Children’s Books that Explore the Worlds Around Us

Worlds collide in this trio of exciting new children’s books that explore realms near and far and that are sure to entertain any intrepid adventurers. 

A Story Like the Wind, by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver; Eerdmans, $16.00, 80 pages, ages 9 and up.

Anyone who can get through this book without tearing up must have a heart of stone. Award-winning author Gill Lewis’s tale of channeling hope despite facing an uncertain future starts in a rudderless boat bobbing about in a vast ocean carrying refugees away from war. As the situation seems to take a turn for the worse, the passengers begin to talk about the lives they left behind. Young Rami only had time to grab his violin before fleeing and shares a musical story about a white stallion unwilling to bend to an evil overlord. The creature pays a heavy price for its actions, but in turn inspires hope that the struggle is worth the pain. Kate Greenaway award finalist Jo Weaver’s inky-toned illustrations are an evocative and powerful match for the stirring prose. A beautiful and heart-wrenching celebration of love, kindness, and freedom for all. 

The King of Nothing, by Guridi, translated from Spanish by Saul Endor; The New York Review of Children’s Books; $16.95, 32 pages, ages 2-6.

Originally published in 2013 in Spanish, the English translation of Guridi’s book offers a wry look at different ways of welding power.  Here, we meet Mimo the First as he rules over his domain of nothingness–perfectly outlined by dash marks throughout the book–and maintains law and order with unprecedented tenacity. All is right until one day when Mimo is confronted by something and goes on the offensive to eradicate this unwelcome interloper. But this intruder is stubborn, too, and the little king is faced with some unpleasant choices. Will there be war or compromise? 

A caveat, please: parents will make this book immensely more enjoyable if they can refrain from political commentary while reading with their children. To be sure, for some adults, the temptation to editorialize does exist here. Instead, delight in this absurd and whimsical examination of the power of the human imagination and leave politics out of it. 

Image reproduced with permission of NYRCB. copyright 2013 Guridi.

Image reproduced with permission of NYRCB. copyright 2013 Guridi.

The Boy Who Went to Mars, by Simon James; Candlewick Press, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 2-6.

Award-winning children’s book creator Simon James is back with a story reveling in the joys of active imaginations. Young Stanley is taken by surprise when his mother leaves on an overnight work trip and decides that he, too, must take a trip. Except that Stanley flies off to Mars, and his spaceship returns to Earth carrying a slightly petulant little martian. And this extra-terrestrial doesn’t like to play by earthling rules: no hand washing, no vegetables, and certainly no tooth brushing. An altercation between the martian and a playmate leads to an emotional internal reckoning, leaving the boy/martian to figure out how to make things right. James’s pen and watercolor illustrations capture both the boundless pleasures of imaginative play and the unequivocal love of strong family bonds. 

Fantastic Flowers and Where to Find Them

@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. 

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Text and art copyright 2017 Susan Stockdale. Reproduced with permission from Peachtree Publishers. 

 

Lucy, by Randy Cecil

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LUCY. Copyright 2016 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. 

Lucy, by Randy Cecil; Candlewick Press, $19.99, 144 pages, ages 4-8.

Lucy is a homeless dog living on the streets of Bloomville, and every morning she trots to an apartment building where she waits on the stoop for little Eleanor to drop a piece of string from her window to play with the pup. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s father, a juggler, heads off to work, where he never makes it to the end of a show without a hook prematurely pulling him under the curtains. And so the stage is set for this charming tale in four acts that chronicles how the lives of these three characters intersect. Each “act” reveals slight derivations in the narrative’s internal repetition, encouraging readers to be diligent about noticing details. Randy Cecil’s round black and while oil illustrations give the impression of watching an old-time film through a lens. Weighing in at a surprising 144 pages, this picture book targets five to eight year olds; a group often recently weaned from big-format children’s picture books and anxious to move into short chapter books and graphic novels–in short, a demographic that doesn’t want baby books but still enjoys full-page illustration.

Cecil’s smart, sensitively crafted picture book hits all the right marks. 

November Ninja Surprise

Dojo Surprise, by Chris Tougas; Owl Books, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 3-6.

The ninja master thinks he’s all alone at Dojo Daycare. After all, it’s early in the morning, and his charges haven’t arrived yet. But whither the strange noises, shadows, and–is that dragon drool on the floor? While Master wrestles with his daybreak demons, six little ninja boys and girls sneak into the complex to arrange a birthday surprise for their kindly yet befuddled teacher. This charming offering by award-winning Canadian author-illustrator Chris Tougas is the third in his Ninja series, though Dojo Surprise certainly stands on its own without any prior introduction. Written in bouncy rhyming couplets, young readers will enjoy knowing about the birthday secret before Master is, and the text offers opportunities for active reading participation. Tougas’ digital renderings of a slumbering, semi-conscious ninja master and his delightfully enthusiastic students are bright, engaging, and full of movement. Little ninjas will do roundhouse kicks for the opportunity to read this book.

Snug as a Pug in a Rug

 

Pug Meets Pig, by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Joyce Wan; Beach Lane Books, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 0-5. 

Debut picture book author Sue Lowell Gallion has struck a sweet note in this story about accepting and even embracing new (and unwanted) arrivals. Here, Pug is king of his castle; everything he could possibly want is at his beck and call–ample food, large green lawn, and a comfy place to lay his head. One day, Pig arrives, dolled up in a green frock complete with a Peter Pan collar, and the porcine intruder proceeds to interrupt Pug’s perfect routine, driving the poor creature bonkers. Very young readers will delight at wondering whether this unlikely pair can ever kiss and make up, and the story is a fun examination of how to deal with change. Pug Meets Pig would make a brilliant read-aloud for soon-to-be older siblings. Joyce Wan’s (You Are My Cupcake; We Belong Together) cute, chubby illustrations of the critters subtly reveal the similarities between them.

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.

A Guide to Self-Published Books, Part 2 of 3

@mnbookarts 
@PKColeman 

@finebooks

Our tour of self-published children’s picture books continues this week with Mama Loved to Worry, by Maryann Weidt and illustrated by Rachel Balsaitis.

Mama Loved to Worry, by Maryann Weidt, illustrated by Rachel Balsaitis;
Minnesota Historical Society, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8.

Who’s the publisher?
* The Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) is a non-profit organization based in St. Paul devoted to preserving and promoting the history and culture of Minnesota. The MNHS was incorporated in 1849 and is one of the largest and most prestigious historical societies in the U.S.

* The MNHS is a member of the American Association of University Presses, a non-profit that provides marketing assistance to over 130 member presses.

Layout:
* The book is 10 x 10, fully illustrated, and 32 pages long—all industry standards for children’s picture books.

* The book has been properly formatted with title pages, front and rear flyleaves, and ISBN information.

* The author and illustrator are properly cited for their contributions.

How’s the book?
* Mama Loved to Worry is a tall tale that takes place on a Midwestern farm—Mama is a “world-class worrywart” and there’s plenty to ruffle her feathers on Daisy Dell Farm. When she’s not knitting, sewing, or cooking, Mama saves Baby Eli from loose pigs, popping corn, and even a twister. Mama’s something of a homespun Wonder Woman—even though she’s clad in blue overalls, there’s something decidedly other-worldly about her ability to hold down the fort. Rich in local colloquialism, the book offers a fanciful glimpse of rural life on a farm.

* Author Maryann Weidt is a Minnesota librarian and won the Minnesota Book Award for her previous children’s book, Daddy Played Music for the Cows. (Unlike the Mom’s Choice Awards, which are pay-to-play awards, the Minnesota Book Awards are presented by the Friends of the St. Paul Library System.) Weidt conducted research about Minnesota farms by visiting the Gale Family Library, part of the Minnesota History Center and the MNHS. 

* Illustrator Rachael Balsaitis is also a Minnesota native and has illustrated other state-themed books like Annie’s Plaid Shirt and Love is Forever. The artwork appears to be rendered in watercolor, though a quick note explaining the medium would be helpful.

* This charming book offers a look at how one woman deals with life’s worries while also offering a glimpse of family farms, a way of life that’s all but disappeared from the American landscape.

Final Thoughts:
* The author and illustrator conducted research at the MNHS to create this book, and their knowledge is demonstrated throughout.

* This book will appeal to Midwesterners proud of their heritage as well as travelers to the state in search of a sweet memento for their children.

* Mama Loved to Worry is one in a series of picture books celebrating the state of Minnesota that have been recently published by MNHS Press, meeting the Society’s overriding mission of educational initiatives geared towards children.

As a side note, many institutions in Minnesota are dedicated to enriching the lives of children through storytelling—the Minnesota Center for Book Arts is another vibrant nonprofit advancing the book as a form of contemporary art and expression, while also teaching and preserving the craft of bookmaking. (See my article “The Young Illuminators” in the Winter 2015 issue of Fine Books & Collections Magazine where I discuss the MCBA and other institutions fighting back against the decline of arts funding for children.)

The final installment of this series will examine a book written by a former model-turned animal activist.

Tweet me your experiences with self-published children’s books @B_Basbanes