Picture book of the day: I Like Trains is the perfect storytime book

I Like Trains, illustrated and written by Daisy Hirst, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536212761.

I cannot wait to start doing in-person storytimes again. Due to the pandemic, my last preschool storytime was in early March 2020. For years, I used to meet weekly with a fairly large crowd of cool kids and their parents/caregivers. We would have fun with goofy puppet plays, silly songs, and interactive books. Yes, I have done some virtual programs and those have been enjoyable (although learning to play to a camera has made me feel a bit, oh, disoriented).

For in-person live storytimes, I would choose books possessing large pictures that show well to a big group and engaging stories that will keep them hooked. When I resume them (someday soon I hope?), I will definitely spotlight several 2020 and 2021 books that will fit right in with my storytime set list. Books like Daisy Hirst’s cheerful and delightful I Like Trains.

I Like Trains has everything I’m looking for in a preschool storytime book: bold illustrations, a large font that allows me to point at each word as I read them out loud, opportunities to invite audience participation (the “chugga chugga” “all aboard” prompts), and an engaging easy-to-follow story. Well, plus it has trains. And dogs who love trains. And dogs who ride trains and enthusiastically describe their journey to a special place. It’s a book that invites the storyteller to ask questions: do you like trains? do you read books about trains too? have you ever been in a train station? ooh, what do you see through the train window?

Hirst’s expert use of white space allows the screenprinted illustrations to pop off the page. Her simple and direct language bubbles with enthusiasm for its topic. It’s a slice of life celebration of a topic children adore. Its bouncy charms sneak up on you. It’s one of the books where not much seems to happen and everything seems to happen. A seemingly simple train journey taps into something universal: feelings of joy and intergenerational connection. I Like Trains will have storytime audiences cheering “encore, encore, more, more.”

Picture book of the day: falling for the great, tricky Mel Fell

Mel Fell, illustrated and written by Corey R. Tabor, published by Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins), ISBN: 978-0062878014.

The first thing you notice is that you have to hold the book horizontally, perfect for a gem about a baby kingfisher named Mel about to take flight for the first time but then plummeting through the air. And the second thing you notice is how instantly lovable and funny Mel Fell is. Award-winning illustrator/author Corey R. Tabor delivers a delightful, tricky, surprising, inventive (and dare I say it, even inspirational) romp that won me over the moment I first read it, and feels magical every time I revisit it. Tabor serves up a clever surprise halfway through, not only in narrative terms, but in terms of book design. But no worries, this review will be spoiler-free in that regard. I cannot wait to read this in a storytime that includes The Very Impatient Caterpillar and Bear Came Along, two other recent comic delights that make listeners chuckle and say “whoa” at the same time.

As mentioned, Mel Fell stars a brave young bird ready, it seems, to take to the sky. However, Mel startles everyone by diving down, down, down past a tree. A bunch of hilarious supporting characters populate this tree, commenting on Mel’s descent, concerned about her fate. Squirrels, owls and owlets, ants, a spider trapping a fly, bees, even…a….snail. They try to save the seemingly doomed winged little one. Tabor’s text bounces with action-packed urgency. Comical comments from the spectators punctuate the action.

But what is truly striking about Mel Fell: the absolutely fabulous art. Tabor used pencil, colored pencil, and acrylic paint, and then assembled the illustrations digitally. Mel and her co-stars possess hilarious expressions and body language. I really really love the squirrels’ acrobatics. Mel emerges as a protagonist we all want to cheer the moment we first see her. That look of determination. And yet that seeming recklessness that makes readers want to shout “look out Mel!”. But there is a beauty to this art as well. Tabor adds impressive textures to his depiction of this woodland world. The book feels thoughtfully conceived; every image resonates. So yes, it’s funny, very funny, and made with absolute care. Mel Fell will easily make my best of the year list.

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.


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.