Picture Books

Spring Hope

Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems

I have hope for spring! Every year, I reach a point where I can’t bear another minute of cold, ice or snow, let alone the barren, brown landscape. Then February and my first harbinger of spring arrives, the Maymont Flower & Garden Show. Despite it all, I am filled with hope. If the weather is wearing you down, a book full of spring may be just what you need to keep trudging along! 

Sharing the Seasons, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, celebrates each season with poems and David Diaz’s vibrant illustrations. My favorite spring poem is by Fran Haraway and describes someone who ignores the chilly, north wind, the leafless trees and the lack of crocuses and though it’s much too cold, sits outside. Focusing instead on the almond tree buds and insisting, despite all other evidence that spring is here.  
  
Old BearLike Old Bear in the book by Kevin Henkes, I even dream of spring. Throughout his hibernation, Old Bear dreams of being a cub again with “flowers as big as trees” and a crocus he can take a nap in. His dreams progress through the seasons, the palette changing from the pinks and purples of spring to the yellows and oranges of autumn until he finally awakens. At long last he pokes his head out and “it took him a minute to realize that he wasn’t dreaming,” spring was indeed here!     
 

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin

Pete the Cat cover image

Pete the cat loves his white shoes.  He loves them so very much that he sings about them.  One day while he is walking and singing he steps in some strawberries and his shoes turn red.  But instead of becoming angry, he sings about how much he loves his red shoes.  When he steps in mud and his shoes turn brown, instead of becoming angry, he sings about how much he loves his brown shoes.  The book Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean is a great picture book about a cat that "goes with the flow."

Pete's philosophy is summed up at the end by his statement that "no matter what you step in just keep walking along and singing your song."

Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann

In Pinkalicious by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann, Pinkalicious is a little girl who is obsessed with pink and cupcakes. On a rainy day, she makes pink cupcakes with her mom. And she can’t stop eating them! She eats so many, in fact, that she turns a bright shade of pink. Pinkalicious is delighted. How perfect that from the top of her head all the way down to the tip of her toes she is the prettiest bubblegum shade of pink!

Even after a bath, Pinkalicious’s dad cannot make the pink go away. Her parents take her to the doctor who prescribes a strict diet of green vegetables and no more pink. No more pink cupcakes?! No more cotton candy?! Not even watermelon?!

Picture Books for Holiday Giving

           As the holiday gift-giving season kicks into high gear, we’re all looking for presents that will bring joy to the recipients without breaking the bank. The $16-18 average price of a children’s hardcover picture book may seem daunting at first, but not when you compare it to the price of toys. Considering how many times a picture book is read and re-read (say, a million in the case of “Goodnight Moon”), the cost per reading is quite low. And, of course, you are helping your child build reading skills for the future, and having fun doing it!

           Among the picture books published this year, the following stand out for their gift-giving potential.
 
          “City Dog, Country Frog” by Mo Willems, pictures by Jon J Muth. $17.99. When City Dog moves to the country one spring he meets a Country Frog who says “he’ll do” for a friend. As the seasons pass, their friendship grows, until one spring Frog is gone. The lessons Frog taught him help Dog to find a new friend. Understated text, brilliantly simple watercolor illustrations, and an ending that will bring a tear to your eye. Ages 5 and up.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead

That time is upon us.  That time when we start sniffling and coughing.  A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead is about one of those days when you just want to go back to bed.  Amos McGee is the cheerful zookeeper at the local zoo.  Every morning he "ambles" down to the bus stop after his breakfast of oatmeal and tea to catch the number 5 bus to the zoo.  When he arrives there he always makes sure to spend time with his friends before he starts working.  He plays chess with the elephant, he races with the turtle, and he sits quietly with the penguin.  This particular day, Amos  wakes up with the sniffles and his legs are achy.  He decides to stay home and not to go to work.

Well, after some time has passed the animals begin to worry when Amos has not arrived at his usual time.  The elephant has the chess board ready, the turtle is ready to race, and the penguin waits patiently alone.  "Where is Amos?" they all wonder.  Tired of waiting and concerned for their friend, the animals decide to go and check on Amos.  So, they board the bus and head to Amos' house, where they arrive to find him not well.  They each tend to Amos in their own special way, and then they end the day with a pot of tea.

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

A young girl and her cat enter a dark, old, ramshackle house. Ghosts are waiting for her there. As she opens the door they all fly out. This is where the fun begins in Kazuno Kohara’s Ghosts in the House!

The book dodges a potentially frightening situation by having the little girl don a witch hat and immediately contain the ghosts. She washes them out and uses them as helpful household items like tablecloths and curtains. Our main character is not only brave, but friendly too, and the ghosts enjoy assisting her throughout her daily tasks.
 
The charm of the book comes from the simple text combined with bold illustrations. The limited use of color (orange, black, and white) allows the pictures to jump off the page and create a powerful Halloween world for you to enter. White ghosts have a texture and dimension as if someone had stamped them onto the pages with a wood block. All of these stylistic choices make the book feel like a hidden gem from the 1950’s, when really it was only published a couple of years ago. Kohara followed her debut picture book with one that may be worth checking out in a couple of months, the equally delightful Here Comes Jack Frost.
 
Looking for a children’s book that will evoke the spooky fun of Halloween without scaring the younger ones? Kazuno Kohara’s Ghosts in the House! has it all.

Slow Down and Enjoy Picture Books

A recently published New York Times article, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” is causing an uproar in the children’s book world.  According to reporter Julie Bosman, booksellers are selling fewer picture books than ever, and not just because of the economic downturn. “Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books,” she reports. One bookseller noted that parents are now buying their four-year-olds “Stuart Little” while classic picture books languish on the shelf. 

Some of this could be linked to standardized testing, but it may also be due to the pressure parents feel to accelerate their children’s learning at an ever faster rate.
 
Those of us who love picture books lament this trend. Even if your four-year-old is enjoying “Stuart Little,” what is he missing by jumping to chapter books three or four years ahead of schedule? What great picture books are going unread?  

Henry in Love by Peter McCarty

In Peter McCarty's Henry in Love, magic can be found in the simplest pleasures of an ordinary school day. The main character gets ready for school and decides that this is the day that he is going to talk to the loveliest girl in the class. Perfect cartwheels, games of tag, and the sharing of afternoon snacks follow. 

The look of McCarty's characters is quite special. The illustrations are reminiscent of two children's classics. Henry and his classmates, all animals, recall the characters from Rosemary Wells' Max and Ruby books, but with smaller eyes and a less cartoony demeanor. They look sweet without treading into cutesy territory. The wide margins and very selective use of color reminds one of Ian Falconer's Olivia books. 

Bridget's Beret by Tom Lichtenheld

If you’ve ever had a lucky rock, special stuffed animal, or favorite hat that you felt gave you extra powers or that certain edge you need to be successful, then you will understand Bridget’s attachment to her jaunty French beret in Tom Lichtenheld’s new picture book, Bridget’s Beret. Bridget is an artist, and everyone in her family and neighborhood enjoys her talent. When she is drawing, she is truly “in the zone” – she won’t even stop for an ice cream cone. She doesn’t need fancy art supplies and is happiest painting outdoors on a simple table. She just requires one thing: her big, black beret that gave her that “certain je ne sais qoi.”