Yes, the two best books. I hesitate to type “holiday season,” ’cause one of them isn’t technically a holiday title, but it is about to be released and it’s quite snowy, so I’m putting it into this category.
First, yes, it’s true that Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present in all its seven kinds of blinding awesome-ness and glory has been re-released this year. You may remember that I mentioned it in this post, and several others chimed in with their love and adoration for this fourteen-year-old book by John Burningham. And someone said he thought it’d been re-released and then someone else agreed and then my hopes soared and then . . . yes! I confirmed it. Seven cheers for Candlewick. They’ve re-released it (“a new midi edition,” back by popular demand and all that. I suppose the world loves Harvey as much as I do). You can even view an interior spread of the book here at Candlewick’s site. If there’s anything to the notion of karma, why then I’m living well, ’cause I even got a review copy. I admit it takes some adjusting to view it in its smaller format, but it’s still Harvey. And it’s still wonderful. My ramblings from last year about why you need to read this book are here.
And then secondly . . . Wow. Wow. Wow. Eric Rohmann’s new picture book. It’s already exciting enough to hear he has a new one, but then to get an ARC and to hold it in my hands when it’s so damn near perfect. It really is fabulous. It’s called A Kitten Tale (Knopf Books for Young Readers), and it’s a splendid tale for the very young.
On the surface, it’s about four kittens — three of them a bit timid, but one of them adventurous and ready to explore the world. None of them had ever seen snow, and after the first three rattle off all the reasons they’re scared of it, the fourth one pipes up with an “I can’t wait.” In the story’s very simple framework, the kittens repeat this during each season of the year, with that fourth kitten’s repeated refrain of “I can’t wait,” each time hanging off a mailbox or chasing a frog or hanging from a branch or otherwise being curious and adventurous while the other cats watch from the sidelines. Then a heavy snow falls, and all the cats run and hide — except for you-know-who. But, in the end, the others have run to join in, getting caught up in his contagious optimism.
That’s all the on-the-surface-bit, but what we have here is an expertly and economically-spun story of a young child’s fears of exploring the world and all the things in it with which he is not familiar — as well as the power of having that half-glass-full perspective on life which the fourth kitten has. This is one of those picture books I want to hand to someone when they say that writing one must be easy. Rohmann’s distilled this tale down to its essence with his spare text and perfectly-placed words. Nothing is out of place, every word is as exactly as it should be, and there are no extraneous decorations either in the way of both text and illustration. The illustrations are monotype prints, according to the book’s front flap. I had to look this up. They are beautiful. But was I surprised? No, this is Eric Rohmann. And each spread is outlined in heavy black line, framing the story a bit, distancing us as readers a bit, as if we’re watching the story unfold on a screen. The color choices, the shapes used, the lines, the movement — it all adds up to what could be a study in The Perfect Picture Book for the Very Young. And I’d tell you to pair it with Henkes’ Kitten’s First Full Moon, but your head might explode from all the picture book glory. And I wouldn’t wanna do that to you, dear reader. (Well, you can try anyway. Just don’t send me the medical bill if it happens).
I have only kid-tested this book thus far on two children, who just so happen to be my own daughters. And let me tell you that the joy that passed over my three-year-old’s face on the very first read was the best moment of my week. Here I was inwardly squealing over this slammin’ new book with such fabulous art work and text, and she was instantly tuned in to the big emotions of childhood the story captures. She was laughing out loud at this fourth kitten and his eternal optimism. Child magnet this one is.
Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews have already given this title, to be released very soon in early January, starred reviews. Can I say here at the end of December that I’ve already seen what could be next year’s best picture book? That would be foolish of me, yes? But I’ve never been one to shy away from hyperbole anyway.