Antoinette Portis‘s Now is a picture book that illustrates the beauty of living in the present and the mindfulness of each moment. “That is my favorite cloud because it’s the one I’m watching.” And suddenly, I am looking up to my sky and finding my favorite cloud. To find joy in what is there and what one is experiencing is a beautiful goal, and this book allows us to enter into that mindset.
Pete, a badger, liked to keep everything neat, and in a forest, that’s especially hard to do. While the fox might not mind the grooming and the owl seemed to be fine with the bath, trees are a bit harder to tidy up. Pete goes a bit far after the trees lose all their leaves, one thing leads to another and–cement. Pete couldn’t get to his underground burrow or find a thing to eat. Tidy by Emily Gravett serenades nature in all its messy glory.
Compare Pete to Grimelda, The Very Messy Witch, also told in rhyme, and give a listen to Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. They paved paradise. And put up a parking lot…
Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen has a cover like an oversized board book and paper pages like a picture book. As you can see by the cover, there are no words, not even the title. Klassen’s distinctive style is apparent, and you can always look on the spine for the title, publisher, author, etc. It’s a book made for little thinkers because it poses questions.
Everything in Triangle’s life is triangular and everything in Square’s life is square. To get to each other’s house, they need to go past a bunch of other shapes, some of which have no name. And Triangle plays a sneaky trick on Square and Square retaliates. That’s the book. And it’s great.
Loving Vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Shadra Strickland is a large, beautifully made historical novel-in-verse. Well-researched (there are lists of the author’s interviews and sources in the back) and fascinating, the Lovings is a story of love between a black woman and a white man in Virginia, when interracial marriage was illegal there.
Though Mildred and Richard’s family and friends accepted their relationship, the sheriff goes out of his way to find them and arrest them. Jail, moving to another state, sneaking home for Easter–the Lovings had to endure much. They wanted to live a peaceful life in the county they grew up in, and they finally get to, after the Supreme Court ruled in their favour on June 12, 1967.
There aren’t many picture books with unreliable narrators. The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach is one that works extremely well and that even young children will understand and enjoy. Not only is the narrator unreliable, but she us unseen until the last few pages. Until that point, the story is an unexpected adventure of how the bear made his way out of his den, through the city and to the park bench to get the little girl’s sandwich. Delightful.
The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield has so much to like about it, I’m going to ramble. In the beginning, the bear sees a piano in the forest. He fiddles with it and over time, his skill at playing piano grows (it’s not magical talent) until a crowd of bears is drawn to listen. He goes to the city and becomes famous, and though the city is everything he’d hoped it would be (and there’s a beautiful nighttime spread to show this loveliness and yearning together) he misses his friends from the forest. When he gets to the clearing where his piano used to be, it’s gone, and at first he thinks his friends were angry or forgot him, the ending is warm and perfect.
Luscious verse invokes a snow day while illustrations show a pilot going to work in the wee hours, the snow clogging her commute and the flights at the airport are all cancelled. She flags down a snowplow driver, who brings her home where her husband and child are waking up. The final pages show them enjoying the snow day together.
Before Morning by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes is a treat to savour again and again.
How to Swallow a Pig: Step by Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page is an animal guide in a spot-on deadpan tone that gives tons of information while managing to be a page-turner. Unexpected animals, such as the western grebe and the reticulated python do amazing things in their daily lives, and now with this handy manual, we humans can too.