Dan Yaccarino’s new picture book, Doug, Unplugged tells the story of Doug, a robot, who learns his daily lessons by downloading data and information (Knopf, $16.99). When he finally notices a pigeon on his windowsill, he knows all sorts of facts, but those facts haven’t told him that pigeons make a funny cooing sound. What else could Doug learn about the city, were he to unplug? Doug ventures outside (!) to find out. His adventures augment his factual understanding with sound, smells, and experiences that he can’t download. He plays with friends, admires the views, but most of all learns to appreciate his family. Doug, Unplugged, contains bright, vibrant illustrations, that convey Doug’s delightful facial expressions as he explores his environment. Technology isn’t absent in Doug’s adventures and the book conveys a balance between the information that Doug has access to via computers and the experiences he acquires when he steps away.
Mo Willems’s fans will be delighted to know that he has a new picture book available, entitled That Is Not a Good Idea! (Balzer + Bray, $17.99). The story unfolds like a silent movie with color images interspersed with dialogue on black pages. A dapper male fox meets a demure female goose. The two strangers take a walk through the woods and then decide to have lunch. The audience, comprised of six delightfully cute baby chicks, continually interjects, yelling, “that is not a good idea” at the screen. Like all of Willem’s book, this one has a twist, but just when you think you know what the twist is going to be the story twists off in a completely different direction. Although younger children might not recognize the silent film motif, they will appreciate the humor of this story. Pigeon lovers should make sure to look closely; as usual, he makes a cameo.
The problems I’m having with this blog aren’t about lack of things to say, or even books to talk about, but time. So many good books out lately and I’m really excited about a few that will be released this summer. In the mean time, these past few weeks have been filled with BEA, post-BEA, trying to write the store newsletter (late), moving, and any number of other things that all just sound like excuses. I don’t know if these are signs of summer or if things will calm down a bit in a few days. So today’s post is about stopping, going outside, and enjoying the slow.
Behind the wheel
my Bug Mobile.
I’m Captain Bob,
The story is narrated in these short rhyming verses, making this book a great read-aloud for younger children. They’ll also enjoy the repetition of the phrase “Wee-o! Wee-o! Wee-o! Woo! Bug Mobile coming through!” It won’t take long for them to pick up on this phrase and say it with you. Captain Bob responds to speeding spiders, picket lines at the roach hotel, and crickets that are partying too late. He keeps the peace, offers wise solutions, and heads home at the end of the day to the bugs he loves best. This book is recommended for kids who like vehicles, admirers of the insect world, and anyone who appreciates a good siren sound. You can read this story together and then head out to the back yard to make up silly stories about the insect communities that live next to you.
Since I’m on a Marla Frazee kick, I have to recommend All the World, written by Liz Garton Scanlon and a Caldecott Honor book a few years back (Beach Lane, $17.99). The text is sparse and crisp — “Rock, stone, pebble, sand // Body, shoulder, arm, hand. A moat to dig // a shell to keep // All the world is wide and deep” — and verily dances across each page. It’s Frazee’s illustrations that really make this book, though. As usual, she captures the movement of play, from families at the beach to gardening, tree climbing, cooking, and running through the rain. The movement through the different times of the day, and even the different weather patterns of summer (yes it most certainly can be sunny enough to go to the beach in the morning and then start raining in the afternoon — at least where I live!) are a delightful homage to environmental cadences and rhythms. All the World is a nice snuggling, going to bed book for younger children, who will find comfort in the words and pictures.
If you haven’t read Paul Fleischman’s Weslandia, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick Press, $6.99), I can tell you that this book is like no book you’ve read before. It’s a picture book, but is definitely not for the pre-school crowd. It’s more appropriate for 7-9 year olds, which makes it difficult to place in the bookstore! Wesley is not like other kids. Even his parents acknowledge that, “He sticks out”. He doesn’t want to do what all the other kids do, something the adults around him just don’t understand. So Wesley does the only logical thing he can think of: he starts his own civilization. All civilizations need one thing. Yep, you guessed it, a staple food crop. Wesley’s crop grows and grows, until eventually he’s able to move in to his own garden. Wesley’s garden yields not just food, but enough raw materials to make clothing, hats, and shelter. Wesley’s garden habitat attracts the other kids in the neighborhood and his civilization starts to thrive, blossom, and even expand. Kids interested in nature, community, and innovation will love this unique book.
When my grandfather passed away last November, I wrote several posts on books that deal with death. It was surprisingly cathartic. Two picture books have been published recently that incorporate themes of loss and death, but in rather abstract ways and I’ve found both to be comforting. I think about my grandfather a lot. The sequence is always the same: something will spark a memory and I’ll smile, which is closely followed by the sadness of once again having to remember that he is gone.
Both of today’s recommendations are excellent books, because they leave quite a bit unsaid and children will understand them in different ways at different stages of their development. The first is Rabbityness by Jo Empson (Child’s Play, $16.99). Rabbit liked doing lots of rabbity things. But Rabbit also liked doing unrabbity things, like painting and making music. The middle pages of the book are filled with colors and evocations of music, until “one day, Rabbit disappeared” and as much as the other rabbits looked for him, he could not be found. Rabbit, however, had left them gifts and they “filled the woods with color and music once again”. The book is told in the past tense, although what exactly happens to Rabbit is never overtly stated. It is a lovely book filled with color that remind us of the gifts that the people we love leave for us.
The other book, which comes out today, is Bluebird by Bob Staake (Scwartz and Wade, $17.99). Bluebird is wordless and the illustrations are rather muted in white, light blue, and grey. These colors work really well for this story and the bluebird, rendered in bright blue, stands out. The story narrates a few huge and weighty topics: feeling alone, bullying, protecting your friends, and death. But because the book is wordless, the story manages to create a space for the seriousness of each topics without being heavy-handed. The reader is left to tell themselves a story that they are able to handle. Nothing more. Color is only introduced in the final few pages and the visual impact of these new colors adds brightness precisely when the story is the most dark. It is further comforting that although the boy loses the bluebird, he is not left alone. This is a stunning story about saying goodbye.
Spring might have started last week, but I think a lot of us are still waiting for the world to turn green. Julie Fogliano’s And Then It’s Spring, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook Press, $16.99) is a quietly humorous book about patiently waiting for spring. The book begins with a boy, a dog, a turtle, and a rabbit dressed up for winter: “First you have brown, all around you have brown, then there are seeds . . . “. The boy, the dog, the turtle, and the rabbit plant the seeds, wait for rain, watch the ground, wait for sun, and wait, and wait. Diligent in their endeavors, their somber expressions as they wait (and wait) will spark a few smiles. When the green finally arrives, as it always does, you start to think that the wait might make spring even that much better.
It’s likely that only writing teachers are looking for a book about voice, and I certainly don’t want to give the impression that Antony Browne’s Voices in the Park (DK Publishing, $8.99) is only of interest to writing instructors. However, the notion of voice and perspective is precisely what makes this book so interesting. Upon first reading, Voices in the Park, might be a bit perplexing. It contains four characters (Charlie and his mum, and Smudge and her dad), who take their dogs for a walk. Each character tells a short story about that afternoon in the park. Readers might feel like each story is a bit truncated; they might want to know more. They might be confused or even disappointed. That’s why you have to pay attention to all of the other ‘stuff’ that’s happening in Browne’s book. You have to start thinking about voices. What it means to have a voice. How voices can be different. And how an afternoon in the park can mean very different things to different people. It is the connections between the stories that make this book so interesting. It’s also the inconsistencies. Mum barely sees Smudge. Charlie doesn’t register Dad. Dad doesn’t notice anyone. Smudge sees each of them, including a very alarming version of Mum. No one character sees the whole picture and no story is right or wrong. This emphasis on perspective, in addition to voice, instructs readers to look harder. Those that do — the ones that move through this story slowly and carefully — will be rewarded with all kinds of visual entertainments. Pay close attention to the fonts. Look at the leaves and the trees. Think about the significance of that hat shape. Try to find as many references to children’s literature as possible (Mary Poppins and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe are probably the most obvious). This picture book isn’t for young readers. I read this book with three groups of 5 year olds. All of them loved the whimsical illustrations, but only one of them actually understood what was going on. Instead, read Voices in the Park with kids ages 6 and up, even if they are already reading on their own. And be sure you make time to talk about it, because this book doesn’t just showcase voices, it will help your reader find theirs.
Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang (Harper Trophy, $5.99) is a personal and store favorite. First published in 1983, the book won a Caldecott Honor award. It is the story of a girl and her father counting down to bed time. Each item counted is described in soothing words, starting with “10 small toes all washed and warm” down to “1 big girl all ready for bed”. The various items counted — toes, friends, windows, shoes, buttons, eyes — will be familiar to your young reader and perhaps you can add your own counting game. However, this is a book to be read while snuggling and should be the last book read before bedtime. The illustrations each interlock. The first picture focuses on those ten toes and the second illustration shoes ten toes plus the “9 soft friends in a quiet room”. We notice that one of those friends is a cat, and in the following illustrations the cat walks under a crib, looks at the mobile above the crib, then settles behind the chair of the girl and her father, looking down at the girl’s five buttons, Her toes, which we started with, are conspicuously outside the picture frame, and the next image zooms in closer to “sleep eyes”. In the final three illustrations, the girl and her father revisit now familiar places in the room, the crib and the stuffed animals, until finally she lays in bed with her bear. The illustrations are colorful, but just subdued enough to the convey the fading light.
Ten, Nine, Eight is officially becoming a classic. I happen to know that that little girl now has two boys of her own. I suspect this bedtime book will be read for many generations to come.
The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Caldecott winner Marla Frazee, is one of my all-time favorite read alouds (HMH, $7.00). This book shouldn’t be read in any way but aloud.
Not so long ago, they say,
A mother lived—just like today.
Mrs. Peters was her name;
Her little boy was named the same.
Now Peter was a perfect son.
In every way—except for one.
Sure, sure. You get it. It rhymes. But, assuming you’re not going to make a tool of yourself in public, go back and read it out loud. Do you hear it? Can you feel the words tumbling off your tongue? The entire story is written in this alternating trochaic trimeter (reminiscent of Blake’s “The Tiger”) alternating with iambic tetrameter. The meter loops back and forth driving the narrative forward.
So what is Peter’s problem? He’s a picky eater. As are his subsequent siblings. Peter likes warm milk; his sister Lucy prefers pink lemonade, hand-squeezed. By the time Mrs. Peters makes applesauce for Jack, oatmeal for Mac, bread for Mary Lou, and eggs (poached and fried) for the twins Flo and Fran, she is exhausted. For her birthday, the group of persnickety foodies decide to make their own individual dishes of choice for their lovely mother. The results are a catastrophe. Until, they discover something very peculiar about their collective eating habits.