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…
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.