Friday, March 23, 2018

12 Outstanding New Picture Books to Enjoy

Many books cross my desk from publishers, but not all are reviewed. I try to review a range of the better books that I see as appealing to the readers for whom they were written. While I admire and respect writers, I'm careful not to review books for them. Rather, I review books for the children, and the parents and teachers who often recommend books or share them with their children. In this post, I review 12 new books that all in their own way are outstanding.

1. 'Me Too' written by Erika Geraerts and Charl Laubscher & illustrated by Gatsby
Sometimes the friends we seek are closer than we might think. This delightful book is a dialogue between two friends who discuss the type of friend they'd like to find when they're all grow up. It's a book about that longing for a special friend. Might the special friend they seek be closer than they think? This is a delightful book about friendship, love, and simple companionship, and the special someones who enable us to experience these precious gifts.

This a wonderful book written with simplicity and an economy of words. Prose like poetry, to be effective, often needs less words, not more. A wonderful story that is delightfully illustrated by Gatsby.

2. 'Alma and How She Got Her Name ' by Juana Martinez-Neal

What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.

Little Alma is perplexed by her long and unusual name. "My name is so long, Daddy. It never fits," Alma said. Why does she have the unusual name Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela? Six names!?

Alma turns to her father for an answer and learns where each name comes from. Alma learns why every name matters, and that her first name 'Alma', is a special name that will allow her, like all her relatives before her whose names she shared, to make her own story.

Juana Martinez-Neal is from Peru and this is her debut as an author-illustrator, and what a treat it is. Her soft pencil drawings have as much magic as the text she uses to tell this wonderful story. Not to be missed!

 3. 'Rescue & Jessica' by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes & illustrated by Scott Magoon

Based on a real-life partnership, the heartening story of the love and teamwork between a girl and her service dog will illuminate and inspire.

This is a lovely book about two parallel stories that come together in a beautiful way.  Rescue was growing up to be a Seeing Eye dog, but there was to be a surprise.  His trainers have another plan for him, he will be a service dog. Meanwhile Jessica is growing up and adjusting to life without two complete legs and she has a lot of adjusting to do. Jessica needs Rescue to help her accomplish everyday tasks and to be her companion. This is a lovely coming together of a young girl with big adjustments to make, and a service dog that helps her along the way.

A delightful story and at the same time, a book that helps readers to understand disabilities and how service dogs can help. The book has an end note that tells more about the training and extraordinary abilities of service dogs.

4. 'Count with Little Fish' by Lucy Cousins

Lucy Cousins is well known as the creator of the wonderful series of Maisy books. She is also author-illustrator of the 'Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales', which was the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year. More recent successes have been 'I’m the Best', 'Hooray for Fish!' and 'Hooray for Birds!' reviewed previously on this blog.

In this latest fun counting book she uses similarly rich, colourful and endearing illustrations to take little readers on a counting adventure.

One Little Fish, swimming in the sea.
Two twin fin-fin fish, as pretty as can be.
Three counting fish... one, two three!
Four flying fish, flapping wild and free.

Wonderful stuff as usual, that will keep little hands turning the pages as they learn to count to ten and have a great language experience along the way.

5. 'Bird Builds a Nest' by Martin Jenkins & illustrated by Richard Jones

This beautifully illustrated book in soft autumn tones follows the life cycle of two small birds that meet, pair up, build their nest, lay their eggs and then care for their clutch of 5 chicks, who eventually leave the nest to set out on their own adventures.

Richard Jones's wonderful illustrations match perfectly Martin Jenkins beautifully crafted story that weaves the narrative around a quest to teach children about physical forces like gravity, lifting, puling, pushing, strength weight and more.  It even has an index and guidance notes (at the back) for parents, caregivers and teachers.

A wonderful book!

6. 'Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship' by Irene Latham and Charles Waters & illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Irene Latham, who is white, and Charles Waters, who is black, use this fictional setup to delve into different experiences of race in a relateable way, exploring such topics as hair, hobbies, and family dinners. Accompanied by artwork from acclaimed illustrators Sean Qualls and Selina Alko... this remarkable collaboration invites readers of all ages to join the dialogue by putting their own words to their experiences. 

This is a fascinating book that is an exciting creative attempt to take a different slant on inter-racial relations. It offers a rich set of poems that largely use free verse to shine a light on some of the at times idiosyncratic and confusing aspects of such relationships. For example, in 'Strands', a white boy asks a black boy can he touch his hair. "It feels like sponge," he says. In 'Beach' a white girl scrubs her sunscreen off at the beach so that she doesn't look "sugar-sand white" compared to the children with darker skins. Another poem of just eight words answers the question that represent the title of the poem, "Why Aunt Sarah Doesn't Go Downtown after Dark"? An intriguing book that children aged 9-12 will find interesting and engaging.

"A compelling portrait of two youngsters dancing delicately through a racial minefield."
 J. Patrick Lewis, former US Children's Poet Laureate 

7. 'Dingo' by Claire Saxby & illustrated by Tannya Harricks

This is an excellent addition to a growing set of engaging narrative non-fiction books. This new book in the 'Nature Storybooks' series is about dingoes.

Can you see her? There – deep in the stretching shadows – a dingo. Her pointed ears twitch. Her tawny eyes flash in the low-slung sun. Dingo listens. Dusk is a busy time. Dusk is the time for hunting.

The book is written by award-winning author Claire Saxby and illustrated by Tannya Harricks using a broad brush and colourful technique with oil paints. The illustrations are stunning and as usual Saxby crafts a text that is economical and beautifully expressed. In fact, there are two texts. One is a factual text that gives information about the dingo and its life, while the other is the narrative account of one dingo's life

8. 'I'm a Duck' by Eve Bunting & illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

This is such a beautiful book. The illustrations from Will Hillenbrand make you want to hug each page, as a brave and scared little duck encounters a world with many strange things. And it does so with a fear of water!

In spite of the encouragement of brothers, Big Frog, and Owl, the little duck cannot make the plunge, until one day, the 'whispering' of the pond saying "Come on! Let's go" does the trick.

Lovely work from Eve Bunting who has written 250 well-loved children's books, including 'Smoky Night' (illustrated by David Diaz) which won a Caldecott Medal.     

9. 'Horses: Wild & Tame', by Iris Volant  & illustrated by Jarom Vogel

This wonderful factual picture book tells the story of horses. This animal once wild, was domesticated and has been part of human life for centuries. They have taken us into battle, pulled our cargo, ploughed our fields, offered us transport and been our close companions.

This beautifully illustrated picture book engages through the beautiful illustrations of Jarom Vogel and the carefully crafted text of Iris Volant. Readers aged 5 to 8 years will enjoy finding out about the domestication of horses, their history, character and varied 'gaits'. The reader also learns about their key role across the ages.

The simple watercolour plates of Jarom Vogel add a special richness to the book, that children will be keen to pick up and read.

10. 'Three Cheers for Women' by Marcia Williams

This book is a celebration of inspirational women across the ages, and from around the world. It is told in a delightful comic book form.

The text introduces us to almost 100 women from around the world: inventors, feminists, doctors, authors, leaders, sportswomen, explorers, musicians and more. So many wonderful examples to inspire our young readers: Cleopatra, the Warrior Queen Boudicca, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Jane Austen, Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Ann Frank, Aritha Franklin, Anna Pavlova and many more.

Boys and girls will enjoy this inspirational book overflowing with facts, quotes and jokes.

11. 'The Poesy Ring: A love story' by Bob Graham

"The poesy ring flew high, caught by the wind. And with the breeze in its tail, the horse turned and galloped. Salt tears dried on the rider's face. The ring tumbled end over end, and settled deep in a meadow near the sea... and there the ring stayed with just creatures to keep it company as the seasons slipped on by"

This is a tale about a poesy ring lost in a field in County Kerry (Ireland) in 1830. The ring is lost as a horse rears its head and its strange journey begins, across land and sea until one day it is found inside a fish and bought by Sonny and Jules in 1967 in New York. As always, this is a wonderful book from one of my favourite Australian authors.

His awards include the international Kate Greenaway Medal and the Children's Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Award an unprecedented six times.

The Poesy ring (traditional spelling poesy) was a gold finger ring with a short inscription often from the Bible. They were popular during the 15th to 17th centuries in both England and France as gifts between lovers.

12. 'The Things That I Love about Trees' by Chris Butterworth & illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Journey through the seasons and discover how much there is to love about trees! From brand-new buds in spring to the sound of the wind whooshing through the leaves in summer, from the fall colors to the feel of winter’s rough bark and the promise of spring returning again.

This wonderful book brings together the magic of Charlotte Voake's delicate and evocative images with Chris Butterworth's wonderful parallel texts. One is a first person narrative account of what the little girl (the central character) loves about spring. As well, in slightly smaller and different font, he provides a factual text that teaches the young reader about trees.

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