Sunday, December 11, 2016

14 Brilliant New Picture Books

There are so many wonderful new picture books out right now. Here are 14 books that have hit my desk for review and are all fantastic! It is such a varied collection. I've arranged them in order of text difficulty. The early books have very few words (the first has none!) but those further on in the post are more challenging. Within the post you will find books suitable for sharing with children aged 1-8 years, and many that could be read by early readers aged 4-6.

PLEASE NOTE: I don't receive any payment for my reviews, nor do I receive any sales commission when you buy any of the books from any of the sites that I link to. Enjoy!

1. 'Owl Bat, Bat Owl' by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

This wonderful wordless book is from Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick who has been awarded many times for her work. Simple but expressive illustrations move the 'reader' smoothly through this delightful tale.

 A family of owls become neighbours with a family of bats ... just how will the night unfold? The book celebrates family, friendship and the power of togetherness. Mummy Owl and her three little owls live happily on their spacious branch. That is, until the bat family move in. And the new neighbours (the owls up-top, the bats hanging below) can’t help but feel a little wary of one another. Owls just don’t mix with bats and bats don’t mix with owls. But babies are curious little creatures and this curiosity, and a wild, stormy night, might just bring these two families together…

2. 'An Artist's Alphabet' by Norman Messenger

This is a stunning book. It is an alphabet that brings a new level of creativity to titles in this genre. Is that possible I hear you ask? Look at the book and judge for yourself! The images are incredible works of art that could adorn the walls of any house, museum or gallery. The detail is so fine that one wonders how he produces them, and how long each plate takes. The letters of the alphabet are presented in upper and lower case form, and there is always a twist. The letters and the illustrations are in effect, one and the same. The letter 'e' is a two-headed dragon, the letter 'h' is represented by two buildings, the letter 'v' is represented by a very large eared jack rabbit. This is one of the best alphabet books I have ever seen! Children will revisit this book again and again and look deeply into the images and simply imagine and try to read the letters.

Readers will be mesmerized by these surreal and gorgeously rendered alphabet letters, cleverly shaped from flora, fauna, and more. At first glance, this elegant alphabet book—showcasing both upper- and lowercase letters—seems to follow a familiar formula. There’s an acrobat standing atop a horse to form a big letter A and another curled under herself to make a small one. There’s a colony of beetles attached to the leaves they’ve munched, creating a big and a small letter B. But then comes the letter C, made of sea waves evoking the artist Hokusai. Or a lowercase I in the form of a pen that has left an ink smudge, or two kingly beasts that create the letter K. And what of the many letters, equally fantastical and fascinating, whose associations are left to the viewers’ imaginations? Ingenious and intriguing, beautiful and full of stunning detail, this is an alphabet book sure to invite many repeat explorations.

3. 'Penguin Problems' by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith

Have you ever thought: I have so many problems and nobody even cares? Well, penguins have problems too!

This penguin has come to tell you that life in Antarctica is no paradise. For starters, it is FREEZING. Also, penguins have a ton of natural predators. Plus, can you imagine trying to find your mom in a big crowd of identical penguins? No, thank you.

Yes, it seems there is no escaping the drudgery of your daily grind, whatever it might be. Or perhaps we’ve just learned that grumps are everywhere. . . . 

What a stunning partnership between two wonderful people, a writer and an illustrator with many great books between them. Stunning images and a very funny text. Hand in hand they offer a delightful and fun read for children either alone, with other children or with a parent. This book won't disappoint child or adult readers. 

4. 'When We Go Camping' by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Cat Chapman

From the award-winning and bestselling author of 'Roadworks', 'Demolition' and 'Construction' comes a rollicking read-aloud celebration of camping, perfect for sharing together on the family camping trip! The whole family are away - banging in pegs, fishing for dinner, and singing round the campfire! Hummetty strummetty squeak-io. With gorgeous watercolour art, and delightfully rhythmical refrains, this story captures all the fun, excitement and joy of being in the great outdoors!

What I love about this book is the combination of simple but expressive images, a simple narrative that will engage under 5 year old readers and the use of sound words that relate to the text. The fish just caught and placed in the bucket goes 'flippetty, flappetty, jigg-lio', and when the door is zipped up in the tent it goes 'zippetty, zappetty flopp-io'. Younger readers love this playfulness with sound and words. The story text and the sound words are in parallel and beautifully support each other as well as maintaining reader attention and engagement. This is a great read aloud book. Lots of fun here.

5. 'We Found a Hat' by Jon Klassen

The name of the author illustrator alone will sell this book.  Jon Klassen won the two most prestigious awards for picture book for the first book in this trilogy - 'This is Not My Hat'. In 2012 it won this brilliant Canadian author/illustrator both the Caldecott Medal and the British Kate Greenaway Medal for children's book illustration.

So 'hold on to your hats' for the conclusion to the trilogy and its special twist. As usual, it is a simple plot. Two turtles find a hat, just one! But these two turtles both like the hat! The hilarious conclusion has the same simplicity of image and story line, but this stripped down tale has more complexity than it might seem. The book can stand alone, but is a delightful addition to the previous tales.

6. 'Captain Sneer the Buccaneer' by Penny Morrison & Gabriel Evans

Captain Sneer and his hardy crew of buccaneers are in for adventure as they head off on a treasure hunt. Captain Sneer is a mighty buccaneer. He's rough and tough, brave and bold and of course he sails the sea 'for gold, gold, gold'. But there is to be a surprise! The wonderful images combine line and colour to create pages that readers will want to scan and linger on. The interplay of the images and the text is fun and fast moving, and gives the feel of a summer 'pantomine' with all the audience excitement that goes with it. A great read aloud book for children aged 3-7.

7. 'A Child of Books' by Oliver Jeffers Sam Winston (author/illustrators)

This wonderful book is from the New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Oliver Jeffers, who is also the creator of well-known books 'The Day the Crayons Quit' and 'Lost and Found'.

This is a....lyrical tale about the rewards of reading and sharing stories, a little girl sails her raft "across a sea of words" to arrive at the house of a small boy. There she invites him to come away with her on an adventure. Guided by his new friend, the boy unlocks his imagination and a lifetime of magic lies ahead of him… But who will be next? 

Typographical artist Sam Winston has teamed with Jeffers to create a special book that young readers, and even adults, will find engaging and inspiring. This is a textual experience for all as the simple story line intersects with well-known literature from the past, both through the 'actual' text that appears in a child-like script, and the use of text from classic literature. The excerpts from 'Treasure Island', 'Little Women' and 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' collide both with the images and the text, to create a rich tapestry that engages and intrigues. There is complexity and depth here that will hold the older reader not simply the three year old who you could read it to. A memorable book, not to be missed!

8. 'Something about a Bear' by Jackie Morris

I have always been a fan of Jackie Morris, and this wonderful addition to my Jackie Morris books won't disappoint. It has just been shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal the United Kingdom's most prestigious children's book award. It is a stunning book! This beautiful picture book is a factual picture book about bears. The author uses a narrative form and her rich watercolour illustrations to introduce us to some of the world's most wonderful creatures. It has pretty much all of my favourites - Brown bears, Spectacled bears, Moon bears, Polar bears, Sun bears and more. The book begins with a large brown bear staring at a child's toy bear, and then launches into wonderful double page spreads showing nine bears. The first is the Brown bear:
'Where the water churns with salmon, thick and rich with leaping fishes, there the brown bear stands and catches the wild king of the river. On the shore the young bears watch him; still others swim the waters, but they are careful not to challenge, for he is the strongest of them all.'

With stunning watercolour paintings, this lyrical picture book describes eight bears from all over the world, all shown in their natural habitats: Black Bear, Polar Bear, Sloth Bear, Spectacle Bear, Sun Bear, Panda, Moon Bear, and Brown Bear.

But which is the best bear of all? Your own teddy bear of course!

9. 'Amelia Earhart' by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Maria diamantes

This is one of the 'Little People Big Dreams' series that focus on the lives of outstanding people from designers and artists to scientists. All are people who have achieved great things, but all began life as children with a dream. The first book followed 'Coco Chanel', from her early life in an orphanage. This new title introduces younger readers aged 6-8 years to the inspiring feats of the aviator Amelia Earhart who set a new world record for flying up to 14,000 feet. She also flew across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Beautifully, yet simply illustrated, this books will engage and inspire young readers.

All four books will delight children. As well as this title and 'Coco Chanel' the other titles include 'Maya Angelou' and 'Frida Kahlo'. 

10. 'Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World' by Laurence Anholt

This is the next title in the best-selling Anholt's Artists series. Laurence Anholt has been introducing children to some of the world's most famous artists. These inspirational true stories will be well received by children aged 6-8 years.

This book deals with the famous Mexican artist. When Mariana goes to Frida Kahlo' s house to be painted by the famous Mexican artist, she is scared. She's a bit afraid of the beautiful woman with her exotic pets and her 'frog-toad' - and she's heard that Frida keeps a skeleton in her bedroom. But as Frida paints Mariana, their friendship blossoms. Frida tells Mariana about her life and the terrible accident that almost killed her, while Mariana discovers how love, creativity, determination and, above all, courage, can give you wings to fly.

11. 'Home in the Rain' by Bob Graham

Bob Graham has been one of my favourite Australian author/illustrators for over 30 years. He has the ability to create novel, engaging and inspiring picture books that move children of all ages. This is the story of a family awaiting the birth of a child, with a storm pouring down outside.

As they drive along a highway at night buffeted by the storm they park by the highway to wait it out. This wait inspires a name for an unborn baby sister in a tender, exquisitely observed tale from the incomparable Bob Graham.

The rain is pouring down in buckets, and Francie and her mum are on their way home from Grandma’s. A sister is coming soon for Francie, but what will they call her? The little red car is pulled into a picnic area to wait out the storm. When the windows fog up, Francie spells out Dad, Mum, and her own name with her finger. The back window? What will she write in it?  Perhaps the name of Francie’s soon-to-arrive baby sister. Francie and her mum ponder the name as they head back onto the road. What will it be?

Bob Graham has a habit of taking a simple thing in life and telling a story about it laced with deeper meanings, and yet he tells his stories with utter simplicity adorned by his wonderful images. This book will be loved by children aged 6+ and their parents.

12 'Willy's Stories' by Anthony Browne

This isn't a new title (published 2014), but I hadn't seen a copy until recently. As well, it was only recently shortlisted for the 2016 Kate Greenaway Medal. Any new Anthony Browne title is always an exciting discovery.  Browne is one of the most celebrated author-illustrators in the world.

This book, like many before it, is a wonderful celebration of Browne's ability as a storyteller who stimulates the imagination. Once a week, Willy walks through an ordinary-looking set of doors and straight into an adventure with echoes of other great imaginative tales like 'Alice in Wonderland'. Each day we wonder where the doors will take him - a mysterious desert island with footprints in the sand; an adventure with Friar Tuck in Sherwood Forest; an encounter with Peter Pan and Captain Hook; falling down a deep, dark rabbit hole full of curious objects; or being swept away like Dorothy on the head of a tornado. Each page offers a new adventure, and an echo of another tale. The Willy we love is unmistakable as we are drawn into the book and the memory of our favourite tales. A great example of Browne's genius!

13. 'Willy and the Cloud' by Anthony Browne

Has there ever been a bad book from Anthony Browne? Not to my knowledge! This is the latest book from the former British Children's Laureate and winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal twice! This new title won't disappoint. It has less text than some of his other picture books, and yet it covers some complex issues concerning how children face their greatest fears. This is a book that will have broad appeal.

It is a subtle and yet perceptive story about worry and anxiety with everyone's favourite chimp, Willy. Willy sets of for the park on what is an ordinary day. It's a sunny day, but strangely, a cloud hovers over him and he finds it hard to join in with the fun he sees all around him. What can he do to make the cloud disappear? This is his quest throughout the day. Browne's exceptional illustrations combined with the insightful story makes this an essential book for young children. It shows us that just as suddenly as clouds of sadness and darkness drift over us, they can disappear. This is a wonderful children's book that teachers in particular will find helpful for use with children.

The publishers have also provided some excellent teaching notes to assist teachers HERE.

14. 'Welcome to Country' by Aunty Joy Murphy and illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

'Welcome to country' is now a well-accepted way to acknowledge that Aboriginal Australians were not only the first people of Australia, they have been the traditional owners of the land for over 40,000 years. This picture book offers an expansive and generous 'Welcome to Country' from a highly respected Elder, Aunty Joy Murphy. The wonderful words are complemented by the remarkable art of Indigenous artist Lisa Kennedy. The combination of the authentic and wonderful words of Aunty Joy, in combination with Lisa's incredible images, make you want to visit the remarkable places she pictures. It is a special book and will serve as an excellent introduction to the topic of Indigenous ownership of the land that Australians all call home.

Welcome to the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri People. We are part of this land and the land is part of us. This is where we come from. Wominjeka Wurundjeri balluk yearmenn koondee bik. Welcome to Country.

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