Bear Came Along, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, written by Richard T. Morris, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316464475.
Summer, illustrated by Yu Rong, written by Cao Wenxuan, published by Imprint (a part of Macmillan Publishing), ISBN: 978-1250310064.
I love hearing the wows when I read Bear Came Along to preschool groups. This colorful and broadly funny romp stars a bunch of animals who end up sharing a wild trek on a log down a bendy, twisty river. Author Richard T. Morris serves up a delightful cause and effect approach when telling the tale: because a bear investigates a river, he falls in, attracting the attention of a friend-seeking frog who hops on his head, causing them to bump into a bunch of mopey turtles and later a beaver who captains the ship (actually a log) they all now ride on and so on. Illustrator LeUyen Pham gives readers thrilling POVs of their turbulent journey–look at those blue waves in the river, the animals’ expressions (some bubbling with excitement, others with extreme worry) as they struggle to control the log, the way the trees on the side seem to be bending out of control. What makes the children go “wow” is an incredible moment involving a waterfall halfway through the book. We suddenly take on the perspective of the animals as they approach this huge drop (love that we can see the animals’ feet and toes). A flip of the page and we are now facing the animals who are all in freak out mode. Another flip and Pham whisks us to a faraway shot of the animals right on the edge of the waterfall. And then another flip and we have to hold the book vertically as the animals soar over the waterfall. Do they survive? Another flip: YES! Did they love this thrilling adventure? Heck yeah they did! Pham and the book’s art director make great use of the book’s rather large dimensions, serving up a picture book that shows beautifully across the room for larger groups.
Summer also stars a bunch of animals who inadvertently come together, face a dilemma and end up as friends as a result. But author Cao Wenxuan takes the reader to a drier climate: the grasslands on a hot hot hot day. Right from the very start, he gives the tale the feel of a classic folktale, a long lost fable. He writes of the “burning hot sun” hanging in the sky, and of small creatures dozing in the shade, hoping to be cool. A turn of the page and we see animals in the “parched” grasslands also seeking shelter and finding limited options while kicking up dust. A “sharp-eyed” jackal spots a tree and the animals (big and small) race for it only to find that the near-leafless tree is barely alive, offering minimal relief. Yong Ru masterfully employs a cut paper and pencil technique when creating her illustrations. Her animals have a comical warmth, a roundness, to them, and she surrounds them with swirling browns that radiate heat. When they get to the tree, they must figure out a way to all share the shade. Their solution involves smaller animals standing in the shadows of larger critters. Yong Ru does something magical with this moment: flaps that start small and then grow larger as the animals help each other out. It’s truly a beautiful piece of picture book design. Summer ends on a lovely hopeful note. I also must mention the colorful lettering used throughout. The book is visually intriguing, and never cluttered. It’s a summertime delight.