Fish Girl, by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli; Clarion Books, $25.00, 185 pages, ages 7-10.
On a lonely stretch of seaside boardwalk stands a modest three-story building hiding a big secret: inside resides the mysterious Fish Girl, watched over by King Neptune. For a small fee, visitors are welcome to glimpse the girl for themselves. Fish Girl feels protected by Neptune and believes his stories–that she is the last of her kind, that this building full of exotic fish is the last refuge of his realm–until she befriends a neighborhood girl, Livia. Now, the mermaid (soon to be renamed Mira) wants to enjoy life on land, but an inability to talk and lack of legs hampers the process. Slowly, with steady determination, a little yoga, and some magic, Mira’s lonely life changes forever.
Three time Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner (Mr. Wuffles!) and Donna Jo Napoli (Albert) debut their first graphic novel with an exploration of trust, betrayal, and bravery–Mira is kept in what amounts to a water-filled cage, lied to about her family, and forced to perform tricks for money. Adults will no doubt make comparisons to children and young women conscripted into all sorts of unsavory labor around the world, but the mermaid element keeps this story squarely rooted in fantasy and will not spook young readers. Interestingly, the protagonist is mute–most of Wiesner’s best-loved books are wordless, relying on visual storytelling. That’s not to say Mira doesn’t share her thoughts–somehow, she communicates with her underwater and oxygen-breathing friends, and cultivates a language of friendship with Livia. Deft interplay of myth and contemporary folklore make this splashy story hard to resist.
So many books, so little time. So true. So, in the interest of saving time, here’s a quick rundown of three new books sure to please just about any reader in your home.
The Borrowers Collection, by Mary Norton, illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush; HMHCo, $24.99, 1004 pages, ages 8-11.
The charming adventures of the miniature Clock family have captivated readers since the Eisenhower era, and this hefty volume presents five fantasy-filled adventures. The first story won the Carnegie medal in 1952, and today The Borrowers remains as magical and rewarding as ever. A captivating gift to share with first-timers and lifelong Borrowers fans.
Muddle & Mo, by Nikki Slade Robinson; Clarion Books, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 0-3. (available February 21, 2017)
Originally published in New Zealand,this cuddly picture book by Nikki Slade Robinson lands stateside in less than a month, and it’s worth putting on your wish list; this adorable story about a goat and a duck exploring what makes them different subtly teaches important life lessons like kindness, patience, and love.
Did You Ever See? by Joanna Walsh; Tate, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 2-5.
Kids wonder about everything–why the sky is blue, what the smallest living creature is, and even what the inner workings of a television look like. Author-illustrator Joanna Walsh examines the world from a youngster’s point of view, and her oversized images of big eyes staring out at the world in bold stamps of color encourage imaginative exploration. Walsh’s jaunty text nicely coordinates with the retro-jam feel of the illustrations. Art lovers of all ages will find something to enjoy here.
Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Michael Allen Austin; Clarion Books, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-7.
follow-up to Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg, an advertisement for a shiny Springer bicycle convinces Clyde to trade in his spurs for a ten-speed. The cowboy rides his “steel machine” across the prairie, coming perilously close to smashing
a toad, a porcupine, and a herd of Bighorn sheep. After taking a nasty spill, Clyde is ready to pack it in. Will he remember the wisdom of what to do when you fall off a horse? Veteran storyteller Lori Mortensen’s jumpy, funny rhyming couplets are carefree and good-humored, while Michael Allen Austin’s acrylic and colored pencil illustrations of a cowboy and his faithful hound are bright and full of excitement. Don’t miss this read-aloud roundup!
A Whale in the Bathtub, by Kylie Westaway, illustrated by Tom Jellett; Clarion Books, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6.
Little Bruno has cried wolf (or in this case, walrus), one time too many regarding bathtime impediments. But now, there really is something in the tub; a huge blue whale bathing in bubblegum-scented soap bubbles, and Bruno’s family won’t fall for his tall tales anymore. How’s a boy to get clean when a 100-ton kroll-crunching mammal is blocking your way? Bruno’s solution will charm young readers and perhaps spark a little creative thinking as well. Debut picture-book author Kylie Westaway deftly captures the child’s despair at not being believed, while fellow debutant Tom Jellett’s plucky, quirky illustrations have a distinct, slightly retro flair. Prepare for a whale of adventure on the soapy high seas.
The Bear and The Piano, by David Litchfield; Clarion Books, 32 pages, $16.99, ages 4-7.
If a bear plays a piano in the woods, does he make music? In David Litchfield’s debut picture book, the answer is a roaring ‘yes.’ In it, a precocious bear stumbles upon a bramble-covered piano that has somehow been miraculously deposited in a forest glen. The creature is instantly drawn to the instrument, and despite initial disappointment with his efforts, the bear keeps practicing, until he is serenading great gatherings of grizzlies. When discovered by humans, the bear dons a tuxedo and hits the road, finding fame tickling the ivories. What happens when he misses home and how his friends greet the bear upon his return is a touching testament to hometown pride and everlasting friendship. Litchfield’s mixed-media illustrations are full and lush, captivating with glimmering detail. Readers of all ages eagerly await the author’s encore performance.
“Mr. Wuffles” by David Wiesner; Clarion Books, $13.99 32 pages, all ages.
Mr. Wuffles is a very particular cat. The only toy he enjoys is a silver ball that resembles a miniature spacecraft. As it turns out, there are actual aliens in the tiny vessel, and after their craft suffers damage during an unwanted round of playtime, they resolve to repair their ship by enlisting the help of the local ants and ladybugs. Minimal text and a comic-book layout require parental interpretation, but, just as the alien species overcome communication barriers to fix their ship, families will also figure out how to tell and retell this zany and loveable picture book. Three-time Caldecott winner David Weisner knows how to tell as story with hardly any words at all.