“underGROUND,” by Denise Fleming; Beach Lane Books, $17.99, 40 pages,
Two weeks into the first full month of fall we celebrate the harvests of the season and the changing multicolor landscape as the forests prepare for winter. Here, we peek at burrowing critters that call the forest home in this wonderfully earthy picture book by Denise Fleming. The boldly pigmented illustrations were created by a papermaking process known as pulp painting, where the artist pours colored cotton fibers through stencils, giving the turtles, squirrels, moles and salamanders an organic appearance. Close-up examination of these creatures (often hiding in plain sight) invites young readers to explore their backyards.
Slippery garter snakes, slow box turtles and wily foxes are all diggers of some sort, and the rhyming text flows with their tunnels that travel across the pages. The “creature identification” glossary details the animals’ burrowing habits in greater detail. (Many newly published non-fiction books for young readers have well-written glossaries geared to older readers and adults. This is fantastic for both parents and the eager budding scientist.) Twenty-one animals appear in this glossary and their digging habits documented concisely.
“A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse,” by Frank Viva; TOON Books; $12.95, 32 pages, ages 4-6.
Follow the seafaring adventure of a boy and his mouse in this second comic book by five-time New Yorker cover illustrator Frank Viva. Aboard their sturdy ship, the explorers brave bumpy waves and freezing temperatures en route to new friends and strange sights that await their arrival in the Antarctic. Mouse’s plaintive refrain of “Can we go home now?” meets the boy’s response of “Not yet, Mouse” eight times. This exchange might recall similar ones often played out on long car rides between a parent and an impatient child. This introduction to comic illustration and storytelling is filled with bold blocks of primary colors, punctuated with paler tones and lots of black. The minimalist art looks like cut paper, when in fact all the illustrations were created with Adobe Illustrator on smooth vellum paper. The inspiration for the story comes from Viva’s own adventure, when he hitched a ride to the bottom of the world on a Russian research vessel. Expect young readers to request this read aloud often.
“Nightsong,” by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long; Simon & Schuster, $17.99, 48 pages, ages 4-6.
Chiro the bat is about to fly outside the family cave for the first time, and he unsure whether he is ready to flap away without his mother. How will he find his way in the dark night? Mother bat offers Chiro sage advice before releasing him into the air. “Sense is the song you sing out into the world, and the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you’ll see.” These magical, slightly spooky worlds are familiar territory for Ari Berk, author of middle-years books “The Secret History of Hobgoblins” and “The Runes of Elfland”. A moody nocturnal landscape is punctuated by bursts of saturated color and light – a double-page spread of Chiro soaring over the ocean is especially lovely. These and the inky black backgrounds take shape under the steady hand of award-winning illustrator Loren Long. A quick explanation of the inspiration for the flying mammal’s name rounds out this tale.
“Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show,” by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Dan Santat; Abrams Books for Young Readers, $16.95, 40 pages, ages 4-6.
This totally awesome tale of daredevil Kel Gilligan will amaze and astound preschool readers. Follow Kel’s daring exploits as he attempts such feats as eating broccoli, facing “The Potty of Doom,” and not interrupting his mother’s telephone conversation. Each death-defying exploit is witnessed by an awestruck group of what appears to be Kel’s adult family members. Illustrator Dan Santat (“Tom’s Tweet;” see our review here) employs Adobe Photoshop with “100% fearlessness” to create a bold and eye-popping place. Kel’s red tricycle and white striped jumpsuit, complete with matching helmet, cape and gloves recall the glory days of real-life showman and motorcycle stuntman Evel Knevel. Readers will enjoy pointing out that these ‘extraordinary’ stunts are in fact quite similar to activities they do every day.
“A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & The Animals That Call Them Home,” by Marilyn Singer, illustrations by Ed Young; Chronicle Books, $16.99, 44 pages, ages 6-10.
Mudskippers, snow monkeys and limpets are three of the fourteen remarkable animals profiled in this poetry collection by award-winning author Marilyn Singer. This book would be an exciting introduction to poetry for the young reader who may not yet understand that poems can take many forms. A compact lexicon explains the types of poetry found in the book, and which poems are examples of them, such as free verse, sonnet, and villanelle. “Well-Oiled,” for instance, is a cinquain homage to insects born in petroleum. (Thousands/of them are born/in carrion, water, /or soil. But not this crew. /They hatch/in oil.) A second glossary details the animals described in verse. Collages of land and seascapes by the unstoppable Ed Young (“Nighttime Ninja;” see our review here) capture perfectly the essence of these dangerous dwellings.
The arrival of crisp weather and bright colors also heralds the arrival of vibrant pop-up books. Below are two standout selections.
“One Spotted Giraffe,” by Petr Horácek; Candlewick Press, $15.99, 20 pages, ages 2 and up.
Learning to count becomes an exciting trip into the wild in the latest book by veteran illustrator Petr Horácek (“Beep Beep”; “Silly Suzy Goose”). This gorgeous gift of color and texture is delightful and charming. Children will adore pointing out the animals – from “One spotted giraffe,” to "Ten swimming fish.“ Meanwhile, a fold-over flap awaits on each page, offering a corresponding furry, spotted, or scaly three-dimensional numeral. Horácek’s boldly pigmented mixed-media illustrations on white background bring young readers focus directly to the whimsical creatures and numbers.
“Cinderella; a Three-Dimensional Fairy-Tale Theater,” by Jane Ray; Candlewick Press, $19.99, 12 pages, ages 4 and up.
Author-illustrator Jane Ray creates a whimsical fairytale theater similar to her 2007 three-dimensional adaptation of “Snow White”. Layered cut-paper artwork tells the classic story of the underappreciated diamond in the rough. The sumptuous backgrounds, ornate decoration and biracial characters seem to conjure a magical port city in the American South. (I’d like to think it may be New Orleans.) Budding engineers might want to disassemble the book to figure out how all the pieces work together. As the title suggests, the pages evoke theater sets, and the side panels hiding the text resemble stage curtains. “Cinderella” would be a beautiful and thoughtful gift for the serious pop-up collector and fairytale aficionado.
(On Sale September 25, 2012)