Each week, tons of new books hit our shelves from the strange, to the enchanting, to the very, very creepy. Usually I don’t have time to do more than check out the covers or read the dust jackets, but because I lead storytimes and help children and caregivers find books, I try to make time to read some of our new picture books as they come in. I’m always delighted by the wonderful artwork and nuanced, rewarding stories that I find in this collection. Even on my busiest day I can find five minutes to dive into a story that might take me on a fantastic adventure, make me laugh out loud, or help me understand someone who leads a life very different from my own. As the summer begins to wind down, I thought it would be a good time to take stock of a few of my favorite recent arrivals.
Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love follows a boy who absolutely loves mermaids. When he decides that he is in fact a mermaid himself and dresses up like one, he is unsure how his abuela will react. In addition to having a lovely message about acceptance, individuality, and intergenerational relationships, this is a lushly illustrated book. While the text tells Julián’s story through short simple sentences, Love’s beautiful use of color and meticulous attention to detail begs the reader to linger on each page.
I don’t particularly enjoy my own birthday, but I LOVE Julie Fogliano’s When’s My Birthday. This slim book takes the reader through a series of questions and excited statements about birthdays that run the gamut from sweet to silly. The theme of this book is sure to be a hit with many young readers, but for me the star of the show is Christian Robinson’s art. Robinson has long been my favorite illustrator and he once again delivers with his playful depictions of animals, children, cakes, and party accessories. Every book that Robinson works on is a homerun (I recommend them all) and When’s My Birthday does not disappoint.
I recently had the privilege of working with summer school students at Challenger Elementary. When reading to these students, certain books were hits with all classes no matter the grade. One of these was Danny McGee Drinks the Sea written by Andy Stanton and illustrated by Neal Layton. This hilarious book follows a young boy who boasts to his older sister that he can drink the entire ocean. After she doubts him, he rises to the challenge but does not stop with the sea:
“I will swallow it all!”
shouted Danny McGee.
And he swallowed the sand
where the sea used to be.
And he swallowed the mountains,
and every last tree.
And he swallowed the jungles.
He did it with glee.
And he swallowed the people
and that includes me.
And I’m writing this book
inside Danny McGee.
This is the rare read-aloud that had all the students and teachers in the room cackling without fail. If you want to induce fits of giggles, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
I love the short-but-sweet fairy-tale Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and Stevie Lewis. When it is time for a kingdom’s prince to find his bride, he searches far and wide but fails to find the love of his life. Then, a fearsome dragon attacks and the prince must confront this beast in order to save his people. He is victorious, thanks in part to the help of a mysterious knight in shining armor. When the prince and knight meet, the prince realizes that he has found his true love and his family and kingdom rejoice! Lewis’s gorgeous illustrations and Haack’s gentle writing combine to present a romance that models loving acceptance without distracting from the rest of the story.
Full disclosure: Sarah Jacoby and I went to college together and I have long enjoyed following her career as an artist from afar. Yet I don’t think I’m acting with any bias when I rave about her debut book, Forever and a Day. Her breathtaking, richly detailed watercolor illustrations tell the story of a family on a trip. These pictures are then combined with a thoughtful meditation on the concept of time. By building an accessible narrative while introducing fairly complex concepts, Jacoby’s work is sure to draw in readers of all ages.
A Different Pond written by Bao Phi is a perfect picture book for budding comic buffs. The illustrator, Thi Bui, is also the author of a graphic novel and it shows in both the style of her work and her occasional use of cells, which split a page to show several scenes. A Different Pond tells a universal story of a young boy and his father who set out on an early-morning fishing trip. Their close relationship takes center stage as they build a fire, bait hooks, and reel in a catch. The father also tells his son of his own childhood in Vietnam, hinting at the difficult circumstances that might have brought him to America. This is a careful, warm story of an immigrant family that will resonate with anyone who has shared special moments with a loved one.
Anyone gearing up for the school year will be sure to enjoy Ryan T. Higgin’s We Don’t Eat our Classmates. This book follows Penelope Rex who is surprised on her first day of school when she discovers that the rest of the students are children. She immediately eats them, of course, since children are delicious! After her teacher forces her to spit out the other students, Penelope must find a way to control her impulses and make friends. This was another book that got big laughs at Challenger this summer. It is written with a wicked but ultimately sweet humor, teaches empathy to readers, and shows that even the worst first days can lead to a happy and friend-filled school year.
My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera tells another loving, warm story. When MacKenzie is teased for having wild, untamed hair, she flees to the house of her neighbor, Miss Tillie. Miss Tillie takes the time to teach her how to care for her hair. MacKenzie learns that by treating it like a garden and giving it loving attention, her hair will thrive. She comes to be proud of her hair and her heritage and realizes that she is beautiful for who she is. I love this gorgeous, tender story of self-love and affirmation.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is also about hair care. In this case, Derrick Barnes is eulogizing the barbershop experience. Accompanied by Gordon C. James’s vivid, life-like illustrations that celebrate black beauty, Barnes leads the reader through the experience of getting a haircut and the wonderful feelings and overflowing confidence that result. This book is filled with joy and is sure to excite even the most barber-averse reader.