Picture book of the day: Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots explains a tough concept with wit and humor

Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots, illustrated and written by Michael Rex, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, ISBN: 978-1984816269.

I mentioned this book before in a “special sneak preview post” earlier this year. Since that time I had the great pleasure of sharing this witty and sharp look at a complex (and important….especially in this day and age) concept with one of my very favorite storytime groups. The children absolutely loved it! Of course they could probably sense my admiration for Michael Rex’s work. I truly believe that, when sharing books with younger children, people should read books that they find super cool. And that’s a fact! Or is it my opinion? We need some robots to help us!

Using multicolored (and very funny) robots as stars, Rex clearly presents what makes a fact different from an opinion. He does it in a way many fascinated kids will find entertaining and easy to understand. His cheerful digital illustrations show beautifully across the room–the metallic creatures possess amusing expressions that range from bliss to bafflement. I love how Rex’s text is both playful and direct. Crystal clear, no wasted words. “Do you know the difference between a FACT and an OPINION?” It can be a hard thing to understand. Even these robots get confused…”. The book’s interactive nature helps clarify the lesson. Rex introduces the robots, describes their physical characteristics (there are three robots, each with two eyes, and one is blue, one is yellow, and the third is red) and then asks “Are there three robots? Do they each have two eyes? Do any of them have three eyes?” Kids love answering the questions. Rex then ups the comical ante when asking for opinions about such topics as which robot has the coolest dance moves. Other effective sequences provide examples of when we need more information before giving a correct answer. Is the forlorn purple robot we see named Bruno, Buddy, or Bubba? We need to WAIT for more information.

The robots do start battling and get out of hand. They become very opinionated while arguing over ice cream flavors for example. But phew, things settle down, thanks to OUR help. At the end Rex asks “Is this an awesome book?” The kids in my group unanimously yelled “YES!” They truly learned the difference between fact and opinion, thanks to Rex’s innovative and fun approach.

Picture books of the day: warming up a cold winter with some upcoming books celebrating sunny times outside

This past weekend in Chicago we had a sudden drop in temperature. My weather app told me that it “feels like -15” degrees at one point. Yeeks! Fortunately I had a pile of books (ARCs of upcoming picture books) at home that celebrate the warmth and fun of the summer months and/or being outside. These titles made me sigh with anticipation. I am now eagerly awaiting balmy sunny conditions that cannot arrive soon enough. Until then, I now serve up a quick look at these most enjoyable titles.

The most summery of the titles is the charming Summer Song (illustrated by Laura Droznek, written by Kevin Henkes, published by Greenwillow Books: An imprint of HarperCollins, ISBN: 978-0062866134, to be released: April 7, 2020), the fourth and final book in their series that celebrates the seasons. (The other titles include When Spring Comes, In the Middle of the Fall, and Winter Is Here–I could easily see planning a whole storytime around reading them in chronological order.) This actually might be my favorite of the quartet thanks to the vibrant colors (especially the emphasized greens) that carry the book. Droznek is at the top of her game here with her acrylic paintings that show children chasing fireflies, flowers that look like little suns, and animals listening to the sound of the wind blowing through a field. Henkes’ expert poetic text has a serene musical quality to it; he discovers new ways of describing the sounds, smells, and feel of the season. This artistic pair highlight a wide variety of seasonal delights. Everything from running through a sprinkler to spotting a dragonfly to a dog happily rolling around in the grass. And I love how it leads to fall, with autumn taking over the endpapers, compelling readers to rush to find their copies of In the Middle of the Fall.

The first thing to applaud about Pete Oswald‘s mesmerizing and wordless Hike (published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536201574, to be released: March 17, 2020) is its inventive cover. Father and child scale the title of the book as if it were a challenging mountain–the H lies on its side and forms the base. Inside each letter appears a moment from their eventful outdoor excursion. Oswald chronicles their day from sunrise to sunset, deftly mixing eye-popping double page spreads that convey wonder with visual snippets that capture little moments such as a cat playfully interfering with the child getting dressed for the adventure. This is picture book as cinema with overhead shots, changes in perspective, rapidly presented images that suggest quick edits, and slow atmospheric panoramic long takes. Oswald masterfully throws in some quiet drama (the child needs dad’s help crossing a log serving as a bridge), wonder (eyeing that beautiful waterfall), and humor (a snowball fight at the mountain’s peak–wait! there’s snow in this book!!! Ah, it’s all good.). Hike takes readers on an evocative journey; you feel as if you too have climbed the mountain. It’s also a beautiful parent-child book.

A book that reminds me of the Laura Droznek’s/Kevin Henkes’ seasonal books mentioned above is the absolutely lovely Green on Green (illustrated by Felicita Sala, written by Dianne White, published by Beach Lane Books, ISBN: 978-1481462785, to be released March 17, 2020). With bouncy spare text that emphasizes the colors of nature, White guides readers from season to season (starting with the yellows–and yellows on green–of spring). Throughout we see a loving family enjoy the outdoors and each other’s company. Sala’s vibrant illustrations (rendered in watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils) fill each double page spread with transcendent joy. Birds fly, a child splashes in a blue wave, a family picnics under the sun. Each indelible image makes a strong impression. Although fall and winter inevitably arrive, the feelings of warmth linger in cozy moments celebrating family and community. Spring then returns and a newborn child arrives, and the wonder all starts again. Simply sublime.

Finally, another book that has a child protagonist interacting with nature is Under the Lilacs (illustrated and written by E. B. Goodale, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 978-0358153931, to be released: March 3, 2020). This story has a startling start: the title page contains a note from a girl named Kate telling her mother and older sister that she has decided to run away. A flip of the page reveals the opening line: “Sometimes I want to run away.” We are outside looking in at the child unhappily staring out the window. On the next two pages we see Kate desperately trying to keep her mother from teaching a student the flute, and then failing to interact with her sister who is too busy dramatically singing to herself in a mirror to engage. So Kate decides to take off. Not too far. To the backyard. By herself, if you please. With the lilacs and the strawberries. And she will build her own house. If this sounds like an overly serious misery fest, it’s not. Goodale handles the material with a surprisingly light touch that respects Kate’s emotions while reassuring readers that nothing scary or bad will happen. Her illustrations (using monoprinting, ink and digital collage) have a soothing, sometimes quietly humorous quality to them. When mom and sister (and the flute student) join Kate in her cool new space under the lilacs, a feeling of happiness radiates from the pages.

Sneak peek: 20 upcoming 2020 books bound to become storytime favorites

I have checked out several Advanced Reading Copies of books coming out in 2020. Also, I have looked at sites announcing upcoming releases. I am always on the look out for fun interactive picture books to read in my various storytimes. Here are 20 that look like surefire storytime winners with a quick sentence or two explaining why I think so. I have seen 16 of them in ARC form; if I have not seen the book I put that in the write-up.

Brick by Brick, illustrated and written by Heidi Woodward Sheffield, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, ISBN: 978-0525517306, to be released: May 5, 2020.

Inventive art and a lyrical bilingual (Spanish/English) text shine in this loving story about a construction worker father and his imaginative child. And it all leads to a terrific, satisfying ending.

Brown Baby Lullaby, illustrated by AG Ford, written by Tameka Fryer Brown, published by Farrar Straus Giroux, ISBN: 978-0374307523, to be released: January 14, 2020.

A warm, comforting book that will work splendidly in a Jammie Time storytime. Cozy, charming illustrations, a text that sings.

The Button Book, illustrated by Bethan Woollvin, written by Sally Nicholls, published by Tundra, ISBN: 9780735267152, to be released: January 14, 2020.

Raise your hand if you know a child who loves buttons. I thought so. This silly romp offers buttons galore and the chance to make all kinds of goofy sounds.

Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots, illustrated and written by Michael Rex, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, ISBN: 978-1984816269, to be released: February 11, 2020.

Rex does an outstanding job making the whole facts vs. opinions concept easy for younger children to understand. And that’s a fact. Or is that my opinion? I need a robot to help me out! Excellent fun…and some highly opinionated adults, ahem, might want to check it out too.

A Girl Like Me, illustrated by Nina Crews, written by Angela Johnson, published by Millbrook, ISBN: 978-1541557772, to be released: February 4, 2020.

Crews’ innovative photographs mix beautifully with Johnson’s inspirational words in this vibrant ode to girl power. Transcendent.

Hat Tricks, illustrated and written by Satoshi Kitamura, published by Peachtree, ISBN: 9781682631508, to be released: March 1, 2020.

I cannot wait to hear a group of preschoolers yell “Abracadabra, katakurico” and then squeal with delight when they see which unexpected animal pops out next from rabbit’s hat.

I Got the School Spirit, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Connie Schofield-Morrison, published by Bloomsbury, ISBN: 978-1547602612, to be released: July 7, 2020.

This promises to be a rollicking follow-up to I Got the Rhythm by the same talented team. I have not seen it yet but as a fan of the first book I am positive this will be one that will have kids cheering.

My Best Friend, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Julie Fogliano, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1534427228, to be released: March 3, 2020.

Beautiful and unique illustrations join forces with always surprising words in a book that will definitely be mentioned in every “what will win the 2021 Caledecott Award” conversation.

Nesting, illustrated and written by Henry Cole, published by Katherine Tegen Books, ISBN: 978-0062885920, to be released: March 3, 2020.

Henry Cole does not receive enough acclaim for the beautiful art he creates. This realistic, highly detailed nature book looks at a robin couple taking care of their newborn offspring.

Old Rock (is not boring), illustrated and written by Deb Pilutti, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, ISBN: 978-0525518181, to be released: February 4, 2020.

If the stone from Brendan Wenzel’s fabulous A Stone Sat Still had a feistier, rock and roll cousin it would resemble the rock starring in this funny yet informative book. Yes, it’s a history lesson of sorts, but also a witty allegory about sitting down with your elders and learning about their eventful past.

Roy Digs Dirt, illustrated and written by David Shannon, published by The Blue Sky Press (an imprint of Scholastic), ISBN: 978-1338251012, released on January 7, 2020.

The great David Shannon loves chronicling naughty behavior, introducing readers to such characters as the canine Fergus, the hammer-happy Mr. Nogginbody, and, of course, David. The pooch Roy happily joins Shannon’s mischievous world.

Smart George, illustrated and written by Jules Feiffer, published by HarperCollins, ISBN: 978-0062790996, to be released: June 2, 2020.

I love doing the 1999 Bark, George in storytime (in fact I just read it my big preschool last week). Now 20 years later Feiffer finally honors readers with a sequel which has George dreaming about numbers. I have not seen this yet and wonder if there will be any allusions to The Phantom Tollbooth, the mathematical classic Feiffer illustrated back in the early ’60s.

Smashy Town, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, written by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, published by HarperCollins, ISBN: 978-0062910370, to be released: May 19, 2020.

Another sequel to a 1999 book! Put on your hard hats and your earplugs, this sequel to Trashy Town will definitely have preschool crowds shouting out the sound effect noises. If you look up the term “audience participation” I wouldn’t be surprised if a picture of this book’s cover appeared next to the definition.

Snail Crossing, illustrated and written by Corey R. Tabor, published by Balzer + Bray, ISBN: 978-0062878007, to be released: February 4, 2020.

I love surprise endings, and this dangerously funny romp serves up two twists on its final pages. It’s funny but also suspenseful–you fear for the snail’s safety but happy to be along for the ride.

Spacebot, illustrated and written by Mike Twohy, published by A Paula Wiseman Book (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 978-1534444362, to be released: March 31, 2020.

A strange, cosmic wonder from an ace picture book creator working at the top of his game. Delightful illustrations, lots of action, and a fun conclusion will most likely lead to kids yelling “read it again! read it again!”.

That’s Life!, illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld, written by Ame Dyckman, published by Little, Brown and Company, to be released: March 31, 2020.

A lot of picture books try to dish out life advice, but feel adult-driven. This allegorical charmer will intrigue the preschool and younger elementary set thanks to Dyckman’s clever approach and Doerrfeld’s depiction of Life as a fluffy mischievous playmate who can cause trouble.

We Will Rock Our Classmates, illustrated and written by Ryan T. Higgins, published by Disney-Hyperion, to be released: July 7, 2020.

Penelope, the dinosaur star of We Don’t Eat Are Classmates, returns in what promises to be a rockin’ and noisy new favorite. I’m also willing to bet (I haven’t seen it yet) that Higgins will mix in some (not overly cloying) sweetness, too.

Wheels, illustrated by Brian Lovelock, written by Sally Sutton, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536211085, to be released: June 2, 2020.

The team behind Roadwork, Demolition, and Construction (three of my favorite preschool storytime books) team up again–whoo hoo! I haven’t seen it yet but I am guessing that there will be action and sound effects galore that will encourage audience participation.

When My Brother Gets Home, illustrated and written by Tom Lichtenheld, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 978-1328498052, to be released: March 3, 2020.

Tom Lichtenheld remains one of the most consistently fab artists working in the picture book world today. Here a young kid cannot wait for an older brother to return home from school and the result is a delight that will add warmth to storytimes about families.

The Yawns Are Coming!, illustrated and written by Christopher Eliopoulos, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1984816306, to be released: April 28, 2020.

Oh my heavens the Yawns cause quite a ruckus in this surreal giggle-inducing bedtime book. I love the characters’ expressions, the eye-catching lettering, and the wacky creatures who haphazardly guide our heroes to sleep.

My favorite 52 fiction picture books of the decade (2010-2019)

Wow, what a fabulous decade for picture books! I now present an alphabetical (by title) list of my favorite 52 FICTION (I will have a list of 32 favorite non-fiction picture books next week) from 2010 to 2019. A rule I made myself though: only one book per illustrator on this fiction list (in a quest for a mix of artistic styles). These fantastic, fabulous, all around terrific group of books kept me on my toes and kept surprising me. I see something new every time I look at them. Thank you to the illustrators, authors, designers, editors, publishers and production teams for this absolutely brilliant 52.

Accident!, illustrated and written by Andrea Tsurumi, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN:  978-0544944800.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, illustrated and written by Dan Santat, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0316199988.

All the Way to Havana, illustrated by Mike Curato, written by Margarita Engle, published by Henry Holt and Co., ISBN: 978-1-62779-642-2.

Alma and How She Got Her Name, illustrated and written by Juana Martinez-Neal, published by Candlewick Press, ISBN: 978-0763693558.

Spanish edition: Alma y Cómo Obtuvo Su Nombre, illustrated and written by Juana Martinez-Neal, published by Candlewick Press, ISBN: 978-0763693589.

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, illustrated and written by Eric Carle, published by World of Eric Carle, ISBN: 978-0399257131.

Big Cat, little cat, illustrated and written by Elisha Cooper, published by Roaring Brook, IBSN:  978-162672-3719.

A Big Mooncake for Little Star, illustrated and written by Grace Lin, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316404488.

Blackout, illustrated and written by John Rocco, published by Disney/Hyperion, ISBN: 978-1423121909.

blue, illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, published by Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, ISBN: 978-1626720664.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, illustrated by Gordon C. James, written by Derrick Barnes, published by Bolden (A Denene Millner Book/An Agate Imprint), ISBN: 978-1572842243.

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

Draw!, illustrated and written by Raúl Colón, published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, ISBN: 978-1442494923.

Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763665302.

Each Kindness, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, written by Jacqueline Woodson, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, ISBN: 978-0399246524.

Egg, illustrated and written by Kevin Henkes, published by Greenwillow Books, ISBN:  9780062408723.

The Field, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, written by Baptiste Paul, published by North South, ISBN: 978-0735843127.

Finders Keepers, illustrated and written by Keiko Kasza, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0399168987.

Firebird, illustrated by Christopher Myers, written by Misty Copeland, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0399166150.

Flora and the Flamingo, illustrated by Molly Idle, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-1452110066.

Grandma’s Gift, illustrated and written by Eric Velasquez, published by Bloomsbury, ISBN: 978-0802735362.

Hank Finds an Egg, created by Rebecca Dudley, published by Peter Pauper Press, ISBN: 978-1441311580.

If I Built a House, illustrated and written by Chris Van Dusen, published by Dial, ISBN: 978-0803737518.

Interrupting Chicken, illustrated and written by David Ezra Stein, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763641689.

It’s a Tiger!, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard, written by David LaRochelle, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-0811869256.

It’s Only Stanley, illustrated and written by Jon Agee, published by Dial Books, ISBN: 978-0803739079.

Leave Me Alone!, illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol, published by Roaring Brook Press, ISBN: 978-1626724419.

Mango, Abuela, and Me, illustrated by Angela Dominguez, written by Meg Medina, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763669003.

Spanish edition: Mango, Abuela y Yo, ISBN: 978-0763680992 (paperback).

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, illustrated and written by Peter Brown, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0316200639.

Mr. Wuffles, illustrated and written by David Wiesner, published by Clarion, ISBN: 978-0618756612.

My Footprints, illustrated by Basia Tran, written by Bao Phi, published by Capstone Editions, ISBN: 978-1684460007.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle, illustrated by Zeke Peña, written by Isabel Quintero, published by Kokila (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC), ISBN: 978-0525553410.

Spanish edition: Mi Papi Tiene Una Moto, ISBN: 978-0525554943.

Nana in the City, illustrated and written by Lauren Castillo, published by Clarion, ISBN: 978-0544104433.

The Night World, illustrated and written by Mordicai Gerstein, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0316188227.

Niño Wrestles the World, illustrated and written by Yuyi Morales, published by Roaring Brook, ISBN: 978-1596436046.

Ocean Meets Sky, illustrated and written by The Fan Brothers, published by Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 978-1481470377.

The Patchwork Bike, illustrated by Van Thahn Rudd, written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536200317.

Pokko and the Drum, illustrated and written by Matthew Forsythe, published by Simon & Schuster (A Paula Wiseman Book), ISBN: 978-1481480399.

Princess Super Kitty, illustrated and written by Antoinette Portis, published by HarperCollins, ISBN: 978-0061827259.

The Rabbit Listened, illustrated and written by Cori Doerrfeld, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0735229358.

The Ring Bearer, illustrated and written by Floyd Cooper, published by Philomel (an imprint of Penguin), ISBN:  978-0399167409.

Round Is a Tortilla: A Book About Shapes, illustrated by John Parra, written by Roseanne Thong, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-1452106168.

Saturday, illustrated and written by Oge Mora, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316431279.

They All Saw a Cat, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-1452150130.

They Say Blue, illustrated and written by Jillian Tamaki, published by Abrams, ISBN: 978-1419728518.

This Is Not My Hat, illustrated and written by Jon Klassen, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763655990.

Town Is by the Sea, illustrated by Sydney Smith, written by Joanne Schwartz, published by Groundwood Books, ISBN:  978-1554988716.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market!, illustrated and written by Raúl the Third, colors by Elaine Bay, published by VERSIFY, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 978-1328557261.

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

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, illustrated and written by Ryan T. Higgins, published by Disney/Hyperion, ISBN: 978-1368003551.

When Aidan Became a Brother, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, written by Kyle Lukoff, published by Lee & Low Books, ISBN: 978-1620148372.

When’s My Birthday?, illustrated by Christian Robinson, written by Julie Fogliano, published by Roaring Brook, ISBN: 978-1626722934.

Wolf in the Snow, illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell, Feiwel & Friends,  978-1250076366. 

 

 

Quick takes: an eclectic mix of picture book awesomeness: Henry and Bea, Just Because, M Is for Melanin, My Winter City, Please Don’t Eat Me

On this blog I often like to pair up or group together picture books that have common themes or ideas. For this post I am praising five books that do not have much in common thematically, but are simply examples of pure picture book awesomeness.

Henry and Bea, illustrated and written by Jessixa Bagley, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House, ISBN: 9780823442843.

The title characters in this gentle story enjoy a close friendship, can easily call each their BFF. However, Bea becomes confused when Henry becomes distant, not wanting to be around her or others, avoiding conversation. As proven in her rather devastating Boats for Papa, Jessixa Bagley knows how to tackle sad topics with tender finesse. (Her Laundry Day also demonstrates her talent for comic timing.) I don’t want to spoil the plot’s major reveal, why Henry has become so despondent. Bagley does a lovely job creating a sense of mystery, ably conveying Bea’s confusion with her sensitive writing and warm art (rendered in watercolors and pencil on paper). When Henry finally does talk about what has caused him such distress, the book started reminding me of Cori Doerrfeld’s beautiful The Rabbit Listened. Being a good friend means stepping back and giving your pal some emotional space. A sweet, humane book.

Just Because, illustrated by Isabelle Aresenault, written by Mac Barnett, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763696801.

The New York Times/New York Public Library recently released their list of the Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2019. They included this visually witty and whimsical offering that has a parent providing nonsensical yet oddly soothing and philosophical answers to an inquisitive child at bedtime. The wildly prolific (and altogether fab) Mac Barnett has fun with the responses to such questions as “Why is the ocean blue?” The father’s response: “Every night, when you go to sleep, the fish take out guitars. They sing sad songs and cry blue tears.” The gifted Isabelle Aresenault takes these queries and runs with them: providing digitally assembled illustrations done in gouache, pencil, and watercolor that sing with surreal delight. The illustrations feel both retro and modern. The dialogue is presented in perfect circles, each a bold color. It all leads to the kid bombarding her grown-up with an avalanche of questions and the tired dad providing an answer that is both comical and perfect. A charming bedtime story for deep thinking children…which means, of course, all children.

M Is for Melanin: A Celebration of the Black Child, illustrated and written by Tiffany Rose, published by little bee books, ISBN: 978-1499809169.

This joyous alphabet book celebrates black children with each letter offering an upbeat and inspirational message for young readers underrepresented in children’s books. One beautiful example: “C is for creative. Paint the canvas of life with the colors of the rainbow. Sprinkle your BLACK GIRL MAGIC and BLACK BOY JOY on the world.” The vibrant art pops off the page. Each hand-drawn capital letter beautifully captures the spirit of the text accompanying it. Paris-based illustrator Tiffany Rose says in her author’s bio that as a child she did not see herself in the books she loved. Her dynamic book will be cherished and embraced.

My Winter City, illustrated by Gary Clement, written by James Gladstone, published by Groundwood, ISBN: 978-1773060101.

This cozy, loving (slush and all) ode to experiencing winter in the city offers panoramic watercolors from award-winning Toronto-based illustrator Gary Clement and evocative text from James Gladstone (also from Toronto). The book’s large dimensions suit the epic, beautifully rendered urban landscapes. Packed with memorable images of snow-covered streets, crowded sidewalks and buses, thrilling sledding hills, and sites that look absolutely perfect when surrounded by snowflakes. My favorite moment: the overhead shot accompanied by the words: “My winter city is a wilderness of footprints,/crisscrossing,/disappearing…Who walked here before?” Thoughtful and lovely, more proof that there is a truly exciting Canadian picture book new wave going on.

 

Please Don’t Eat Me, illustrated and written by Liz Climo, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316315258.

This twisted deadpan delight presents the funny cartoon bubble interactions between a hungry bear and a bunny who, well, does not want to become the predator’s next meal. I love the way Climo keeps surprising the reader from page to page. The dialogue is hilarious, especially rabbit’s reactions to the perilous situation (example, in bear’s mouth, pretending to be devoured prey: “Oh…no. I am being eaten. What a bummer. Ouch”).The best humorous picture books nail their landings, and this one certainly does. We think Climo is serving up an impossibly sweet moment enclosed in a heart-shaped bear hug, but nope, the danger remains.

Picture books of the day: felines rule in six terrific new picture books

As we all know, cats are everywhere. In memes. In viral videos. Soon a bunch of award-winning actors will sing jellicle songs while dressed as jellicle cats on the big screen. And yes, cats often star in delightful picture books that celebrate their cat nature, their cat-tidude if you will. Six new titles featuring our beloved (even when they are completely indifferent to us) furry friends recently caught my eye. Some silly, one surprisingly moving. One cat helps the book’s human heroine make the perfect bao, while another causes mischief in a bodega. They purr, nap, meow, cuddle, (or in one case haunt) and have to put up with us humans who sometimes mistake them for dogs. All of these would make perfect additions to cat-themed storytimes.

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, illustrated by Charlene Chua, written by Kat Zhang, published by Aladdin, ISBN: 978-1534411333.

I mentioned before that I am considering having a blog post where I give out end-of-the-year awards such as Favorite Ensemble Cast in a Picture Book, Favorite Funny Picture Book, Favorite Lead Character, and so on. In the category of Favorite Animal Sidekick I would easily choose the little white cat that co-stars in this sweet, beautifully illustrated romp. The human girl Amy Wu wants to make bao that rivals the rest of her family’s exquisitely yummy creations, but keeps failing. Soon she comes up with a way to her fix her problem and triumphs (although her bao is not-so-perfect). This book works on so many levels. Kat Zhang’s lively text begs to be read aloud. Readers learn about making the food, too. It’s an intergenerational story about family, tradition, and perseverance. Charlene Chua’s colorful digital illustrations bubble with warmth. I love Amy’s expressions, especially when eyeing that perfect bao on the title page, and looking panicked when her latest attempt at culinary perfection has gone wrong. Throughout Amy’s pet cat watches each attempt with looks of comical concern and apprehension. (Or hungry happiness when a piece of bao falls on the floor.) The cat’s reactions build on Amy’s emotions on most pages (the cat is missing from one spread). At the very end (before the bao recipe in the backmatter) it’s the cat who waves goodbye to us.

Bad Dog, illustrated and written by Mike Boldt, published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1984847973.

When opening this goofy gem, readers will first notice a birthday list that says “My birthday list: 1. Dog” and that’s it. There’s no second gift request listed. The little girl wants a dog. Period. So she seems to be in a state of denial about who just popped out of the birthday box. Her bad dog Rocky with her “black-and-white fur./Pointy ears./And a cute little nose” is, in actuality, a cat who behaves most definitely like a cat, never like a dog. And yet the girl keeps trying in vain to have Rocky act like a dog. But going for a walk proves fruitless (Rocky lies on her back and plays with the leash), and attempts to have her meet other dogs results in her racing and hiding up a tree. Illustrator/author Mike Boldt takes this case of mistaken identity (or just plain stubbornness on the kid’s part) and runs with it, serving up amusing illustrations that have the incredulous cat putting up with the hopeful child (love her grin with the two missing front teeth). Boldt is brilliant at comical facial expressions and body language. The story emerges as a fun exploration of what makes a cat a cat. Also it touches on adjusting expectations–about letting others be themselves.

Blue Spot, illustrated and written by Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay, published by Disney Press, ISBN: 978-1368024594.

Daisy comes home with a blue spot on her dress, and Mama asks what caused this to happen. This results in Daisy spinning a story that becomes wilder and wilder: Daisy dodges raining blueberries, walks on stilts over blueberry jam puddles, climbs a mountain of blue ice cream, comforts a crying monster who used to live in the now melted ice cream mountain, and so on. I read this to a bunch of preschool classes and the kids loved giggling at the embellishments and exaggerated nature of Daisy’s rollicking tale. I love reading the next new development and then looking at the kids with a surprised look on my face. Illustrator/writer Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay’s art has a zippy, crisp charm to it, and her text knows how to set up the next jubilant page turn. It’s a delight.

Bodega Cat, illustrated and written by Louie Chin, published by POW!, ISBN: 978-1576879320.

Chip is one cool cat. Chip rules over a bodega in New York City and explains how this is indeed the Good Life, the best life ever. Illustrator/writer Louie Chin’s dynamic celebration of these ultrarad felines bubbles with enthusiasm and visual wit. The best moments have Chip bragging about being an epic asset to the bodega while the illustrations show the cat causing trouble (knocking a toilet paper roll on a customer’s head, sitting on the scale and causing the price to go up). Chin also excels with his depictions of the humans as well. The diverse characters popping up in Chip’s bustling neighborhood all make an impression, especially Chip’s human brother Damian who likes to play superhero with the cat. Adding to the book’s hipster charm: its squarish dimensions make it feel like a vinyl record jacket. Bursting with colors and energy, this tribute to the city Chin loves and the cats who make it special has universal appeal.

Everybody Says Meow, illustrated and written by Constance Lombardo, published by Harper, ISBN: 978-0062689887.

Some books feel naturally created for interactive preschool storytimes, and illustrator/writer Constance Lombardo’s latest title certainly is one. Will children enjoy making the animal noises in this? You bet they will. And will they laugh at the silliness of it all? Definitely. And will the final two punchlines (a loud animal noise followed by the reveal of how big that seemingly fierce creature actually is) surprise them? Most likely. A gray cat starts off the action, looking directly at the action, announcing “Welcome to that magical time when everybody says ‘Meow!” Ready?” Three other multi-colored cats yell “Meow!” while a yellow kitty naps, but a dog botches up the moment by popping in to say “Woof” at an inopportune moment. The distraught gray cat argues with the pooch, begging the creature to say “meow” to no avail. And then a frog and duck come along to further complicate things. Lombardo’s pen, ink, and watercolor drawings have an innocent, child-like charm to them. She has a talent for comic timing and knows how to get young audiences involved, and makes it all seem so effortless. (And I like that one last joke on the back cover that only makes sense as a joke after you have read the story. Keep your eye on the aforementioned yellow cat.)

 

Ghost Cat, illustrated and written by Kevan Atteberry, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823442836.

And finally on a bittersweet melancholy note, there is illustrator/writer Kevan Atteberry’s story of a child haunted by the titular character. The kid tells of their experiences sensing the presence of the cat who has (recently?) passed away. What starts off as a slightly spooky tale of the child seeing glimpses of and hearing noises made by the deceased feline turns into a poignant account of loss. I love how Atteberry gives the ghost cat an otherworldly glow, an ability to zip in and out of the frame. The cat even starts acting a tad like a poltergeist, knocking over books, dishes, and plants, in an effort to lead the child from room to room and to the front door where a kitten in need of a new home awaits. Without resorting to maudlin sentimentality, Atteberry creates a moving story about the everlasting connection between humans and their beloved pets.

Storytime Success Stories: A trio of charmers (As Warm As the Sun, Astro Girl, and Mr. Scruff) win over the storytime crowd

As Warm as the Sun, created by Kate and Jim McMullan, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823443277.

Astro Girl, illustrated and written by Ken Wilson-Max, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536209464.

Mr. Scruff, illustrated and written by Simon James, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536209358.

Every month I visit a group of preschool classes packed with the most amazing kids. They love to laugh and listen to brand new books. It’s fun trying out stories that I have not read to anyone on them. Recently they responded quite favorably to three books: Ken Wilson-Max’s lovely Astro Girl, the McMullans’ new sibling allegory As Warm as the Sun, and Simon James’ verbally witty Mr. Scruff. This lively trio surprised them with their twists and spoke to them. Creating picture books with warm, inviting illustrations that show well across a room and succinct text that engage while tap into a wide range of emotions is definitely a challenge. And all three of these books emerge as terrific examples of seemingly effortless picture book success stories.

Astro Girl introduces readers to a child who loves all things outer space. Her name is Astrid after all. She dresses like an astronaut on the cover (and the title page). The story begins with her using a small telescope to study the night-time sky. Wilson-Max’s charming acrylic paintings practically give the reader a hug. Astrid tells her pal Jakey that she wants to be an astronaut, and he responds by asking her to bring home an asteroid. Her response “Of course I will, Jakey” is beyond cute. The story then captures a sweet conversation between Astrid and her father. When she announces her plans to become an astronaut, Papa tells her she must be prepared to spin round and round the earth, get used to zero gravity, and other elements of the job. Joyful play accompanies each parental instruction: he spins and tosses her in the air, they make rocket-shaped cookies, and cuddle under a starry blanket. The book soars to another level when Wilson-Max delivers a final surprise. Astrid and her dad head off to pick up their mom at work. And guess what she does for a living? Kids listening to the story just love this ending.

For As Warm as the Sun, Kate and Jim McMullan take a break from their justly acclaimed and popular vehicle series (titles such as I’m Dirty! and I’m Fast!) for a tender story about an older dog trapped in an existential crisis when a younger pooch comes along. The McMullans’ evocative watercolors deftly convey the warmth this elder canine, named Toby, feels when lying in a sun puddle on the livingroom floor. Toby also enjoys the warmth of a child’s lap and cozying near a crackling fire. The book then takes a melancholy turn when the McMullans write about how the sun fades, the lap disappears, and the fire fizzles out, and how Toby must stay warm in his dreams. Drama ensues when a younger, littler dog named Pinkie appears and Toby finds himself vying for the warmth. Many books have covered this topic (new siblings, change, appearance of a new individual who steals focus), but there’s something special about the way the McMullans tap into the emotional angst. The writing crackles, and they are not afraid to go chilly sad with Toby’s dilemma. Thankfully an anticipated happy ending comes, with the regretful Pinkie making amends with Toby. Children love seeing the two dogs become friends at the every end.

The invaluable Simon James loves writing about inter-connectedness between individuals around different locales. His books sparkle with a curiosity about others. His bouncy ink and watercolor illustrations always delight. His latest, Mr. Scruff, starts off as a seemingly simple book about dogs belonging to certain dog owners, and how an older dog named Mr. Scruff seems destined to live forever in a shelter. But James has a blast playing with words and rhymes in the book, and this trickery adds an extra element of fun. Before we meet the titular character, James introduces us to a poodle named Polly who (turn the page) belongs to Molly, and a dachshund named Eric who (turn the page) belongs to Derek, and so on. Mr. Scruff, we learn, sadly belongs to no one. And so it goes. Luckily a child comes along who, despite being younger and smaller than Mr. Scruff, wants to adapt the dog. And the child’s name…well, it doesn’t rhyme with Mr. Scruff. But it’s a perfect match anyway. James then introduces another shelter dog, this time a puppy, who ends up paired with an elderly man. James pulls off a surprise ending involving the names of the puppy and this elderly owner that had the kids in my storytime giggling…the off-kilter nature of the rhymes boggling their minds.