Category Archives: Picture Books

Newbery Project – ABC Bunny

I think this particular Newbery Honor book falls solidly into the category if-only-there’d-been-the-Caldecott-before-1938. It’s a perfectly pleasant book, but I just can’t agree that it works with the text alone. Because it has the song printed at the front of my edition, I was able to read the text (plus some tra-la-la’s) by itself before I read the text in the context of the pictures, and I must say that the “story” being told is significantly enhanced by the illustrations. I didn’t even realize that there was a “plot” as such until I saw the pictures. As a whole, the book is nice enough, but I don’t think it would have even the ghost of a chance to win today. There are so many alphabet books. This one barely even stands above the rest of the field, never mind up against longer works. Perhaps I’m missing something in context though. This was 1933 after all, so it’s possible that while I see the book as a fairly standard abecedarian, this may have been the breakthrough work that all subsequent such books are based upon.

All the Things I Love About You

In this sweet picture book a mother recalls all of the things she loves about her rambunctious son. The adorable illustrations add an element of humor, such as when the phrase “I love how you eat” is accompanied by illustrations of the little boy making a huge mess, refusing spinach, and spilling his food. This is clearly a parent who adores her child in all of his moods, both loving and frustrating.

I usually do not enjoy sentimental stories, but this one hits just the right note, managing to be touching without becoming saccharine. The excellent illustrations, done by author LeUyen Pham, are certainly a large part of the book’s charm. The author/illustrator, who has two sons of her own, is clearly familiar with the wide range of facial expressions and body language that toddlers and preschoolers are capable of creating.

Picture Books – Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse

Nellie Sue is a cowgirl (at least in her own mind), and everyone knows that a cowgirl needs a horse. As her birthday unfolds, she is hopeful that her parents will take the hint. She is at first disappointed when her horse turns out to be a bicycle, but she quickly rallies. After all, in these modern times of suburban living, every cowgirl also needs an imagination.

I liked that this story was centered around imagination. Even before the need for an imaginary horse, Nellie Sue has already been shown to have a fertile fantasy life. She reimagines all of her chores as ranch tasks, and all of her food as cowboy grub. This seemed like the sort of real fantasy play that I see children engage in all the time. One of the great wonders of childhood is the ability to create a play scenario and then broadcast it onto every aspect of your life for days at a time. So many celebrations of imagination tend to skew towards psychedelic creations of ever-increasing fantasy, and that sort of free-wheeling thinking does exist. But so often we ignore the quieter, but perhaps more useful, imagination that is able to sustain a specific scenario.

The illustrations are key to understanding the humor of the text and to realize that Nellie Sue is already actively engaged in fantasy play. For instance, when Nellie Sue says she is going to muck the barn, the reader is presented with a picture of her cleaning out the hamster cage. The book is a little too pink for my own personal tastes, but I recognize that right now it’s commonly accepted that pink sells books, so I can understand the pink, even if I don’t necessarily appreciate it.

All in all, this is a cute book that should be widely appreciated.

Picture Books – Dogs

Do you love dogs? Well then, you’ll love Dogs by Emily Gravett. A paean to canines, this warm, enthusiastic picture book is just right for animal lovers. Big dogs, short dogs, small dogs and every sort of dog in between is celebrated in text and, even more so, in gorgeous illustrations. The tone and subject make the small surprise at the end even funnier because the reader doesn’t see it coming.

The text is short and to the point, listing different dog types, such as dogs that play or dogs that are fast. The author thankfully did not give in to the temptation to turn it into a rhyming text, for which I thank her. Rhyming picture books have their place, but this was not one of them. Instead we get simple, clean sentences, generally one per double page spread.

What really makes this book stand out, however, are the illustrations. These are dogs just as I know them, each with his or her own personality. From the bulldog thrilled to chew on a stick, to the basset hound content to plod along while the greyhounds rush past in an enthusiastic pack, I recognize these dogs. I love Gravett’s style, done with pencils and watercolors on a plain, cream-colored background.. The colors are subdued, mostly the browns, blacks, and tans that are found on the average dog. But that does not mean that the illustrations are grim or washed out. On the contrary, the dogs seem to almost glow with life and color.

Picture Books – Tutus Aren’t My Style

Little girls who want to be ballerinas are heavily represented on the picture book shelves. But what about the little girl who would rather catch frogs and lasso the cat than be a pretty princess? That’s where the new book Tutu’s Aren’t My Style steps in.

Emma is thrilled when she gets a package from her Uncle Leo. But when it turns out to be a ballet outfit, she is confused. She doesn’t know how to do ballet. However, despite the fact that she is clearly a tomboy, she doesn’t have anything against ballet or pink. She’s willing to give it a try. Advice from her neighbor, the mailman, and her brother doesn’t do much good. She decides that if everyone has rules for ballet, she will to. When Uncle Leo comes for a visit, her ballet debut is an extravaganza of kazoos and cartwheels, much to the surprise of her uncle, who had intended to send a safari explorer costume.

What I liked about this book is that it was willing for Emma to have it both ways. She was not a pretty princess who was dainty and elegant, but neither was she a stubborn wildchild. She doesn’t know much about ballet, but she’s willing to give it a try. She might prefer her pocket-filled shorts to a tutu and tights, but she voluntarily puts the outfit on. So many times when we see a book featuring a tomboy character the author goes into the opposite extreme, so that the little girl can’t stand pink or ribbons and throws a fit when made to do anything girly. Emma’s preferences are clear, but she does not live in a world of sharp dichotomies. Her wild energy make her dancing an expression of her own exuberant style whether she’s somersaulting in pink or tapping her toes in cowboy boots.

Picture Books – Cat the Cat, Who is That?

Mo Willems brings us another series for young children. Cat the Cat is drawn with his signature style of thick black lines against a simple background. The colors and drawings are very appealing, and will no doubt be popular with children.

In this, the first book in the series, Cat the Cat is asked by an unseen narrator “Cat the Cat, who is that?”, prompting Cat the Cat to introduce her friends including Fish the Fish and and Mouse the Mouse. Then she encounters a strange looking alien. When asked “who is THAT?”, she decides the alien must be a new friend.

Picture Books – Dinosaurs Love Underpants

Children love dinosaurs and underpants. You can see the wheels turning that resulted in the book Dinosaurs Love Underpants.

This fairly silly story, written in rhyming verse, tells the tale of jealous dinosaurs. They steal underpants from the cavemen and then have a grand battle over the best pair. Ever wonder why the dinosaurs disappeared? Apparently it was in a war over undies.

Cavemen weren’t around for the dinosaur era, and the rhymes occasionally stretch to fit the requirements of the verse. But children are unlikely to care about either of these aspects. Instead they will be gleeful about the story itself, and the bold, colorful illustrations.

Picture Books – Supersister

Despite the fact that there are so many New Baby titles available, it can be quite difficult to find one that is uniformly positive. Almost every New Baby book focuses on the annoyance of a new baby, or the jealousy of the older sibling. Oh, the problems are all resolved by the end of the book, of course, and the entire family marches off into the sunset thrilled that the family has grown. But – and this is a big but – the focus of the story still remains on the jealousy.

I read somewhere recently – I think it was in Nurture Shock – that when preschoolers watch a video in which the first twenty minutes are devoted to conflict, such as siblings fighting, and the last five minutes explain proper conflict resolution, the take-away message is that siblings fight. Since the bulk of the program is on fighting, it increases fighting. I thought immediately about New Baby books when I read that article. How many older siblings are initially excited about the new baby, but are socialized into expecting to be jealous and resentful when well-meaning adults present them with books intended to combat this feeling?

Supersister is here to fill the gap. The little girl in the book is thrilled about being a supersister. An energetic ball of enthusiasm, she spends her days trying to think of ways to help her mother. She’s still a little kid: she wants a kiss at bedtime, shouts when she reads, and needs reassurance before walking to the bus stop. The emphasis here is solidly on the older child. This manages to install the idea that the older child is more capable and responsible (the ever-popular “You’re the BIG brother!”) and at the same time subtly reinforces the idea that the older child is important, loved, and cherished just as much as the new baby.

The new baby in this book is still just theoretical – the mother is very pregnant. Supersister helps out by tying mother’s shoes (a lifesaver, as any nine-months-pregnant woman facing the thought of bending over will tell you), setting the table, and doing other small chores. This overriding sense of helpfulness and responsibility are embraced with enthusiasm. It is refreshing, for a change, to see a child portrayed as something other than selfish or sullen in the face of chores. Every child eventually has a grumpy day, but so many of the young children I know are thrilled to be considered a “helper” and to feel that they are making a real contribution to their family.

Picture Books – Here Comes Jack Frost

A little boy is sad because all of his friends are hibernating for the winter. But when he goes outside, he finds Jack Frost. At first Jack Frost runs away from the boy, but eventually they become friends. But Jack warns the boy that he must never mention anything warm, or the spell will be broken and Jack will have to leave.

Kazuno Kohara’s previous book, Ghosts in the House!, featured a palette of colors restricted to simply orange and black. This time around she has created a similar look using white and blue. The combination helps to emphasize the chilly cold of the winter season.

The illustrations are charming and very appealing. The story is cute and, while not breaking any new ground, is satisfying and solidly good. I can easily see this becoming a new go-to book for winter story times or snuggly readings wrapped in a blanket.

Picture Books – Shwatsit!

Baby sister has a unique word: “Shwatsit!” But what does it mean? Teddy bear? Brother? Balloon? When the family finally figures it out, they have to admit: the baby is “a clever little tot.”

The rhyming text bounces merrily from page to page. Each spread has only a few words on it, making for a fast-paced read that will appeal to toddlers. The illustrations are charming, and will likely appeal to both children and adults. I was a little disappointed, however to note that the bus full of students and park full of children were populated solely by white children. Aside from this oversight, however, the book is otherwise very visually engaging.