Vanilla Ice Cream, written and illustrated by Bob Graham published in 2014 by Candlewick Press
What do a curious sparrow in hot, spicy, India and a small child in sunny Australia have to do with one another?
With the flutter of a wing, one seemingly-inconsequential bird sets in motion a remarkable chain of events resulting in serendipity for little Edie Irvine.
A truck-driver orders a plate of samosa, a rice bag splits, a crane lifts, an ocean liner churns through stormy seas. What of it? A set of doting grandparents take little Edie on an outing, a dog lunges at a small bird pecking at crumbs. Minor incidents?
Clacketing along like a domino run, though, all of these chance occurances add up to something sweet falling right into place for young Edie. Ahhhh.
I may be looking in all the wrong places, but this book has not had nearly the coverage I’d like to see in the year-end, best-of lists. It’s hands-down one of my 2014 favorites.
Describing Bob Graham’s work feels like loading a ballerina down with pack boots because his craftsmanship is so elegant, you just need to experience it. Ideas mesmerize without heaviness. Text is so unobtrusive, I often have to check back to see if the book was wordless. His warm, soft watercolors narrate the story brilliantly. I love the sun-baked earth of India, the lush rice paddies, the rosy dawn, the tenderness of Edie’s grandpa, the sequential frames that breeze along and finally, in tantalizing slow motion, bring us to our delicious conclusion.
Pure genius. Please don’t miss this book, for ages 3 and up.
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen published in 2014 by Candlewick Press
Sam and Dave are two friends with garden spades on a mission. The plan: dig a hole in their backyard until they find “something spectacular.”
What might you find, excavating in your backyard? Pirate treasure? Antiquities? China — I mean, capital-C China?!
These boys (and their trusty dog) are very determined diggers. They quarry deep into the earth, make enormous tunnels bending this way and that, become ever grimier and grubbier, pause to fuel up with chocolate milk and animal cookies, but…nothing spectacular do they find. They do, however, survive a mind-bending tumble through the bottom of their pit…spinning through air…and landing in a most enigmatic location. That’s pretty spectacular.
I am determined not to give away the Very Funny and Ironic element which is the centerpiece of this story and is revealed completely in Jon Klassen’s pictures. The combination of stoic, deadpan text and outrageous, almost slapstick, visual humor, will make young children shriek in comic consternation! And here’s a tip: Look very carefully at their final destination before you jump to conclusions.
Probably many of you have already seen this much-talked-about title by this team-on-a-roll, Barnett and Klassen. It’s a blast, for ages 5 and up.
Fog Island, written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer published in the U.S. in 2013 by Phaidon Press
On a windswept headland in Ireland, Finn and Cara help look after the family sheep, ramble along the rocky shoreline , and huddle near the peat stove in their cozy stone cottage.
The two of them also love the trim boat built by their father, given to them with a stern warning to keep clear of Fog Island. “It’s a doomed and evil place,” Father says. It seems no one who has ventured there has ever returned.
One day, though, strong currents pull the children beyond the bay. Thick fog envelops them, and when they pull up on an unknown shore they reckon they’ve landed on that forbidden isle. A mountainous stairway leads up into forboding cliffs. Finn and Cara daringly climb, and climb, and climb…and make a most unexpected discovery! Almost unbelievable!
Adventure, tension, and mystery abound in this fantastical tale by master storyteller Tomi Ungerer. His striking illustrations create a rich atmosphere of brooding wildness, damp fog, stony outcroppings, tempestuous seas…and eccentric other worlds. I am smitten by his stocky Irish figures and palette of deep blacks and chill blues. This is a captivating story for ages 4 and up.
Sebastian and the Balloon, written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead published in 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
Sebastian is a boy feeling quite limited by his blah surroundings. Anne Shirley might say the view from his house left him no scope for imagination. So, he decides to go on an adventure.
In two shakes, he’s pulled together all the essentials, built himself a keen hot air balloon out of “Grandma’s afghans and patchwork quilts” and untethered himself, soaring to new places.
It really is a most extraordinary journey. Sebastian encounters quite a baker’s assortment of new friends and ticklish troubles. With the help of a few pickle sandwiches here and there and thanks to his brilliant packing, he solves each quandary heroically. Such a zesty time he is having! And when one adventure feels complete, he has only to hop in that balloon and float off to another.
Philip Stead has dipped into the imaginative mind of a child wondrously, here. This is a daydream come true, a Willy Wonka ticket to Neverland that fills the sails of readers’ own flights of fancy. It’s a jolly adventure; for some perhaps it’s also a needed window of possibility. Stead’s artwork in pastels, oils, and pressed charcoal is characteristically curious and approachable — there’s such a welcoming quality to it. Shaggy, crayon-bright, joyous. Great read for ages 3 and up.
The Giant Seed, a wordless book by Arthur Geisert published in the U.S. in 2012 by Enchanted Lion Books (originally published in France, 2010)
A quaint, Lilliputian village of pigs inhabits a peaceful island. They are a happy bunch. One day, a giant dandelion seed drifts in courtesy of it’s downy parachute. The pigs gladly receive it, plant it, and tenderly care for it, which results in a healthy outcropping of mammoth dandelions.
And just in time! For a volcano on the island roars to live, spewing lava on their community. Time to evacuate! Those dandelion parachutes will be just the thing to carry these pigs out of danger, winging them along to a new homeland.
Arthur Geisert has been in my blog a number of times. His wordless picture books are outstanding, so just go ahead and search every title of his if you’re unfamiliar with his work. This one offers fascinating, detailed peeks at this piggly world in ink and watercolor. You’ll recognize these same characters in other stories of his as well. Share it with kids from 3-years-old on up.