I’ll never outgrow reading picture books. Lucky for me, eight year old Boy Detective doesn’t seem to be outgrowing them either. Until that luck runs out, I’m enjoying reading him all the amazing books I find in the stacks of the Austin Public Library. Here’s a roundup of some of our recent favorites. Hope you find something to love in this list!
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. At this point, Dan Santat do a book about petroleum engineering, and I would read it. I know nothing about petroleum engineering, have no actual interest in it, and can’t think how it would be relevant to my life. But Santat is JUST SO GOOD. His imagination, his storytelling, his character design, his illustration. He’s one of our favorite creators of children’s picture books. The Adventures of Beekle is not about petroleum engineering. It’s about an imaginary friend who’s waited too long to be imagined. Rather than give up hope, he sets off on a journey. It’s scary. But he sticks with it. And eventually, his faith is richly rewarded. Every two page spread in this book is unique and perfect for the part of the story he’s telling. So well crafted. Love it.
More like this: books about friendship.
Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly by Carolyn Parkhurst, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. Hosting a wildly popular cooking show with a two year old assistant can be fun. When she’s not putting a slice of pizza into the bowl of waffle batter. Or insisting you both wear pirate hats. However with flexibility, a good theme song, sponsor support, and a solid recipe, it will all turn out fine! Boy Detective and I were cracking up the whole time we read this, especially when Mom calls “work it out, you two!” from the other room.
More like this: books about food and cooking.
Dogku by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Tim Bowers. I brought this book home with an agenda. I want to get my seven year old interested in writing haiku. He already loves books of poetry about dogs (despite not liking dogs that much), so I figured he’d be a sucker for this one. It’s only been a couple of days and I haven’t caught him writing any haiku yet, but he was absolutely spellbound while I was reading the book. It’s the classic “stray dog finds a home” tale, with a cute mutt drawn so well by Bowers, you almost want to pet him. Clements has a short, encouraging author’s note in the back explaining haiku for kids who want to try it out.
Eddie and Dog by Alison Brown. Boy meets dog, mom sends dog away, dog rides moped to get back to boy. You know, normal stuff like that. It’s a very simple story with a seriously zany series of “I’m back!” appearances by the dog – made funnier because the boy is so low-key about it. There’s some topiary at the end. (Not kidding.) The story is simple enough for bitty kids to enjoy, and a nice quick and pleasant read for older kiddos.
More like these: books about dogs.
The First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story retold by Joseph Bruchac, with pictures by Anna Vojtech. This classic, sweet book won over this folktale/fairytale skeptic. The art is gorgeous, especially the people, and the story is simple but very readable. The basic storyline: The first man and woman have a fight because she picked flowers instead of making dinner while her husband was hunting. They both get mad, and she runs off. Her husband realizes he was a jerk but he can’t catch up to her because she’s so fast. The sun takes pity on the guy and tries to get the woman’s attention long enough for her husband to catch up and apologize. Good message, good book to diversify your reading list, and really pretty pictures. Bruchac is from the Abenaki tribe and he’s written a lot of children’s books, so I look forward to reading more of them.
The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, a Japanese folktale retold by Katherine Paterson and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Fans of classic Japanese art will appreciate the inspiration for the Dillons’ illustration work on this book. It’s the story of Yasuko and Shozo, who serve a harsh lord with a bad temper. Yasuko liberates a drake that the lord has imprisoned away from his mate. Shozo, a former samurai, takes the blame even though Yasuko begs him to let her confess. Their compassionate natures lead to a deep bond, but their love puts their lives at risk. The lord declares they must have been co-conspirators and sentences them to death. Yasuko and Shozo’s relationship is founded on real compatibility, and develops over time. That’s something you rarely see in Hollywood, and it warmed my heart. They’re good people, and their goodness is rewarded. Paterson keeps a “fairy tale” tone, but her text still sounds fresh and has personality. I especially enjoyed reading this out loud.
More like these: books about love and marriage.
Gravity by Jason Chin. This book is just gorgeous! I was blown away by the art in this simple, clear children’s picture book about the basics of gravity. I was also so happy to find a science picture book where the main character is a child of color. We don’t see that often enough! Older kids won’t learn much that’s new about gravity, though it’s always good to review the basics. But the beauty, the art, and the humorous journey presented as the narrator explains gravity will delight kids and grownups. (Unless they’re grumpy grownups who don’t like neat stuff.)
More like this: books about nature.
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer, with art by Josée Masse. As soon as I read the first page of this book, I knew my language-loving, puzzle-loving seven year old son was going to adore it. And I was right. :) His eyes lit up as we read the first pair of poems and he got what was happening. Each set of two “reverso” poems, on the same same page, is the same lines, the second reversed from the first. Only changes of punctuation and capitalization are allowed. And here they tell two different sides of the same fairy tale: Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf, Cinderella and her stepsisters, Beauty and the Beast. I’m blown away by the thought required to craft these forwards-backwards stories. Some of the poem sets are more successful than others, but overall the collection is very strong. The Sleeping Beauty and the Wide-Awake Prince is one of my favorites because of how perfectly it shows the “grass is always greener” effect. Mirror Mirror, the Snow White set of poems, is chilling. Masse’s split-screen painting for each set of poems is such a perfect match for the poems, it’s amazing. Follow Follow, the next one Singer published, is just as good, if not better. (How often does that happen?) Again, not every poem quite clicks, but the ones that do are stunning. I’m in awe of how this technique and Singer’s insight can give great emotional depth to stories we’re already overly familiar with – in such short poems!
More like this: children’s poetry books.
Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Birgitta Sif. It’s so satisfying when a “lesson” book also works as a good story. This interesting book about a place where scaredy-cats learn to be bold and save their teacher is also tale of acceptance, healing, bravery, and personal growth. Cats are dropped off at Miss Hazeltine’s by people who call them all kinds of mean things: “Hopeless!” “Worthless!” The cats may have been shy and fearful to begin with, this rejection and judgment surely didn’t help them! Instead Miss Hazeltine meets every cat where they are. Even Crumb, who can’t even come out from under the bed. Miss Hazeltine’s unconditional love and acceptance is what ultimately saves her when she gets in trouble, because the cats she’s been healing are able to go beyond their fears on her behalf. It’s both sweet and extremely powerful, without feeling heavy-handed. Kudos to Potter for blending meaning and plot so well. Any cat lover will eat up Sif’s illustrations. No two cats are the same, I guarantee. Her balance of full-page spreads with individual illustrations gives the book a feeling of openness and movement that works really well with the progress of the story.
More like this: books about cats.
Mrs. Brown Went to Town by Wong Herbert Yee. (This image of the cover looks a little garish, but trust me on this one.) I have been tired before. I have been so tired, I have fallen asleep in strange places and positions. But I have never been so tired that I could crawl into a bed without noticing a cow, two pigs, three ducks, and a yak who were crashed there after spending the day in my house. I can only assume that Mrs. Brown was also medicated when she was released from the hospital on the day this story begins. I’m a little concerned for the quality of the medical care she receives in town.
That said, this book is a riot. The farm animals vote to move into Mrs. Brown’s house – all but the mouse, who doesn’t want any part of this terrible idea. Boy Detective was appalled and delighted by what the animals get up to unsupervised. And I feel for the taxi driver. Yee is one of our favorite authors of children’s picture books. I particularly love how skilled he is with language. He never forces a rhyme, and he’s willing to let things almost-rhyme when it suits the story. That’s appreciate by this mom who’s read too many contorted verses in her eight-year mothering career.
Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. I rarely go looking for children’s picture books that convey deep life lessons. I certainly don’t expect to find them in books with purple rhinos on the cover, but this one packs a punch. It’s a slightly silly story about Daisy’s reaction when the aforementioned purple rhinoceros shows up in her house. More importantly, it’s a cautionary tale about what happens when adults aren’t present with their children. To Daisy’s parents’ credit, when they do get the wake-up call, they respond quickly and with love. So that’s a good demonstration that even when things get off track in relationships, it’s worth making the effort to fix things.
Both Kemp and Ogilvie do an amazing job here. Kemp’s writing is funny and well-crafted. Ogilvie’s drawings are so expressive and her colors choices are bold and gorgeous.
More like these: books about animals.
One Word From Sophia by writer Jim Averbeck and illustrator Yasmeen Ismail. This book! Y’all! Just stop whatever you’re doing and read this book. That’s not so much to ask, right? You won’t be sorry. There’s something for everyone in this book: a multi-racial family, a strong girl character, a compelling slideshow, public opinion polling, big words, a tutu, and some great hair. The girl is Sophia, who has a deep, desperate yearning for a pet giraffe. It’s her One True Desire. Her birthday’s coming up. She’s thought of all the angles… but none of them are working on her family. What’s she going to do?! I had so much fun reading this out loud. Averbeck’s prose flows beautifully, and even C-Man was cracking up as Sophia was shot down with proposal after proposal. Her grandmother’s reaction is the best. Ismail’s art just explodes with joy. I hope she had as much fun drawing the characters as I had looking at them. In a world where books with leading characters of color are sadly lacking, this is a fantastic book for increasing diversity in children’s literature. Bravo!
More like this: books about pets.
A Pair of Twins by Kavita Mandana, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath. Sundari the girl and Lakshmi the elephant were born on the same day, almost the same minute. They grew up together, and Sundari became an expert in all things elephant. However, as a girl, she wasn’t in line to inherit her father’s role as chief mahout, responsible for all the elephants of the palace. I won’t tell you how Sundari gets to a happy ending, but it’s no spoiler to say that she does – and the rich and elegant art bursts with joy for her and Lakshmi. I don’t remember how I ended up with this book in my bag, but I’m so glad I did.
More like this: books about awesome girls.
Princess Patty Meets Her Match by Charise Mericle Harper. In a very fractured fairy tale style, Princess Patty decides that “Someday Your Prince Will Come” is getting boring. So, she and her pet starfish Miss Loverpuff set out to find this guy. It’s harder than it seemed, though, since her neighborhood is apparently full of princes that need serious help! The fairy godmother’s not much better. So what’s next? No worries, there’s a happily ever after. Very fun if the kiddo in your life is familiar with traditional princess tales, and probably even if they aren’t. It’s not one of the deepest children’s picture books, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a good light, entertaining read.
The Princess Who Had No Kingdom by Ursula Jones, with art by Sarah Gibb. The princess with no kingdom rides through the land with a cart and a pony, making her living delivering items you can’t mail. She hopes to find her kingdom someday, but in the meantime she has a pretty good life, and a good head on her shoulders. A chance meeting with dowager duchess Wilhelmina leads to an invitation to a royal ball. At the ball, there’s a quarrel between potential suitors… and an ending that isn’t what you’d expect, but is far more lovely thanks to the Princess’s good sense. I do have two complaints. First, the foil on the cover seems gratuitous when Sarah Gibb’s art is so charming. Second, I’m a little done with depictions of women in art where their waists are cinched in to be only slightly bigger than their necks. Historical accuracy just isn’t that important unless you’re curating a museum exhibit. Still, I do love this book.
More like these: books about princesses.
And that’s the list of children’s picture books we’ve been into lately! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!