Brains Over Beauty: A Look at Two New Picture Books

Books about smart girls are sweeping the picture-book industry, and rightly so; saccharine stories about ditzy dumbos are a dime a dozen, and girls need industrious, adventurous role-models to admire. Merryn’s Journey (Brian Hastings, illustrated by Tony Mora and Alexis Seabrook; Sterling Children’s Books, $14.95, 40 pages, ages 4-7, October 4, 2016) hopes to join the girl power pantheon, but it doesn’t quite make the cut. In video game developer Brian Hasting’s first children’s book, Merryn is a faithful, hardworking young girl whose fisherman father goes missing. A vivid dream convinces her to craft a submersible and retrieve him. Along the way, the intrepid Merryn meets a giant sea spider, baby sea serpent, mermaids, and other creatures. Though well-intentioned, the story falls flat–it should sing, but rather, it focuses too much on providing a female character who is admired for her skill instead of her beauty. Admirable for its goals, this narrative feels forced and formulaic. Sometimes, stories can be saved by great art, but Tony Mora and Alexis Seabrook’s illustrations are proasic, surprising given that the book is a companion to the Song of the Deep video game starring Merryn and her subaquatic consorts–the illustrations should be dynamic. 

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Images used with permission from Sterling Books. Text 

© 2016 Brian Hastings Images 

© Tony Mora and Alexis Seabrook

Parents looking for a truly superb picture book celebrating young girls and their talents would do well with the recently published Cleonardo: The Little Inventor (Arthur A. Levine Books, 48 pages, $18.99, ages 4-8, August 2016), by Caldecott Honor winner Mary Grandpré. Here too, is a celebration of brains over beauty–little Cleonardo is the granddaughter of master inventor Leonardo da Vinci (here charmingly referred to as “Grandpa Leo”). Cleonardo’s dad Geonardo is a tinkerer, with plans to enter the town’s Grand Festival of Inventions. Cleo wants to help, but Geonardo pushes her away. Determined to impress her father and show that she’s equally capable of inventing, Cleonardo enlists the help of Grandpa Leo to enter her own creation in the fair. Will father and daughter realize that two heads are better than one? An outstanding ode to the value of collaboration, determination, and ingenuity,

Grandpré’s paper collages and acrylics bathe the characters in that famous Italian luminescence, each page richly in textured and full of nuance, just like family dynamics.

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Images from Cleonardo, The Little Inventor written and illustrated by Mary GrandPré. Used with permission from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic.

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