A bit of a qualification here: When I discuss a new picture book title, I mean new-to-libraries and not necessarily super hot off the presses. Hey, I’m choosing not to work outside my home until my daughters enter school, so we gotsa watch our budget. In fact, I just generally avoid the children’s sections of bookstores anymore so that I’m not baited by these gorgeous new picture book titles . . . So, the following titles are new, as in 2006, but not necessarily brand spankin’ new. In other words, check your library; they probably have them. And these are ones that are, for many reasons, particularly snazzy-great for your pre-schooler/toddler. The one pictured here, Brian Pinkney’s Hush, Little Baby, is my favorite thus far this year and is mentioned in my bed-time list. This one spills over with so much joy that the characters rarely have their feet on the ground. And it’s a fascinating study of what an illustrator can do with line in a picture book — in this instance, Pinkney’s lithe and lovely arcs. Happy reading!
Best Best Friends by Margaret Chodos-Irvine — A new picture book from author/illustrator Chodos-Irvine, a Caldecott Honor Winner, is always cause for celebration in my book (excuse the obvious pun). She uses a variety of printmaking techniques that gives her illustrations an almost texturized, detailed look — and her illustrations are always warm and cheerful without being maudlin. She creates such interesting shapes — there’s much to take in and see with all of her books. And there’s a briskness, an energy, and a clarity to her work that never fails to please. In this 2006 title, we meet Mary and Clare, best friends who attend the same pre-school and who always hug one another, hold hands, share toys . . . you get the picture. But then a bit of jealousy and general malcontentment (always a messy thing) enter the picture on behalf of Clare on Mary’s birthday. Of course, as the book flap tells you, love triumphs over jealousy, and all ends well. This one speaks oh-so true to the strong emotions of toddlers.
Invisible by Katja Kamm — This one is funky and weird and wonderful. First published in Germany in 2003 under the title Unsichtbar (English translation was this year, making it “new” to your library), this is a postmodern puzzler for kids. “Post-punk hipsters,” in fact, our characters are, as described on the book flap (I love it!). In this wordless book we see bike riders, nuns, eaters of ice cream, a dog needing to relieve himself . . . Depending on the background and what our eccentric cast of characters are wearing, parts or virtually all of them disappear, only to reappear in Kamm’s next vibrant, visually-stunning background. This one challenges your toddlers to put those emerging inferencing skills to work and invites them to storytell/narrate with the reader, bringing these strange and wonderful images to life with words. As Horn Book reviewer Claire E. Gross so perfectly put it, this is a “sly, reader-directed introduction to the world of seeing.”
Hop! Plop! by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Tali Klein with illustrations by Olivier Dunrea — This is a great picture book, an adventure in onomatopoeia. But my two favorite things about this book are: a). One of the authors, Schwartz, has a degree in Deaf Education and taught English at the Lexington School for the Deaf. Yes, this has nothing to do with the book, I know, but I’m a hand-flapper myself (I say that respectfully) and also once worked at a School for the Deaf, and I was thrilled to read that . . . and b). Olivier Dunrea illustrated this in his charismatic signature style. The talent that teems from this man must make it hard for him to get comfortable and sleep at night. He is the creator of the square, little Gossie and friends books (six total, including a “first flap book”). These books are absolute perfection — I repeat, absolute perfection — for toddlers. And so I follow with great interest Dunrea’s career. In this title, little Mouse and big Elephant (who, reminiscent of Kevin Henkes’ Owen, obligingly finds most playground rides “my favorite”) are at the playground but have a bit of trouble taking in the joys of the playground together. There are lots of dynamic plops! and booms! and zips! and zooms! to be had in this pratfall, slapstick adventure, and Dunrea — as usual — brings us his alluring ink-and-gouache paintings on clean, crisp, white backgrounds, giving our mouse and elephant protagonists and their whirly-twirly adventures center-stage. In the end, the benevolent Elephant devises a clever, kind solution to their problem, making their day at the playground a good one, indeed.
The Night is Singing by Jacqueline Davies and illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker — This is another bed-time keeper. This rhyming text tells of the lullabies that can be heard at night if you just listen closely enough. The night, the house, the gray geese outside, the sky, the cat, a thunderstorm — they’re all singing lullabies. And when the storm comes (“Something crashing, Tree limbs lashing, As the heavens open wide. Hear the raindrops, Hit-the-pane drops, You are glad to be inside”), the girl is comforted by her mother’s own lullaby. What stands out about this one — even next to the rich, animated images evoked by the comforting sing-song text — are the illustrations. Folk-art in look, Brooker combines collage and oil paint on gessoed watercolor paper (any artists want to tell me exactly what gessoed paper is?). However it’s done, it’s gorgeous and detailed and so textured that you want to reach out and touch it to feel the bark on the tree and lay your head on the girl’s soft quilt.
Chuck’s Truck by Peggy Perry Anderson — This book is a fun play with words in a simple, sweet story. (And if you have a newly-independent reader in the household, this one cries out to be read). Anderson uses crayon to great effect with undaunted colors — everything from deep blues to vibrant greens to shimmering yellows — and her illustrations cover every inch, spilling to the edge. It’s a visual feast while, at the same time, impressive in its seeming simplicity. This story skips along in rollicking rhythm and concise rhyme. One-by-one, a group of barnyard animals jump into Old Blue, the farmer’s beloved truck, until they are forced to band together in the name of teamwork and give a helping hand to our suddenly-saddened protagonist. And the school librarian in me has to add that the book can be used on so many levels and for a variety of purposes in an elementary library (farm animals, trucks, friendship/cooperation, even career books — certainly, books in rhyme). There’s much humor (the animals calling Handyman Hugh always gets a big laugh out of my toddler), genuine emotion, and much fun to be had with these expressive animal characters.
Time to Get Dressed! by Elivia Savadier — Oh am I livin’ this book now. Our toddler hero, Solomon, likes to dress himself, and he makes this very clear to his father, who is trying to beat the clock to get out the door himself. But alas and alack, Solomon’s shoe is hanging off his leg, his socks are on his hands, and his pants are on his head. Daddy comes to the rescue, but then the battles begin again and he ends up wearing most of his son’s breakfast. There’s much humor here, and it’s paced just right for your pre-schooler/toddler, who will get a big laugh out of Solomon’s imprecise sartorial attempts to get ready for the day. Savadier uses soft watercolors on white backgrounds and outlines her characters with a graceful black line, giving them and their comical facial expressions the attention they deserve.
Here are a handful of more great ’06 titles (that are a bit advanced for your toddler) that I just have to mention:
Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Michelle Berg is a playful, innovative delight. A good picture book’s text merges seamlessly with the art, but this one takes it to a clever extreme: The story and illustrations and poetry of this digitally illustrated book are all rolled into one. Curious? Check it out. It’s great fun . . . David McPhail’s Boy on the Brink is a testament to the powerful interior life and fantasies of children; we see a young boy’s unbridled dream life after a day of warnings, rules, and regulations from those around him. McPhail’s watercolors are beautiful . . . On that note, The Wildest Brother by Cornelia Funke (translated by Oliver Latsch) and illustrated by Kerstin Meyer also addresses the fantasy life of a child, in this case a young boy loyally defending his big sister during the day from monsters, thieves, bears, and slime but who, at the end of the day, needs his big sister to comfort and shelter him. Meyer’s cartoon-like illustrations abound with energy and warmth . . . Last, but far from least, is Kimberly Willis Holt’s Waiting for Gregory, with dreamy and sophisticated mixed-media illustrations by the gifted Gabi Swiatkowska. A young girl, curious about her soon-to-be-born cousin, imagines how and when the baby will be born, only to be given some pretty peculiar answers from her family. Swiatkowska gives us theatre/circus scenes in her whimsical, surreal illustrations. Eisha and I both love this one (and Swiatkowska’s work). May it receive lots of accolades this year. Oh, and lucky for us all, Holt’s site says she’s got a new picture book coming out next year . . .