Picture book of the day: the vibrant fun of Catch That Chicken!

 

Catch That Chicken!, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank, written by Atinuke, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536212686, ARC reviewed, to be released: July 7, 2020.

When I read certain new picture books, I instantly see how they could work beautifully in a storytime. Captivating illustrations that will show nicely across the room. Lively, crystal clear language that will grab young listeners. And a refrain that invites call and response, giving kids (and adults) a chance to shout in unison. Plus, a rowdy sense of fun that will give a storytime the feel of an epic rumpus. Catch That Chicken! is one such book, a sunny romp that introduces the audience to a girl named Lami who can chase after and grab chickens with amazing dexterity and celerity. I can already hear my storytime participants yelling “Catch that chicken!” along with the various supporting characters who cheer on Lami. Brooksbank’s colorful mixed media art soars across the page, whisking the reader to a Nigerian village where Lami’s classmates wow with their spelling, hair braiding, and bravery around bulls. Lami’s chicken-catching is the biggest wow-inducer of them all. Atinuke’s text delights and then surprises as Lami goes way too fast, trying to defy gravity on a baobob tree and experiencing an ankle-twisting accident as a result. It all leads to a reassuring ending that finds Lami finding a new, relatively peaceful way to catch chickens (using quick thinking). This book is a burst of energy and joy and will definitely liven up any library program for the young ones.

 

The Essentials: 6 great books with work from illustrator Frank Morrison

I want to start a new periodic series for this blog called The Essentials. I will celebrate the work of a particular current illustrator or writer and provide a list of six essential must-experience-for-yourself books by the talented individual.

Today’s artist is the great artist Frank Morrison, winner of 2 Coretta Scott King Honor Awards as well as the John Steptoe Award for New Talent, plus many other accolades.

Once you see a painting by Morrison you never forget his explosive, vibrant, hip-hop infused style. His illustrations burst with color and motion. His stylized figures with their elongated arms and legs dance across the pages, commanding your attention with their captivating body language. He has done several great covers for middle grade novels (Rita Williams-Garcia’s unforgettable Delphine trilogy that starts One Crazy Summer, Frascawell Hyman’s underrated gem Mango Delight, among others). This post applauds his work in picture books.

Here are six picture books with art by him I consider Essential–in chronological order:

 

Jazzy Miz Mozetta, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Brenda C. Roberts, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, ISBN: 978-0374336745. (2004)

This moving account introduces readers to an unforgettable character, a woman who moves with electric grace. Just look at how those reds pop. Morrison deservedly won the John Steptoe Award for New Talent for his visually striking work.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown, published by Lee & Low Books, ISBN: 978-1600608988. (2014)

This informative and beautifully written picture book biography introduces readers to the extraordinary musician Melba Liston, child virtuoso and groundbreaking trombonist. I love how the music feels alive in every frame. This book made my list of favorite non-fiction books of 2014 and then the list of my favorites of the decade. I wrote: “Morrison’s (really cool) signature illustrations, with his characters possessing long limbs, is a perfect match for this picture book biography of Little Melba Liston who needs to stretch her arms to play her beloved trombone.”

I Got the Rhythm, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Connie Schofield-Morrison, Scholastic paperback edition: 978-0545838771. (2014)

This terrific storytime book bounces to a beat all its own, inviting movement and call and response. This made my 2014 list of favorite picture books. I wrote then: “While walking in the city with her mom, a young girl thinks of a rhythm in her mind (“think. think”) and she soon hears the rhythm with her ears (“beat. beat”) as a guy drums on some buckets on the sidewalk.  The joy of the music spreads through her body, and soon all the other kids join her in a triumphant dance.  Someone pushes the button on a boom box and soon everyone in sight claps, snaps, shakes, and stomps.  This glorious interactive book invites story hour participants to dance along and perhaps even form a parade!” This book also has some sequels with I Got the Christmas Spirit (Bloomsbury, 2018, ISBN: 978-1681195285) and the upcoming I Got the School Spirit (Bloomsbury, July 7, 2020) keeping the party going.

Let the Children March, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Monica Clark-Robinson, published by HMH Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0544704527 (2018).

With his evocative oil paintings, Morrison captures the power and intensity of the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade. He received his second Coretta Scott King Honor for this title, matching the immediacy of Clark-Robinson’s language with stunning panoramic images that give young readers a sweeping you-are-there feeling.

The Roots of Rap, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, published by little bee books (an imprint of Bonnier Publishing), ISBN: 978-1499804119. (2019)

From a previous blog post praising this book: All the while, the terrific illustrator Frank Morrison, always remarkable, outdoes himself. His trademark elongated figures burst off the page, grabbing the eye and capturing the excitement of Weatherford’s zippy couplets. Look at his James Brown, stretching on stage with frenetic grace. Look at those rich spray paint colors. I love the overhead shot of a crowd watching a breakdancer in action. Each pose, every close-up of a boom box, his drawings of hip-hop superstars such as Queen Latifah, the way he illustrates the unforgettable fashion. This is a book Morrison was born to illustrate.

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Gene Barretta, published by Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of HarperCollins), ISBN: 978-0062430151. (2020)

One of his latest efforts and it’s an absolute gem. Brilliant at depicting the lively vivacity of city life, Morrison proves here that he is equally adept at creating quiet scenes in the woods. Here budding scientist George Washington Carver explores and interacts with the natural world. He becomes a young plant specialist and later a renowned environmentalist while encountering hardship and racism. Writer Barretta does a solid job covering a lot of ground in a succinct fashion. The final spread with an elderly Carver standing near his garden, leaning on a stick cane, accompanied by the words “Regard Nature. Revere Nature. Respect Nature.” is Morrison at his best. He offers an image that haunts the memory long after you close the book.

Picture book of the day: the gentle interactive nature of A New Green Day

A New Green Day, illustrated and written by Antoinette Portis, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823444885.

Has there ever been a gentler riddle book than A New Green Day? This quiet interactive book follows a soothing pattern. Brief poetic first person text from an unseen and mysterious character hints at their identity. When the reader turns the page, the identity is revealed and the reader learns that it’s something from the natural world (sunlight, an inchworm, a leaf) speaking to them. The language Portis uses here captivates (“I’m a comma/in the long, long sentence/of the stream./Someday soon,/you’ll hear my croak…”). This guessing game works because, quite simply, the answers satisfy. The reader never feels cheated. I marvel at how the author makes each description feel fresh. And her art (brush with sumi ink, leaf prints, vine charcoal, hand-stamped lettering, digitally added color) is, as always, absolutely terrific and inventive. I love the design elements of the book. Each clue appears in a square box–each box has its own unique color. Every illustration bubbles with an all-embracing wonder–the reader can hear the falling rain, feel the squishiness of the mud. Portis carries the reader through a day packed with outside play, from morning to night, in a book that makes the ordinary seem brand new.

Picture book of the day: the musical delight Danbi Leads the School Parade

 

Danbi Leads the School Parade, illustrated and written by Anna Kim, published by Viking, ISBN: 978-0451478894, ARC reviewed, to be released: July 7, 2020.

What an exuberant book this is! Filled with color and joy, warmth and empathy. And there’s a wild rumpus too. Anna Kim tells a personal story about a Korean girl’s first day attending school in the United States. In an afterword, she mentions how alienating her own first day became, and how a student went out of her way to greet her and make her feel comfortable. Kim takes this personal childhood experience and gives it a vibrant visual spin that captures every emotion her lovable stand-in Danbi feels. The book starts off on an enchanting note as Danbi and her family say goodbye to an older relative in Korea and then fly to the States. Kim doesn’t give readers a standard shot of a realistically rendered jet, but instead serves up a whimsical stylized image of Danbi piloting a tiny toy-like plane over a dreamy nighttime ocean.

When Danbi arrives in her classroom, Kim does a beautiful job depicting how the child feels like an outsider. Her classmates stare at her. The teacher speaks an undistinguishable language shown as scribbles in a speech bubble. Every time Danbi tries to fit in, she stumbles in her efforts. I love the way Kim presents her characters. They move across the page in a very fluid manner–they flow and bend. And she masterfully uses white space that allow her images to pop off the page.

The book really takes off when Kim gives the story a musical twist. When Danbi opens up her lunch and the children marvel at the Korean foods inside, the girl wins them over by making a tinging noise on her chopsticks. This sound of music unites the kids who build on the noise to create more of a rumpus, leading to the explosive parade of the title. This parade bursts out of the classroom and onto the playground. I adore the lettering of the sound effect words–the Booms and the Taps. At the end, a girl approaches Danbi and they become friends. The final image is a beautiful one: Danbi at home writing her name in Korean and in English on a frosted window. A personal book that feels universal; one that gives readers hope.