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.
In Goldilocks and Just One Bear, a bear lost in the big city stumbles into the apartment of an absent human family. Confused, hungry, and tired, he samples three types of “porridge” (including a bowl of cat food – “too crunchy”), sits on three “chairs” (one of which is a cactus), and sleeps in three beds (he finds the bubble bath “too frothy”). When the family returns, the mama human and the bear are in for a big surprise – and so is every reader with the great good fortune to read this charming book. Leigh Hodgkinson’s sketchy, retro-modern illustrations pack every page with humorous detail and covetable interior design.
Not all Goldilocks stories are guaranteed to have a happy ending. In Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Mo Willems sets up a more ominous premise. As the book begins, Mama Dinosaur rubs her hands together in nefarious fashion: "I SURE HOPE NO INNOCENT LITTLE SUCCULENT CHILD HAPPENS BY OUR UNLOCKED HOME WHILE WE ARE… uhhh… SOMEPLACE ELSE!" she hollers, preparatory to tiptoeing out of the house to hide in the nearby bushes with toothy Papa Dinosaur and a dinosaur visiting from Norway. The reader’s brain automatically supplies the classic version of the Goldilocks tale, so that the two stories, old and new, play simultaneously like melody and harmony.
Books about shy children often fail to hit the mark. They treat shyness as something to be overcome, or as a reaction to stress. Eileen Spinelli’s When No One is Watching takes an opposite, celebratory position – a funky little girl tells us how she acts when she is alone “I sing like a bird and I swing to the sky,” and when she’s not: “I hide like the cat alongside the big chair” in rhyming text that swings along with her. Her family and friends don’t appear to be pressuring her to interact, and while she is subdued in the middle of a crowd, she is certainly a happy child. Her “best friend Loretta’s shy, too” and she describes the ways that they have fun together.
If this were merely an affirming, positive book about a shy child, it would be a nice find. However, illustrator David A. Johnson’s pen and ink and watercolor art makes each two-page spread a dance of mood and expressive gesture. His elegant lines describe movement with economy and grace, and show off every exuberant contortion of our shy little girl’s active inner life.
Two new picture books celebrate our interaction with waterfowl. In the engaging, wordless Flora and the Flamingo, written and illustrated by Molly Idle, a young girl tries to emulate a balletic flamingo. Each beautifully illustrated spread shows the ease with which the bird poses, leaps, and dances. Meanwhile, Flora does her best to mimic the flamingo’s every move, some efforts more successful than others. The retro style of the illustration works well, and the generous use of white space on each page, some of which have extra flaps and fold-outs, make for an enjoyable read. A final splashdown between the two new friends embodies joy.
Lucky Ducklings, written by Eva Moore and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, is based on a true event that occurred on Long Island. A mother duck has inadvertently lost her ducklings down a storm drain, and townsfolk must come to their rescue. Thankfully, onlookers to the scene recognize the ducklings’ peril (and the mother duck’s panic), and take action. Notably similar in some ways to Robert McCloskey’s classic Make Way for Ducklings, this title even gives a knowing nod to the earlier title in a scene near the book’s close. Carpenter’s warm illustrations capture the pastoral nature of the setting against the fluster and alarm of the situation.
While most picture books tell a story, few cover the expanse of time of Building Our House, written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Based on Bean’s own childhood experiences, the book details, step-by-step, the process his family embarked upon to build their home in the countryside. There are no shortcuts here – this is not a book about moving where boxes are suddenly unpacked and the finished home unveiled in a final two-page spread. Instead, the toil and trouble of moving and living in a temporary shelter is detailed. Similarly, the arduous progression of leveling the earth, creating a foundation, constructing a framework, and finishing the outside of the structure are all included. It is all worth it, of course, and the helping hands described bring a smile to the reader.
This is a joyful, fast-paced book, celebrating immediate and external family and the community at large. The subtle passing and order of the seasons is an added learning benefit for readers. The excitement of the large machinery, warm feelings of being able to pitch in (even as a small boy) and the sense of accomplishment at the finished product, is all palpable. An author’s note at the end describes his memories of the eighteen-month process. It also outlines how he received recollection assistance from his family and their photos of the worksite as it went from empty site to the family’s new home. Construction-, tool-, and machinery-loving kids will enjoy Building Our House, and demand many rereads as they find additional objects and activities in each illustration.
Take a peek inside the mysterious and mischievous world of twins in three books for children with appeal for multiples and singletons alike. The nineteenth century counting rhyme “Over in the Meadow” inspired Ken Geist’s Who’s Who which puts the spotlight on twin animals. These six pairs of twins include calves, bunnies, monkeys, and fish and are featured in their natural habitats. Illustrator Henry Cole vividly depicts these landscapes in acrylic and colored pencil and moves from farmyard to jungle to bat cave. The memorable rhymes highlight the twins’ activities through the day and match the warm, detailed illustrations.
The Twins’ Blanket, written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum, shares the story of identical twin sisters who at age five are growing up and a little apart. The girls’ favorite blanket is no longer big enough for sharing, so Mom creates new blankets for each girl with pieces from the old. Yum does a fabulous job of differentiating between these twins, by giving each girl her own side of the book. It isn’t until the girls reach out to comfort each other that they cross over the center of the book. Yum, a twin herself, uses prints, colored pencil, watercolor, and other media in her bright illustrations, and makes great use of white space to complement the quiet, narrative text.
In Take Two: a Celebration of Twins, J. Patrick Lewis, the current Children's Poet Laureate teams with Jane Yolen to present more than forty poems about life as a twin. Sophie Blackall’s watercolor, pencil, and collage illustrations complement the varied poems which are divided into sections representing stages and milestones, and a final section features famous twins. Lewis is a twin himself and Yolen is the grandmother of twins, so the two are quite familiar with the world of doubles. Readers will also enjoy the “Twin Fact” feature found throughout, such as the Russian woman who was mother to sixteen sets of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets!
Earlier this week, the American Library Association announced the winners of the 2013 Youth Media Awards. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards celebrate African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults. This year, the award for authors went to Andrea Davis Pinkney for her historical retrospective Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. Written in an honest and forthright style, Pinkney takes a new look at these influential and historically significant men. The award for illustrators was won by Bryan Collier for his interpretation of the Langston Hughes poem I, Too, Am America. Collier uses varying images of the American flag to tie together mixed media collages, creating an inspirational and patriotic look at the Pullman porters and the struggle for civil rights in the United States.
King Honor Books were also awarded on Monday. Author Book Honors went to Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illustrator Book Honors went to H.O.R.S.E written and illustrated by Christopher Myers, Ellen’s Broom illustrated by Daniel Minter and written by Kelly Starling, and I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. illustrated by Kadir Nelson from the speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Picture book author and illustrator Jon Klassen, known for his wry illustrations rendered in a muted color palette, was honored today by the American Library Association with the Randolph Caldecott Medal for This is Not my Hat. The book follows a sly minnow who has purloined a hat from a much larger fish and is certain he will get away with his petty crime. The illustrations, however, tell a different story. The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the illustrator of “the most distinguished picture book for children.”
Five Caldecott Honor Books were also named, including Extra Yarn, another book illustrated by Klassen, written by Mac Barnett. Extra Yarn shows the power of one young girl to change her town through kindness and generosity. Rounding out the list are the boy-and-his-penguin tale One Cool Friend, written by Toni Buzzeo, and illustrated by David Small; Green, a meditation on the color, written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger; the Twilight Zone-inspired Creepy Carrots!, written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown; and the lyrical bedtime story Sleep Like a Tiger, written by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.
Ever wondered what your cat is thinking? Why do they do what they do? It’s All About Me-Ow, written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott, deciphers all those mysteries and more in a hilarious romp through the life of felines. Spot on and laugh-out-loud funny, Buddy, the family’s older, experienced orange tabby takes on the schooling of three new kittens with "A Young Cat’s Guide to the Good Life". From comical explanatory charts, lists of "fabulous feline features", to instructions for making the most appealing face for every situation, Buddy schools the wide-eyed kittens in the rigors of "cat-itude", as well as the proper training of humans. Endlessly amusing, the cat’s antics, interspersed with actual information and a bit of history, will keep readers in stitches. Slyly humorous, the cartoon illustrations in watercolor, colored pencil and ink, charm and disarm as does the worldly Buddy and earnestly ingenuous kittens. This is a purrfectly fun book for all ages.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Hatchlings: A Guide for Crocodilian Parents (and Curious Kids) is another cleverly humorous picture book, notable as children’s nonfiction. Author Bridget Heos (whose favorite book as a child was Lyle, Lyle Crocodile) blends witty reptilian wisdom with real facts in an easy to read Q & A format and playful conversational tone. Turns out reptile parents have the same concerns as human parents – "where should I lay my eggs?"; "what happens after they hatch?" Hatchlings have questions too, like "when do I eat my first water buffalo?" The colorful anthropomorphic cartoon-style artwork, by Canadian illustrator Stephane Jorisch, adds to the whimsy. Included are a glossary and a list of books for further reading and websites. Readers will also want to check out two similarly amusing titles from the author: What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys: A Guide for Marsupial Parents and What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents.
Two of last year’s most critically acclaimed picture books happen to be titles featuring headwear. Naoko Stoop’s Red Knit Cap Girl is a gentle, imaginative tale of a young girl who wants to get close enough to the moon to have a conversation. Following the sage advice of Mr. Owl, she enlists the help of her woodland animal friends to send a signal. Bunny, bear, squirrel and hedgehog assist in the hanging of Red Knit Cap Girl’s paper lanterns, made for a special full moon celebration. They sing together, but Moon is absent from the party. Then Red Knit Cap Girl has an epiphany—a quiet, dark forest is most inviting. Stoop’s charmingly old-fashioned illustrations are rendered in pencil, ink and acrylic on plywood. The wood grain adds an appropriately naturalistic element, each page’s background carefully selected to enhance the overall effect. Stoop is also a master at conveying darkness and light, and the subtle shades between.
The minnow protagonist of Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat introduces himself to the reader by boldly announcing that his newly acquired chapeau is stolen property. In fact, he himself is the one who snatched it. Rich digital illustrations enhanced by Chinese ink portray a deep black ocean, rife with various hues of brown sea plants. The pictures here tell a story that contradicts the text, leaving observant readers to delight in the thought of what might come next when the hat’s owner, an enormous, no-nonsense fish, discovers it missing. Much like Klassen’s enormously popular I Want my Hat Back, this picture book is driven by wry humor and the power of inference.