Oooo, I am so excited to share these amazing new picture books (some fiction and some non-fiction) with you! I've been reading a lot of really great stuff over the last couple of months and it looks like 2014 closed out as a banner year for picture books! And as far as what's been published in January 2015, things are still looking awesome. Picture books are my nearest and dearest love in children's literature, so this makes me very happy!
And have I mentioned I am over-the-moon excited because Monday, February 2 (today for most of you reading this), is the day we find out all the award winners in children's literature published in 2014!? The next best thing to being in Chicago for the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting is watching online, here! And if you can't, no worries, I'll post the winners this week, too. I just can't wait to see if the awards committees and I are of like minds as far as which picture books, teen novels, middle grade chapter books, non-fiction, and easy readers deserve recognition. They didn't ask me what I thought, but I don't take that personally, of course.
Anyway, back on topic! Here are 12 new picture books you must not miss this winter:
Shh! We Have a Plan! by Chris Haughton
My nearly six-year-old son is obsessed with this perfect picture book, which I managed to miss until about a month ago. Released last September, it’s the third American-published picture book by British illustrator Chris Haughton, who has been a huge international design (and children’s illustrator) hit for several years. Haughton is a genius at marrying minimalism (in digital art and in text) with deep moral messages couched in humor and fun. In a landscape of purples, blues, and black, three creatures with nets over their shoulders venture into the dark woods to catch a beautiful red bird. A fourth (smaller and net-less) companion follows along, and remarks “hello, birdie,” when the animal appears, only to be countered with the story’s refrain, “shh SHH! we have a plan!” out of the mouths of his larger friends. The three hunters have multiple plans to catch the bird, but each one fails with repeatedly comic results. And apparently, the littlest guy has a plan too, one that involves befriending not just one bird, but many. The very youngest readers will love the Laurel and Hardey-esque physical comedy, while older readers will catch on to an underlying message about our interactions with the natural world. Outstanding.
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach
This is my first must-read picture book of 2015! First of all, the acrylic and pencil impressionist illustrations are absolutely fabulous! I just can’t stop looking at them, as they evoke movement, mystery, and warmth. Second, the storyline is very funny, because of course, the bear isn’t actually the one who stole your sandwich, as you might have already guessed, but perhaps a very naughty dog narrator is the culprit. Readers don’t meet the dog, or even know he’s telling the story, until nearly the last page. This one had better show up on some 2015 awards lists. I LOVE it, and so did my kindergartner and fourth grader.
A Bed for Kitty by Yasmine Survovec
Surovec’s second picture book about cats proves that a few simple words and bright, comic book-style artwork can engage very young children time and again. A Bed for Kitty is an easy story about a cat who sleeps everywhere else but in her own bed. It’s told through the eyes of a preschool girl, and my son particularly loves the ending in which Kitty finally sleeps in her own bed, but only when she sees her young caregiver napping on the cat’s bed in desperation. The final page shows kitty curled up on top of the girl, who is sleeping on the cat bed. Very cute, very sweet, and one we’ve been reading over and over.
Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott and Carolyn Fisher
This critically-overlooked picture book came out early last year, and I completely missed it. Once I got my hands on this book, I was immediately drawn in by colorful mixed-media illustrations and hand-drawn text. I’m also a natural world/gardening fanatic, so I’m really enticed by the idea of a book that celebrates something most of us do not! The language is simple enough for a preschooler, but the end notes, which include a glossary of weeds accompanied by more beautiful artwork, make this a useful title for older elementary school kids. Kids generally find books about unlovable things very enticing (see the entire gross-out genre of science books for proof), so I think this one will have a lot of appeal. Besides being simple, the prose is also quite poetic, which makes it a lovely read aloud. Don’t miss this science/art/poetry picture book. Here’s a spread to give you a taste of the beautiful work inside:
Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg
If you’ve ever encountered a child who just can’t/won’t fall asleep (and who hasn’t?), I’ve found the bedtime picture book for you! First thing, pandas. Who doesn’t love these adorable, furry, innocent-looking creatures? Second, watercolor artwork featuring only the black and white of the animals, white of a tree branch, black of the night sky, and green of surrounding bamboo. It draws the eye in and makes the pandas even cuter, as they stand in relief to their surroundings. Third, simple text that relays the struggles of a young panda who has tried just about everything he can think of (wink, nudge) to fall asleep. Chengdu’s perfect sleeping spot turns out to be on top of his brother Yuan, which the author waits to reveal until the final page, in which the reader learns that everyone is finally sleeping. Well, everyone except Yuan, of course. Clever, sweet, and perfect for nighttime reading.
Violet and Victor Write the Best-Ever Bookworm Book by Alice Kuipers and Bethanie Deeney Murguia
If you’ve ever been at the parent end of sibling rivalry, you’re going to appreciate this creative, humorous picture book, told in the alternating voices of a brother and sister. It just hit bookshelves in December. As most kids have experienced family infighting, they too will readily relate to Violet and Victor, who are creating a story together. The two verbally hash it out as to the contents of the story, and readers get to enjoy both the process as well as the result of the siblings’ creative work. Their dialogue is portrayed in purple, while their story is rendered in kid-like handwriting nearby. The artwork in Violet and Victor is quite creative; it features graphite drawings of the main characters and tons of cool collage work to depict the imaginary story world they create. Illustrator Bethanie Deanery Murguia used book covers, maps, cut paper sculptures, origami, and even library cards (swoon) to create the double page spreads. Kids will enjoy this book on a couple of levels — they can relate to the sibling rivalry and may also be inspired to create a story of their own. Don’t miss this unique picture book!
Coming Home by Greg Ruth
Books that help kids understand each other and become more compassionate are some of my favorites. Released last November, Coming Home is a nearly-wordless picture book through which kids can step into the lives (and appreciate the struggles) of other families. The good news is that it’s also enjoyable and never heavy-handed. Very few words, perhaps one or two or a short phrase per page, work alongside large-scale drawings to depict the story of a young boy at an airport anxiously awaiting a parent's return from military service. The boy, who looks to be about ten, witnesses multiple other reunions as he searches for his loved one. Tension builds, as readers feel the boy's palpable worry and excitement. The final page of boy in mother’s (not father’s!) arms, juxtaposed with a facing page of only a bit of shadow from the embracing duo and the words, “I missed you so much,” are hauntingly powerful. While some might argue that this book is directed towards military kids, I think many children can relate to having a parent away from home for work or due to parental separation. For these kids, Coming Home will resonate emotionally. It also will help all kids better understand and appreciate the sacrifices that military families make. Pair this one with Tuesday Tucks Me In, a non-fiction picture book about a soldier and his dog, which I reviewed here.
Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King’s Six Guiding Beliefs (as told by his niece) by Angela Farris Watkins and Sally Wern Comport
I just received this title, which was published in January, right after MLK Day. I had used my most favorite MLK picture book ever, Martin’s Big Words (which won about a bazillion well-deserved awards when published in 2001) to teach a Sunday School lesson for MLK Day. My first thought upon reading Love Will See You Through was how well it would pair with Martin’s Big Words. The author simplifies King’s philosophy into six tenets that young kids can understand:
- Have courage.
- Love your enemies.
- Fight the problem, not the person who caused it.
- When innocent people are hurt, others are inspired to help.
- Resist violence of any kind.
- The universe honors love.
Watkins explains how King’s work exemplified these guidelines, so kids get a lesson in his role in the American Civil Rights’ Movement. Comport’s multi-media artwork in shades of black, orange, purple, and blue, is full of action and rendered in a size that gives import to the universal lessons at hand. While this book isn’t appropriate for a research project, as it lacks endnotes and sources, it provides a unique perspective on King’s message, one that kids can understand and, with encouragement, perhaps carry into the world.
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
This engaging picture book is also hot off the presses, having just been released in January. The author has done a fine job of creating a story that can be used as a read aloud for young kids, while independent elementary students will enjoy reading it on their own. Zulay, an African-American student, is the first-person narrator, and I like that she never tells readers that she is blind. Rather, author Cari Best lets the subtext and artwork relay this central fact. That makes Zulay’s voice more genuine and engages readers in her story. Zulay is integrated into a classroom of sighted children (all wear the same uniforms, a clever symbol that reinforces just how alike children are, despite varying "abilities"). In some ways (and like all kids), Zulay doesn’t like being different from her peers. When Ms. Turner comes to take Zulay aside to practice using her cane, Zulay balks, and is happy to put it away when the lesson is over and rejoin her friends. When field day is announced, Zulay is inspired to declare that she would like to run the race in her new pink shoes. Ms. Turner offers heady encouragement, despite the stunned silence of Zulay's classmates. Zulay’s triumphant field day race, and the hard work she engages in to “learn” to run with her cane, make for a joyful, inspiring story. One important thing I love about this picture book — Zulay is African-American, and her three best friends are African-American, Asian-American, and white. The class is full of kids and adults with varying skin tones. So Zulay’s classroom appears truly American. Because more kids will see themselves in Brantley-Newton’s artwork, My Three Best Friends is an even better picture book.
Tiptop Cat by C. Roger Mader
Released in November 2014, Tiptop Cat is the story of a Parisian kitty with wanderlust. The book begins with the words, “Of all the gifts she got that day, the best one was the cat.” Through realistic (and beautiful) pastel illustrations, readers watch the cat explore his new city apartment, then expand his surroundings to the balcony, roof, and chimney, where s/he encounters a magnificent cityscape view that includes the Eiffel Tower. But, uh oh, an irresistible pigeon stops by and we all know how kitties must “POUNCE!” The cat endures a long (but harmless) fall and is too scared to explore again. But then an enticing crow comes into view … Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal awarded Tiptop Cat a trifecta of starred reviews. But even better evidence exists as to its appeal: My kindergartner will not stop asking me to read it! A wonderful picture book that can be enjoyed simply for fun, but also imparts a subtle message of the importance of try, trying again.
Zombie in Love: 2 + 1 by Kelly DiPucchio and Scott Campbell
In this sequel to the popular Zombie in Love, two of my favorite children’s book creators (see reviews of DiPucchio’s Gaston here and Campbell’s Hug Machine here), are back for more gross-out fun. The undead couple have now reproduced (don’t worry, the hows and whys have been left out of the story!), and are having a difficult time adjusting to life with a ghoulish baby who sleeps all night and stays up all day. (Doesn’t he know that zombies like nighttime best?) He won’t even let out a bloodcurdling scream, like all good monsters do! Older elementary kids will love the sight gags and get a kick out of pointing them out. (He has your nose, Dad. Literally. It’s in his hands!) I predict a third installment about Zombie Jr.’s baby sibling, just as soon as mom and dad have lobotomies to induce amnesia as to the difficulties of newborns.
Max and the Won’t Go to Bed Show by Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton
Max reminds me so much of my own son, who thinks bedtime means time to jump on the bed, not sleep in it. This is a clever take on the universal conundrum of settling kids down for the night, in which Max takes his reader audience (and presumably his parents) through a circus-style show. He tames a savage beast (his old, harmless dog), disappears, tries to make his pajamas float away, and even attempts to trick his mom into reading ten bedtime stories. Max finally wears himself out, but readers are reminded, “… who knows what tricks he’ll perform tomorrow?” We’re treated to a final page spread of Max at the table balancing food and plates while standing on a chair, his poor dog with three peas precariously perched on the end of its nose. The dog’s facial expression hilariously (and wordlessly) says volumes. A fun, funny romp through an avoided bedtime that kids will adore in repeat doses.
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