Thursday, January 3, 2019

📚My First Picture Book Roundup of 2019

The New Year has already been rung in, but I had a few 2018 picture books I wanted to share with you. The books in this roundup were hand picked by my young readers, who really enjoyed reading them. I hope your young readers like them, too.

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera,
illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Candlewick Press, 2018, 32 pages
In this beautiful free verse picture book, Herrera tells us his own story by taking the if/then conditional to new poetic heights, presenting a situation and a possible outcome on each two page spread. Each stanza begins with the words 'If I' and relates to different events in his life and ends with the word 'imagine.' Young readers will follow Herrera's life from a young boy in rural California to a new school in a city, learning English and then the value of words, and his beginnings as a poet until finally becoming the Poet Laureate of the United States. If he could do this, he implores his readers to imagine what they could do. This is a wonderfully relatable biography and the if/then form really opened up some wonderful conversations with my young readers, who did not know who Juan Felipe Herrera was when I introduced this book to them, but loved his life story. And Castillo's soft ink and monoprint illustrations really capture to poetics of Herrera's life. This is a book I know I'll be using over and over with young readers. 

Hello Lighthouse 
written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Little, Brown BFYR, 2018, 48 pages
In this fictional biography of a lighthouse keeper, young readers will be swept away to an earlier time and a mostly likely unfamiliar place to discover just what lighthouse keeping was all about. Blackall begins her story with the arrival of a new lighthouse keeper, and follows his life, capturing his loneliness until his wife arrives and then the birth of his daughter. Time is marked by seasonal and ocean changes. My young readers found it sad when the lighthouse keeper was replaced by a new light and a machine to run it for what I thought was an interesting reason - who will save the shipwrecked sailors as the lighthouse keeper had once done? Blackall's illustrations, done in Chinese ink and watercolor, are done from a variety of perspectives, but always keeping to the circularity of the lighthouse. This is a gentle story that introduces today's children to a bygone time. Luckily, there are still enough preserved lighthouses around the country that can be visited, even if there are no living lighthouse keepers to welcome visitors.  

Hello Hello 
written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books, 2018, 52 pages
I have to confess that it took my young readers two readers to finally get what this book was doing but once they did - WOW, they loved it. Told in rhyme and with just the right touch of whimsy, in a two page spread, a white and a black cat start off this celebration of different animals, turn the page and the black cat greet other animals - a black bear, a black and white panda, a black and white stripped zebra looking at a zebra fish. Turn the page and begin an exploration of colorful rows animals, birds, insects, bugs, creatures big and small, eyeing each other skeptically at first, but becoming friendly neighbors and friends. It's a world that urges kids to greet and know it - but where to begin? Why, with Hello Hello, of course. Some of the animals shown are endangered or threatened, others aren't but the message is the same - if all of them aren't take care of now, they will disappear forever. At the back of the book, there is a list (in order of appearance) 92 creatures and their endangered status. My kids loved this book and we read it over and over throughout the year. Firstly, I found it a good way to introduce the concept of same but different, And secondly, though they were enchanted by the book, they didn't really know too much about endangered animals when we began, so this book opened conversations about what that would mean. This book has now become a permanent part of my teaching library.

Builders & Breakers written and illustrated by Steve Light
Candlewick Press, 2018, 40 pages
Have you ever noticed how little kids, even those in strollers, are fascinated looking at building sites and the big equipment used for tearing down or for putting up buildings? Well, if you have a young fan of construction sites, this is the perfect book for them. It's the story of two kids, a brother and sister, whose father has forgotten his lunch. So mom sends them off to his construction site job to bring it to him. As they search for dad, the kids observe all the people and activity that goes into building a building - builders, breakers, diggers, welders, cranes, even the simple wheelbarrow. Told in the simplest of ways - only a few words on the page in bold, black letters above simple, slightly cartoonish gouache illustrations showing what they are doing. It's a fun book, with just the amount of whimsy to tickle a funny bone or two (my kids thought the dinosaur bones on the digger page to be particularly funny). The dust jacket shows a typical green construction fence around the site on the front and back. Take the DJ off, for a full view of all the construction activity - a nice treat that my kids spent lots of time exploring.

Little Brown written and illustrated by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane Books, 2018, 32 pages
The first time I read this book, my jaw dropped when I got to the end. It just wasn't what I expected. But then I realized the incredible amount potential it offers for discussing a difficult topic - why the other dogs didn't like Little Brown. He's a lonely, cranky dog who keeps to himself in the dog playground, sitting by the fence, with his back turned away from everyone and his head hanging. Little Brown wonders if the other dogs don't play with him because he is cranky, or if he is cranky because the other dogs wouldn't play with him? The other dogs wondered if Little Brown was cranky because they don't play with him, or if they don't play with him because he's cranky? It's quite a standoff, made worse when Little Brown takes all their toys and keeps them. The book ends with all the dogs wondering what to do, but with no solution to the problem. This frustrated some of my young readers, but others offered all kinds of ways the standoff could end. Interestingly, some kids felt empathy for Little Brown, others for the rest of the dogs. Frazee's pencil and gouache illustrations are simple, direct and add volumes to the text, all done in somber brown tones except for the dog toys done in muted color. The palette used is definitely a reflection of the attitudes explored in this interesting picture book.

Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude
 by Josh Funk, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Henry Holt, 2018, 40 pages
One morning, while the rest of New York City still slept, Fortitude, one of the large lions who stand guard over the library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, woke up on his perch and looked over at his companion Patience to say good morning. To his surprise, Patience, who had always told Fortitude wonderful "stories of ducklings and moons/Of wardrobes and buttons and fun," wasn't there. No, indeed, instead Patience had slipped into the library that night when no one was around. Fortitude decides he had better find his friend before anyone notice him gone, but where in the library could he be? After all, it's a pretty big library, as Fortitude soon discovers. Disguised in the search for Patience is a wonderful tour of the library, as Fortitude goes up the beautiful marble stairs to the iconic Rose Reading Room, stopping to ask the various library statues and portrait paintings if they have seen Patience. It soon becomes clear to Fortitude that Patience has visited the library many times before. But why and where can he be now? Told in rhyme, this is a fun mystery about two of NYCs most iconic statues, and maybe the most photographed. The bright earth toned illustrations are playful and friendly, ideal for a story about friendship and loyalty. 

Forever or a Day 
written and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby
Chronicle Books, 2018, 40 pages
This is an interesting musing on the concept of time - a concept that has occupied the thoughts of scientists and philosophers for centuries, but now it is looked at through the eyes of a young narrator over the course of one day visiting grandparents and anther young child - perhaps a visiting cousin. As the day goes by, ideas about time are explored - some people pay a lot of attention to time, others not so much, sometimes it feels fleeting, other times it drags, sometimes it's all you can think about, then again, sometimes you don't even notice it. But one thing is certain - since "we've only got what we've got," appreciate the time you spend with loved ones. The watercolor, NuPastel and mixed media illustrations, all cleverly centered on time in one way or another, have a close, yet ethereal quality to them that just seems to capture the different ideas about time perfectly. Do kids think much about time? I was curious to learn that, and true to what the book says, some do, others don't. Those who did, loved this book; those who don't, didn't get it at all. Curiouser and curiouser. 
I am Famous by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie,
illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Albert Whitman, 2018, 32 pages
Kiely, a young curly-haired brown-skinned girl, believes she is a celebrity, and why wouldn't she? She's an actress, a singer, a dancer, and she even has the paparazzi following her around, photographing and video recording everything she does. Naturally, being such a famous person, Kiely is asked to perform at her Grandpa's birthday party - and to a packed house no less. But will her fans desert her when she forgets the words to the song she's singing, or when she falls during her dance number? This is a fun, very tongue-in-cheek story that my young readers really enjoyed, they even got the irony of Kiely believing she's famous because of the fuss made over her by her family. But the story isn't all sunshine and attention - there are some all too realistic scenes of parental frustration, annoyance, and even anger at their diva daughter, which I'm sure every parent has experienced at one time or another. In the end, though, it comes down to the unconditional love Kiely experiences and her mishaps at Grandpa's birthday could be seen as the universe keeping things in balance. The bright digital illustrations add much to the story, and really capture the changing expressions on everyone's face. A fun book that my Fancy Nancy fans loved.

The Dreamer written and illustrated by Il Sung Na
Chronicle Books, 2018, 52 pages
This is the story of a pig who wanted to fly just like the birds he admired so much. But he knew he could never fly like a bird, or could he? Pig, who is an attractive shade of mint green, begins studying aeronautics, then begins to build a series of flying machines, none of which actually work. Even with the help of three friends, including a pink elephant, his machines just don't fly. Then, pig and his friends decide to listen to the experts - a series of different birds, some of which can fly, and some who can't (penguin and rooster). Modifying their original designs, a successful plane is built, and pig, complete with goggles and red scarf, flies far and away, just like he had dreamed of doing. Is this the end of pig's story? No, it is not. Pretty soon, there are all kinds of animals flying around in all kinds of flying machines. Is this the end of pig's story. No, no it isn't. The book ends with the first line of the book "Once, there was a pig who admired birds..." The message my young readers walked away with is follow your dreams, who knows where they will lead. The soft ink and pencil illustrations are not quite as spare as the text, inviting young readers to read into the images and expand the story with their own ideas. After all this is about an unconventional green pig who did just that. 

The Day That A Ran Away by B.C.R. Fegan,
illustrated by Lenny Wen
TaleBlade, 2018, 32 pages
When a young boy named Jet is asked by his teacher where his alphabet homework is, he comes up with an elaborate excuse, told in rhyme. Each letter of the alphabet gets its own page about why or how it has gone its own way, leaving him with no homework. Does the teacher buy Jet's excuse? No, she tells the letters must pay for their crime and that they will all be back after he writes the alphabet 20 times. The fourth grader teacher in me kind of found this story amusing, although I thought the punishment a little harsh for a child just learning to write the alphabet. My young readers, of course, thought the punishment was way over the top, even though they liked the overall story. The bright bold illustrations are big and busy, but if you look closely, on each page there are items that begin with the particular letter of the alphabet being talked about. Having heard all kinds of excuses as to why homework wasn't turned in, I have to admit this would have been the most clever. 

Albie Newton by Josh Funk, illustrated by Ester Garay
Sterling Children's Books, 2018, 32 pages
Albie Newton is an exceptionally smart kid who decides he will make friends in his new class after his family moves to Littleton. But for all his intelligence, Albie lacks the ability to read social cues and is unaware of his classmates distress when he goes his own way during class. While they do more age appropriate activities, for example, while they take a spelling quiz, Albie is writing a sonnet, or during arts and crafts, Albie takes all the glue without asking. But what's he making with all the stuff he's collected without permission? When the class decides to confront Albie, only Shirley sticks up for him and suggests seeing what he has been working on. When they see the Spaceship/Time Machine he's made for them, all is forgiven as they visit people and things from the past. Told in rhyme, with cartoonishly amusing, colorful illustrations, this is a story that will open some questions about Albie's behavior in the classroom, behavior that you may be surprised to learn that young kids, including Kindergartners, have some very definite ideas about. I usually like books by Josh Funk, but I did not find Albie to be a very likable character, nor did my kids. He reminded me too much a self-centered Sheldon Cooper. 

Hungry Bunny written and illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Chronicle Books, 2018, 64 pages
Claudia Rueda's Bunny is back in his second interactive story ( see Bunny Slopes) and this time he's hungry. And once again, he needs some help from his young readers in order to fill his little wagon up with some red, delicious and hard-to-reach apples. So Bunny asks readers to shake the book, but with all the leaves that fall, readers need to blow on the book to scatter them. Then his scarf blows away, and gets stuck in the book. Retrieved, Bunny wants readers to hold it tight so he can climb up and pick some apples. Of course, there is a red ribbon attached to the book to make this and other Bunny requests easier. This is a fun book and kids will definitely have fun helping Bunny out of all his dilemmas. The story made us all laugh and each one of my kids had to take turns assisting Bunny. Rueda's simple charcoal and digital illustrations are fun and friendly, with touches of red in the apples, Bunny's scarf, and his wagon. We read this book a lot and the red ribbon adds much to the fun. Eventually it can come loose but I just reglued it and that worked. We still read it on a regular basis, along with Bunny Slopes.

Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins,
illustrated by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books, 2018, 40 pages
The idea of a tree house is so appealing to kids. It's a place of their own in which to dream, play, read, invite friends over, maybe even have a sleepover. But, first you need to build a treehouse and, according to this book, "Everything you need for a treehouse starts with time and looking up." From there, the text expands on different ideas for what is needed for an ideal treehouse while the illustrations show wildly fantastic treehouses built by a group of diverse friends. Higgins' lyrical, alliterative descriptions of treehouse possibilities come to life beautifully in Hughes' digitally colored graphite illustrations done in a wonderful palette of earth tones. The book ends on a more realistic note, echoing the words that begin the book, "Everything you need for a treehouse starts with time and looking up" and a child gazing at a small potted tree seedling. This was a wonderfully imaginative book to read with my kids and talk about what they would want their dream treehouse to be like if they were going to build one.

Mama's Belly by Kate Hosford, 
illustrated by Abigail Halpin
Harry N. Abrams, 2018, 32 pages
A young, soon-to-be-older sister is both excited and curious about the little sister in her mama's belly, as what child wouldn't be. While she sings to the baby, she wonders if her sister knows her yet, or if she will have freckles. When her baby sister cries, big sister will rub her back to calm her, and give her a bath when she needs it. But when she worriedly asks if she will have to share her blanket with the baby, mama suggests they make a new one for baby. As mama's pregnancy moves along, the real question finally gets asked "When my sister comes, will you have enough love for both of us?" A new baby always changes the dynamics in a family, during pregnancy and after the baby is born. Hosford has created a lovely, warm inclusive environment in which to address this change for any child about to become a new sister or brother. It's not unusual for a little jealousy or selfishness to rear up and that is dealt with so well in this story, making this an ideal book for that reason. All of my young readers have younger siblings, and even though none of them can remember what it was like before their siblings were born, but they still liked this story and we will keep it on our bookshelves just in case.  

Love, Z 
written and illustrated by Jessie Sima
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2018, 48 pages
One day, while out playing, a young robot finds a message in a bottle, but all that is legible on the note are the words "Love, Beatrice." But, the robot wonders, what is "love" and who is "Beatrice?" That night, when Z goes to bed, he is read a bedtime story, given a night light, and a good night kiss. But when Z asks the other robots what love is, they can only respond by saying that the word love does not compute. But, Z reasons, Beatrice knows the answer, and so Z sets off on an adventure to find Beatrice. Off he goes, accompanied by a cat but wherever the pair go, no one knows Beatrice and everyone has an idea about what love is. Finally, they accidentally find Beatrice. But can she answer Z questions satisfactorily? Yes, she can and the answer may surprise you as it did Z. My young readers and I had so much fun reading this book and talking about what love is to them and how it measured up to what Z discovers. My kids really loved the robots, and didn't think it at all odd that no one in the book reacted to a robot asking them questions about love. Robots are basically expressionless and emotionless, but pay attention to their mouths - it's all there.  

Little Bear's Big House 
written and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books, 2018, 32 pages
This is the fourth Little Bear tale and it is every bit as good as the first three. Little Bear is tired of hanging around the forest and decides to be a little boy and go in search of an adventure. Leaving the forest and all his forest friends behind, Little Bear discovers a very large red house with an open door just waiting for a little boy/bear to explore and have an adventure. Which he does, and as night falls, Little Bear, dressed in polka dot PJ's, crawls into a comfy bed, but not for long after hearing some scary noises. Convinced that there are monsters in the house, and after seeing the monster's shadow, Little Bear wishes he were back with his family. Of course, the reader immediately recognizes the shadow as Little Bear's family. The story ends on an ironic note which even younger readers will get. This is an oversized book, with text running across the bottom of each page, leaving a virtual forest and house playground for kids to explore, and they will if they are like my young readers, who will pull out this book just to go over the all the different things they find in the pictures and talk about them. This is a funny, imaginative book about growing up, independence and the importance of family.

Now, I can't wait to see what new books 2019 will bring. 

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