What’s black and white and read all over? It’s a riddle that has spanned generations.
Today the answer is: A passel of books full of black-and-white critters.
Penguin Problems, written and illustrated by Jory John published in 2016 by Random House
This hilarious tale of a dismal, grumpy penguin made me laugh out loud in the bookstore.
The dour commentary begins, actually, on the jacket flap, with yours truly, one flumpy, fractious penguin grousing that we probably won’t even finish reading this book about him because why would anyone and you’ll probably get a bunch of paper cuts in the process anyway. Hrumph,hrumph,hrumph.
What seems to be the problem? Well, for one, it’s too early in the morning. And his beak is cold. And the sun’s too bright and the ocean too salty.
This guy clearly got up on the wrong side of the iceberg today and nothing, but nothing, is going to cheer him up. You wanna talk about problems? I have so many problems! he cries. This guy is the Bob Wiley of the penguin world.
There is a moment. A chance encounter with a sage walrus who attempts loquaciously to lift the penguin’s eyes up from his troubles and out onto the beauty of the world, but…well, have you tried that with a grumpus? Do you think it works?
Exactly the right touch of wry humor leads us skippeting through this very funny book, all to the tune of Jory John’s priceless illustrations. So brilliant, the volume of personality and emotion he can cram into one small lump of a penguin. Sure to put a smile on your faces even on One of Those Days. Ages 3 and up.
The Polar Bear, written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond published in 2016 by Enchanted Lion Books
Jenni Desmond won me over in one swish with her first title, The Blue Whale, reviewed here. Now she’s back with another gorgeous book about those burly arctic giants, the polar bear.
Desmond’s genius is in providing the fascination of non-fiction, written with clarity and not a snitch of talking down, combined with her superb artwork that incorporates a zephyr of imagination. The results are at the pinnacle of enticing nonfiction. Can I say it again — I love her work!
Read about these marvels, with foot pads “covered with small bumps much like the surface of a basketball” to give them a good grip on that polar ice. Whose eyes have “built-in sunglasses” and whose cubs, despite their mama’s massive size, are tiny and pink at birth, only “the size of a guinea pig.”
Soak in the mysterious, icy beauty of the Arctic, the shaggy, chuffing glory of the polar bear, and the merry antics of a small girl entering their world the same way we are — through the pages of a book.
Exceptional. For ages 4 and much older.
Black and White, written and illustrated by Dahlov Ipcar originally published in 1963; reissued by Flying Eye Books in 2015
Flying Eye is painstakingly reissuing Dahlov Ipcar’s extraordinary books for which we should give them three cheers. This makes them accessible to you once again, even if you don’t have an archival library near you with copies of the originals.
Black and White is the simple story of a “little black dog and a little white dog [who] were friends” and together play happily in a world full of black and white creatures. Why, even their dreams are populated by things black-and-white — dark jungles with black-and-white colobus monkeys, plains teaming with black-and-white zebras, arctic regions bounding with snowy arctic foxes and galumptious black walruses.
All of this provides the platform for Ipcar’s iconic artwork. Stunning pages that are simply alive with pattern and motion and the magic of Ipcar’s way of seeing. The text is gently rhyming and full of poetic wonder.
Do yourself and your kids a favor and introduce them to this artist who helps us see the world with boundless curiosity and flair. Ages 2 and up.
Black Cat, White Cat, written and illustrated by Silvia Borando published in Italy in 2014; first U.S. edition 2015 by Candlewick Press
Coming to us from Italy, Silvia Borando’s graphic stylishness is such a treat. This book makes a great companion to Ipcar’s story.
This time it’s two cats, one entirely white, one entirely black — but they’ve never met. Black Cat only goes out in the day, while White Cat ventures out only at night.
One day they become curious about the other side of things and venturing off to explore they meet up and guide one another into their lovely worlds. The wonder of the night with its “glittery fluttery fireflies” and the wonder of the day with all the “busy buzzy bumblebees” are deeply satisfying to these two newly inseparable friends.
Before you know it, Black Cat and White Cat have a batch of kittens. And can you guess what color they are? That’s the suspenseful teaser before the very last page turn! The answer is such a delight, I’m certainly not going to spoil it for you! Share this happy, simple story with children ages 18 months and up.
Poles Apart, written by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Jarvis published in 2015 by Nosy Crow
This is certainly the most colorful of our black and white stories today, as you can tell by the cover image alone.
Here’s a merry collection of penguins, who as you know inhabit the South Pole. Never the North Pole. Except that one fateful day, Mr. and Mrs. Pilchard-Brown and their penguins three — Peeky, Poots, and Pog — get lost on their way to a picnic and float on a small chunk of ice allllll the way up to the Arctic, where they bump into an enormous, furry fellow named Mr. White.
Mr. White gallantly offers to help these bird-brains find their way back home. And what an epic itinerary it is! Setting not exactly a straight course, the intrepid crew meander through the U.S., England, Italy, India, and Australia, before finally arriving at their destination.
Vivid, personality-laden illustrations, the antics of Peeky, Poots, and Pog, and gallons of friendliness warm up this story of the frozen reaches and creatures of our globe like cocoa on a winter morning. Jolly fun for ages 3 and up.