Once a month I have the very real privilege of sharing picture books books such as Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak with residents of a neighborhood care facility. The residents are capable of varying degrees of cognition. Some of them are as sharp as they ever were; others less so. But as I discovered almost by accident a long time ago, all of them respond with pleasure to illustrated stories, which is why I'm always on the lookout for titles to review.
This past week Margaret Neville of The King's English Bookshop presented me with an armload of newish books to peruse (thanks, Margaret!), and I've listed a few standouts below.
My favorite, as it turns out, is one I won't actually be reading at the care facility, because it's wordless. Inside, Outside by Lizi Boyd features a series of die-cuts that encourages children to view their world both inside and out with each turn of the page. I'm not always a fan of interactive books, but the lovely inventiveness of the illustrations makes this one really work for me.
I'm also impressed by another concept book called How To by Julie Morstad. The text is minimal and the illustrations are understated. But I love its gentle advice on "how to feel the breeze" or "how to stay close" or "how to wonder."
A book that especially lends itself to reading aloud is It's Monday, Mrs. Jolly Bones! by Warren Hanson. Told in rollicking rhyme, the story follows Mrs. Jolly Bones through a week of work, which our happy heroine manages to turn into seven days of subversive fun. Rock on, Mrs. Jolly Bones!
And then there's Again! by the wonderful Emily Gravett a story about a dragon who wants his long-suffering parent to read the same book at bedtime again. And again. And also again. Which brings us to Steam Train, Dream Train by the team (Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld) that created Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site. If I were being supersexist, I would say Steam Train, Dream Train is an especially good choice for little boys, although (*SPOILER ALERT*) I do plan on giving it to my fabulous, funny niece the Jayne Train before she leaves the country this summer.
There are also new offerings by two of the most beloved figures in the world of children's picture books. Jan Brett's latest, Mossy, is about a turtle with a garden growing on its shell, while Mem Fox (in the grand tradition of the "I Spy" books) invites young readers to find the ladybug hiding on each page of Yoo-Hoo, Lady Bug! Neither is my favorite work by these celebrated authors, frankly. In fact, I find myself wishing that the talented Ms. Brett would go back to illustrating other people's stories. Still. Both books are worth looking at.
I wasn't sure I'd like The Dark, written by Lemony Snicket (best known for the bestselling Series of Unfortunate Events) and illustrated by Jon Klassen, who won a Caldecott medal for his darkly funny This is Not My Hat. (It could be argued that This is Not My Hat isn't really a book for kids. But whatever.) After all, the storyline is less than original a young boy is afraid of the dark. It's not like we haven't seen that before. But Snicket's approach to the subject is both fresh and good-hearted: "The dark lived in the same house as Lazlo ..." See what I mean?
And speaking of awesome picture books that are better suited to an adult sensibility, Line 135 by Germano Zullo is an ode to the importance of keeping the wonder of childhood alive. Abbot and Costello's classic routine Who's on First? (now appearing as a picture book illustrated by John Martz) may appeal more to adults, as well.
Which is just fine.
Like I said, we grown-ups need good picture books, too.
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/anncannontrib.