Winter officially arrives tomorrow, and though, here in the Northeast, the thermostat doesn’t quite reflect the shift in seasons, there are plenty of books that will fill in nicely.

Snow, by Sam Usher; Templar Books, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 2-5.

Who doesn’t love a snow day? In Sam Usher’s charming picture book, a young boy wants to be the very first to step onto the freshly fallen powder, but he can’t seem to get his grandfather out the door in time. Some things are worth waiting for, as Granddad reminds the boy. There’s magic in store, and Usher’s ink and watercolor illustrations (reminiscent of Quentin Blake) capture that wonderful sight of first snow and the adventures that await on a blanket of white.

The Journey of the Penguin, by Emiliano Ponzi; Penguin Hardcover Original, $18.00, 96 pages, all ages.

Penguin Books was founded in 1935 by Allen Lane, and today, the publishing house’s flightless black-and-white mascot is recognized by readers worldwide. In this wordless picture book, a lonely Antarctic penguin leaves his icy home in search of adventure, and after traveling all over the world, ultimately wins a competition to become the face of a new publishing house. I hesitated on whether to include this book–it is nothing if not total self-promotion–but the art is exquisite. The striking compositions of bold color and graceful texture by Milanese artist Emiliano Ponzi make this a worthy gift for the design enthusiast in your life.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Shadow Puppets, The World of Eric Carle; Mudpuppy, $16.99, ages 4 and up.

The first day of winter is also the shortest day of the year, so why not celebrate the dark with these shadow puppets? The kit comes with eight puppets on sticks, tips on storytelling, and a short history on the genre’s Chinese origins. Shadow puppets have the potential to unlock children’s imaginations, but caveat emptor: While the idea is adorable, the construction is delicate. These little sticks are featherlight, and best suited for children over the age of four. 

Seeing Spots – Thursday quickpicks

We found three picture books full of circles, spots and dots that will have readers seeing stars!

Spectacular Spots, by Susan Stockdale; Peachtree Publishers, $15.95, 32 pages, ages 1-5.

Gliding snails, snakes and slugs all have spots, and in this charming follow-up to Susan Stockdale’s Stripes of All Types readers also learn the purpose of these shapes. Large and cheerful paintings of all sorts of animals are accompanied by short easy-to-follow rhymes.  A cute matching game rounds out this sweet introduction to spotted creatures.

Spots in A Box, by Helen Ward; Templar Books, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 2-5.

British National Art Library Award winner Helen Ward’s longstanding love of illustrating charming critters (Town Mouse and Country Mouse; Varmints) continues in this story about a spotless guinea fowl. Feeling left out, the plucky bird sends away for spots of his own, and what arrives aren’t exactly what he had anticipated. Spots in A Box is a sensory feast – Ward’s tight prose and trademark watercolors are as meticulous as ever, accompanied by paper cutouts and spots that feel like pressed sequins. A tour de force.

Information Graphics: Space, by Simon Rogers, illustrated by Jennifer Daniel; Big Picture Press, $17.99, 80 pages, ages 8-12.  

The latest addition to the neon-hued fact-filled Information Graphics series deals with the universe.  Seven tabbed sections cover everything from explaining the solar system to how humans explore space. Dynamic duo Simon Rogers (author of the Guardian’s Datablog) and New York Times designer Jennifer Daniel have made studying the heavens an enlightening endeavor filled with fun. 

 “Penguin in Peril,” by Helen Hancocks; Templar Publishing, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6.


When three cats spend their last few dollars on movie tickets instead of dinner, disaster seems imminent for the famished felines. Undaunted, they decide that the best way to ward off hunger is to kidnap a penguin from the local zoo and force him catch fish for them.  Their plan fails, the penguin escapes, and a lively chase ensues.  Helen Hancock’s debut picture book will delight young readers, but adults may find that the narrative feels flat in spots.  Regardless, the amusing gouache illustrations are fantastic – they’re bright and entertaining, coupled with just the perfect touch of mischief. Children will enjoy searching for the wayward waddler as he blends in with a group of nuns, waiters, and other madcap city scenes. 

Jungle Fever

 A major fall trend in children’s picture books appears to be inspired by (mostly) wild animals .  Below are the leaders of the pack. Be sure to check out the accompanying image posts for great interior pictures! 


The Pet Project Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora. Reprinted by permission of Atheneum Books, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

            I asked my parents for a pet.

            My parents answered “Not quite yet.”

            They told me, “Formulate a query.

            Slowly plan your bestiary.”

This pair of clever couplets is a familiar refrain regarding pet ownership and young children. Lisa Wheeler’s scientific book of verse is a paean to every child who wishes for live pet to call her own. The plucky scientist heeds her parents’ requirements and sets out to tabulate, observe and report on all the different creatures she might like to call her own. She visits a farm, the woods, and the zoo, where the undeterred investigator notes her “field observations” in witty rhymes. (“No chocolate in a chocolate Lab? I think I’m gonna cry!”) Children will adore these funny and fast-paced vignettes, especially when the little scientist concludes which pet she would like best. Some poems will be too long for younger readers, but all ages will enjoy the observations in “Guinea Pig.” Zachariah Ohora (No Fits, Nelson!) renders myriad skunks, sheep and hippos in his inimitable style, with acrylic paint on Bristol board. 

“Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife,” by Paul Thurlby; Templar Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 4-7. 


Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife Text copyright © 2013 by Paul Thurlby. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Paul Thurlby. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

In this latest offering from author-illustrator Paul Thurlby, readers learn all sorts of quirky animal trivia. Polar bears’ fur can turn green from overexposure to algae, a dog’s noseprint is as unique as a human fingerprint, and some monkeys suffer from male-pattern baldness.  As with his previous book Alphabet, Thurlby insures that this dust-jacket doesn’t suffer the rips and tears of careless children; unfold it to find a poster of an elephant taking a shower. The illustrations evoke a vintage, 1950’s vibe – many have an ‘accidentally on purpose’ beat-up look to them – yet all the images in this book are digital creations.  Despite a deceptively simple text to image ratio, adults as well as children will keep finding new elements in the images and the text to discover.  Wildlife would make the perfect housewarming gift to hip, sophisticated families.


“Jazzy in the Jungle,” by Lucy Cousins; Candlewick Press, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 2-5. 


Jazzy in the Jungle Text copyright © 2013 by Lucy Cousins Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Lucy Cousins. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. 

Originally published in 2002, Jazzy in the Jungle was recently reissued by Candlewick Press to delight a new generation of Maisy lovers.  The adorable mouse at the head of the eponymous franchise does not appear in this book, which may be good news for parents whose children refuse to read anything other than books featuring Maisy. Instead, author Lucy Cousins introduces Mama JoJo and Baby Jazzy, two lemurs playing hide-and-seek in the jungle. New readers will enjoy participating in this lift-the-flap adventure, although the interactivity of this book is not as engaging as the Maisy First Science popup series. Still, the flaps are easy for very young children to manipulate, and Cousins’ vivid colors and trademark illustration will keep children happily entertained. 



“Mr. Tiger Goes Wild” by Peter Brown; Little, Brown and Company, $18.00, 48 pages, ages 4-6.


Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. Copyright © 2013 by Peter Brown. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Mr. Tiger dwells in a proper, sophisticated environment where his fellow urbanites are well-dressed and walk on two legs. One day, Mr. Tiger is seized by a primal urge to abandon his refined ways – as well as his clothes – and lets loose, much to the surprise and dismay of his friends. Mr. Tiger sets aside etiquette and reminds readers that there’s always time for fun in this fast paced romp from city to jungle. Caldecott Honor illustrator Peter Brown used India ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper, then composited his work digitally. Cityscapes are rendered in tones of dull sepia, while the jungle, is lush and verdant. The quick pace of the text ensures that this will be a read-aloud favorite for a long time.