Friday, January 5, 2018

More Picture Books We Loved Reading in 2017

We read a lot of books in 2017 and here are some that we particularly liked (and yes, The Cat from Hunger Mountain is a 2016 book, but my young readers didn't read it until 2017 and that's why it was included here now)

All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato
2017, Henry Holt and Co BYR, 40 pages
A young Cuban boy is excited to leave his small village and drive to Havana for a family celebration and to meet his new born cousin. But his father’s old blue car, Cara Cara, doesn’t always start or run smoothly, the parts under the hood are held together with wire, tape, and mixed scrapes of dented metal. Working together, father and son get the car running once again and it’s off to Havana. Along the way, they pass more old cars traveling along the seawall, then through busy Havana streets, arriving at the party. Written in lively free verse, and paired with Curato’s colorful, realistic illustrations, this is a simple story that provides the reader with a detailed window into what life in Cuba has been like since the 1950’s, while emphasizing the importance of family. Young readers are also introduced to the phenomena that is Cuba’s alone - the incredible pre-1959 cars that residents have managed to keep running all these years. This is a book that is sure to elicit questions and discussions about this small island country that has not really been accessible to Americans for decades.

The Cat from Hunger Mountain written and illustrated by Ed Young
2016, Philomel Books, 32 pages
A rich young lord, living high atop Hunger Mountain, has everything one could want, yet he never seems to have enough of anything. He even has the arrogance to leave a bowl of rice half eaten while other go hungry. When a year-long drought hits Hunger Mountain, famous for its delicious rice, farmers’ crop fail and villagers grow hungry, but the Lord Cat continues living his extravagant life. By the second year of the drought, there is no one left to take care of the young lord, yet, he still refuses to leave, too. Finally, starving, he leaves his pagoda, and goes begging. When a kind monk gives him a bowl of rice, Lord Cat discovers it is the wasted rice from his own paddies, collected over the years by the monk. Experiencing poverty and then kindness, the Lord Cat at last knows what is like to be truly blessed. Using a mixed media collage made up of different papers, patterns, textures, and photographs, Young relates a fable about greed and waste that, as Young writes, can sometimes be the unlikely gateway to gratitude and humility.   

Windows by Julia Denos, illustrated by E.B. Goodale
2017, Candlewick Press, 32 pages
When a young boy wearing a red hoodie takes his dog for a walk in the early evening through his neighborhood, he just might make you think of an older Peter for The Snowy Day. Certainly, the streets that he walks through are reminiscent of some of the neighborhoods around Prospect Park, Brooklyn, with private homes, apartment buildings and and a couple mom and pop stores. And when he looks at the different lighted windows he passes by, the young boy observes people, a cat, and even a raccoon behind trash cans, doing all their ordinary activities, but now seen through his eyes in a different light. Every window reveals its own story in all their truths and the illustrations, done in ink, watercolor, letterpress, and digital collage, capture those moments at dusk when the world sits in a twilight balance between day and night perfectly. It's all topped off by the warm light of the boy’s own home and his mother’s welcoming wave. This is a book kids will return to over and over again as they relate their own neighborhoods to the one.

The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
2017, Candlewick Press, 40 pages
One day in the forest, a small mouse meets a big wolf. When the wolf inevitably swallows the mouse, he’s in for a big surprise. There, inside the wolf, is a duck laying in bed. Duck has taken up residency inside wolf, and why not? Life is good, and as duck explains to mouse “I may have been swallowed, but I have no intentions of being eaten.”  As the two friends begin to live the high life, wolf begins to have a stomach ache, and the better they live, the sicker wolf gets. When a hunter comes along and sees the sick wolf, he figures he’s an easy target. Mouse and duck realize their good life is being threatened, and decide to defend their home. My kids loved this book, with its fairy tale feel right down to the language used, and they were especially delighted by the lavish set up duck and mouse have inside wolf - a complete gourmet kitchen, a lovely dining area, a comfy bed for sleeping. The unlikeliness of this story brought on peals of laughter. Klassen’s brown and gray toned illustrations add to the feeling of being in a forest, though his four characters put the story right back into fairy tale mode. This is sure to be a modern day classic fable for years to come. 

Robinson by Peter Sís
2017, Scholastic Press, 48 pages
When a school costume party is announced, a young boy (the narrator) and his friends decide to go as pirates, their favorite adventure game to play. But when the narrator’s mother suggests he go as Robinson Crusoe instead, he jumps at the chance. After all, Robinson Crusoe is his favorite book. She makes him a lovely costume, and together they go to school, but when the excited boy’s friends see him, they laugh and tease him. Crushed, he goes home with his mother, and straight to bed. Dreaming his bed is a small boat, he sails to a deserted island and decides to stay there. He makes a shelter, forages for food, makes his own clothes, and becomes friends with the animals. The island is his home, but he is always on the lookout for invading pirates. Yet, when they arrive, the boy is in for a big surprise. Sís has nicely blended a memory from his own childhood with the adventures of Robinson Crusoe to create a simple but effective story. If the story is simple, the illustrations are anything but. Detailed, multilayered, and textured, Sís has created a magical dreamlike landscape using watercolor and ink in a palette of aquamarines and bright blues. Themes of courage, loneliness, and friendship will lead to lots of thought provoking discussions. 

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
2017, HarperCollins, 48 pages
A young girl and her mother arrive at their cabin on a rainy, rainy day. Not really happy to be there while her mother works, the girl loses herself in her device, playing games and destroying Martians. When her mother takes the device away from her and tells her to go outside, the girl manages to pocket the device so that her mother doesn’t notice. But while jumping from rock to rock in the pond, the device falls int the water. Now what? She is afraid she will be lost without her games. Sitting against a tree in total despair, four huge snails appear and when the girl asks them if there is anything to do around there, “Yes, indeed” they tell her and suddenly the young girl’s day becomes magical. The rest of that rainy day is spent exploring and remembering a time before her device and games took over her life. Why, at the end of the day, she asks herself, hadn’t she done these things before? Why indeed!  The excitement of discovery rolling down a hill she lands on her back and as she sees the world upside down, suddenly it feels brand new.

Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal, illustrated by Holly Hatam
2017, HarperCollins, 40 pages
This is the book I wish I had when my Kiddo was growing up (and after reading it, she wishes she had it, too).  Each two page spread is a missive offering advice to young girls. My favorite is “Dear Girl, Find people like you. Find people unlike you.” There are lots more practical and fanciful lessons about living a full life to be found, including advice about breaking stereotypes, taking care of oneself, and taking changes. While the book offers guidance, it isn’t overly sentimental or suffocatingly emotional, though adults readers can’t help but be aware that Krouse Rosenthal, who wrote this book with her own daughter, Paris, passed away on March 13, 2017, making this all the more poignant. Hatam’s spare, whimsical illustrations reflect the message on each page. Pair this with I Wish You More and share both with your children. 

On the Night of the Shooting Star by Amy Hest, illustrated by Jenni Desmond
2017, Candlewick Press, 32 pages
A dog and a bunny each have a house that faces a lake, and have lived next door to each other for a while. Separated by a fence, they have never become friends. And while they never speak, they do keep a surreptitious eye on each other. Then, one sleepless night, Bunny is outside his house looking at the moon and stars, and Dog is outside his house doing the same thing. Suddenly, a shooting star streaks through the sky and Dog and Bunny turn to look at each other in amazement and at the same time. Going home, both think about what happened, and decide its time to be friends. And how their lives change when that happens. This is a gentle tale about loneliness and the happiness a friendship can bring to someone, something that many kids may very well relate to. The simple but touching text and the illustrations result in endearing tale that will be read again and again.   

Magic for Sale by Carrie Clickard, illustrated by John Shelley
2017, Holiday House, 32 pages 
This is a fun book that is told in rhyme and is perfect for Halloween, although it also works anytime of the year. Young Georgie McQuist has been double dared to find the ghost that is rumored to be hidden in a room marked forbidden in the shop of Miss Pustula Night. Hiding until the shop is closed for the night, Georgie trips and finds himself dropping into a hidden room, where he scares the ghost living there. In fact, the ghost is there because he is being punished for a prank and must make a list of everything in the overly crowded room. Naturally, he never gets its right. Georgie, who is clearly not afraid of the ghost, decides to help him. Are two heads better than one? They are if one of them is practical Georgie. But when Miss Pustula Night finds him there, he leaves with an unusual and unexpected companion but one that makes for a great show and tell the next day. The rhyme was great, but my kids really loved looking at the illustrations. They are simply packed with all kinds of hauntingly fun items to explore, and really carry the sense of the overly cluttered, almost claustrophobic magic store. But that’s OK, Georgie is a little bit the same way - entering the store carrying every conceivable thing he thought might be useful. This book was a pleasant surprise for my kids and myself.

La La La: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Jaime Kim
Candlewick Press, 2017, 72 pages
A little girl begins to sing one note - La - over and over, singing to falling leaves, to the night sky, even getting a ladder and climbing it to sing to the moon, but has hard as she tries, she never gets a response. Finally, dejected and deflated, she goes to bed, only to be woken up by the sound of someone singing La to her. Sure enough, the moon has answered her song. This is a nearly wordless picture book with very charming illustrations, but I have to be honest and say that, at first, this book didn’t do much for me or for the kids I shared it with. They did get the message - that everyone wants to be heard and responded to, but that was only after some discussion and reading it again. Then, came all the stories of when they felt the same way.  

The Lumberjack’s Beard written and illustrated by Duncan Beedle
2017, Templar Books, 40 pages
This is the story of a lumberjack who has a very specific routine he follows every day before going out to chop down trees to send to the lumber mill. He does his job well, but imagine his surprise when he hears knocking on this door one night before bedtime. A very angry bird tells him that he has chopped down the bird’s home and where was he to live now? The lumberjack offers to let him live in his big, big bushy beard. The next day,  the scene repeats, only this time a porcupine’s home is gone. Again, the lumberjack offers his beard to the distraught animal. The scene repeats a third time, with a beaver now homeless. With three woodland creatures now living in his beard, life and his daily routine becomes difficult for the lumberjack. His solution: shave off his beard and let the animals live in it on his porch. But now the trees are all chopped down, and the lumberjack is out of a job. What to do? Why, plant a whole new forest of trees, of course. My readers found this to be a very amusing story and with certain repetitions throughout, they really got into it, and they loved the surprise ending. With its whimsical woodland hued illustrations, this book carries a nice but subtle message about awakened conservation awareness and the restoration of natural resources.

What were some of your favorite books in 2017?

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