a batch of goodies…picture books I’ve loved lately

Looking for a new gem for your stack of bedtime reading? Check out these titles that have risen to the tiptop of a towering stack of books I’ve read recently. (And that takes some doing!)

Want something wildly imaginative, slightly off-kilter, with adventure spilling over the rim?

The Only Fish in the Sea, written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
published in 2017, a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Oh, my dear Sadie, you are back!! That indefatigable gal from Special Delivery is here with a new challenge: Rescuing a birthday-present-goldfish that’s been cold-heartedly pitched into the sea by snooty Little Amy Scott!

Sadie and her pal Sherman won’t let the odds of finding such a small fella in such a large ocean daunt them. Just collect one boat, twenty-one pink balloons, and plenty of hot tea, and they’re ready for anything.

Sadie’s nonchalant narration is offset by the jazzy illustration work of Matthew Cordell. Non-stop, hyper-energized, careening fun. His intrepid band of monkeys alone would ordinarily steal the show except for Sadie’s sheer splendidness. Do I love this book? Yes, I do. Ages 4 and up.

Want something racy, happy, and generous?

Mama Lion Wins the Race, written and illustrated by Jon J Muth
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press

Drawing inspiration from Italian motorcar races and loved-to-the-nubbins stuffed animals, this brilliant tale of speed, strategy, and a massive dose of warmhearted friendship is one to read over and over again with ages 2 or 3 and up.

Goes well with a cup of cocoa.

Want something beautiful, nature-adorned, and clever?

Plume, written and illustrated by Isabelle Simler
first published in France; published in the U.S. in 2017 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Stunning illustrations of birds and their whisper-soft, dazzling feathers dominate the pages of this quiet book. The only text until the last two pages consists of the name of each bird.

from the French edition

Look closely, though. There’s someone occupying each page besides the main attraction. What is that black cat up to? A lovely beacon to observation; inspirational for those drawing from nature. Ages 4 and up. 

Want something fairy-tale dark, tingly with suspense and warm with neighborliness at the same time?

When a Wolf is Hungry, written by Christine Naumann-Villemin, illustrated by Kris DiGiacomo
originally published in France in 2011; first U.S. edition 2017 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

When a toothy wolf is hungry, and a “grain-fed, silky-haired rabbit with just a hint of sweetness” is living, obliviously, on the 5th floor — well, that’s a recipe for “hare-raising” adventure, right?!

And we’ve got that, dished up with theatrical aplomb in this highly-satisfying story. Sharp knife?  Check. Weber grill?!  Check. Chainsaw?!! Check, check, check. Only thing is, Mr. Wolf has a modicum of politeness and a load of neighbors who keep inadvertently foiling his plans. What can they be up to? Brave children ages 4 and up will love this.

Want something friendly, welcoming, and quiet?

That Neighbor Kid, a wordless book by Daniel Miyares
published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

And I don’t mean quiet just because there are no words. Miyares’ mood, artwork, and storyline all unreel with a lovely unrushed, yesteryear flavor that draws us in the way a whisper does in a cacophony of noise. Hush. Be still. Watch.

Gray-scale ink and watercolor illustrations wash the story’s opening with tranquility, hesitancy, even loneliness. The new kid on the block barely has the courage to peep out her window at her new neighbor. As the story unfolds, walls are literally torn down between them and collaboration begins, a prime tree house emerges from their joint efforts, and a sunny wash seeps its way into the spreads.

Warm-hearted as a cup of cocoa and just the note of welcome and friendship we sorely need in these divisive days. Ages 3 and up.

Want something nautical, classic, and gripping?

Mighty Moby, written by Barbara Da Costa, illustrated by Ed Young
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

Snippets and sea chanteys from Herman Melville’s classic whale-of-a-tale narrate this heart-pounding adventure that with one swish sails itself into a calm harbor just right for pillows and peace.

Astoundingly inventive collaboration for brave young skippers ages 3 and up. Bound to win some illustration prizes.

Want something full of happy-birthday anticipation?

When’s My Birthday? written by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Christian Robinson
published in 2017, a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Julie Fogliano captures the anticipation of waiting, waiting, waiting for a birthday to come in her ambling, poetic text.

How many days until my birthday, this child asks again and again. There’s wishing for presents, dreaming of lots of chocolate and “tiny sandwiches with soup,” inviting one and all…and waiting, waiting, waiting until finally, the glorious day is here.

Christian Robinson can do no wrong, can he? His naive cut-paper collages, smiley kids and bunting, excellently-huge chocolate cake, and warm diversity are the perfect accompaniment. Happy and utterly relatable, for ages 2 and up.

Want something elegant, historical, gorgeous, and  slightly haunting?

Town is by the Sea, written by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith
published in 2017 by Groundwood Books

What an unusual picture book, this account of a young boy living in a mining town on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

The vast, sparkling sea spreads out before him. Lupines line sunny roadsides. A baloney sandwich and tall glass of milk are what’s for lunch. Ordinary as Opie Taylor. Yet punctuating his narrative, interrupting the light, are thoughts of his dad, at work deep under the sea, digging for coal.

It’s a gripping juxtaposition, emphasized by Sydney Smith’s fabulous illustrations, sepia and sea-blues giving way to body-buckling darkness, tons of coal hulking over hunched miners. Wow.

An Author’s Note tells how from the late 1800s up to the 1950s when this story takes place, young boys grew up knowing they would follow in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers who spent twelve-hour days in “the harsh, dangerous, dark reality underground.” A stunning slice of life for ages 5 to 100.

Want something rich with grandfatherly hope?

Sing, Don’t Cry, written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

There are only a few people in your life who can tell you to sing when you’re feeling low, and you don’t want mainly to punch them.

But a grandfather like Angela Dominguez’s abuelo is one of them. That’s because his long life has been streaked with troubles, sorrows, difficulties, and he offers what has been a balm for his soul during those hard times — the gift of music. “Sing, don’t cry, because singing gladdens the heart,” he says, his warm eyes smiling into ours.

This affectionate tribute to Dominguez’s real abuelo — a mariachi musician from Mexico City —  is clearly a work of love. It’s a brief, hope-filled offering that, again, arrives with timeliness just now. Ages 2 and up.

Want something vintage and fresh?

If Apples Had Teeth, by Milton and Shirley Glaser
first published in 1960; reprinted in 2017 by Enchanted Lion Books

Take one of the most celebrated graphic designers in America, pair him up with a series of quirky, clever, imaginative, if-then statements and here’s what you get:

Pure, brain-fizzing delight.

Shirley Glaser’s brilliant text is wonderful fodder for minds that refuse to be hemmed in by the ordinary. A book to make you smile and see possibilities! Ages 2 and up.