The bestselling author that brought you The Hunger Games series is showing her versatility with Year of the Jungle, a picture book about Suzanne Collins as a little girl whose dad serves in the Vietnam War. Collins collaborates with illustrator James Proimos to bring this touching picture book to young readers.
This book follows young Suzy as she sees her dad off to Vietnam without truly understanding the ramifications of his going away. While he is gone she looks forward to his postcards and feels the loss more deeply than she is able to express. Days go by and turn into months as holidays and seasons pass without her father. She can’t understand the concept of a year and has to just keep waiting for his return with no idea as to how long she will have to wait.
Collins seeks to capture the impact that serving in the military can have on the children of those brave soldiers. She reached back to remember how she felt as a 6-year-old coping with the loss of her father. Collins talks in this short video about her experience writing Year of the Jungle. This picture book is honest and heartfelt, though not too graphic or intense for young readers, especially if they have a loved one serving in the military.
Colors arouse emotions, but the feelings evoked are as unique as each person. Jessica Young tackles this concept in My Blue Is Happy. Readers follow one girl as she explores with family and friends and shares her original ideas about colors. Her best friend likes pink because it’s pretty, but our protagonist finds it annoying, like a piece of gum stuck to your shoe or a bug bite. Chocolate is ordinary says her dad, but this little girl thinks it’s special like chocolate syrup. The girl travels through her world in nine colors, concisely expressing her ideas about each. Illustrator Catia Chen’s vibrant acrylic illustrations capture all the personalities of the colors. Sure gray can be cold like a rainstorm, but if you’re cuddling with grandma on a cozy chair it’s warm and fuzzy. Young deftly explores the idea of contrasts and encourages readers to carefully consider the different feelings colors suggest.
In Henri’s Scissors, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, color is the star, helping an aging artist reinvent his creative self. Winter covers Mattise’s early years and journey toward becoming an artist, but her focus here is on the last years of his life, following an illness that left him unable to paint. When faced without a creative outlet, Matisse was overjoyed when he picked up a pair of scissors and started cutting colored paper. He transformed his sick room into a secret fantasy garden filled with vibrant flowers and showy birds. The illustrations, acrylic and cut-paper, are simple, yet perfectly depict the joy Matisse felt while amidst some of his finest works. This is a tender homage to a man whose legacy is such everlasting beauty.
Imagination runs wild in James Preller’s A Pirate’s Guide to Recess, illustrated by Greg Ruth. Cap’n Red and his merry crew are off on an adventure to find treasure when the lookout spies Molly and her mates. When Red calls for Molly’s surrender, his crew turns mutinous. Will Red be marooned on the open seas or will he be saved by the recess bell? Ruth’s illustrations easily delineate between full color reality and the line drawings in sepia and blue of the imaginary world. A homework section at the end of the book will help the reader expand their piratical vocabulary. This book is a follow up to Preller’s A Pirates Guide to First Grade.
Dave Horowitz takes us on a rhyming journey through the alphabet in Twenty-six Pirates. A call has gone out to assemble the crew of the Sea Princess, and 26 boys arrive in the hopes of joining the frog captain’s crew. From Arty to Zach, each boy’s name represents a letter of the alphabet. The illustrations are colorful and comical. Your little buccaneer will enjoy looking for the letters on each page.
Younger mateys will be delighted reading Peek-a-Boo Pirates by Charles Reasoner. The cardboard pages, simple dialogue and sweet illustrations are appealing to the wee rapscallions. Toddlers can identify each of the different animals of the pirate crew as they follow the treasure map to where X marks the spot.
It’s that time of year again. With kids going back to school there are no doubt many new and exciting experiences. Chamelia is back to school as well and she is in for a surprise. Checkout Chamelia and the New Kid in Class by Ethan Long for that student in your life.
Chamelia has always been the center of attention and as the star of her class she’s not used to sharing the spotlight. On her first day of school she is stealing the show with an engaging story of her summer vacation when, much to her chagrin, a new boy is introduced to the class. Suddenly, attention is focused on someone other than Chamelia and she has to learn how to deal with the new class dynamic. Will she rise to the occasion or sink to new lows in order to regain her status as the center of attention?
This book is great for kids getting back into the groove of school, though it’s not the first book about this endearing character. If your child likes this book, checkout the book titled Chamelia as well.
You have your backpack, freshly sharpened pencils, shiny new crayons and all the other items on the school supply list. But are you really ready for the first day of school? That’s what Patrick is worried about in Monstergarten by Daniel J. Mahoney. A first-grader told him that he had to be scary for his first day of monstergarten. Teaming up with his friend Kevin, Patrick practices making scary faces, his fearsome roars and showing his claws. But even after all his practice, Patrick is worried that he will not be scary enough. Fortunately, his monster mommy gives him the best advice – just be yourself. Children will be able to relate to Patrick in this brightly illustrated picture book.
Sometimes it is hard to just be yourself, especially someone else is telling you what they think is best. That’s what Penelope, a hippo, faces in You’re Wearing That to School?! by Lynn Plourde. Tiny, a mouse, means well and is trying the help his eccentric best friend Penelope fit in for her first day of school. From what to wear to what to bring to show-and-tell, Tiny wants to make sure that Penelope’s first day will be a success. Will Penelope heed Tiny’s advice? Or will she stay true to herself and prove that being unique is the best way to have a successful first day of school? Parents will also enjoy sharing with their kids the “Tips for a Hippo Happy First Day of School” that can be found at the end of the book.
Nearly every small child has a special stuffed animal, and two recent picture books take a look at these imaginative friendships. In No Fits, Nilson!, written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, the title character is depicted as a towering blue gorilla who dwarfs his constant companion, a young girl named Amelia. With his black porkpie hat, tennis shoes and collection of six wristwatches, Nilson exudes cool, although he is prone to temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Throughout the story, Amelia must remind him to stay calm. Acrylic paintings in a muted pastel palette done on printmaking paper lend a retro quality to this gentle, sweet book that speaks to patience, sharing and working past minor setbacks.
Paul Schmid’s Oliver and His Alligator takes a look at a small boy’s apprehensions about the first day of school. Pastel pencils combine with soft digital colors to bring to life tousle-haired Oliver and his alligator, whom he brings to class “in case things got rough.” And when Oliver feels immediately shy and unsure, with a “munch, munch!” his alligator swallows a woman who greets him, and then his classmates in quick succession. Children will enjoy the humor of the situation, possibly wishing they had an alligator of their own to vanquish anxiety. But Oliver soon comes around to thinking that he may be missing out on something by sitting quietly by himself. Oliver and His Alligator makes for a welcome addition to the canon of books that address first day jitters.
Picture books are not just for children; in fact, many of the best examples of the format prove entertaining for all ages, while some feel decidedly more adult. Kitty & Dino, by Sara Richard, begins with a child’s discovery of an unusual egg. This nearly wordless story unfolds as the Siamese cat of the household checks out the egg as it’s in the process of hatching. Much to Kitty’s distress, the new arrival is an attention-seeking baby dinosaur. Rendered in illustrations heavily influenced by the Japanese style of ink painting known as sumi-e, the panels that make up the story radiate an energy that keeps this story flowing. The characters of Kitty and Dino are depicted in a naturalistic way, with their postures and behaviors bringing this captivating story to life. Kitty slowly warms up to her housemate, teaching him about mealtime, grooming and play. As the pages turn, Dino grows older (and much bigger) and the unlikely friends’ bond grows deeper. Charming, funny and superbly illustrated, Kitty & Dino is a book for everyone.
Author/illustrator Dan Krall comes to picture books by way of a rich career in both TV and film animation. His beyond unusual story, The Great Lollipop Caper, has a quirky grownup sensibility. Leaning heavily on pun, the titular caper is both a character and the crime he commits. Yes, the protagonist is a tiny pickled caper berry who wants children to appreciate his “complex flavor.” Would caper-flavored lollipops help to expand his fan base to the very young? Wide-eyed cartoony character illustrations and speech bubbles lend to the offbeat humor that may be best appreciated by a hipster adult reader.
Protesting crayons? What do they have to complain about? Duncan finds out in The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. Duncan reaches for his crayons one day and gets a pack of protest letters instead (except from Green… Green’s pretty happy – just wants Orange and Yellow to stop fighting). Like most protestors, the colors are upset by their treatment – overuse, neglect (Where is Peach’s wrapper?), abuse and misuse. Each color details the unfairness of its life in a personal letter to Duncan. Blue doesn’t want to be the favorite, Grey is always used for the big animals, Red never gets a break and Orange and Yellow aren’t speaking!
Young readers will giggle at the silliness and enjoy learning colors. Older readers will recognize some common toddler traits in the behavior of the crayons. Readers of all ages will laugh out loud with this wonderful book about colors, creativity and compromise. Delightful, childlike illustrations by Oliver Jeffers enhance the story. How will Duncan get the crayons back to work? (And what color SHOULD the Sun be?) Find out in The Day the Crayons Quit.
Two new picture books illustrate the joy of play with the simplest of toys. In Peanut & Fifi Have a Ball by Randall de Seve, Peanut has a new ball and older sister Fifi wants it. Fifi tries to entice Peanut to share with a variety of imaginative games, but Peanut remains uninterested. It is not until Fifi comes up with an irresistible adventure involving a seal and outer space, that Peanut is willing to share. The spare graphic illustrations complement the simplicity of the story while capturing the boldness of Fifi’s imagination. This delightful tale offers a gentle lesson about sharing, sibling interaction, and the power of imagination. Seeing an older sibling not always getting her way is also a welcome twist!
In Ball by Mary Sullivan, readers meet a most expressive and exuberant canine. The day in the life of a dog wanting to play ball is told mainly using panel illustrations with just the title word repeated throughout the story. Upon first waking, the playful pup and his girl start to play ball. But she soon leaves for school, and despite his best efforts, the dog is unable to find any other playmates – not even the cat. His sadness, wistfulness, desperation, and excitement are perfectly depicted in the expressive illustrations. The dog finally dozes off and even then his brain is focused on one thing only. The outlandish dream sequence unfolds in full-page drawings which match the supersized doggy dreams. When the girl’s seemingly interminable school day is over, readers will be almost as thrilled as the dog as they reunite and he can finally play fetch.
In One Gorilla: A Counting Book, illustrator Anthony Browne takes the reader through a bevy of primates. A one-time Children’s Laureate of the United Kingdom, Browne draws on his lifelong fascination with gorillas and apes of all sizes. Using his signature strokes and employing the technique of varying dry and wet brushes, each page becomes a lifelike, head-on portrait of the featured creatures. Generous white space keeps the focus on the intense, breathtaking images of monkeys, chimps, and orangutans, among others. Browne reminds us of our own relationship to this group of animals with an arresting self-portrait, followed by a double-paged spread of diverse humans: “All primates. All one family.”
Two-time Caldecott medalist Chris Raschka takes a familiar childhood rite of passage and infuses it with his trademark watercolors in Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle. Raschka has said that when formulating ideas for his books, he is very influenced by events that took place in his own childhood. In this case, a young girl and her father first go to choose a bike. Then, she haltingly goes through the stages of becoming a proficient rider, helped along with words of encouragement. Readers are urged on by the fluid illustrations that mimic the forward energy of a bike in motion. A final parenthetical grace note after she has finally mastered the skill will bring a smile to every adult reader's face.