It's been a long summer dear readers, one that seems to finally be drawing to a close, at least calendar-wise. (I live at the "bottom of the world," so we have at least three more months of heat to go!)
While I've been too busy and distracted to post, my family and I have been reading like gonzos, and I've been taking notes in anticipation of finally finding the time to share some noteworthy, fun, cool brand new picture books with you. Hope you enjoy!
Roger is Reading A Book by Koen Van Biesen
When I first began studying children’s literature in graduate school in the early 2000s (dating myself, I know), modern international children’s literature was just starting to be taken seriously by librarians and educators. Fast forward a decade plus, and the number of books first published in another country, and then brought to the United States for American children to appreciate and enjoy, has grown exponentially. We’re not only experiencing a golden age of children’s books, our children have access to voices, perspectives, and styles like never before. To make a long story short, it’s a super exciting time not just to be a reading child, but also to be a teacher/parent/grandparent/etcetera sharing picture books with kids!
Roger is Reading a Book was translated to English, then published in America in 2015, after first being released in Belgium in 2013. Van Biesen is not new to the picture book scene, having illustrated more than 20 books. In this droll, quirky title, the adult Roger keeps trying to get some peace and quiet to read his book, while young Emily, who lives in an adjacent apartment, is determined to disturb the peace. How the neighbors work out their quandary is both funny and touching: Emily learns the joys of reading, while Roger’s normally quiet (and hilariously expressive) bassett hound has the last laugh/bark.
The simple text in this book makes it quite accessible to young readers. The exaggerated mixed media illustrations, however, are what makes this import stand out for kids of all ages, as well as any adult who likes to laugh.
The Bus is for Us! by Michael Rosen and Gillian Taylor
This charming picture book makes me want to find a warm toddler to curl up with and read to. (Time to borrow my nephew!) I think it would also be ideal for sharing with large groups of preschoolers. You might remember Rosen as the author of this iconic picture book for toddlers and preschoolers, published back in 1989. With The Bus is for Us!, he’s back in top form.
This time around the topic is transportation, which little ones generally love (especially buses!), and the story is told in accessible language, with a gentle rhythm:
I really like to ride my bike.
I like going far in our car.
When it starts to rain,
I like the train.
But the best is the bus.
The bus is for us!
As the story progresses the means of transportation become whimsically imaginative (a sleigh, a cloud, a kite, the back of a bear). But the refrain always comes back to that “best” bus. I love the seamless transition between “real” modes of getting around and more magical ones, which seem to reflect the average preschooler’s ease at switching from concrete to fanciful, often not even bothering to delineate between the two.
Now that I’ve gone on and on about how much I like the written portion of The Bus is for Us!, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t finish up with mention of Gillian Rosen's fabulous double-spread, full-page watercolor illustrations, which are crucial to the book’s appeal. They're soft, lovely, multicultural, and bridge imagination and reality with aplomb.
Pool by JiHyeon Lee
A boy and a girl meet in a swimming pool and find that the objects of their imagination are bigger than anything concrete could possibly contain.
My ten year old very much enjoyed the imaginary aspects of this beautiful wordless picture book, with specific mention of what the kids imagined at the bottom of the pool, as well as the fact that Lee created underwater animals that are generally recognizable as fish or whales, but still completely fictitious.
Published first in South Korea, this is yet another international picture book that has come to the U.S. in 2015. The large format of Pool and Lee’s colored pencil and oil pastel artwork pull readers into a half real-half fantastical world. Lee’s rendering of the girl and boy changes from black and white to color as they move further into their adventure, which is symbolic of both embracing the fun of fantasy, and moving from timidity and hesitation to friendship and courage.
On the back cover of Pool are its only words: “For Those Who Want to Swim Freely in the World.” Children will want to dive in deeply.
Trapped! A Whale’s Rescue by Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor
When a humpback whale is caught in a fishing net, a team of divers works to save her in this story based on a real-life occurrence.
Trapped! teaches kids to respect earth’s creatures and touches on the potential effects of littering, problems with the use of non-biodegradable materials, and how we work to right environmental wrongs when we’re unable or fail to prevent them ahead of time. Burleigh’s text is minimal, so that kids of a wide age range can savor this book. Stunning full-page oil paintings are typical of Minor’s well-known picture book art. Additional information on the true-life story, whale rescues, humpback whales, and a bibliography of books and websites, are also included. Kids (and adults) who read Trapped! will be struck by the human ability to both destroy and preserve our world. Ultimately, my daughters and I left this book feeling moved by the potential love involved in human/animal relationships.
You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Könnecke
Such an unexpectedly adorable book! Very simple text makes it appropriate for tiny lap listeners, but subtle humor will draw in kids who are slightly older.
Be prepared for this quirky tale to surprise you. Tiny red bird Bert looks like he’s gathering all his courage to take his first flight, but he’s actually gearing up for something unexpected, and just as brave. Kids will identify with Bert’s efforts as he takes on a new, somewhat intimidating, adventure. They will also laugh, loudly.
Oh, and try this on for size: You Can Do It, Bert! was written by a native Swedish freelance illustrator, living and working in Germany. The book was first published in New Zealand in 2007 in German, and then translated to English and distributed to the United States and other countries last year. Talk about international!
Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) by Josh Schneider
When I first heard of this one, my honest reaction was “Meh, not another book about a kid who doesn’t want to go to bed.” Then I read it to my six year old one night. And then another time the next night. And another.
And of course this book appeals to my child because he lives to avoid bedtime. (Who knows what he might miss while he’s sleeping, right?) But Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) offers more than just that base story. First off, it’s super quirky. It’s hilariously funny. It must be read repeat times to get each joke. And it’s written and illustrated by the award-winning Josh Schneider. Published in April, “But Not Fred” is one of my absolute favorites of this past summer.
Orangutanka: A Story in Poems by Margarita Engle and Renée Kurilla
Cuban-American Margarita Engle is one of those rare talents who writes across genres and ages, with beautiful results. (I wrote about another one of her new titles here.) Lately, her chapter and picture books have been so perfectly executed, each time a new one is published (four books this year!) it seems hard to believe it could possibly be as good as the last. With Orangutanka: A Story in Poems, Engle not only lives up to her well-earned reputation — she exceeds it.
Try to put all this together in your mind: This is a book of Japanese-style “tanka” poems. (Previous to this book, I was ignorant of this five-line form of 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count per line, much like haiku, but different.) Each poem is linked to tell the story of a young, feisty, adorable orangutan who longs to dance. “Big sister” lives in a wildlife preserve in Borneo, and interacts with her family, a park ranger, and curious onlookers. (The young orangutan’s free-spirited nature even inspires a group of multi-ethnic children to cut a rug.)
Author Engle has pulled off something quite complicated: She’s married Asian-inspired word art, which she studied in Singapore, with her memories of a trip to Borneo and her love for wild animals. Yet the magic in this book is the utterly simple way it will beguile children. (Kurilla’s pencil, ink, and watercolor illustrations, which capture “big sister” in all the joy of irreverent dance, are key to this success.) Orangutanka is an ideal book for preschoolers and kindergartners. And with an extension activity (an “orangudance”), in which kids use their imaginations to move like big sister through the rain forest, Orangutanka is also custom made for sharing with groups.
For older kids, or curious readers who want to understand more, notes are provided that explain tanka poetry, orangutan facts, websites, and books. That means Orangutanka works well for kids studying units on poetry, the rainforest, orangutans, and more. It's truly a book with a wide appeal.
Ice Cream Summer by Peter Sís
Globe-trotting Peter Sís has been writing award-winning children’s literature for decades. He ardently researches his picture books (this one is no exception), and many of them are rendered in a very detailed manner appropriate for upper elementary readers. With Ice Cream Summer, Sís takes a sweeter, simpler turn. Well — at least at first glance.
Young Joe writes a letter to Grandpa filled with simple sentences about his summer activities. As the story progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer, through word play and the illustrations, that Joe has one thing on his mind … convincing Grandpa he’s earned a “special trip” for ice cream. This book will have wide appeal: Its undemanding main text works for young kids, who will enjoy the summery pastel color scheme and delicious ending. Older kids will be drawn into Ice Cream Summer due to Sis’ clever injection of global ice cream history into intricate illustrations. Minds and tummies will be filled with this superb story!
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