I am Henry Finch, by Alexis Deacon, illustrations by Viviane Schwarz; Candlewick Press, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 3-6.
Henry Finch knows he’s destined for greatness, but until now, all he’s done in life is flutter from tree to tree, outwitting the hungry beast who prowls below. One day Henry has enough of the lubmering creature eating his friends, and realizes this is his chance to be great. Well, Henry ends up in the belly of the beast, but what he does there is a charming ode to courage and resilience. Author Alexis Deacon (llustrator of Russell Hoban’s Soonchild) confirms with wit and humor that heroes can appear from the least likely of places. The birds are rendered as red thumbprints and stick figure illustration (courtesy of There Are Cats In This Book author-illustrator Viviane Schwarz), a reminder that we are all unique and capable of soaring high.
The Fly, by Petr Horáček; Candlewick Press, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6.
In Petr Horáček’s latest addition to the world of children’s picture books, a rather good-natured, big-eyed housefly laments his lack of friends. The hairy-legged insect navigates his day, buzzing from breakfast to flying laps around the ceiling lamp while avoiding a large blue flyswatter, which little ones will adore flipping from side to side in attempts to crush the misunderstood and maligned insect. This poor creature just doesn’t understand why nobody likes him – he likes to share food, after all. The last page gives kids the opportunity to play God, and depending on one’s mood, the fly lives to see another day, or is squashed by the hard covers. (Can you hear the squeals now?) Like all of Horáček’s books (The Mous Who Ate The Moon; Puffin Peter), The Fly is interactive and engaging, with beautiful illustrations that belie the work that goes into them. The endpapers showcase the fly in repetition, and could inspire (adult) readers to scan the pages to create a unique PC background – literally putting flies the wall.
Midnight: A True Story of Loyalty in World War I, by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frané Lessac; Candlewick Press, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 8 and up.
On Halloween Night in 1905, a horse was born on a cattle ranch in New South Wales, Australia. Twelve years later to the day, that horse, appropriately named Midnight, would participate in the Charge at Beersheba, one of the last great cavalry charges in military history, which resulted in the victory that led to the eventual collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Here, award-winning author Mark Greenwood (The Legend of Moondyne Joe; The Greatest Liar on Earth) goes back to his Australian roots by sharing the story of this remarkable mare and her brave owner, Guy Haydon. Greenwood deftly traces the course of Midnight’s life as it changes course from cow horse to member of the Australian Light Horse Brigade, and does such a masterful job of it. This is a story of bravery and sacrifice, and it will bring tears to all who read it. (This is not suitable for bedtime; in addition to its somber tone, the tale will incite discussion and an immediate desire to learn more.) Illustrator Frané Lessac traveled to Be’er Sheva in Israel with Greenwood in order to see firsthand where Guy and Midnight participated in the charge. The trip bore fruit: pigment-saturated gouache illustrations capture the desert sands and blood-red skies of battle. Complete with detailed endnotes and photographs of the real Guy and Midnight, this is a perfect example of history leaping off the pages and into readers’ lives. (Walker Books, Midnight’s Austrailian publisher, put together a wonderful teacher’s guide, which would also be useful for Americans who may be less familiar with this particular part of WWI history.)