Picture books of the day: embracing nature in three impeccable offerings

Take a walk (or a boat ride or a bike ride or a rollercoaster ride) on the wild side with these three terrific titles.

Bear Island, illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell, published by Feiwel and Friends, ISBN: 978-1250317162.

Caldecott winner Cordell (Wolf in the Snow) delivers a heartfelt look at grief in this tender, visually striking story of a girl named Louise who misses her recently deceased dog Charlie…big time. The way Cordell introduces this sensitive situation immediately puts a lump in the throat. We first see a ball. A flip of the page shows Louise using the prized object to play fetch with her dog. But then we see her standing alone, staring at the ball. Readers only have one glimpse of Charlie and instantly feel Louise’s loss. She lives in a house on the shores of a lake and most of the story shows Louise rowing out to a small, nearby island. There she encounters all kinds of wildlife, including a bear who startles the dickens out of her and the other creatures. The bear’s sudden appearance elicits a surprising response in Louise: she becomes overcome with anger because Charlie is no longer with her. And she confronts the bear with a tremendous ROOAARR!! In Cordell’s hands, this moving allegorical story feels transcendent. His trademark pen and ink (with watercolor and sometimes gouache) drawings both capture the beauty of Louise’s surroundings (love those butterflies) as well as the jittery anxiety and sadness the girl experiences. It’s yet another fab book from this gifted artist.

I Am a Bird, illustrated by Hyewon Yum, written by Hope Lim, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536208917.

This quiet gem does a beautiful job depicting the dangers of first impressions. It touches on how people behave when they do not receive the positive reaction from someone they expect and feel they deserve. In this case, a bird-happy little girl, the “I” in the title, has a bit of a snit fit. This child loves riding on the back of her dad’s bike, watching the birds, and waving at the passers-by. When one woman does not wave back, she decides that she indeed does not like the lady. The next time the kid sees her, she gives her the ultimate snub. But then by the end of the book, she discovers something about the woman that gives her an absolute change of heart. They share a love for feathered friends. Yum’s warm illustrations (colored pencil, gouache) chronicle this girl’s emotional journey with finesse. The artist uses white space beautifully. Lim’s succinct text gets right to the heart of the matter with nary a wasted word. A perfect combination of illustrator and writer and subject.

The Midnight Fair, illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio, written by Gideon Sterer, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536211153.

On the more fantastical side, this exquisitely rendered wordless wonder imagines a temporarily human-free world that gives a bunch of woodland creatures a chance to engage in some rollicking fun. Sterer’s clever story provides the narrative blueprint for this absorbing tale of animals stumbling upon a fair with rides and games and lots of treats. After the fair closes for the evening and the humans head home, the critters do what all bears, bunnies, deer, foxes (and others) do: they go wild with fair fever. I love that they pay with acorns. Di Giorgio’s cinematic art (watercolor, gouache, colored pencil) astounds throughout. She serves up many jubilant images, many of them on double page spreads, of the animals having a blast. The moments showing them on the rides (overhead shots, a hazy view from the side) are pure brilliance. This is art that could be framed and put up on the wall.

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