a fresh batch of delight…ten delectable picture books

One of the bright spots these days is seeing many 2020 books finally trickle their way into circulation at my library.
Today I’ve got a batch that are outright delicious!

Madame Badobedah, written by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara
originally published in the UK; first US edition 2020 by Walker Books

Madame Badobedah is an old, old, old lady with blood red lipstick, red, crunchy hair, and a billowy feather boa draped around her neck. She stalks into The Mermaid Hotel with two puffball dogs, two arch cats, a tortoise, and mountains of bags, boxes, and bins of luggage demanding service with icy condescension.

Hmmph. Young Mable, who calls The Mermaid home, is not impressed. In fact, she’s got a sneaking suspicion this woman is a villain on the lam. But when Mable starts Detecting and Snooping, she’s in for quite a pleasant surprise.

I’m smitten with this dynamite story plum full of fun and quirk, plus a golden heart of friendship-across-the-ages and the surprise of seeing what’s hidden beneath off-putting exteriors. Personality-plus courses through the fabulous illustrations, and the whole package is gorgeously designed. This lengthy picture book is the bees knees for ages 4 or 5 and up.

Letters from Bear, written by Gauthier David, illustrated by Marie Caudry, translated by Sarah Ardizzone
originally published in Belgium; first US edition 2020 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

I love an epistolary story, and I love an imported book-in-translation, and I love a story that originates with images — so this book ticks all the boxes right from the get-go.

A series of letters written by Bear to his dear friend Bird comprises this tale. Bird has flown south for the winter, and immediately Bear is heartbroken, missing his friend dreadfully, so much in fact that he determines to join her “on the other side of the world.”

Writing to Bird along the way, Bear chronicles his epic trek which takes him through troll-infested forests, across blistering volcanic sands, and over precarious bridges. He’s delayed by a war, held up by an extraordinary birthday party, and rescued by a mermaid. It is quite a monumental adventure but Bear never loses sight of his goal. When he arrives, however, he discovers that Bird has flown back north. She couldn’t tolerate the separation either! Bear’s trip home is expedited by a most surprising mode of transportation. In the end, the two friends are reunited in an emotive scene, enveloping one another in a speechless hug.

The images for this book were created first, and they are extraordinary, as whimsical as Alice-in-Wonderland, as other-worldly as Sendak’s Wild Things, with a surreal sense and a fantastical palette of cherry, celery green, turquoise, bittersweet, and honey. It’s a superb combination of adventure, imagination, and heart. Ages 4 to much-older.

The Blue House, written and illustrated by Phoebe Wahl
published in 2020 by Alfred A. Knopf

Leo and his dad live in an old blue house. The house itself creaks and sags with age, but Leo and his dad think the world of it and fill it with their amicable, strong love. So what if it’s a bit drafty in winter when you can bake a scrumptious pie and warm yourselves inside and out? Who minds a bit of peeling paint when there’s a scruffy yard for playing and raspberries for munching.

But the neighborhood is changing. Old homes are being bulldozed to make way for newer, bigger apartments. One sad day, Leo and his dad hear that their landlord has sold the blue house and they’ve got to move out. It’s a huge loss for both of them. How will they move forward?

Phoebe Wahl has crammed immense heart, raw emotion, beauty, tenderness, reality, and fortitude into this small story. I love the relationship between Leo and his dad — solid, affectionate, healthy, and honest. Home is so deeply meaningful and Wahl dives right into the momentous loss and anger children (and adults) can feel when it is taken away. She also honors the resilience we have in forging new spaces of home.  There are many people currently in danger of losing their homes, huge populations experiencing chronic housing instability, besides the growing refugee populations in our world. This gorgeous, beautifully-crafted story offers a remarkable doorway to empathy and camaraderie for ages 4 and up.

Julia’s House Moves On, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
published in 2020 by FirstSecond

We last met Julia when her higgledy-piggledy house, which sits atop the shell of an enormous tortoise, had come to rest at the seaside and Julia began welcoming any odd hobgoblin in the area in need of the creature-comforts of home.

Years have passed and the house is getting restless. It’s definitely time to move again. Disaster occurs, however, when instead of moving somewhere sensible, the tortoise abruptly swims out to sea in pursuit of a lovely lady tortoise, carrying them right along! Alas and alack, every one of Julia’s plans to rescue their rapidly-sinking house runs into serious snags. In the end, a most surprising pair of folks save the house and its inhabitants, sending it onward to whatever adventures might await.

Ben Hatke consistently produces some of the choicest, most imaginative tales for children. If you haven’t read the first Julia book, you can still enjoy this one but it’s better to read them in order. Ages 3 and up.

Animals Brag About Their Bottoms, written and illustrated by Maki Saito, translated by Brian Bergstrom
published originally in Japan; English edition 2020 by Greystone Kids

Bottoms, like underwear, are an inherently funny subject for young children, so right off the block this book will have them giggling. And some goodhearted giggling is always a good idea!

Meet a parade of creatures each of whom is supremely chuffed about his or her particular bottom. A few rejoice in how very large a bottom they have. Others brag about the stripeyness or fluffyness of their bottoms. Even spiky bottoms are good bottoms if that’s what you’ve got. In fact, everyone’s bottom is wonderful!

Brilliant illustration work, a blast of optimistic glee, a humorous assortment of bottoms, and a paean to the joys of individuality and body positivity — what more could you want?! Ages 2 and up!

The Tiny Baker, written by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Alison Jay
published in 2020 by Barefoot Books

Have you been smitten with the Great British Bake-Off like we have? This tiny baker could definitely compete! She turns out florentines and puff pastry, eclairs and lemon tarts like nobody’s business, filling her charming tea shop with sweet aromas and elegant treats. Customers line up in droves to nab a table and nibble on dainty, sugar-sprinkled confections.

One disastrous day, however, the kitchen crew — ladybugs all — are irresistibly summoned to join their kin, swarming out of their workspace, leaving a ginormous mess. The tiny baker is in a frightful state of distress! Not to worry, though. Her loyal customers are on the spot, ready to help put things in apple-pie order.

It’s a sugar-coated tale of friendship and dessert plum full of delectable artwork. Probably best to be read with a tray of tiny cookies! Ages 4 and up.

The Stone Giant, written and illustrated by Anna Höglund, translated by Julie Marshall
first published in Sweden 2018; English edition 2020 by Gecko Press

Once upon a time, a little girl lived on an island in the sea with her father, a knight. One day he was called away to battle a fearsome giant across the waters who was busy turning people to stone.

After awaiting her father’s return for much too long a time, the little girl realizes she must set forth to find him and try her hand at defeating the giant. She’s a clever lass, and armed with only an umbrella, a knife, and a hand mirror, she succeeds in saving the countryside. Atta girl!

Transporting the magic of Medusa to a Nordic setting, this charming story is conveyed in quiet, spare language and exquisite artwork. The entire package is beautiful. It’s a tale to read over and over again with wide-eyed children ages 4 and up.

Ariba: An Old Tale About New Shoes, written and illustrated by Masha Manapov
published in 2019 by Enchanted Lion Books

With colors and line that jangle and sproing, a story that leaps and surprises, and a sneaky pair of shoes that simply won’t give up, this joyous story will bring sunshine to your reading hour.

Marcus is jubilant over his new shoes. He bounces and cavorts and shows them to everyone he meets. When he tells Grandpa about them, it seems Grandpa has a story of his own about a boy named Ariba and another pair of unusual shoes. Grandpa’s lively tall tale makes up the bulk of this story which mystifies, entertains, and leads us on quite the merry journey.

Emboldened by Manapov’s exceptional, transportive artwork, it’s an imaginative gem with an air of Someplace Else for ages 4 and up.

My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep Around the World, written by Rebecca Bond, artwork by Salley Mavor
published in 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Going to bed may not be every child’s favorite thing to do, but the delicious sense of at-homeness and security of one’s own bed is a universal comfort. This beauty of a book takes us on a global tour looking at the different kinds of beds kids snuggle into at night.

Textile artist Salley Mavor’s work is exquisite as always. Her textured fabrics, superb craftsmanship, perfect stitching, painted wooden beads, and tiny metallic ornamentations, create sumptuous scenes for both young and old to enjoy and admire. Colorful spreads pull us into every new landing place from Norway to Afghanistan with a simple, rhyming text suited to the youngest viewers, and brief explanations of each particular bed set-up for older siblings.

A lengthy illustrator’s note about Mavor’s process will especially interest crafters young and old. Ages 3 and up.

In the Half Room, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis
published in 2020 by Candlewick

Finally, this quirky gem embodies the unabashed imagination of a child, while its calm cadences evoke a Goodnight Moon vibe. With a steady gaze, we simply explore a room where everything has turned up in halves.

Half of a chair and a hat, half of a table and a cat. Even half of a face, until the other half happens to show up at the door and “SCHOOOOOP” our room’s lady resident is splurtched back into a whole. Honestly, she didn’t seem to mind in the least when there was only half of her. Neither does the cat, whose two halves bring added curiosity and spiff to a playful cat wrestling match.

When I was a child, I remember lying on my back, staring up at the ceiling, imagining what it would be like if the ceiling was the floor and the chandelier was growing up out of it. Did you do that? This book has that sort of quality to it. It doesn’t make a whole big mish mash of it, but just unfolds itself to spark wonder and curiosity for ages 2 and up.


More delectable reads are always on the way!
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