns takes skill and, well, patience.

Next up I shared Bears Don’t Eat Egg Sandwiches, written with succinct immediacy by Julie Fulton and illustrated with inventive joy by Rachel Suzanne, with the group. This might be the most British picture book of the year. I wanted to read it in my best British accent, and looking back, I think I did. A resourceful red-haired boy named Jack has made himself a pile of egg sandwiches when suddenly a hungry bear appears at his door. Usually at the beginning of a book I give the kids a special job to do, a recurring phrase to shout out. This book makes that process easy. Whenever Jack offers the bear an egg sandwich, the bear shouts the title “BEAR DON’T EAT EGG SANDWICHES!” So on a count of 1, 2, 3…I have the kids yell that line with me. Oh, they love it. The story is simple: we know what the bear really wants to eat, but the way Jack gets out of being chomped is pretty darn inspired. And very funny.

And finally, Mikela Prevost’s Let’s Have a Dog Party! has, as Betsy Bird pointed out, one of the best covers of the year. I mean, look at that poor beleaguered pooch. Not exactly enjoying that surprise party vibe. Prevost starts off with a humorous situation: a dog named Frank just wants to rest in his favorite spot but his owner Kate and her friends suddenly appear, invade his space, and force his birthday party on him. The children, meaning well but not reading the canine’s body language, wrap up things Frank already owns (plus a dried-up lizard from outside) and re-gift them. They plop a party hat on his head and tie balloons to his body. We see (and hear) the kids from Frank’s exhausted POV–their mouths opened wide, laughing, singing, completely oblivious to the dog’s agony. Prevost’s art crackles with comic intensity. In the storytime, I had the children sing Happy Birthday to Frank (although the words to the song don’t appear in the text) and told them to do it way off-key. They happily obliged. When Frank runs to hide in a smelly shoe closet, Kate realizes her oopsy mistake. Her understanding friends leave. What emerges is a story about empathy and respecting boundaries. Prevost uses humor to deliver a message that we all need to hear. Sometimes a quiet celebration is the best one. And although it ends the humor-drenched storytime on a reflective note, it’s also good to end a program with a tale that invites sweet slumber.


An epic sneak preview: 21 upcoming picture books that look really really cool

Sometimes when I hear about a new upcoming picture book I get that “ooh I want to read it now” tingle. Here are 21 books coming out in future months that fall into that category. In some cases, I have only seen a glimpse of the art and became immediately intrigued. Or I have seen some in Advance Reader Copy form and became instantly smitten, longing to see the books in their final form. Or in other cases, I simply love the illustrator’s or author’s past work and know that they will knock it out of the park again. Here is an alphabetical (by title) list of the books that have me most excited with a quick reason why I’m happily waiting to see them:

Bear Came Along, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, written by Richard T. Morris, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0316464475, released: June 4, 2019.

Why? I saw a glimpse of the witty illustrations and knew they would show beautifully in storytime! Plus the story is a blast.


A Big Bed for Little Snow, illustrated and written by Grace Lin, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0316478366, released: October 15, 2019.

This is Lin’s exuberant follow-up to her charming Caldecott Honor winner A Big Moocake for Little Star.


Camp Tiger, illustrated by John Rocco, written by Susan Choi, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0399173295, released: May 21, 2019.

Rocco’s illustrations look incredible and Choi’s story has received acclaim. I saw one spread of the tiger swimming underwater and my jaw dropped. Can’t wait to see the whole thing.


Daniel’s Good Day, illustrated and written by Micha Archer, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, ISBN: 978-0399546723, released: May 14, 2019.

I adored Archer’s first Daniel story, Daniel Writes a Poem. Her intricate artwork charms.


Explorers, illustrated and conceived by Matthew Cordell, published by Feiwel & Friends, ISBN: 978-1250174963, released: September 24, 2019.

The terrific Caldecott winner Cordell serves up another wordless book and the last time he did that we got the modern classic Wolf in the Snow.


The Great Santa Stakeout, illustrated by Dan Santat, written by Betsy Bird, published by Arthur A. Levine Books, ISBN: 978-1338169980, released: September 3, 2019.

Betsy is hilarious. Dan is hilarious. This collaboration promises Hilarity with a capital H.


Hair Love, illustrated by Vashti Harrison, written by Matthew A. Cherry, published by Kokila, ISBN: 978-0525553366, released: May 14, 2019.

That warm inviting cover promises a lovely daddy-daughter story.


Harold and Hog Pretend for Real!, illustrated and written by Dan Santat (part of Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie Love Reading! series), published by Hyperion Books for Children, ISBN: 978-1368027168, released: May 7, 2019.

Oh my word, my favorite cover of the year. This looks as if it will take the very popular Elephant and Piggie series and spin it on its head.


Henry and Bea, illustrated and written by Jessixa Bagley, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823442843, released: October 8, 2019.

Jessixa Bagley always delivers warm, heartfelt picture books that add a lift to my day.


How to Read a Book, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Kwame Alexander, published by HarperCollins, ISBN: 978-0062307811, released: June 18, 2019.

This celebration of books teams up one of the most visually inventive illustrators working today with one of the most energetic, vivid writers working today! Yes, I’m so there.


The King of Kindergarten, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, written by Derrick Barnes, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, ISBN: 978-1524740740, released: July 2, 2019.

Barnes won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor and a Newbery Honor for his fantastic Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. And Brantley-Newton’s sweet illustrations look positively endearing.


River, illustrated and written by Elisha Cooper, published by Orchard Books, ISBN: 978-1338312263, released: October 1, 2019.

Fresh off a well-deserved Caldecott Honor win for Big Cat, little cat, the gifted Cooper serves up an adventure on the Hudson River.


Saturday, illustrated and written by Oge Mora, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0316431279, released: October 22, 2019. 

This is John Steptoe winner Mora’s follow-up to one of my favorite 2018 charmers, the gorgeous Caldecott Honor winning Thank You, Omu!.


The Scarecrow, illustrated by The Fan Brothers, written by Beth Ferry, published by HarperCollins, ISBN: 978-0062475763, released: September 3, 2019.

I have seen glimpses of the art in this book and it looks amazing. But then again, the Fan Brothers always amaze. Plus, Ferry’s books delight.


The Shortest Day, illustrated by Carson Ellis, written by Susan Cooper, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763686987, released: October 22, 2019.

Carson Ellis’ Caldecott Honor winning Du Iz Tak? has me curious about the always-surprising Ellis’ next move. And yes, it’s Susan Cooper!!!


Small in the City, illustrated and written by Sydney Smith, published by Neal Porter Books, ISBN: 978-0823442614, released: September 3, 2019.

Sydney Smith is simply one of the best cinematic illustrators working today. His illustrations for Joanna Schwartz’s evocative Town Is by the Sea blew me away.


A Stone Sat Still, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-1452173184, released August 27, 2019.

I got to see an advanced electronic copy of this meditative, experimental, artistically playful book. This is Wenzel’s gorgeous companion to his 2017 Caldecott Honor winner They All Saw a Cat. Each spread offers a new surprise, a new way to see the natural world.


Sulwe, illustrated by Vashti Harrison, written by Lupita Nyong’o, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1534425361, released: October 1, 2019.

Normally I’m not a celebrity picture book kinda guy, but I have high hopes for this title because, well, it’s Vashti Harrison serving up the illustrations and the Academy Award winning Lupita rocks!


What Miss Mitchell Saw, illustrated by Diana Sudyka, written by Hayley Barrett, published by Beach Lane Books, ISBN: 978-1408889756, published: September 3, 2019.

I have seen the ARC for this and let me say, Sudyka’s art shimmers with excellence. Plus, Barrett tells the true story with lively language that sings.


Why?, illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823441730, released August 13, 2019.

I have seen the ARC for this and I became an immediate fan. You know how little ones like to ask “why?” over and over again. Seeger examines this situation with wit and profundity.


You Are Home: An Ode to National Parks, illustrated and written by Evan Turk, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1534432826, released: June 4, 2019.

I have seen the ARC for this and I have to say, Evan Turk wowed me with his detail-packed, beautiful, and inventive renderings of the natural world. Perfect to inspire young readers to ask for summer excursions.