It’s April! A month singing with cherry-aliveness.
Today’s lovely picture books likewise offer gladness, imagination, and sparkle for readers young and old.
The Barnabus Project, written and illustrated by The Fan Brothers
published in 2020 by Tundra
I have been waiting not-always-patiently to get my hands on this book for a l-o-n-g time and am here to tell you that it is a total joy.
The story begins immediately on the end papers where dozens of file folders lay strewn about, pictures taped to their yellowed fronts labeled with names like Quirt, Blinky, and Bumble Bear. Turns out this jumble of cute and quirky creatures, including a half-mouse, half-elephant fella named Barnabus, are imperfect renditions of the Perfect Pets being cooked up in a secret underground lab. Failed Projects, they’re called. And as such, they are in danger of being “recycled” by the guys in the Green Rubber Suits!
Barnabus, however, is not about to surrender to the recycle bin. He’s been told marvelous tales of the world outside these walls by his pal, Pip the cockroach, and against all odds he brings the ragtag crew together for an epic break-out!
The ability of the Brothers Fan to capture the personalities, hopes, and fears of these peculiar, dear misfits and to envelop us in the drama of their hair-raising escape in just the length of a picture book is astonishing. It feels like watching a Pixar movie. The pristine illustration work is an absolute treat and loads of clever details invite us to pour over the pages. All that and it’s a story cram full of heart as well. This is one you’ll be begged to read over and over…and you will not mind the teensiest bit! Ages 3 and up.
Maud and Grand-Maud, written by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Kenard Pak
published in 2020 by Random House
The sweet, uncomplicated, comfy relationship of little Maud and her grandmother spills out on the quiet pages of this dear book. I love the simplicity of this intimate glimpse, their shared conversations, memories, ideas, their rituals and rhythms on the special week-ends they spend together. Nothing perilous, hilarious, or tragic — just the beauty of family and the joy of the ordinary.
Matching plaid nightgowns. Breakfast for dinner. Black-and-white movies. Small treasures. Warmth and love, acceptance and companionship.
Kenard Pak’s soft, plainspoken, friendly artwork grounds the text in the comfort of the everyday. The whole package falls like soft spring rain on our hearts, especially lovely after such a long dark season for so many. Ages 3 and up.
Me & Mama, written and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
published in 2020, A Denene Miller Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Here’s another book flush with loving adoration, this time the unfettered devotion of a little girl for her mama.
Mama is sunshine and song. She is two toothbrushes, one big and one small; two bowls of oatmeal, a mama-bowl with berries and a baby-bowl with bananas. She is a mane of raven hair and a fuchsia dress, nighttime snuggles-and-stories, laughter like the stars.
Cabrera has captured the unabashed, openhearted infatuation of a child for her mother, the sense of ownership and nearly oneness a small person assumes, the unquestioned belief that nothing can change this, that she and mama will go on and on together, just the same, forever. Her gorgeous, painterly artwork won a deserved Caldecott Honor earlier this year. Every inch of the book, from cover to cover, sings. She is one of my favorite illustrators. A delight to share with ages 3 and up, or to gift to a special mama.
Neighbors, written and illustrated by Kasya Denisevich
published in 2020 by Chronicle Books
Tantalizing, impeccable illustration work in grey-scale with pops of cherry red carries this richly-contemplative, imaginative story comprised of the thoughts and wonderings of a little girl who has just moved into a new home.
Apartment 12 in an old, elegant building is her new address, and happily it comes with a room of her own. As she enters the space she begins to muse. Her floor, she realizes, is someone’s ceiling. And her ceiling is someone’s floor. Who might they be? In fact who are all these people living behind the dozens and dozens of windows in the city neighborhood around her? What could they be doing?
What if…they were not just ordinary human persons at all? Where might her imagination lead? I love her fanciful meanderings, only briefly mentioned in the text and then delightfully explored in the artwork. These pages are for pouring over. I love that this little girl is not worried and not lonely even though she is alone. She easily occupies herself via the power of her own imagination, then is matter-of-factly ready to greet the new day and new people in her new world. Quiet. Gorgeous. Absorbing. A gem for ages 4 and up.
Where Did You Go Today?, written and illustrated by Jenny Duke
published in 2019 by Child’s Play Inc
Speaking of imagination, this enchanting book soars with the fanciful inventions of one young girl. The text is simply her happy narration of what she did that day at the playground. She seems to have had quite a remarkable time of it — flying over trees, sliding down mountains, swinging through jungles!
Meanwhile gorgeous illustrations depict these imagined adventures using clever page turns. Up the stairs she climbs to the top of the slide, then with a turn of the page we see her scooting down an icy slope high in a wintery alpine wonderland. Another sequence shows her hanging onto a zipline, then with a page turn she’s riding a vine through the jungle.
Beautifully rendered, highlighting simple outdoor play and happy imaginings, this book is just the ticket for ages 2 and up.
Jacob’s Fantastic Flight
written and illustrated by Philip Waechter, translated by Elisabeth Lauffer
published in Germany in 2012; English language edition 2020 by Blue Dot Kids Press
Jacob has had a knack for flight ever since he was just a baby. This was a wee bit concerning to his parents at first, but as he was their beloved son and as flying comes in quite handy from time to time, they soon grew accustomed to it. They’re even letting him fly on his own rather than booking a seat on the plane for the upcoming vacation.
This journey turns out to be quite an adventure for Jacob who decides along the way to join a migrating flock, then helps them stage a dramatic rescue when one of their own is nabbed by a notorious birdcatcher. Wowza!
After a flamboyant celebration with his feathered friends, it’s off to a lovely seaside stay with mom and dad and this time — he accepts a window seat on the airplane for the trip home. Quirky, happy, and fantastical for ages 4 or 5 and up.
Motor Mouse Delivers, written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard
published in 2020 by Beach Lane Books
Motor Mouse is back! In another, happy-as-a-triple-scoop-ice-cream-cone trio of stories he discovers the toe-tingling suspense of radio mystery theater, learns how awesome a double-decker bus can be, and plays an unusual game of croquet with his brother, Valentino.
Each of these stories is a small bundle of delight that will easily stand up to repeat readings. The slightly taller, thicker size of the book makes it feel rather big-league and Arthur Howard’s gumball-bright, jolly illustrations dominate every page. Another great offering from a dream team, for ages 4 and up.
Taking Time, written and illustrated by Jo Loring-Fisher
published in 2020 by Lantana Publishing Ltd.
This books makes my heart glad. Its quiet, gentle phrases call us to take time to really listen, look, admire, and enjoy the small wonders around us, whether that’s an intricate spider’s web, bird song, the warm purr of a pet cat, or one another.
The children in this book who are “taking time” come to us from eleven different places around the globe.
Every one is presented beautifully, respectfully, in sumptuous color. Each new turn of the page captivates. A book that heralds quietness, gratitude, and the loveliness of diverse cultures is a win-win-win for all of us. Enjoy this gem with ages 2 and up.
I’m always on the hunt for the juiciest of books!
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