highly original and plum full of smiles…a list of five

I know all the harried preparations for Christmas are on the minds of so many of us. Maybe it will help to focus on something more mainstream? These great books should all go on your list for reading after that holiday rush is over.

There are a lot of children’s books that follow just a few general plot lines:
You are special.
Don’t be a bully.
It’s time for bed.

Then. Every once in a blue moon, a book comes along that’s straight up marching to its own drum beat, telling a story in an inventively new way, catching my funny bone completely off guard.

That’s what’s on the list today: fresh stories that put a big smile on my face. Starting with this gem from an author/illustrator I’ve raved about before…

Alfie: (The Turtle that Disappeared), written and illustrated by Thyra Heder
published in 2017 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

 Thyra Heder’s illustrations alone deserve major accolades. Every page glows with warmth, radiates a generous, creative, loving vibe. And her stories are wonderfully original. I was enchanted by both The Bear Report and this newest title. You do not want to miss her work!

Nia adores Alfie, the pet turtle she received for her sixth birthday. She lavishes attention on him but, yeah… he is a pretty quiet fellow so sometimes even Nia rather forgets about him until he up and disappears the morning she turns seven! Massive searching ensues.

At this juncture in the story we rewind to the beginning and see things unfold from Alfie’s point of view, witnessing his lengthy adventures which bring us to a delightful surprise ending. So much love for this one. Share it with ages 3 and up.

Yak and Dove, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Esmé Shapiro
published in 2017 by Tundra Books

A picture book with three chapters is a great premise right from the get-go!

It’s the masterful illustration work, though, that initially pulls us into this story. Such a beautiful palette!  Warmth and humor pour from the physiques of Yak and Dove as well as a bevy of friends. And an unusual sense of place, popping with onion domes, sprawling with taiga and looming mountains, plays its own, atmospheric role.

Yak and Dove are super friends. So much so they even daydream about how great it would be if they were twins! Just think of the Always-Together Samey-Same Things They Could Do!

Enthusiasm wears thin, though, as they make those matchy-matchy plans. In fact — they discover a pile of ways they out-and-out bug each other! Before you know it, Yak and Dove have yakked their way into a downright squabble!

Watch the lamenting Yak hold auditions for a new best friend,  then see how these two mend their fences. Completely told in dialogue. Droll, happy, honest, and gorgeous for ages 4 and up.

Pandamonia, written by Chris Owen, illustrated by Chris Nixon
first published in Australia in 2016; first American edition 2017 by Kane Miller

Prepare for a boisterous hullabaloo when you open the covers of this riotous, rhyming read.

It starts placidly enough with one quiet panda, dozing among the eucalyptus at the zoo. The only hint of the chaos to come is the warning we are given: “Just don’t wake the panda whatever you do.”

Well, I mean. What’s the worst that can happen if one cuddly, jelly-belly of a panda awakens?

Wild things! Careening, crazy things! Romp your way though the aftermath of a rudely-awakened, grumpy panda in this pandamonious tale plum full of all sorts of down-under animalia and plenty of familiars, too. Slapstick silliness, raucous art work, and rhythmic verse will bring giggles to  kids ages 2 and up.

Lily’s Cat Mask, written and illustrated by Julie Fortenberry
published in 2017 by Viking

Not every child meets the world best by running full tilt towards it, performing nicely for strangers, and putting a smiling face forward on command.

Some children, for one reason or another, prefer to size things up a bit first. Evaporate like Cheshire Cats in overbearingly social settings. Carefully tread towards friendships.

Lily is that kind of kid, and lucky for her, her dad gets it. He’s totally cool with Lily wearing her favorite cat mask here, there, and everywhere. Well, not everywhere. There are a few places Lily’s got to play by other rules. How will she manage that?

This understated, clever, upbeat account will make every introvert feel a little happy vibe of connection. Interestingly, the other day I re-read one of Tove Jansson’s short stories called The Invisible Child. An Orange Marmalade reader had alerted me that Oxfam and the Moomin world have teamed up on a book (find that volume here) to raise money for fighting poverty. Invisible Child is one of two in the book and it is masterful! Anyway, reading that in proximity to this story of Lily, I sensed some similarities between these two children who needed to be invisible at times. Insightful and loving, for ages 3 and up.

Bruce’s Big Move, written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins
published in 2017 by Disney Hyperion

The chronicle of Bruce the Bear and his adopted band of geese children continues with this funny, cranky, warmhearted, installment. Bruce is a mom that every mom can relate to!

The little mice who have barged into Bruce’s household are driving him nutso.  So busy. So messy. And so blame noisy! No matter what Bruce tries, he cannot seem to get these little buggers to move on, so he does the only thing possible — packs up and moves himself. With the geese. And without the mice.

This brings a boatload of peace, quiet, and order to Bruce’s life. So great, right? But the geese are despondent. What’s a mom to do?

Amusing, genuine, hearty in text and illustrations, the Bruce books are happy fare for ages 3 and up.