Firefighter Duckies! by Frank W. Dormer; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 1-4.
The firefighter duckies are brave little quackers who valiantly race into all sorts of dangerous situations. Whether they’re rescuing gorillas from cupcake pyromaniacs, whales stuck in carnivorous trees, entangled lemurs, or monsters from bad hair days, the mighty ducks are here to help. After each drama unfolds, our fearless heroes slowly begin to tire, and by the end are ready for some well-deserved shut-eye. Socksquatch and The Obstinate Pen author Frank W. Dormer delivers an over-the-top absurdist’s delight, with bright and bold illustrations dominated by ducky shades of orange and yellow. The art has a slightly cartoonish feel and expertly matches the silliness of the book. The repeating text of They are brave. They are strong mimics the ducks’ energy level, both gently losing steam as the day wears on.
An excellent read-aloud selection sure to become a regular on the storytime rotation.
A Song About Myself, by John Keats, illustrated by Chris Raschka; Candlewick Press, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 7-9.
British poet John Keats (1795-1821) published fifty-four poems during his brief life, yet those pieces secured his place among the “second generation” of Romantic poets like Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe. Keats wrote the three-part A Song About Myself while traveling through Scotland and included it in a letter to his fifteen-year old younger sister, Fanny. The whimsical, cheeky verses about Keats as a naughty boy wandering the world are a departure from the poet’s better-known odes and sonnets. Keats describes the world outside of London and reveals that no matter where he is, some things remain the same.
So, how does an early nineteenth-century poem hold up in 2017? Not bad–the rhyming pattern is easy to follow (“There was a naughty Boy/ A naughty boy was he,/ He would not stop at home, / He could not quiet be –“), simple verses that quickly build into a playful ramble through the land to the north of London. Some words, like pother (a fuss) and rivetted (hold close) might trip up readers, but most of it is straightforward enough–this is a poem written by a feisty young man intent on making his reader laugh. Two-time Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka’s watercolors flow unencumbered through the pages, abstract yet thoroughly engaging, and expertly match this bizarre little road trip. (Don’t miss the end papers where a condensed map of New York and the British Isles begs close examination.)
A Song About Myself is a wonderful introduction to Keats and proving that some things just don’t go out of style.
BE QUIET! by Ryan T. Higgins; Disney-Hyperion; $17.99, 40 pages, ages 3-8.
Rupert the mouse has a dream: to craft a beautiful, wordless picture book. His ideas are grand, but when his friends hear about the project, they interject. A lot. And come up with all sorts of ideas. Unfortunately, brainstorming requires…talking, and poor Rupert quickly loses his cool, while his credibility as an artistic know-it-all slowly loses its veneer in perfectly paced slapstick. Clearly, this is not going to be a wordless picture book, but Rupert’s going to give it everything he’s got–even at the expense of his lofty sensibilities. The book is sure to be a hit with preschoolers, but offer BE QUIET! to a first- or second-grader to read aloud, and watch the hilarity ensue. The creator of Mother Bruceknocks it out of the park once again with another wacky menagerie of characters while also cleverly engaging adults with definitions of onomatopoeia, visual stimulation, and most importantly, irony.
@PeachtreePub The latest from @susan_stockdale cheerfully welcomes a new season.
Fantastic Flowers, by Susan Stockdale: Peachtree Publishers, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 2-5.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like spring, and a host of new non-fiction books are popping up like a field of crocuses and daffodils. Fantastic Flowers is a charmingly playful presentation of seventeen flowers found across the globe, and Stockdale’s bubbly illustrations are a lively match for the simple, lyrical descriptions–the Mediterranean bumblbee orchid that graces the front cover looks like a pair of magenta smiling honeybees, and other flowers resemble baboons, ballerinas, and pineapples. The book gently introduces young readers to the concept of object identification and encourages close observation skills, while back matter offers further scientific explanation about plants and pollinators.
Fantastic Flowers offers cheerful anticpiation for the forthcoming season.
The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan; Arthur A. Levine, $24.00, 192 pages, ages 14 and up.
Australian artist Shaun Tan has made his name creating surreal, slightly peculiar works of art with the ultimate goal of encouraging dialogue and social engagement–Tan worked on the science-fiction animated film WALL-E, for example–and in The Singing Bones he tackles the Grimm brothers’ literary canon with similar verve. Seventy-five pieces of original art are accompanied by a portion of text from obscure and beloved tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Inspired by Inuit and pre-Columbian stone carvings, Tan’s compositions are molded of earthy, unpretentious materials–papier-mâché and air-drying clay adorned with acrylic paint and shoe polish–resulting in art that looks like it has weathered the passage of time.
Many of the selections may not be well known to contemporary readers, at least not in the forms referenced here: in “Mother Trudy” an overly inquisitive young girl is turned into a block of wood and cast upon the hearth by a witch, and Tan’s sculpture depicts a demonic-looking old creature nestled comfortably in front of a recently lit blaze. A wicked stepmother decapitates her stepson in “The Juniper Tree” and the attending artwork is a disturbingly complex rendering of multiple moments that unfold in the narrative. Snow White and her long-forgotten sister Red Rose gleefully traipse on a magical bear in another excerpt. Though summarized in an annotated index, only the basic sketch of each story is provided, encouraging readers to explore the fairy tales separately.
Reigning master of macabre Neil Gaiman and renowned fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes provide thoughtful introductions and commentary on the enduring importance of the Grimm fairy tales for our generation.
The Singing Bones is a powerful examination of the range of human emotion, and how much greater that range can be for children, if adults will allow it.