Best Thing I’ve Read All Week

The Farmer and the Clown 

by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books 2014

farmer

Tenderhearted book about the kindness of strangers. No words are needed to tell the story of a young clown who is separated from his circus train and the farmer who takes care of him. Readers follow both characters as they are transformed by their friendship.

Clown

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Yellow + Blue Makes Green (and then some)

Mix it Up!

By Hervé  Tullet

Chronicle Books 2014

mix it up

Hervé Tullet, author of the widely lauded Press Here (2010) which resulted in a landslide of interactive picture books being published has applied that formula rather successfully to his latest offering Mix It Up.

Children now able to swipe before they walk get results similar to a handheld screen in the pages of a book. All you have to do is follow directions then simply turn the pages getting a little poof of picture book magic.

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Tullet allows readers to vicariously experiment with paint as well as introduces color combining in this fantastic work that promises to be yet another bestseller.

For children continuing to learn more about working with color, I suggest pairing Mix it Up with Mouse Paint (1995) by Ellen Stoll Walsh and Little Yellow and Little Blue (1959) by Leo Lionni.

mouse-paint-int-4-001 little yellow

Pick 5

The Bear’s Sea Escape

By Benjamin Chaud

Chronicle Books 2014

bear

We meet Papa Bear and Little Bear again in this follow up to Benjamin Chaud’s The Bear’s Song. This time instead of hunting for his cub throughout an opera house, Papa Bear tails him from a snowed-in city to a faraway tropical island. Saturated colors and mountains of details to wade through make for a delightful picture book not just to read but study.

Very Little Red Riding Hood

By Heapy & Heap

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2014

red

The Big Bad Wolf has his work cut out for him after encountering a pint-sized girl on her way to Grandmama’s house. Very Little Red Riding Hood insists on calling him “Foxie”, she refuses to share her delicious cakes, and throws more than one tantrum before they even reach their destination. Heapy & Heap rearrange a classic in the most adorable way possible.

Flashlight

By Lizi Boyd

Chronicle Books 2014

flashlight

Explore the world outside at night in this brilliant and original wordless picture book by the author of Inside Outside. With the aid of a flashlight, we are shown contrasting color scenes that splice through the black and silver darkness.

Pig and Small

By Alex Latimer

Peachtree Publishers 2014

pig

Friendship isn’t always easy, and pig & bug almost give up on theirs due to having incompatible sizes. They come to realize there are more things they can do together than can’t.

 Digger Dog

By William Bee

Nosy Crow Publishing 2014

digger
Put on your hard hat and join Digger Dog in his hunt for a bone that turns out to be much bigger than expected. Rhyming text and fold out pages make for an engaging read with a surprise ending.

Knock Knock

2013-12-04-KnockKnock

Recipient of the 2014 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me delivers both a visual and emotional punch. It begins with a simple game played between an adoring son and his father, but just a few pages in the boy experiences a great loss. His father disappears, but not in the magical way that parents frequently go absent in children’s literature thus allowing children the narrative freedom to go on great adventures. The father of the boy in this story is simply gone.

“Papa, come home, ’cause I miss you, miss you waking me in the mornings and telling me you love me. Papa, come come ’cause there are things I don’t know, and when I get older I thought you could teach me.”

The story is a sad one, but not uncommon. Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream For Me is based on the author, who at three years old experienced his father being incarcerated. As an adult, Beaty an award-winning actor, singer, writer, and composer produced this version to “…tell the story of loss from a child’s perspective and also to offer hope that every fatherless child can still create the most beautiful life possible”.

Definitely check out the author performing the monologue that inspired the picture book.

What kind of superhero types?

Kate DiCamillo just won her second Newberry Award for a story of a girl and her superhero squirrel. She created a cast of quirky characters that slowly rolls out through mishaps, dissappointments, as well as small victories. 

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Flora Belle Buckman is a bit of an outsider and self-proclaimed cynic living with her mother, an often preoccupied recently divorced romance novelist. She spends much of her time reading and throughout the book references her favorite superhero comic and a work of nonfiction titled “Terrible Things Can Happen To You!” The story begins at the start of summer vacation whereabouts on one afternoon her reading becomes disturbed by the sound of neighbors vacuuming their yard. Somethings strikes Flora as odd about this and she looks out her window just in time to see a squirrel being vacuumed up.

   

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After the incident, we gain an unusual vantage that being the squirrel’s perspective. “His brain felt larger, roomier. It was as if several doors in the dark room of his self (doors he hadn’t known existed) had suddenly been flung wide.” Not only has the squirrel has gained in consciousness but also in super rodent powers. He is surprisingly now strong enough to pick up the out of control vacuum and lift it over his tiny head. Other abilities come into play with flying being the least remarkable.

 

Flora finds herself drawn to care for the injured squirrel and decides to name him Ulysses and likens his transformation to that of the hero in her beloved comic. We are introduced to William Spiver the (questionably) temporarily blind great-nephew of Flora’s vacuuming neighbor Tootie Tickham. And Mary Ann, an ornamental shepherdess lamp quite possibly treasured more than Flora by her own mother.  We meet Flora’s socially anxious father George Buckman who bonds with his daughter by using comic book catchphrases that pepper the book such as “Holy unanticipated occurrences” and “This malfeasance must be stopped.”

 Along the way Flora’s mother takes up a campaign to snuff out the squirrel and hands her ex-husband the shovel to do it with thus cementing her status as the villain of the book.

 There is a lot of loneliness in this menagerie. And a lot of snacks. With sprinkles even.

Endearing pencil drawings of K.G. Campbell that “illuminate” Flora and Ulysses. They have a soft and kind quality that mirror the way the characters in the story slowly begin to interact with one another. Sometimes scenes are enacted in comic panels and othertimes small or full page illustrations accent DiCamillo’s writing.

 It wasn’t until the very last page that I felt the overall effect. It wasn’t nearly the tearjerker that was The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or as great an adventure as The Tale of Despereaux but it left me with a happy feeling and a definite tendency to look a little closer at the squirrels.

 

                 

Along the yellow road

Sometimes I feel funny about liking a book solely for the illustrations. My dilemma is possibly the inverse of “never judge a book by it’s cover”. Lucky for you, I’ve decided to eschew that way of thinking and share a recently published work for young children simply because of its beautiful pictures.

Could a book designed entirely using computer software still be organic and elegant? Surprisingly, yes!

You may recognize the work of graphic designer Frank Viva who occasionally does covers for The New Yorker. If not, meet Along a Long Road whose title does nothing to mislead.

Inside, one seamless (pre-binding, 35 foot long!) scene is divided for readers into a panoramic glimpse of a two wheeled journey. A striking yellow bike trail courses throughout right alongside a lovely blue body of water. Both are accompanied by simple encouraging text. We meet towns and cities, pass through tunnels and go up hills, from day to shimmering moonlit night. We hit a bump in the road and fall off our bikes. Kids will see that it’s easy to get back on and continue your adventure.

See http://alongalongroad.com/