Truman, written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, is that rare picture book that’s both sweet and surprising (in a gentle, literary way). Truman is a turtle, and from his perspective, we see all of the details of his Sarah getting ready for her first day of school. The bow, the backpack, the extra food in his aquarium…it all leads to something he can’t quite figure out, so he starts the long journey out of his glass house and across the house.
I won’t ruin any endings for you (it’s sweet but not saccharine). But it’s an unusual and lovely book.
The Honeybee is a delightful picture book about the joy of a bee racing and chasing and zooming from flower to flower. There’s a bit of rhyme in the narration, but an excited, buzzing sort of narration as if it’s coming from the bee itself. And then the illustrations: a palette of black and yellow with streaks of neon. The book is beautiful, and filled with facts about bees and their habits. Written by Kirsten Hall and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.
A girl sets out to write a story about a kitten, but the kitten objects, wanting to be called a tiger. The tiger wants bigger and bigger adventures until the tension is unbearable for the tiger, and ridiculous for the reader. This fun meta-fictive story celebrates the quieter elements of story while poking a bit at over-the-top action stories. Delightfully written and illustrated by Liza Woodruff.
This counting picture book encapsulates the quintessential concept book and a suspenseful narrative arc exceptionally well. Mix in Kate Read‘s vivid illustrations, and One Fox becomes a stunning book that holds up to repeated readings. The ending is unexpected, and every page offers visual delights.
A skeleton falls apart at the bottom of the sea, and says a rhyme to find back each one of his parts. “Who can spot my shoulder blade, my shrugging jacket-holder blade, my shiver-when-I’m, colder blade? Oh, scapula, come back!” Kim Norman‘s unusual and rollicking rhyme scheme will have you laughing at each page spread, and Bob Kolar‘s undersea illustrations offer bright underworld delights. Such fun, this picture book!
Ling and Ting, twins, go to the barber, conduct magic, and make dumplings together, all while proving they are not exactly the same. Six short chapters offer six unique stories, though the stories weave together a bit, too, especially in the final chapter. Gentle humour pervades each story, and the point that twins Ling and Ting enjoy similar activities but retain individuality slips in with subtlety. Written and illustrated by Grace Lin.
This picture book, The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, is profoundly beautiful. My library has it categorized under poetry, and it is that, too. Every word hits home, powerfully, meaningfully, the cadence spot on with the page turn. But it’s also nonfiction, each double page spread showing historical figures such as Jesse Owens, Trayvon Martin, and Ella Fitzgerald, and historical events such as black soldiers in the Civil War. The Undefeated is also a book about ideas: freedom, justice, resilience.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m interested in Little Red Riding Hood versions, and Katherena Vermette‘s The Girl and the Wolfis an interesting one. Vermette, who is Métis, was inspired by both traditional stories and European fairy tales. Beautiful illustrations by Julie Flett make the forest and darkness come alive. The girl in the red dress is lost, and the wolf is not evil. This story has more of the natural world in it than most retellings, and it strays further from the Grimms than most, as well (to its credit).
Digger, Crane, and Dozer are busy building up the monochrome city with tall skyscrapers and bridges and wide roads. When Digger finds a lone flower, he protects it, until it’s the very last space available and then it, too, gets buildings on it. Digger finds seeds in the rubble and carries them away to where “no big truck had ever been.”
Joseph Kuefler’s stark city is in contrast with the lush green landscape where the seeds are planted, and visually, both city and landscape are pleasing. I can’t help wishing there was some place within the city for the seeds to be planted, the way Sidewalk Flowers or The Curious Garden shows city and greenery together, but this is Kuefler’s book, and it’s very good.
Kekla Magoon‘s middle grade novel Camo Girl is unexpected in all the best ways. Ella, the narrator, is friends with Z, the strangest boy in the whole grade. Both of them are ostracized, and they cope by creating an imaginary world where nothing bothers either of them. But when Bailey shows up, the cool new kid (and this is just one of the tropes Magoon upends: sometimes the new kid is instantly cool), he lets it be known that calling Ella “Camo Face” is not okay. They strike up a friendship that threatens Z’s delicate grip on reality. So much is tied into this story: race, middle school cool, middle school mean, and family. It was published in 2011, and I don’t know why I haven’t read it earlier.
For teachers that want to extend the learning, here are some activities.