Muddy Waters was never good at doing what he was told, a refrain that runs throughout this picture book biography by Michael Mahin (illustrated by Evan Turk). No matter who told him he couldn’t do something–his grandma, the boss man, or the Chicago club owners–Muddy did what he knew he needed to do, which was wail on his guitar. “He called up the sticky heat of a summer night, the power of love, and the need for connection in a world that was so good at pulling people apart.”
Evan Turk’s illustrations are lively and vivid, and Michael Mahin’s prose sings with passion and lyricism. Read Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters and discuss perseverance and the blues.
A warm-hearted cozy picture book is always on the reading menu, and Lilli L’Arronge‘s Me Tall, You Small is today’s special because it highlights the love between an adult and child. Throughout the day, they show how they are the same (“Me chomp, You chomp”) and how they are different (“Me tired, You Wired”), though always, always “You mine, Me yours.”
For fans of sweet but not saccharine, Me Tall, You Small is the sort of book that promotes a continuation of comparisons with your little one that you can mold to your life.
I love picture books with surprise endings, especially funny surprise endings. The Cave by Rob Hodgson delights readers (that’s me!) with expressive illustrations and a funny twist. One illustration shows just eyes in the dark cave with rain coming down and yet the reader knows exactly what’s going on: a complex mix of worry, tension, uncertainty. The wolf is waiting outside this cave for the little creature inside, and this wolf is hungry and tricky, just as all the fairy tales warn us. There’s no doubt that we are not misreading what the wolf wants to do. The surprise comes from the little creature, wholly satisfying because it confronts the assumptions we make.
A philosophical and hopeful picture book, Life, by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, honors life, growth and change. The book starts with a small plant, and a small elephant, and takes us on a journey through days and animal habitats (Interestingly, the book is portrait-oriented, perhaps meant to focus our eyes on the animal characters, though the prose is decidedly a journey through life, which usually lends itself to a landscape-oriented book).
Life is not only a celebration of life, but an ode to the hard times: There will probably be a stretch of wilderness now and then. Rylant doesn’t skim over these wilderness patches; she does encourage us to see the vast growth around us and that it’s worth it to wake up just to see what’s changed.
Helen Frost‘s masterful novel-in-poems When My Sister Started Kissing features Claire and Abigail at their summer cottage on the lake, where they navigate a new stepmother, boys, kissing, and memories.
Claire, the younger of the two, is the main narrator, and can’t understand how her sister wants to be called Abi now, how she wants to go to the beach together but then split up, and how she wants to call their stepmother Mom. Abi narrates a few chapters, and at key points, Heartstone Lake narrates, allowing the reader to step back and see the story from an outside perspective. Each character narrates with honesty, clarity and emotional truth, making this a unique book in that no one person is the antagonist. Perhaps more than anything, circumstances and lack of communication create the story tension.
Most of all, it’s the tone that struck me: authentic and respectful of this time in a child’s life that everything seems to be changing.
After the Fall by Dan Santat gives Humpty Dumpty a new ending, where all the king’s men did put him together. “There were some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.” You see, Humpty became afraid, and that limited him in living his life.
He finds a new hobby to replace sitting on the wall, a hobby he loves. Eventually, he is confronted with that very tall wall. And yes, he must go up. And with every step up, he proves to himself that he can overcome his fears because as we all know, doing something we are afraid of is how we figure out how to be brave. The story is beautiful, even if we stopped right there, but Dan Santat gives us just a bit more–a story of transformation that surprises but also feels exactly right.
How fun to pretend to be a Bad Guy! Though the main character may tell you he’s not pretending and never once does he drop out of character. His seemingly unwilling sister bears the brunt of his bad guy antics, but the bad guy surprises me.
The library, for instance: I expected a bad guy to dislike the library but this bad guy tells us “I love the library. They have excellent books for bad guys. I got one about magic tricks, one about tying knots, and a cookbook.” These books figure into the plot as the perfectly believable bad guy schemes against his sister. What he doesn’t figure on is his sister’s revenge. A funny and happy twist ending completes this perfectly executed and unpredictable book, written by Hannah Barnaby and illustrated by Mike Yamada.
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…