May 17, 2019

Nurturing Faith, Hope, and Strength

I recently read two very special picture books, each of which could be accurately described as "quiet" books.  "Quiet books" reportedly struggle to make it to market, based on the argument that kids prefer rousing, rambunctious, raucous books. I've never agreed with that assumption, and I find it's rarely smart to second guess kids' tastes and preferences.
Nor should it be assumed that "quiet books" are best reserved for bedtime, although both of these books will serve well at night or nap time. 
Each, though, is also a compelling story, encouraging discussions and repeated readings to explore and imagine further details within each scene. Both also provide scaffolds for children to build confidence, to find agency and self-reliance, and to value imagination beyond immediate gratification. Both also expand perceptions related to size, perspective, distance, and connections.  And both are GORGEOUS in color, images, and book design.
Minedition 2019
Let's begin with a close look at THE BLUE PEBBLE, written by Anne-Gaelle Balpe and illustrated by Eve Tharlet. This doesn't overtly "teach" or "preach" to kids but is dense with reflective lessons. A persistent thought hovers over every page and is stated clearly on the back cover: hang on to what is special. Originally published in Europe, this luminous book elevates traditional fairy-stories and  reads like a whisper on the page. The combination of spare text and expressive illustrations invites us to lean in and use all of our senses. With little effort we can hear crickets and chirping birds, smell damp earth, and feel  daisy petals rustling overhead.
The central character, acorn-capped Oli, is a sensitive and observant little fella, clearly a member of the wee-folk world but not quite a fairy or elf or otherwise easily labeled. Oli appreciates the pebble's unusual shade of blue, its "not-quite" shape. As he encounters various woodland animals and elves, he is challenged to cast aside the useless blue pebble and pursue more practical items. 
Oli responds gently and politely. He is not naive, but is undeterred by their arguments, convinced that he should be guided by his inner compass. The very satisfying ending confirms the value of his decisions and offers a thread of a suggestion that he will continue on his centered, mindful travels through the world.
And what a world it is. The robin-egg blue tones are rendered in a dreamlike wash, with misty edges with just enough enough sharp contrast from pragmatic others to elevate the tension without becoming sinister. 
Minedition 2019

WHEN THE MOON CAME DOWN is written and illustrated by Feridun Oral. This quiet book is also a fantasy story, one that feels perfectly suited to bedtime. 
Briefly, when little bunny wakes at night, feeling alone and frightened, he is befriended by a sliver of a waxing moon. During their nightly meetings, moon helps bunny find food, explore the woods,  and experience the security of a deepening friendship. 
Eventually, full moon invites bunny to visit his home in the night sky. Magical moments unfold. Their relationship and special talisman allow little bunny to navigate his days and nights on his own. Here, too, the illustrations are mesmerizing.
As gentle and soothing as this story will be at bedtime, it invites daytime discussions to compare fantasy with reality. It can spark curiosity about  the relative sizes, distances, and shapes of moon and stars, as well as the role of instinct and learning in rabbits, particularly their nocturnal habits. None of that may be what the author/illustrator intended, but that's the magic of beloved picture books- they work their way into the nooks and crannies of hearts AND minds. 
It is also an example of ways in which picture books offer different appeal at different ages. 

A copy of each book was provided by the publisher, Minedition, with a request for a free and honest review.

May 12, 2019

Happy Mothers' Day: Mom Loves little Jumbo

Minedition, 2019
Here's a terrific suggestion for the many families who have the smallest wee ones, ideal audiences for board books. MOM LOVES LITTLE JUMBO is a newborn book itself, released within the past few weeks. Its durable construction, glossy surfaces, and compact size are a perfect fit for infants and toddlers. The physical book and the emotionally connected characters will appeal to little hands across all ethnicities, races, and genders, using the simplest words in first person voice to universally represent the dependance of tots and the loving security of moms.

Baby "JUMBO" is tiny in relation to Mom, but they mirror each other's simple shapes, basic activities, and expressive eyes. Their shapes and body postures form perfect pairings in each scene, their symmetry creating a lighthearted contrast to the extremes differences in their size. Their colors are always reflective of the other, at times natural and at times interpreting the situation or events with surreal but subdued coloring. Essential details are included on otherwise unframed simple backgrounds, emphasizing the relationship between Jumbo and Mom. Always, the pages are a duet of loving care and reassurance, displayed through explorations of daily life, joy, learning, and love.
Author/illustrator Yasushi Muraki has created this handful of love that is a perfect homage to moms on Mothers' Day and a treasure for the tot-mom pairs throughout the months ahead. In fact, for those who are not biologic moms, the simple roles on page after page of bonding and support reinforce the definition of parenting regardless of bloodlines.

Minedition 2019
While you're at it, check out another Minedition recent release. MY LITTLE CHICK is written by GERALDINE ELSCHNER and illustrated by EVE THARLET. Despite the cartoonish calendar displaying impatient anticipation of a baby chick, this picture book is actually filled with lush illustrations of a farm family and their lovely fowl. The child/narrator uses first person voice to convey the intensity of hope, excitement, and tender care for a newly hatched chick. Other than a small white hand and cleverly portrayed effort to "nest" an egg under layers of blankets, the reader views each stage with a child's-eye-view. 
There are delightful moments throughout, eliciting chuckles, sighs, sympathy, and cheers. Among my favorite scenes are the ruffled-rump-revealing process of actual egg-laying, and the  centerfold/cut flap reveal as the chick gradually exits its egg. Before readers can become too concerned about the bitty chick's lack of a feathery mom, the young narrator delivers the fluffy one back to Mama Alma in the flock, knowing that will be the best way for a newborn chick to learn the ways of the world.

Both books are well-suited to Mothers' Day, or any day. Both are also ideal books for a baby shower. 

I received a copy of each book from in exchange for a fair and honest review.

May 10, 2019

PREDATOR and PREY: A Conversation in Verse

Candlewick Studio, 2019
This new picture book, PREDATOR and PREY: A Conversation in Verse, explores pairs (and groups) of animals "locked in a battle for survival". 
Predators need to eat. 
Prey need to avoid being eaten. 
This never-ending fight is depicted in verse and informational text by author Susannah Buhrman-Deever. 
The author introduces the topic in an introductory verse that describes the "tricks" prey and predator might use, many of which are a sort of conversation: using voices, listening in on others, even "talking" to each other. The ultimate goal, of course, is to survive and raise the next generation. Successfully raising young is necessary for species survival.  Babies must be fed and protected. This reality drives both predators and prey to never stop trying.

Each spread is gorgeous, and  includes an inset text box presenting factual information about both predator and prey. Their specific interplay and the possible outcomes of their encounters is described simply and clearly, with enough detail to spark imaginations. 
These passages are accessible science that allow readers to visualize the various battles as  action videos. On each page one or more poems adopts the voices of the animals pictured. The inset text combines with the images to enhance the meaning of the poems.This approach with parallel text provides excellent content to explore writing craft: voice, figurative language, sequential narration, cause/effect, and poetic forms, including reverso poems and poems for two voices.
Illustrator Bert Kitchen  has produced natural, representational full page scenes that appear, at first glance, to be photographs. Some of the double spreads are designed with half-page foldouts, providing nearly panoramic habitat scenes that are as informative as the 
the informational text. The oversized, square trim format results in double page spreads (some with extra wide fold-outs) that are perfect for sharing. 
The animals depicted represent global locations and species, with accurate names provided in every case. The bibliography includes primarily adult scientific resources, which allows authentication of science, but does not offer options for young readers whose curiosity will surely be sparked by these animals. I believe this would have been improved with a page or two of kid-friendly back matter such as poetry form notes, a food-chain diagram, and a few titles or links for kids. Despite that, I'm eagerly recommending this impressive and inspiring new book.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.