A recent book to hit our children’s nonfiction shelves features an arresting cover image: a familiar red octagonal stop sign shape with the unexpected imperative “Go.” This also happens to be the title of renowned book cover designer Chip Kidd’s volume for the younger set, Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. The text for this highly creative book begins right on the inside cover, grabbing readers and plunging them headfirst into the influence of graphic design.
Go teaches as much by example as it does by narrative. Kidd takes the reader on a vibrant, visual field trip through the real world, where we make choices based on the design choices of others. A soda can label, baseball, remote control and a hand-lettered chalkboard are examples of everyday items that are influenced (and influencing) by design. A timeline takes us carefully through high points in the history of graphic design, with pithy comments relating to the accompanying illustrations. Did you know that the familiar smiling logo for the children’s toy Colorforms is an example of the simplicity of Bauhaus?
Never preachy, never boring, Kidd is the best art teacher you’ve never had. He takes on subjects like scale, focus, image quality, color theory and positive and negative space, bringing them to life in a memorable way. A fascinating chapter on typography, including a history of 30 different fonts, is set in the fonts themselves. Content gets its due (“form follows function”), as does concept (“your idea of what to do”). A final section is devoted to design projects, inviting readers to put what they’ve learned to use. Kidd encourages readers to share their creations online.
Go is one of five nominees for The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, to be awarded by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, at the end of January 2014. This book is highly recommended for not only older children but also for teens and adults as well.
Check out Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora, a fresh rendition of the classic nursery song set in majestic Africa. The illustrations radiate in vibrant collages through the use of pencil shading, newspaper clippings, textile designs and watercolor. With all new animal sounds, you can find out along with your child what noises warthogs, springboks and dassies make. Perfect for preschool through second grade, this bright picture book’s melody and theme are familiar enough to have children singing along while introducing lesser known animals to help broaden both their vocabulary and global cultural awareness. The glossary of animals in the back is a fun and informative feature, too.
Off to Market, written by Elizabeth Dale and illustrated by Erika Pal, tells the story of a drive to market on Joe’s bus. While driving through a Ugandan town, Joe picks up a variety of community members such as women with baskets of fruit, a woman with two goats and an elderly nun. However, trouble begins when Joe’s generosity causes him to overload the bus with passengers. It’s up to the little boy Keb to save the day with heart, smarts and kindness.
In The Race for the Chinese Zodiac, Gabrielle Wang introduces the 12 animals who raced across a river in order to have a year named for them by the Jade Emperor. From the courageous tiger to the wise snake, each animal is exquisitely illustrated by Sally Rippin, who used Chinese painting techniques. This fanciful retelling shows the character traits each beast embodies as they brave the waters to claim a cherished spot. The descriptions of each zodiac animal, their years and their attributes make this an easy yet delightful way to introduce children to the Chinese zodiac.
Do you enjoy a good mystery? Are you fascinated by science and technology? If you answered “yes,” then Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith is definitely for you. This is the first book in a new series that follow 11-year-old siblings Nick and Tesla as they spend a summer in California with their quirky uncle Newt, an eccentric and somewhat absent-minded inventor.
The twins almost have free range of their uncle’s lab in the basement of his home. They build a rocket out of PVC pipe and an empty soda bottle and some other odds and ends they find around the house. Something goes wrong on the rocket’s maiden launch. Instead of just going up and back down, the rocket ends up in the yard of a spooky old house. But this is not just any spooky old house. This one is surrounded by a fence and guarded by dogs. Even worse, when the rocket didn’t initially take off like they expected, Tesla got too close while checking a seal. The rocket took off with the necklace her parents had given her. Will they be able to retrieve the rocket and Tesla’s necklace? Who’s the mysterious girl in the creepy house’s upstairs window? And why is a black SUV following them wherever they go?
This book is great for kids who have advanced past first chapter books. There are five illustrated experiments that show the reader – with the help of an adult, of course – how to make the gadgets that Nick and Tesla make in the story. A fast-paced adventure novel, Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab is sure to bring out your inner mad-scientist.
A boy’s first summer of independence and puppy love is described in the charming novelette, Meeting Cézanne, by Michael Morpurgo. Set in 1960’s Provence, France, Meeting Cézanne tells the story of 10-year-old Yannick’s summer infatuation with Provence, his cousin, and the artist Paul Cézanne. When an unfortunate misunderstanding leads to Yannick destroying a drawing by the “most famous painter in the world,” Yannick tries to repair the damage by asking Monsieur Cézanne for a new one.
Paired with colorful illustrations by Francois Place, themselves reminiscent of Cézanne’s work, this re-release of Morpurgo’s short story is a wonderful book for the elementary school set. Morpurgo’s first person prose will resonate with young readers. Yannick’s yearning for his cousin to like him, his desire to fix his error and his confusion over the famous artist are realistic and relatable. Morpurgo is the award-winning author of many children’s books, including War Horse which was made into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg. He was also named Children’s Laureate in the United Kingdom from 2003-2005.
Besides being a great read, Meeting Cézanne is sure to pique an interest in painters for the reader. 13 Painters Children Should Know by Florian Heine is a great introduction to the many various painting styles of the great artists. Heine provides a brief biography of each artist as well as a detailed description of what makes each special. Additionally, Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter is a delightful picture book describing the ups and downs of Picasso’s art career. Beautifully illustrated with artwork by Kevin Hawkes, Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! is a quick and easy foray into the world of Picasso.
Two new visually stunning picture books capture the essence and energy of the train, a holiday staple and year-round hit with kids of all ages. Celebrated author/illustrators Brian Floca and Elisha Cooper each tackle this transportation wonder and provide entertainment and facts sure to entice readers again and again.
Floca explores America’s early railroads in Locomotive. Illustrations and vibrant text bring the sounds, smells and strength of these mighty vehicles alive on the page. Using the travels of a mother and her two children on the newly constructed Transcontinental Railroad as a framework, Floca masterfully succeeds in presenting the history of the magnificent train and capturing the impact this new mode of travel had on shaping America. Free verse, heavy with alliteration and onomatopoeia, along with frequent changes in font and typeface capture the movement and splendor of the train. The nuanced paintings complement the text and detail the mechanics of the train as well as the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Endpapers and an author’s note offer enlightening details. Every page offers facts which will delight and educate even the most ardent train aficionado.
Fast forward 150 years and board a variety of trains in Elisha Cooper’s Train. Cooper invites the reader to join him on an adventurous trip as he examines today’s train travel. The action starts with a commuter train heading west and switches to a passenger train rolling through the Midwest. A freight train loads its cargo and rumbles toward its destination past an overnight train climbing the Rocky Mountains. Finally, there’s the dramatic high-speed train, a bullet-shaped beauty. Cooper’s fluid language and dappled watercolors capture nature’s grandeur and the movement, speed and power of these mighty trains. Further reading is provided with a glossary, facts section and brief author’s note. Readers will want to punch multiple tickets and take repeat rides on this journey of discovery.
The days are getting shorter, and the weather’s getting colder. This can only mean one thing: winter is almost here. With the changing of the seasons come some new winter themed picture books that you can enjoy with your kids. If It’s Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Paws! by Kim Norman and illustrated by Liza Woodruff uses a well-known children’s participatory song and brings the reader along on an adventure in the chilly outdoors. Whether you are tasting a flake, grabbing your skis or building a fort, you will have fun following along as a group of arctic animals enjoy a day playing outdoors together. If you like this book you may also want to check out the author’s other winter-themed book, Ten on a Sled, an alliterative counting story featuring the same cast of characters.
When Lulu wakes up and looks out her window, she sees that an unexpected snow storm has blanketed everything in fluffy white in Ladybug Girl and the Big Snow by David Soman and Jacky Davis. Putting on snow gear, along with her trademark tutu and wings, Lulu, aka Ladybug Girl, steps outside with her dog Bingo to play in the winter wonderland. This book shows the joys of imagination, perseverance and cooperation. A great choice to read while curled up in front of a fire while waiting for some snowflakes to fall.
Winter Friends by Charles Reasoner features forest creatures playing outdoors on a snowy winter night. This die cut book has adorably illustrated animals, simple rhyming text and thick cardboard pages which make it a perfect choice to share with babies and toddlers. It may be cold outside, but it’s a great time to snuggle up with a good book.
Three new books take on the perennial favorite topic of dinosaurs, but with new information being discovered all the time, adults as well as kids will find themselves learning – or relearning – about these fascinating creatures from the past.
Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? by Catherine Thimmesh focuses on the new developments in paleontology with regard to the outward appearance of dinosaurs. She teams with a group of six acclaimed paleoartists who have worked with museums, movie studios and magazines to properly depict dinosaurs based on the latest research. This includes the discoveries made in the past two decades of the existence of feathers on many dinosaurs. The author, a Sibert medalist, explains in kid-friendly terminology how scientists have come to current conclusions, and how each future discovery could change their minds.
In Tracking Tyrannosaurs: Meet T. rex’s Fascinating Family, from Tiny Terrors to Feathered Giants, Christopher Sloan discusses the many other tyrannosaurs that lived in the Mesozoic Era among their more well-known cousin Tyrannosaurus rex. This National Geographic production features the publisher’s usual excellent art. Graphs and timelines help explain when each of these tyrannosaurs lived, and sidebars discuss the theories that paleontologists have regarding their close relationship to the birds of today. Particularly clear is the explanation of the simultaneous eras of the dinosaurs and the breakup of supercontinent Pangaea resulting in the continents that now exist.
For younger readers deciding on a favorite, The Greatest Dinosaur Ever by Brenda Z. Guiberson contains many options. Gennady Spirin’s double-page oil paint on paper illustrations are in soft but clear colors. Each dinosaur explains the reasons (huge claws, best parent, club-like tail, etc.) as to why it is the greatest dinosaur ever. Sure to spark debate among dino-loving youngsters, there is really no right or wrong selection. The author also focuses on a number of bird-like dinosaurs, again showing the relationship between the “terrible lizards” of long ago and the feathered creatures of today.
In an alternate Victorian-era England, all towns have a resident monster whose job is to scare and thrill the residents, as well as to protect them. Stoker-on-Avon has a problem: their monster is suffering from depression and a general lack of confidence. Much to the townsfolk’s dismay, Rayburn hasn’t attacked in well over a year and a half. Rob Harrell’s graphic novel Monster on the Hill chronicles the efforts of Charles Wilkie, doctor and inventor, who has been dispatched by the town fathers to “fix the monster.” Timothy, the self-proclaimed town crier/street urchin, stows away in the doctor’s trunk in order to be a part of the mission.
Rayburn, a heavy-lidded, horned, winged, rust-colored creature, boasts no special skills or talents. He doesn’t breathe fire and he can’t fly. After diagnosing his problem, Wilkie suggests a restorative road trip to visit other town monsters to pick up some “tricks of the trade.” His old school chum Noodles, better known as Tentaculor, may offer just the boost he needs. This edgy, drolly humorous graphic novel will capture the imagination of a wide range of readers, much like Jeff Smith’s popular Bone series. Harrell captures a Victorian feel while sprinkling in modern anachronisms to good comic effect, as vendors hawk Tentaculor merchandise (like trading cards and Tentacu-Pops) after a recent attack. Older children who enjoy tales of adventure and dragons will enjoy the twist on the usual trope. Harrell’s wide-eyed villagers and thoroughly detailed monsters are enormously visually appealing, as is his choice of a bright, colorful palette. Readers will eagerly await upcoming books in this ongoing, all-ages series.
Classic fairy tales are enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to a number of imaginative retellings, both in print and on screen. Adults and children alike will want to read the original stories in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, first published in 1823, and reissued in a brand new collection. This volume includes detailed etchings of the period by noted English caricaturist George Cruikshank, supplemented by a half dozen color illustrations by popular artists like Quentin Blake and Helen Oxenbury. The German tales, handed down through oral tradition, were published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who called them “House Stories.” They were meant to be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone in the house, not just children. This collection contains 55 stories, from the familiar “Ashputtel” (German for Cinderella) to the lesser known “Faithful John,” many of which contain creepy or unsettling elements—these are not the happily ever after Disney versions.
Author Adam Gidwitz begins The Grimm Conclusion, the third book in his popular series of retellings, by noting “once upon a time, fairy tales were grim.” He further states that the versions of the stories that most people know are “incredibly, mind-numbingly, want-to-hit-yourself-in-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer-ingly boring.” The narrator of this novel follows Grimm characters Jorinda and Joringel as they become participants in other Grimm stories. Infused with a dark sense of humor, Gidwitz’s popular novels embrace the blood, gore and general horror of the original tales. As a former school teacher (and Baltimore native), Gidwitz knows how to enthrall his audience.
Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists edited by Chris Duffy presents a plethora of stories from various sources Grimm and beyond. Cartoonists represented include a veritable who’s who, some new to children’s storytelling. Each story is rendered in full color comic panels. Perennial favorite Raina Telgemeier (known for the graphic memoir Smile) takes on Rapunzel, while Gilbert Hernandez (of Love and Rockets fame) shows us his version of Snow White. Fairy Tale Comics is a visual smorgasbord for the imagination of readers of all ages.
As Gabby tells it, she was named after the angel Gabriel. Yet, her mother cannot seem to understand her imaginary world. In Gabby’s words: “Mom names me for a/creature with wings, then wonders/ what makes my thoughts fly.” Nikki Grimes has created a very memorable young girl in Words with Wings. We come to know Gabby through a series of poems. Similar to author Karen Hesse in style, Grimes manages to tell a good story that is lyrical and a quick read to boot.
Gabby faces many issues that modern children can relate to: divorcing parents, moving to a new home, starting over at a new school and trying to make friends. Her inability to fit in is due to what her mother and teachers call “daydreaming.” However, her imagination allows Gabby to escape the sadder parts of her life. The book may be short at just over 80 pages, but the scope of what Grimes is able to communicate in so short a space is remarkable.
Additionally, students who are studying poetry will find that a variety of types of poems are used to tell Gabby’s story. From haikus to longer free verse stanzas, the book provides examples of poems that could stand alone for their expressive language and imagery, but put together, they tell a compelling tale.