A Trio of New Picture Books

    It’s no fair, Isabel complains, that the porcupines don’t get to have balloons at their class’s Graduation Day, as the raccoons, possums and other animals do.  But balloons are not safe around the porcupines’ prickly quills, Isabel’s porcupine teacher gently explains.  The porcupines will get bookmarks instead.

    Isabel and her friend Walter are not happy.  “I heard that after a few days a balloon floats halfway between the ceiling and the floor…it just hangs there like a ghost,” Walter says longingly. So Isabel makes a plan to do something about it in Deborah Underwood’s new picture book, “A Balloon for Isabel.”    

    First she reasons with her teacher (no go).  Next, she covers her quills with a cardboard box, but it’s so big she can’t fit through the door.  Packing bubbles and pillows don’t work, either.  At the last moment, Isabel comes up with a successful plan – and even her teacher is thrilled to get a balloon of her own.

    Isabel’s persistence and creativity shine through in Laura Rankin’s colorful gouache paintings.  Who knew porcupine faces could be so expressive?  Try this on the five- to seven-year-old crowd for whom “no fair” is a constant complaint.

    Mo Willems, award-winning creator of the popular “Pigeon” books, has a new offering with a wistful touch.  “City Dog, Country Frog” details a friendship between two very different animals.  Let off the leash for the first time, City Dog races through the fields until he comes to a pond.  Country Frog is sitting on a boulder, waiting for a friend. “’But you’ll do,’” he says, smiling at the dog.  

    The new friends play together through spring (jumping and splashing and croaking) and summer (sniffing and fetching and barking). But when fall arrives, a tired Country Frog suggests playing remembering games.  Come winter, the boulder is covered with snow, and Country Frog is nowhere to be found.  

When spring comes back, City Frog returns to the boulder, only to find a new friend who will “do.”  

Willems’ spare text repays a second and third reading, while Jon J Muth’s generously sized watercolors evoke every nuance of feeling in the animal friends.  The double page spread showing the dog waiting patiently on the boulder as evening shadows fall on a snowy landscape sums up his patient, loving loyalty to his friend.  Adults may wipe away a stray tear, but children are sure to be moved as well.

What was it like for a child growing up in the heart of the Civil Rights movement?  Paula Young Shelton, daughter of civil rights leader Andrew Young, was only four years old when her family moved back to Atlanta so that her parents could work with the Freedom Riders.  Now-famous men like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph Abernathy were just “Uncle Martin” and “Uncle Ralph” to Paula and her sisters.  The extended family of civil rights workers were frequent visitors to the Young household.  When the march from Selma to Montgomery started, Paula and her sisters gathered with their parents and thousands of others at Brown Chapel AME Church.

In “Child of the Civil Rights Movement” Paula Young Shelton brings back those historic times through her own vivid memories.  Raul Colon’s illustrations in burnished golds effectively represent the solidarity of Young’s family and friends.  Share this with readers nine and up.

First published in the Free Lance-Star on September 14, 2010.