new gems for young and old

Today I’ve got five stunners from this year’s crop of new picture books. Books I think you’ll love, too.

they say blue cover image

They Say Blue, written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
published in 2018 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Jillian Tamaki’s ravishing artwork acts like a magnet, drawing us into her first picture book with quiet force.

The text itself consists of the meandering, wondering thoughts of a young child and Tamaki lithely captures that free-association quality, the unencumbered tumbling of one idea to another which preschoolers do so effortlessly. Connecting these scattered ideas — from puzzling over the color of water to playful imaginings which balloon up hopefully before swiftly giving way to a sudden new discovery  — is a cataloguing of colors.

they say blue interior by Jillian Tamaki

Vibrant color swirls, melts, springs, cocoons from one page to another, pulling us through these seemingly random thoughts as we drift from reality to imagination and back again. Connecting them, too, is Tamaki’s vigorous line which brilliantly marries one image to the next. The flow from drifting folds of white snow to the caressing folds of a sleeping child’s blanket shrouded in darkness, is simply luscious.

they say blue interior2 by Jillian Tamaki

This is a very quiet book. Share it leisurely with young children ages 3 and up, or enjoy it yourself. I can’t believe it won’t win illustration awards this year. [Update May 31, 2018: This book just won the Boston Globe-Horn book award for 2018. Fantastic!]

hello hello cover image

Hello Hello, written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
published in 2018 by Chronicle Books

When my kids were preschoolers, we played a little thinking game with colored shapes. Blue, green, red, yellow. Circle, square, rectangle, triangle. Large, medium, small. If one player placed a large, green, circle on the floor, the next could add a shape that matched any one of its attributes: a large, blue, square, for example; or a small, yellow, circle. On we would go, with just one trait linking each shape to the next, making one long train.

That’s the concept behind Brendan Wenzel’s newest ingenuous picture book. Oh my word, it is soooo clever. Beginning with one white cat and one black cat, the animals in this flamboyant parade greet one another, each linked to the previous and following animals by just one trait. Can you figure out what it is?

hello hello interior by Brendan Wenzel

From easy connections like color, to stripes and spots, sproinging crests and curving tusks, bulging proboscises and ballooning pufferbellies, a spectacle of unlikely creatures flaunts itself across crisp white pages.

hello hello interior2 by Brendan Wenzel

How are these two alike? And how about these? A Note from the Author reveals that many of these fascinating animals are threatened, and encourages us to say hello to them and take part in efforts to protect these vibrant and vital creatures. There’s also a silhouette index where you can find out the names of each lovely one, from the bicolor dottyback to the blue bird of paradise. Fantastic for ages 3 and up.

all the animals where i live cover image

All the Animals Where I Live, written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead
published in 2018, a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Unlike Wenzel’s exotic array of animals, the creatures in Philip Stead’s latest book are familiar, neighborly sorts, each an unassuming, anchoring member of this rural environ.

Stead leads us softly, conversationally around his country homeplace, pointing out the toad who isn’t fond of summer heat, the deer gathering for windfall apples, the chipmunks nesting in a hollow stump. His frowsy dog, Wednesday, accompanies us for much of the ambling journey. The entire text is gentle and homespun as his grandma’s old quilt. Tranquil. Observant. Appreciative. Secure.


Gracing the pages are Stead’s gorgeous illustrations, soft charcoal atop hushed prints in the whispering colors of the natural world — spring greens and piney blues, dawn yellows and autumnal apricots.

all the animals where i live interior by Philip Stead

It’s a striking, elegant read for a quiet snuggle with children ages 3 and up, or for adults to linger over.

be kind cover image

Be Kind, written by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill
published in 2018 by Roaring Brook Press

I shy away from message-heavy books for the most part and approached this one with a bit of skepticism. Okay, a lot of skepticism. But then, I loved it.

be kind interior by Miller and Hill

Miller steers away from cliche, from unrealistic, simplistic notions of Being Nice, and from wagging fingers. Instead, she honestly gazes at the challenge of knowing just how to be kind in the everyday, messy business of life and complicated human beings. She sketches a lovely sweep of ways to be kind that are more straightforward, even while her young heroine puzzles over the way to be kind in a trickier situation at school.

be kind interior2 by Miller and Hill

She also lifts our eyes to the ripple effect of kindness giving us hope for ways good will can spill out across the world. Jen Hill’s contemporary illustrations carry a helpful note of dignity as well, avoiding pastel froufrou and employing, instead, rich, dark splashes of color and matter-of-fact line that anchors us in a humane, realistic space. An optimistic, gracious book for ages 3 and up.

backyard fairies cover image

Backyard Fairies, written and illustrated by Phoebe Wahl
published in 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf

Finally, this utterly charming, imaginative foray into the world of fairies.

Phoebe Wahl’s potent combination of electric color, snug homes, woods and whimsy, will knock your socks off as you explore the forest on the lookout for those elusive fairies.

backyard fairies interior by Phoebe Wahl

I love the way Wahl abundantly incorporates flora from the Pacific Northwest into these scenes — craggy pines and wood mushrooms, salmonberry and harebell; a gorgeous jumble of woodland foliage, just right for a fairy homestead. Tucked into these lush scenes are candy-pink and grasshopper-green, ephemeral, winged sprites, flitting like fireflies or dancing in their cozy root-bound home.

backyard fairies interior2 by Phoebe Wahl

A sparkle of fantasy for ages 2 and up. This was a book I mentioned in conjunction with my wintertime posts on Elsa Beskow so if you want more elven-land stories, check out those posts.