Jim Henson gets the hero treatment in Brad Meltzer’s latest biography for Dial’s Ordinary People Change the World series. Aimed at 5 to 8 year-olds, the Ordinary People books profile historical figures who left the world a better place, and the creator of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street is an ideal candidate. Meltzer’s simple, conversational style intersperses actual quotes by Henson to create an engaging and informative biographical sketch, while a timeline and selected bibliography round out this well-crafted and accessible work of nonfiction. Misery Loves Sherman and Pet Avengers creator Chris Eliopoulous maintain a casual, comic-book feel while capturing the essence of the master of make-believe and imagination.
I Am Jim Henson, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos; Dial Books, $14.99, 40 pages, ages 5- and up.
ECHO: Reverso Poems About the Greek Myths by Marilyn Singer, Illustrated by Josee Masse, Dial Books, $16.99, 32 pages ages 6-9.
This April marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, and in recognition of that milestone we’ll be highlighting many of the best new poetry books. Marilyn Singer and Josee Masse’s last collaboration of poetry was 2013′s Follow Follow, a book of poetic reversos: read one way, each poem recounts one mythological character’s side of the story. Read in reverse, the poems reveal a new, unexpected point of view. Fourteen reversos offer new interpretations of great tales from Greek mythology–Medusa gives her haughty, powerful counterpoint to Perseus’s stony bravery, and even the devilish box of horrors opened by Pandora gets the poetic treatment. Masse’s familiar illustrations are fun and slyly offer two perspectives to match the poetry. Echo Echo would make an excellent addition to an English or Language Arts curriculum.
Captain Jack and the Pirates, by Peter Bently, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury; Dial Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 2-5.
Masters of nursery-school storytelling Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury have teamed up to create this charming pirate tale set on the high seas of childhood imagination. Jack, Zack, and Caspar (who first appeared in King Jack and the Dragon)are at the beach, building a sandy galleon ready to ferry the boys on a swashbuckling adventure involving treasure and other (slightly parental-looking) pirates. Bently’s prose bobs with gentle rhymes peppered with nautical vocabulary like mainsail and bosun, while Oxenbury’s trademark illustrations bear her singular touch: here, cherubic youngsters revel in the timeless pleasures of make-believe. A delight from stem to stern, Captain Jack and the Pirates is a likely contender to join the pantheon of beloved children’s books.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed/angry/confused with the current race to the White House? Imagine what your kids think of the whole thing. This Presidents Day, remind them (and yourself) that great men have held that office and accomplished wonderful things for the country. These two books provide much-needed salve. (Also, check out the link at the bottom–it’s a video of Sabuda explaining his process.)
Nice Work, Franklin! by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day; Dial Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 5-9.
Jurmain and Day’s latest presidential collaboration (George Did It! and Worst of Friends) explores the life and career of Franklin Roosevelt. Though permanently disabled by polio, Roosevelt was determined not to be defined by this handicap. This resilience exemplified how Roosevelt faced his disability and the Great Depression. Jurmain’s story weaves facts with amusing anecdotes to paint a full picture of the man while also keeping kids engaged. In one such account, the president’s children cheer him on while he conditions his leg muscles, rallying for various body parts–thigh, calf, and the favorite, the gluteus maximus. Day’s pencil, watercolor, and gouache illustrations perfectly capture Roosevelt’s complexities and the crises he faced with spirit and levity. The story isn’t all gloss and cheer–Jurmain highlights that, although most Americans loved FDR (they did elect him to office four times, after all), plenty of folks disagreed with his policies, then and now. Nice Work, Franklin! hits the non-fiction trifecta with the power to enlighten, entertain and educate.
The White House: A Pop-Up of Our Nation’s Home, by Robert Sabuda; Orchard Books, $29.99, 6 spreads 9 popups, ages 6 and up.
Every president since John Adams has called the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home, and 1.5 million people visit the White House annually. Now, master paper engineer Robert Sabuda brings the tour between hardcovers, showcasing six distinct parts of the property, including the Lincoln Bedroom, the Rose Garden, and the South Lawn. Like any other Sabuda popup, details are everywhere–from tiny lamps in the massive chandelier to a Secret Service agent hiding behind an Oval Office curtain. An adaptation of “Inauguration Day” by Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909) runs through the book and provides appropriate lyricism.
Super Jumbo, by Fred Koehler; Dial Books, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-5.
What child doesn’t imagine saving the world? How many more children have engaged in a heroic act (saving ants from a giant’s wayward foot, for example), without recognition? In Fred Koehler’s second picture book featuring Little Jumbo, the caped, wrench-welding, pint-sized pachyderm fights crime (keeping his dad out of the cookie jar), assists the weak, and shoos annoying pigeons away from popcorn ‘dropped’ by an unsuspecting elderly park visitor. Unfortunately, sometimes Little Jumbo’s actions cause more chaos than intended. What happens when he’s faced with a real call for help? This tale of a well-meaning elephant with outsize ambitions is a charming, simple read aloud, and is a perfect match for Koehler’s illustrations of a small but mighty hero.
Vincent and the Night, by Adele Enersen; Dial Books, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 2-5.
Finnish copywriter-turned author Adele Enersen gained global attention with her blog, Mila’s Daydreams, thrilling readers with photos of her baby in various imaginary situations. Now, pen and ink line drawings surround her youngest child in this latest installment. Here, little Vincent shows no interest in falling asleep, and is imagined as a swashbuckling pirate, zookeeper, and even a violinist. Despite the artistic whimsy, the text doesn’t sing like it ought to, and the images just aren’t strong enough to carry the story on their own. Even though Amazon lists Vincent as one of it’s best books for 2015, I have to respectfully demur. It’s cute, but geared more towards cooing adults than young readers. That said, I think it would be excellent refashioned as a board book – gather the black and white images closer together, and put the thing right into children’s hands so that they might gaze into the eyes of Vincent, marvel at his antics, and perhaps engage in a few adventures of their own.
Peace is an Offering, by Annette le Box, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin; Dial Books, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6. (March 2015)
Award-winning author Annette le Box makes a peace offering in her seventh book for children with a deceptively simple poem that spreads the message of attainable and shareable peace. Uncomplicated themes appear in the form of birthday party invitations and sharing a great joke with a friend. Le Box demonstrates that peace comes through sharing time, patience and kindness, especially when loved ones are gone. Le Box manages to evoke 9/11 in a touching scene where she writes “And even in the wake of tragedy, even then, you might find her. In the rubble of a fallen tower. In the sorrow of your darkest hour.” Adults will understand the reference even if children don’t, especially with Stephanie Graegin’s pencil and watercolor illustration of a family sitting on a park bench looking out on New York City. This volume’s sweet words nurture tender seeds of love and friendship, showing what wonderful fruits kindness can bear.