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.
Children love a good story, especially when it includes things loud, obnoxious, and inappropriate. Tumford’s Rude Noises, by author/illustrator Nancy Tillman, has both to spare. Tumford Stoutt, a roly-poly black and white cat who lives with his human parents on Sweet Apple Green, is no stranger to trouble. In rhyming, playful style Tumford burps, bangs, clangs, parades, and plays with his food, annoying everyone around him. This only makes him want more attention until he lands a time out. Will Tumford finally learn his lesson? All ages can relate to this tumultuous tale enjoying both the naughty and the nice parts. Readers will be charmed by the engaging photo-collage illustrations in bright primary colors, as well as Tumford’s delightfully expressive face and gestures. As usual, Tumford pushes the limits, but in the end no matter what Tumford does, he knows his parents love him unconditionally.
In rhyme and vibrant style, picture book readers were first introduced to that white-whiskered master of misbehavior in Tumford the Terrible. Bedecked in yellow galoshes and full of mischievous appeal, Tumford tries the patience of his parents and townspeople during the village fair but learns a valuable lesson – love and good manners matter - when he finally and sincerely says, “I’m sorry”. Tillman, who may be best known for her New York Times bestseller, On The Night You Were Born, has a collection of children’s picture books notable for their message and beautiful artwork, with Tumford tops among them.
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat and this year Santa gets some help from that crazy Pete the Cat! That’s right, the blue fun-loving feline is back in Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. At Santa’s request, Pete steps in when Santa falls ill with a chill. Pete begins his holiday adventure in typical cool-cat rhyming style - Pete jumped in his minibus and started to roll. “Road trip!” cried Pete. “First stop – the North Pole.” The vividly colored, abstract and energetic illustrations and zany, ear-catching story in rhyme have real kid-appeal. There’s added entertainment value with a free download of the complete story and accompanying song read by the author. Kids can listen or read along, and check out Pete’s reproducible booklet of Christmas activities like a holiday word scramble, connect the dots, and maze. Now that’s “totally groovy!”
Charlie and the Christmas Kitty is a sweet winter time treat for families. Written by Ree Drummond, New York Times bestselling author of The Pioneer Woman Cooks, and featuring her own Basset Hound, Charlie, this down-home story is simple and wholesome, much like her country cooking. As “King of the Ranch”, Charlie oversees the comings and goings of humans and animals on their country spread. Adorably floppy, with his long ears, wrinkly skin, slightly short legs, and penchant for bacon, Charlie settles down for a little shut-eye while the family is busy preparing for Christmas. Imagine his surprise the next day when a new creature is introduced to the mix. Is it a rabbit? No, it’s an unapproved Christmas kitten! Charlie tries his hardest to ignore the little fluff ball, but finally relents after the curious kitten follows him throughout the day. All’s well that ends well, until a snuggly, beribboned Basset pup shows up – not again! Diane deGroat, award-winning children’s book illustrator and author/illustrator of the best-selling picture book series featuring Gilbert the opossum, creates the appealing kid-friendly artwork using watercolor paint over digital art on hot press paper. Animal lovers and families will enjoy this book and can try Charlie’s Favorite Christmas Cookie recipe included at the back.
The Count’s Hanukkah Countdown, a new Shalom Sesame title by authors Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer, is fun way to get into the holiday spirit. A childhood icon, the lovable purple Count has been counting with children for decades and now he and Grover, the shaggy blue monster, share the story of Hanukkah with them as well. Shalom Sesame, an international spinoff of Sesame Street, has been introducing Israel and Judaism to children and families for years through PBS, videos, and books. Parents and kids will recognize the familiar brightly colored characters by Tom Leigh, longtime children’s book illustrator of Sesame Street and Muppet books. Together, they prepare for this fun Festival of Lights featuring the special number eight – the perfect Hanukkah number – and traditions like exchanging gifts, playing the dreidel game, eating latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and lighting the eight candles of the menorah, one for each of the eight nights. Kids and adults who share this book can count on having a totally awesome Hanukkah!
In Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, two parents’ cultural and holiday traditions combine to create a unique experience for one little girl and her family. Like the pop culture reference to the fictional “Chrismakkuh” (Christmas + Hanukkah), this happily blended holiday features the best of both traditions. The gently colored stylized illustrations are gouache, collage, and colored pencil on Arches watercolor paper. They depict the quirky happy hipster family stuffing the Christmas turkey with cranberry kugel dressing, leaving latkes and milk for Santa, and decorating the Christmas tree with a shiny star and gelt (chocolate coins). They even use both candy canes and candles on the menorah. It’s a warm, loving story great for multicultural families and others who might like to create some new traditions of their own.
The porcine heroes of The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz have finally had enough of the wolf bully terrorizing their Japanese mountain village, so off to the dojo they go. Told in snappy limerick verse, this modern retelling follows the sibling pigs as each trains in a different martial art. But one brother is quickly bored with aikido, while the second defies his sensei by cockily refusing to study past his yellow belt in jujitsu. Their sister, however, is a testament to the power of dedication and determination. She studies karate for months (perfecting a perfect pork-chop!) in preparation for her showdown with the big bad wolf.
The Three Ninja Pigs is an action-packed story that begs to be read aloud, preferably not at bedtime. Half the fun of reading this thrilling picture book is taking in its cinematic illustrations, courtesy of the talented Dan Santat, a dad himself to two spirited boys. To add an authentic Japanese feel, he rendered the background art (plenty of cherry blossoms, bamboo and pagodas in the shadow of Mount Fuji) using traditional sumi ink brushwork on rice paper. The characters themselves show off their moves in Santat’s signature comically expressive Photoshop illustrations. Panels mimic the best action scenes from Bruce Lee martial arts movies; a Japanese glossary at the end rounds out the experience. Be prepared to watch your young readers reenact the pigs’ moves all around the living room.
Two new picture books use animals to teach the alphabet. In A is for Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan, readers learn why every letter in the alphabet is for “musk ox.” This hysterical take on the classic ABC book begins with Joseph the Musk Ox ruining Zebra’s alphabet book by eating the apple. Claiming it would have been boring to start ANOTHER book with “A is for Apple”, Joseph takes this opportunity to describe the greatness of musk oxen. Not sure what musk oxen are? Read this book and you will discover numerous tidbits like “Eskimos call musk oxen Omingmak” and “the soft underwool of a musk ox is called Qiviut.” Hilarious illustrations by Matthew Myers will have readers giggling non-stop as they watch what happens to the original subject of each letter after Joseph is done.
All the Awake Animals Are Almost Asleep by Crescent Dragonwagon takes a more gentle approach to the topic. The mother in this book uses alliteration to describe sleeping animals while tucking her young child into bed. Inclusion of less common animals, such as an Ibex who “inches his way up the icy incline toward a good day’s nap” adds to the charm of the story. Starting and ending the story in a lyrical rhyme, the soothing text calms the restless child and lulls the animals into a peaceful sleep. The soft watercolor illustrations by David McPhail match the tone of the story perfectly. This is a wonderful bedtime story and will quickly become a favorite.
Who would have thought that Bigfoot would make such an engaging picture book protagonist? Two recent tales put this elusive hairy man-beast at the forefront of literature for young readers. In Ashley Spires’ charming Larf, the title character leads a solitary but fulfilling life in a cabin in the woods, save for his pet bunny Eric. He worries that if people found out he was real, he would attract the wrong kind of prying attention. But one morning’s newspaper article proves life changing when he finds out he may not be the only sasquatch in the world. Larf knows he must travel to town to find out. But what if the other sasquatch doesn’t like him? What if he eats meat instead of vegetables? And worst of all, what if he is a she? Spires’ watercolor and ink illustrations lend a gentle, quirky and humorous tone to a story that ultimately explores what it means to open yourself to the possibilities of friendship.
Kent Redeker’s Don’t Squish the Sasquatch! is a raucous ride on a city bus where the first passenger to be picked up is Señor Sasquatch. Boldly colored digital art with a retro feel by illustrator/graphic designer Bob Staake completes a picture book chock full of absurd creatures and sly humor. Each new rider to enter the bus (including Mr. Octo-Rhino) receives the same direction from the driver, Mr. Blobule. “Don’t Squish the Sasquatch!” Of course, the bow-tied bright green Sasquatch, all gangly spiky arms and long legs, can’t avoid being crowded out, which leads to a horrible crash and a surprise ending. Expect this winning read aloud to become a family and storytime favorite.
What is the color of a happy cat? In Red Cat, Blue Cat, written and illustrated by debut British artist Jenni Desmond, two jealous cats try to figure it out. Red Cat is nimble and lives downstairs; Blue Cat is clever and lives upstairs. Whenever the two meet, much caterwauling ensues. Little do they know that each secretly longs to be like the other. Whimsical and bright, the playful illustrations of colored pencil, collage, water color and ink spill over each page as the cats try wacky ideas to make themselves over. “If I turn myself red, I will become fast and bouncy!” thinks Blue Cat, as he eats an assortment of red things, like cherries, watermelon, even rose petals, to no avail. Red Cat, who really wants to be smart, then tries blueberries, bluebells, blue pudding and certain cupcakes, with no better luck. It’s not until the two work together that they understand that each has special qualities to appreciate and share. Until they spot a yellow cat - Meow!
Finders Keepers, written by William Lipkind and illustrated by Nicolas Mordvinoff, first delighted children and families in 1951 and won the Caldecott Medal for distinguished American picture book. This classic tale of two dogs and one bone, is charmingly illustrated with simple, vintage line drawings and a measured color palette. Reminiscent of Aesop’s or La Fontaine’s fables, the dogs, Winkle and Nap each lay claim to a bone in the barnyard. They then query the farmer, the goat, and others in the quest to determine rightful ownership. Fooled by greed and tricked into tasks along the way, they too work together in the end to reclaim and share their bone.
Jacqueline Woodson successfully teams up once again with illustrator E.B. Lewis in Each Kindness, a picture book that tells a difficult, haunting, but vital story about passive bullying, an all-too-common form of persecution among children. In the style of a person looking back on life, Woodson instantly grabs the reader’s attention: “That winter, snow fell on everything…” When Maya, a young girl, arrives at her new school in tattered clothes and damaged shoes, she shyly greets her new classmates. However, the narrator, one of Maya’s classmates, shuns the new student for her appearance. Despite Maya’s varied attempts to break down the walls put up by her fellow pupils, they refuse her each time. One day, when it is clear that the new student has left and is not coming back, the narrator realizes her mistake and laments her unkindness toward Maya.
Lewis’ slice-of-life pastel watercolors enhance the poignancy of the story. Expressions on the faces of the children are precisely defined, and the beautiful pastoral setting stands in counterpoint to the cruelty exhibited by Maya’s peers. One double-page spread showing Maya’s now-empty desk is gripping, as are Woodson’s word choices as the narrator contemplates her actions at the conclusion: “…the chance of a kindness with Maya / becoming more and more / forever gone.” Readers who savoured E.B. Lewis’ illustrations when he paired with Woodson on The Other Side will recognize his brilliance here as well. Each Kindness is a natural companion to Eleanor Estes’ classic The Hundred Dresses and, for slightly older readers, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, previously reviewed.