Picture books of the day: Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets and H Is for Haiku are inventive alphabet books

H Is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi, written by Sydell Rosenberg, published by Penny Candy Books, ISBN:  978-0998799971. ARC reviewed. (2018)

Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet, illustrated by Jacob Grant, written by Sara O’Leary, published by Random House, ISBN: 978-1524713317. (2018)


These two books have fun shaking up the world of alphabet books with clever wordplay and dynamic illustrations. Both tickle the funny bone and delight with their whimsical observations.

H Is for Haiku begins with an introductory note from poet Sydell Rosenberg’s daughter Amy Losak that tells how her late mother wrote these haiku to celebrate the “small moments” in life that are still special even if they otherwise go unnoticed. Many haiku writers, Losak claims, do not always adhere to the 5/7/5 syllable count, but instead focus on little incidents. Rosenberg’s bite-sized gems have a playful quality to them as they hop with joy through the alphabet. And colorful bold fonts accentuate this bouncy playfulness. Take the page that reads “Car buried in snow-/On back seat, a wide-eyed doll/Ready for a jaunt.” The “C” is in an eye-catching red, the rest of the first line in orange, the next line is black, and the final line back to red. Then the next haiku reads “Drops of rain clanking/Into an old water can/Left outside to rust.” Each bubble-like word appears in a black drop of rain; the D is orange, the rest of the letters in the first line white, the next line the letters are aqua blue, and then we return to orange in the third line. Illustrator Sawsan Chalabi creates marvelous colorful art that accompanies each work with imagery swirling, dancing across the page, making each small moment truly special indeed. Wonderful.

Wow, Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets is a blast. Coming out late in the year 2018, in December, this one almost sneaked past me. I see a lot of picture books starring animals in any given season. Owls beats to the sound of its own drummer with author Sara O’Leary coming up with surprising, snappy, unexpected observations about a wide array of critters. She writes, for example, that “Narwhals can be perfectly happy all alone” and that “Raccoons are always the first to arrive for a party.” Did you know that dragons cry at happy endings and that toads are terrific at tongue-twisters? Well, they are according to O’Leary. Illustrator Jacob Grant takes each of these sometimes goofy, sometimes sweet ideas and runs with them. His warmly comical images enchant and delight. Look at the dancing jellyfish or those wolves refusing to smile for the camera. My favorite might be “Unicorns believe in themselves.” Grant renders a lovely drawing of a little unicorn standing on a green ladder to put the final touches on a giant sand unicorn on the beach. What a delight. An added plus in an alphabet book: each page clearly puts the upper case and lower case versions of each letter. A big hooray for this fantastic book!


My favorite 20 novels, graphic novels, and longer non-fiction of 2018 (alphabetical by title)

I usually stick to picture book reviews on this blog. And recently I posted my favorite 30 picture books of 2018. But I also read a lot of great looooooonger books in 2018. Novels. Graphic novels. Works on non-fiction. Longer picture books that feel like novellas. So I thought I would give a special shout out to 20 I absolutely loved. So behold some short capsules (a few sentences each) about long books, capsules written with enthusiasm and a “you gotta read this” vibe, presented alphabetically by title.


The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, written by M.T. Anderson, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763698225.

What is the truth? This fantastical, intriguingly idiosyncratic tale about a rather worldweary elfin historian catapulted into enemy territory (land of the goblins) to deliver a peace offering works as, among many other things, a fiercely funny fantasy tale and as a rather sobering anti-war allegory. Readers soon discover that M.T. Anderson’s brilliantly composed words (seen from one POV) are at odds with Eugene Yelchin’s strikingly grotesque illustrations (seen from another). What’s real? What’s propaganda? This epic cooks, soaring from one witty chapter to the next.

Be Prepared, illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol, published by First Second, ISBN: 978-1626724457.

I love 2017 Caldecott honoree Vera Brosgol’s way of drawing facial expressions and body language. So fluid, so funny. This wickedly funny graphic autobiographical novel introduces middle grade readers to a girl who experiences one horrible stay at a U.S.-based Russian summer camp. Offering  captivating humor of discomfiture, Brosgol excels at making middle grade angst amusing.

The Button War, written by Avi, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763690533.

A bunch of boys play an increasingly dangerous game of collecting buttons from soldiers’ outfits in this taut World War I novel set in a small Russian-occupied Polish village. At the height of his storytelling powers, Avi doesn’t waste a single word here. Advertised as a middle school book (and kids who like historical fiction will find a lot to engage them), but adult fans of books like Lord of the Flies, Catch-22, or Slaughterhouse Five might also appreciate Avi’s “war is not only hell but insane” message.

Dear Sister, illustrated by Joe Bluhm, written by Alison McGhee, published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, ISBN: 978-1481451420.

Siblings will relate to this heavily illustrated and moving story that spans seven years in the life of a boy (11 at the start) who finds his younger sister incredibly annoying. He writes letter after letter to her, complaining about her antics, but then grows fond of her as the years pass. McGhee’s emotionally direct prose crackles, and Bluhm’s charming illustrations tickle the funny bone. Their work seems effortless, and the book never feels saccharine.

Front Desk, written by Kelly Yang, published by Arthur A. Levine, 978-1338157796.

This absorbing semiautobiographical middle novel stars a resourceful girl named Mia whose hard-working Chinese immigrant parents end up running a motel run by an unscrupulous owner who exploits them. This instantly likable protagonist hooks the reader with her dreams of being a writer, and also her commendable sense of fairness and social justice. Yang writes from the heart (without being overly syrupy) and tells a story about a kid being in a situation I have never encountered in any children’s book. Funny, fascinating, endearing.


The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, written by Joyce Sidman, published by HMH Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0544717138.

Wow, just look at this book’s striking design. Joyce Sidman’s rich, poetic prose sings with joy and wonder as she delivers this beautifully researched account of 17th century German scientist Maria Merian who studied insects and flowers. Packed with full-color illustrations (many from the time), this eye-catching wonder helps the reader (child and adult) understand what an impact this groundbreaking woman made. I learned a lot from this book. It’s clear, concise, and at times breathtaking.

The Jamie Drake Equation, written by Christopher Edge, published by Delacorte, ISBN: 978-1524713614.

The best science fiction convinces you that a situation is truly happening, even when the situation is completely outlandish. Christopher Edge has the reader urgently flipping pages and gasping for air as an astronaut’s son fears for his father’s life after a mishap. Meanwhile, the boy starts receiving strange signals on his phone. Edge takes us on a cosmic time-warping dimension-hopping journey, and does so with remarkable wit and heart.

The Journey of Little Charlie, written by Christopher Paul Curtis, published by Scholastic, ISBN: 978-0545156660.

Yet another powerful book from Newbery/Coretta Scott King Author winner Christopher Paul Curtis, who gives the reader a down and out kid named Charlie squirming under the thumb of the year’s most horrifying villain. Set in the 19th century, Curtis’ historical novel breathlessly balances poignant drama with outright horror as Charlie heads to Canada with the brute to capture former slaves now living free. Readers might find the heavy dialect imposing at first, but once Curtis’ raw story grabs them they will be hooked.

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, written by Pablo Cartaya, published by Viking, ISBN: 978-1101997260.

2018 had many great books about family and connection, and Marcus Vega easily deserves to be considered one of the year’s best. This story about the rather imposing (due to height and size) Marcus starts off with a bang when Marcus gets into some trouble. Then when he travels to Puerto Rico (Cartaya in an author’s note says he wrote this before the devastating hurricane) to spend time with his family, the book becomes quiet and reflective with Marcus finding himself as person and discovering his place in the world. A gem of a coming of age story.

Marley Dias Gets It Done (And So Can You), written by Marley Dias, published by Scholastic, ISBN: 978-1338136890.

2018 had a lot of inspirational books informing kids how they can be activists, and Marley Dias, she of the supercool and successful #1000blackgirlbooks campaign, has written a truly informative one. This vibrant book works as a sound advice book about fighting for causes you believe in, covering a lot of topics in a concise, kid-friendly manner. She also has great advice for the publishing industry: books starring children of color should have their faces featured prominently on the books’ covers. She’s awesome; so is her book.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Alice Faye Duncan, published by Calkins Creek, ISBN: 978-1629797182.

This riveting fictionalized picture book probably should have been on my picture book list, but for some reason it seems more at home on this list of longer works. It feels like a rich, rewarding novella. Alice Faye Duncan does a beautiful job placing a 9-year-old girl named Lorraine Jackson at the chaotic center of the 1968 sanitation worker’s strike and discussing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s role in fighting for the workers’ rights. Meanwhile, the great R. Gregory Christie creates distinct illustrations that skillfully evoke the turbulence of these significant events. A powerhouse.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears, written by Meg Medina, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763690496.

Some books grab you the moment you start reading them, and I certainly had that experience with this touching, funny, and heartfelt middle grade novel. Meg Medina expertly juggles many aspects of sixth grader Merci’s life: struggles with her beloved grandfather who is beginning to show signs of dementia, coping with a bully who makes life miserable for her, her dreams of getting a cool bike (hard when the family’s money situation is rough), and being forced to be a boy’s Sunshine Buddy. Instantly lovable, this book has a memorable heroine who bounces from one captivating circumstance to the next.


The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, written by Stacy McAnulty, published by Random House, ISBN: 978-1524767570.

This might be favorite 2018 title to book talk to middle schoolers looking for a smart, snappy read. The premise immediately hooks them as I quickly describe it: girl gets hit by lightning, becomes a math genius as a result, and wants to keep her gift top secret from her classmates. Luckily for the reader, McAnulty backs this intriguing premise up with memorable characters, compelling twists, and relatable emotions. It’s a blast.

My Life in the Middle, written by Lila Quintero Weaver, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763692315.

Based on Weaver’s own experiences, this evocative historical novel, set in 1970 Alabama, chronicles several fraught months in the life of a sixth grade Argentinian immigrant named Lu. She sits in the middle row of her newly integrated classroom between the black and white students. Lu emerges as an emphatic, humane first person narrator who loves to run and hopes to find her way during troubled times.


Power Forward, written by Hena Khan, illustrated by Sally Wern Compert, and published by Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 978-1534411999.

This early chapter book kicks off a fast-paced new series called On Point and stars a boy named Zayd who loves hitting the court more than playing violin (he wants to make his loving Pakastani-American parents happy though). This page turner mixes humor and heart with the basketball action, and creates a likable protagonist in Zayd. Readers care about his situation and will want to read future installments to see what happens next.

The Prince and the Dressmaker, illustrated and written by Jen Wang, published by First Second, ISBN: 978-1626723634.

Exquisite illustrations accentuate the charm of this lovely graphic novel (set in 19th century Paris) about gender and identity. A young seamstress named Frances starts designing clothes for Prince Sebastian who asks her to create dresses so Sebastian can take the city by storm dressed as fashion sensation Lady Crystallia. Dazzling and cinematic, with images that flow with graceful finesse across the page.

Rebound, written by Kwame Alexander, published by HMH Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0544868137.

Kwame Alexander serves up a free verse prequel to his Newbery winning The Crossover. Crackling with energy as Alexander’s poems explode on the page, this heartfelt novel whisks the readers back to the ’80s to show Chuck Bell, the father of the twins in The Crossover, deal with change on and off the court. As much as I love The Crossover, I think I like this moving story even more. It’s a real 3 pointer.

The Season of Styx Malone, written by Kekla Magoon, published by Wendy Lamb Books, ISBN: 978-1524715953.

Ah, the wondrous dangers of boyhood and outside play, depicted here with thoughtful grace by Kekla Magoon. This haunting slow burn of a novel introduces readers to two brothers who befriend the supercool Styx. This coming of age story casts a spell from its very first page and haunts the reader. I read this back in the late summer and still haven’t been able to shake it from my head.

Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America, written by Gail Jarrow, published by Calkins Creek, ISBN: 978-1629797762.

This exceptional work of non-fiction transports the reader back to 1938 when Orson Welles (currently in film news because of the recent Netflix release of his restored lost film The Other Side of the Wind) and his Mercury radio crew convinced listeners that evil outer space beings landed on Earth and started attacking everyone. This beautifully researched work walks the reader through all that transpired, and the effect feels immersive and visceral.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, written by Jonathan Auxier, published by Abrams, ISBN: 978-1419731402.

Oh, how I love this magical and extremely moving tale set in Victorian England. My favorite books offer a strong sense of place, and Auxier does not disappoint in this department. I feel as if I’m in those dangerous chimneys with 11-year-old Nan Sparrow, a chimney sweep of great talent. Sweep takes a fantastical turn when Nan meets and befriends a golem made of ash and coal. By the end of the book I became surprised by how verklempt Sweep had made me. This is fantasy writing at its very strongest, its most potent. It feels like a new modern classic.

Quick takes: where did 2018 go? Catching up with a bunch of 2018 highlights

Wow, 2018 zipped by quickly. I thought I had all the time in the world to praise the many fine picture books of 2018. Then I looked at the calendar and saw the date November 20 and whoa! my brain went into slight panic mode. So this post will be a bit whirlwind as I mention a bunch of titles that impressed and delighted me throughout a very strong picture book year.

Do Not Lick This Book (Roaring Press, 9781250175366). Okay, raise your hands if you think someone just might defy the book’s title and lick the book? Or do you think it will have many reaching for the hand sanitizer after reading the wildly engaging facts about microbes? This funny and creative non-fiction picture book introduces readers to a microbe named Min, presented as a rather adorable animated blue blob with friendly round eyes. Creators Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost excel at presenting Min’s minuscule size. First they ask readers to look at a tiny dot and then blow their minds by saying that 3,422, 167 (“give or take a few million”) microbes could fit on that dot. The book deftly mixes illustrations with photographs of such objects as paper really, really, really, really close up. It’s a terrific science book that puts the miniature world in perspective.

The Honeybee (Atheneum, 978-1481469975). Speaking directly to the reader, writer Kristen Hall builds a buzzing excitement on the very first page of this fast-paced, rhythmically satisfying examination of what makes a honeybee supercool. Artist Isabelle Arsenault’s stylized, fanciful drawings catch the lively winged creatures in motion: clapping, flapping, tapping, searching, perching, and then practically spinning with joy when they see a majestic, colorful flower inviting them to take a sip. The book goes to a whole new higher level when they dance a most enjoyable waggly, wiggly dance. The book emerges as one of the livelier reads of the year. So much happens and yet nothing feels rushed. It’s sublime.

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles (Knopf, 978-0399557255) works beautifully as a picture book biography that transports young readers back to the “days of long skirts and afternoon teas.” A time when a young girl named Joan defied societal conventions by enjoying the company of real live reptiles, not dolls. She grows up to be one of the foremost experts of all things scaly, a person dedicated to shattering myths and fears about the reptile world. She becomes the first woman to run the London Zoo’s Reptile House. Author Patricia Valdez’s language zips and sings, and Felicita Sala’s witty illustrations do a great, playful job capturing Joan’s excitement about the creatures (I love the drawing that shows her walking her crocodile on a leash while a startled boy looks with awe out a window). Picture book biography writing and illustration at their strongest.

Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth (Balzer + Bray, 978-0062741615). This handsomely designed title asks readers to look at a supposedly fearsome creatures in a new way, to go beyond first impressions and see the gentleness and vulnerability within. Author Kate Gardner’s approach is effective and straightforward, introducing each animal with an adjective meant to startle or make the reader feel unease about the creature. Then a flip of the page and we see the animal in a more tender manner with child-friendly facts that soothe and shatter misconceptions. For example, we see a “fierce” gorilla looking tough on one page, and then being a loving papa on the next. Heidi Smith’s evocative art does a great job showing both the “mean” and “reassuring” side of each lovely beast.

A Storytelling of Ravens (Groundwood, 978-1554989126) plays around with animal collective names, with each witty double page spread making a quick jokey observation about the humorous, outlandish animal behavior depicted. Writer Kyle Lukoff doesn’t waste a single word here; succinct yet rich lines like “the memory of elephants knew the peanut field had to be around here somewhere” make the reader chuckle with ease. And illustrator Natalie Nelson takes each comical riff and runs with it, creating captivating illustrations with gouache paint, ink drawings, found photographs and digital collage. Her animal creations are a wonder to behold, popping with joy off the page. It’s hard to pick what’s funniest: the sloth of green and pink bears, the increasingly impatient business of ferrets waiting for their pal held up at the watercooler (a pond), or the parliament of owls cringing when one bird gives a “lone hoot of dissent.” Or perhaps another one of the creative spreads. It’s a joy.




Picture book of the day: a beautiful, personal story about giving in Thank You, Omu!


Thank You, Omu!, illustrated and written by Oge Mora, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316431248.

As I have mentioned in a previous review, 2018 has been a great year for picture books celebrating gracious, generous behavior. In these troubled times, these heartfelt creations have done a superlative job showing readers (not just child readers) that kindness can still exist and empathy can prevail. Oge Mora’s tender and very personal Thank You, Omu! certainly emerges as yet another prime example of a beautifully rendered work about goodness and caring behavior. Mora says in the Author’s Note that she based the story’s central character named Omu (which means “Queen” in the Nigerian language of Igbo) on her own grandmother, a woman who loved to cook and made sure that everyone, family members, neighbors, anyone passing by, had a seat at her table. This gives the book a real power.

Thank You, Omu! does a lovely job capturing the beautiful soul of this compassionate woman. Mora uses inventive collage (acrylic paint, china markers, pastels, patterned paper, and old-book clippings) and as a result, each spread bursts with color and child-like wonder. Without feeling cluttered, each image invites exploration, possessing clever details designed for re-visits and re-examinations. The story itself is fairly simple but never simplistic. Omu makes a stew that simmers on the stove, and the exquisite, yummy smells drift out her window. Intrigued, a small child, and then a police office, and then a hot dog vendor, and then a whole bunch of passers-by knock on Omu’s door and ask for a taste. Mora does a fantastic job with the cityscape and the images of people interacting with Omu. Also, the story has a great flow and arc that makes it perfect for storytimes about food, community, and giving.

I love studying Mora’s art here. She gives each image a special spin. The patterned paper used in the stew. The way she shows the smoky scent floating up out of the bowls Omu has given each new character. And I love the ending Mora serves up. Omu panics a little at the end because she has no stew for herself, but then a sweet ending has everyone returning to give her some tasty gifts of their own. Yes, maybe it’s predictable, and it’s been in other picture books about the topic, but this little twist feels very satisfying in Thank You, Omu!. The ending feels just right and still feels fresh. I cannot wait to see more books from this immensely talented author/illustrator.

Picture book of the day: The Wall in the Middle of the Book is another deadpan triumph for Jon Agee

The Wall in the Middle of the Book, illustrated and written by Jon Agee, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0525555452, ARC reviewed.

Is there anyone better at chronicling the misadventures of oblivious characters than Jon Agee? In Life on Mars, a child blasts off to the red planet hoping to discover life there, complains because they cannot find any, completely unaware that a giant Martian has been following them. It’s Only Stanley stars a dog who keeps waking his human family up with loud noises and strange behavior. The people act all “no need to worry” until they discover too late that Stanley has turned their house into a rocket blasting off to the moon. Agee’s latest, The Wall in the Middle of the Book, serves as another deadpan addition to Agee’s comical oeuvre.

This rollicking tale zeroes in on a child (gender not specified–yay!) dressed in armor who lives on the left hand side of the book. There’s a wall going down the middle of the book (a brilliant use of the gutter). The proud tyke proclaims that having a wall is a “good thing” because the structure keeps all the scary stuff on the right hand side of the book (an ogre, a tiger, a rhino) out. However, many visual cues show that danger exists in this so-called peaceful oasis. Suddenly, mysteriously, the waters start to rise, causing the pint-sized knight to climb a ladder (Agee throws in a witty visual touch: sensing that things are band in the left hand world, the animals on the right hand side run with fright). The kid goes on about the horrible ogre that will possibly eat them up, not seeing the horrifying animals floating in the water: a crocodile, imposing giant fish munching on each other.

Agee brings things to a wonderful, satisfying close with the ogre saving the day, and the child realizing how foolish they have been to fear him. 2018 has been filled with so many great picture books about empathy and understanding, that manage to serve up lessons without feeling all treacly. The Wall in the Middle of the Book joins this esteemed list.


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy is truly a publishing event

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy, created by poet Tony Medina & 13 Artists, published by Penny Candy Books, ISBN: 978-0998799940.

Just look at the illustrators involved with this project. Listed in the order found on the back of the book: Floyd Cooper. Cozbi A. Cabrera. Skip Hill. Tiffany McKnight. Robert Liu-Trujillo. Keith Mallett. Shawn K. Alexander. Kesha Bruce. Brianna McCarthy. R. Gregory Christie. Ekua Holmes. Javaka Steptoe. Chandra Cox. 13 of the very best artists working in the field today. The brilliant Tony Medina has penned 13 poems (each written in the tanka form: 31 syllables over 5 lines) about black boys, and each poem is accompanied by a piece of art that beautifully captures the moods of Medina’s creations.

Cooper’s warm portrait of a smiling little boy (love the bowtie) in the arms of his parents fits the coziness of “Anacostia Angel” for example. Cabrera brings a quiet beauty to “Little Mister May” which shows a kid proudly standing in a suit his Granny made for him so he looks nice for church. Tiffany McKnight brings a burst of fun retro ’70s color to “The Charmer” about a boy whose smile charms girls and makes the other boys jealous. Each turn of the page offers a surprising new image. Some somber (Liu-Trujillo’s “One-Way Ticket” shows a solemn boy carrying groceries while Medina writes of financial hardship), some abstract (Kesha Bruce’s quilt-like “Do Not Enter”), and some surreal and dream-like (R. Gregory Christie’s figure of a giant-sized boy trying in vain to catch a bus in “Athlete’s Broke Bus Blues”).

Those studying illustrations will find a lot to fest on here. Just compare the collages created by Ekua Holmes (“Brothers Gonna Work It Out”) and Javaka Steptoe (“Cat at the Curb”): the former bursting with color, the latter offering a more nocturnal scene (love the cat looking straight at the reader). All the while Medina serves up striking image after striking image with his words. The “Dreadlock halo crown” of the “Street Corner Prophet” (haunting art from Brianna McCarthy), the “South east Benin mask/Face like a road map of kin” in “Images of Kin” (wow, look at how illustrator Skip Hall mixes the past and the contemporary in the art), and the “We preachers’ brothers/Grew up crawlin’ under pews” in “My Soul to Keep” (Shawn K. Alexander’s drawing calls to mind mosaics). Chandra Cox serves up a whimsical image of a boy tossing his space age science project in the air (“Givin’ Back to the Community”), while Keith Mallet evokes a hot summer day in his painting accompanying “Lazy Hazy Daze.”

The poems and the illustrations work together to create a one-of-a-kind book that is truly one of 2018’s very best.



Picture book of the day: the evocative Night Job takes readers along on the night shift

Night Job, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, written by Karen Hesse, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763662387.

In its own serene way, Night Job takes something mundane (a boy joining his custodian father on the night shift, cleaning a school) and makes the whole situation feel atmospheric and memorable. Karen Hesse’s evocative prose turns their journey on motorcycle from home to work into a sensory experience. We can hear the zoom of the motorcycle, and smell the air that stinks of old fish (they live near water) and then the lilacs surrounding the school. I love the details she throws in, like dad’s large ring of keys “as big as the rising moon.” And the surreal moment when the school sighs and whispers, beckoning them inside. Night Job isn’t meant to be scary or unsettling (it’s comforting and humane in fact), but the book feels moody and mysterious nonetheless. As dad and son move from room to room, from gym to hallway, from cafeteria to library, they seem like the only two people awake in the world. Well, except for the fact that they listen on a radio to a baseball game being “played miles away.” Many kids might regard this scenario as something they wish they could experience: having the whole school almost entirely to themselves after dark. The father-son bond is strong as they sweep and scrub, and then enjoy a break unwrapping and then chewing their tasty egg salad sandwiches. Since I consider the Newbery-winning Hesse a writer primarily concerned with social issues, I find myself wondering about the characters’ situation. Does the boy go with pop out of necessity (single father cannot afford child care?) or is it a simple case of the father wanting to show the kid what he does for a living? Or something else entirely? This would make a great discussion starter.

I consider the quietly witty illustrator G. Brian Karas a cozy artist. But cozy without being overly precious or saccharine. He is great at capturing the warm feelings between characters, and in Night Job he excels at conveying the love between father and child. Deftly using mixed media to show them under night-time skies or working in shadows, Karas serves up some of his very best work here. I equate quality picture book illustration with expert cinematography, and Night Job emerges as a perfect example of this. Just go from spread to spread and look at how Karas depicts light. The gym scene especially rises as an example of this, plus a later moment when, traveling home after a long night’s work, they see a startled deer in the headlight of the motorcycle.

Thanks to the striking use of language and the impressive illustrations, Night Job makes readers feel as if they have worked the night shift with these two characters. Lovely and illuminating.