jolly new gems…picture books to put a smile on your face

So many delightful picture books have been published this year and I am finally getting my hands on some of them.  Every one of these will warm you up on the inside — just what’s needed for one and all.

In My Garden, written by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Philip Stead
text copyright 1960; illustrations copyright 2020
published in 2020 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House

Mosey through the seasons with this conversational text by iconic children’s author Charlotte Zolotow, accompanied by Philip Stead’s homely, nostalgic artwork. Ahhhhhh. Feel the peace settle over your soul like an eiderdown quilt.

Taking place in one small girl’s rural stomping grounds, we learn her favorite part of the garden and favorite thing to do in each season.  The joy of outdoor play, familiarity and affection for growing things, simplicity and contentment in her life, all add up to a hearty two thumbs up from me. I think you’ll love this, whether you’re 3 or 93.

Things That Go Away, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
first published in France; English edition 2020 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

The one-and-only Beatrice Alemagna has created another masterpiece in this unusual book.

“In life, many things go away,” she begins, and then proceeds to demonstrate the various ways this can work. Semi-transparent vellum pages function as overlays and allow her to show transformative processes. Some things, like birds, go away by flying past, while sleepers awake, soap bubbles drift, tears dry.

“But one things never goes away, and never will.” Can you guess what that is, to conclude this magnificent journey? Starring Alemagna’s ravishing colors, lines, and textures, this exploration of truly meaningful ideas is accessible to the very young, and comforting to us old folks as well. Ages 3 to adult.

Only a Tree Knows How to Be a Tree,
written and illustrated by Mary Murphy
first U.S. edition 2020 by Candlewick Press

Gumball-bright artwork sets the tone for this happy celebration of the uniqueness of every living thing.

Take a tree, for example. Its leaves turn sunshine into food! Incredible. Plus those leaves turn fabulous colors once a year, and its branches shelter precious creatures.  Only a tree knows how to be a tree.  Murphy enjoins us to consider the wonders of birds, dogs, fish and more, ending up with a grand finale fiesta of people! Profound and playful, it’s one of my new favorites. Ages 2 and up.

Nerp!, written and illustrated by Sarah Lynne Reul
published in 2020 by Sterling Children’s Books

This hilarious spin on finicky eaters definitely takes the cake!

It’s suppertime for one family of monsters. Baby Monster, however, has his heart set on the jiggly, fuchsia gloop in the dog’s dish, while doggo is clearly more interested in what’s atop the table.

The tale is told entirely in monster-ese. Mama and Daddy monster entice their wee one with entrees like “mushy gushy bloobarsh” and “scrumplenosh” but the little one consistently turns them down — “Nerp.” Until finally he gets just what he wants! A read-aloud, tongue-twisting, giggle-inducing blast for ages 3 and up.

Alphonse, There’s Mud on the Ceiling!, written and illustrated by Daisy Hirst
first U.S. edition published in 2020 by Candlewick Press

This is the third marvelous adventure starring siblings Natalie and her little bro, Alphonse. I love every one of them, bursting as they are with life and imagination, careening slightly out of control, chockablock with peppery yet loving family interactions.

Playing indoors when you’re as full of spit and spunk as these two can lead to frazzled parental nerves, Unfortunate Accidents, and even mud on the ceiling. Natalie is affronted when her dad chastises them about such rambunctious behavior inside, because — what are they supposed to do when they live on the seventh floor of an apartment building instead of having a wild jungle of a backyard like her BFF Elfrida? Hmmm?!

Find out the happy solution in this wild and wooly, happy and energetic story for ages 2 and up.

Ducks, written by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by T.L. McBeth
published in 2020 by Henry Holt and Company

One little duckling gets distracted by a butterfly and wanders away from his family.  Eventually he turns around to discover — No Ducks!! They’re not at the pond anymore! Yikes!

Traipse along with that forlorn duck as he keeps finding clues that turn out to be red herrings until finally — phew! — the duck crew is reunited. Bold, vibrant, surprising, funny, and employing so few words that even non-readers will be able to “read” the book to themselves in short order. A blast for ages 2 and up.

Shut the Door, written by Robert Lopshire, illustrated by Maria Karipidou
text copyright 1993; illustrations 2020 by Random House

Lopshire, who in 1960 wrote the classic Put Me in the Zoo, died in 2002 but this manuscript has been given zesty new illustrations by German designer Maria Karipidou to create a humorous early reader full of punch!

How many times do kids here that parting shot, “Shut the door!” as they blast their way out to play? Find out the funny consequences of not shutting the door in this jolly treat for new readers, ages 5 and up.

Elmore and Pinky, written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie
published in 2020 by Random House

Elmore, a pleasant young porcupine, enjoys the companionship of many forest friends, but he’s longing for something more — a best friend. His wise uncle tells him that these things generally just happen.

Astonishingly, the ingredients that come together to reveal that best buddy include a patch of wild blueberries, a gallivanting bear cub and his lumbering mama, a wee but stinky skunk, and a delectable pie. This sweet story is plum full of charm and sunshine, with the staggering cute factor that’s Holly Hobbie’s signature. Heartwarming for ages 3 and up.

Samuel Drew Hasn’t a Clue, written by Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Alex Barrow
published in 2019 by Tate Publishing

Samuel Drew strolls through town, past lovely shop windows and bustling townspeople, pulling a mysterious red package tied up with string, set upon a smart blue cart.

All along his journey, bystanders wonder at that parcel. Pigeons and a fox, a dog and a cat, all imagine the glories that might be in it. “What’s in your parcel Samuel Drew?” they ask. But Samuel hasn’t got the faintest clue! Join the crowd and feel your curiosity rising in this fetching, retro-feel offering, perfect for ages 2 and up.

Bedtime Bonnet, written by Nancy Redd, illustrated by Nneka Myers
published in 2020 by Random House

I’ve shared a number of books in the past celebrating African American hair, a part of that culture sadly demeaned by many. Here’s another winner featuring a close-knit household, all of whom have their own special way of taking care of their hair at bedtime.

For this little gal, her bedtime bonnet is a non-negotiable, so when it goes missing, the whole family turns the house upside down looking for it. It’s a warmhearted, energetic book that serves equally as an affirming mirror for some kids and an interesting window for others, ages 4 and up.

Outside In, written by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby
published in 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

One of the things I love about camping is the renewal I feel after spending day after day entirely outdoors. Cooking outside, eating outside, washing up outside, hiking, lounging, napping, stargazing, reading outside…unsmothered by walls, alive to sun, wind, rocks, water. Once, Deborah Underwood reminds us, we were part of Outside, without barriers. That’s much less the case now for most of us.

Intriguingly, though, Outside finds its way Inside. Underwood investigates some of those ways, and the way the out-of-doors can call us to venture into it once again. A thoughtful engagement with the un-wilding of ourselves at great cost, and a beckoning towards Nature. Ages 4 and up.

A Million Dots, by Sven Völker
published in 2019 by Cicada Books

Cool, minimalist, graphic design illustrates mind-boggling mathematical concepts — the relative sizes of numbers and exponential growth.

Start with just one dot, a nice huge fat one.  Turn the page, and it’s doubled. Now there are two. Flip a page and the dots double again…and again…and again.  How many turns does it take to reach a million dots? What do a million dots even look like? How can you fit that many in one little book?

This striking approach to the elegance and power of numbers will entrance ages 5 and up.