Julie Danielson

In this cumulative picture book, debut author Anne Wynter and Caldecott Honor illustrator Oge Mora knock it out of . . . well, out of the red brick building. 

“WaaaAAH!” yells baby Izzie, popping up in her crib and waking her neighbor’s parrot in the apartment building where they both live. The baby’s squalling and the bird’s squawking then wake Benny, Cairo and Miles from their sleeping bags (chips, popcorn and books in this spread suggest a sleepover had been in progress). The “Pitter Patter STOMP” of the trio playing flashlight tag then wakes downstairs neighbor Natalia, who decides it’s a great time to launch her new toy rocket; it soars out of her bedroom window with a “PSSHEEW!” 

Wynter’s story is tightly constructed and carefully paced. Each spread builds upon the one before and recounts the growing list of sounds. By the time we reach the book’s midpoint, a car alarm, Natalia’s rocket, the children’s game, the parrot and baby Izzie have succeeded in awakening Everybody in the Red Brick Building

The adults quickly take charge, soothing screaming Izzie and the parrot, turning off car alarms and flashlights and securing flying rockets. The soft sounds that compose the book’s second half, which include a street sweeper, acorns falling from a tree and wind chimes, also build cumulatively, but this time to send the residents back to sleep. Baby Izzie, who’s been awake the longest, receives the full benefit of all the sounds, with the marvelous addition of the “pah-pum . . . pah-pum . . . pah-pum of her mother’s heart” as they nestle closely together in a cozy magenta armchair.  

Mora’s art is the ideal match for Wynter’s engaging text. Her illustrations incorporate the story’s sounds (such as the parrot’s “Rraak! WAKE UP!” and the car alarm’s “WEEYOOOWEEEEYOOOOO!!!!”), collaged in her distinctive style and sweeping across the book’s spreads. The book’s climax, in which all the sleep-disturbing sounds fly forth from the building, is expertly composed. Mora knows exactly how to use elements like simple shapes to keep a busy event from being too visually complex or overwhelming. As always, her textured, highly patterned artwork invites lingering looks and repeat reads.

This gentle sonic adventure is just right for sending children off to sleep. 

Debut author Anne Wynter and Caldecott Honor illustrator Oge Mora knock it out of the red brick building in this cumulative picture book.

Mr. Watson and Mr. Nelson live together in a “big, honking house with a teeny-tiny yard in a big, honking city.” Though Mr. Watson only acquires three chickens, before the couple knows it, there are 456 chickens in their home.

As author Jarrett Dapier's perfectly paced storyline and illustrator Andrea Tsurumi’s colorful, clean-lined artwork show, Mr. Watson’s Chickens take over the house, and the snowball effect of nearly 500 chickens in one small abode is very funny. Tiny chicks stage a play in the breadbox, chickens in bathing suits practice synchronized swimming in the bathtub, and there’s even a musically inclined chicken named Aunt Agnes who belts out a lively song (“Shooby-doo, wonky-pow, bawka-bawka in da chow-chow.”) at all hours. A cross-sectional view in one dynamic spread makes it clear that the home is “teeming with birds.”

Mr. Nelson eventually gives Mr. Watson an ultimatum: Either the chickens go, or he does. The two set off for the county fair to find new homes for the chickens, but chaos ensues when Mr. Watson trips, knocking over the cages and scattering chickens everywhere. Eventually there’s a happy ending for all the birds, especially Aunt Agnes, who finds a place in the spotlight.

Dapier’s prose is full of tenderness and spunk. When Mr. Nelson tells Mr. Watson he might leave, Dapier writes that Mr. Watson knows “his heart would be a broken egg” without Mr. Nelson. Depictions of gay couples are still uncommon in children's literature, particularly in picture books, so the depiction of Mr. Watson and Mr. Nelson's lovingly quirky and (mostly) harmonious relationship is commendable, as is the inclusion of a cheesemonger at the fair who is referred to by a nonbinary pronoun.

Tsurumi’s illustrations playfully extend the story. At the county fair, all chickens but one (Aunt Agnes, of course) are accounted for. The page turn reveals a Where’s Waldo?-esque spread of the fair from an aerial perspective. But good luck spotting Aunt Agnes, as Tsurumi fills the spread with decoy chickens—chicken-shaped balloons, an information kiosk topped with a giant chicken, a person in a chicken costume handing out flyers, even a sand chicken in the sandbox. Choices like these make Mr Watson’s Chickens an enjoyable and exuberant read.

This is one of the year’s most entertaining and bighearted picture books. You might even say it’s in fine feather.

This is one of the year’s most entertaining and bighearted picture books.

Author-illustrator Julie Morstad explores the complex and abstract notion of time in Time Is a Flower, a thought-provoking picture book. She gets the most conventional definition out of the way first: “Time is the tock tick tock of the clock and numbers and words on a calendar.” But Morstad is more interested in the enigmatic and often evolving ways in which children experience time. “But what else is time?” she asks readers directly.

Answers to this question come to vivid life through metaphors that highlight nature and its underlying laws. Time is a seed that becomes a flower, then the flower begins to fade and its petals fall off “one by one, or all at once!” Time is also a growing tree, a delicate web carefully crafted by an “elegant spider” and a butterfly that was once a caterpillar. It’s a spinning planet that brings night for one child but day for another. The book also explores other temporal joys and frustrations, such as our growing and changing faces and bodies, the power of memories and photographs, the tempos of music and dance, and quiet moments spent with people we love.

Morstad’s crisp, fine-lined illustrations convey a hushed and wondrous tone. Her spreads are uncluttered and spacious, with grayscale pencil drawings of children and colors that pop off the page. The book’s notably large trim size and generous 56-page length are fitting: Time is an immense notion that contains multitudes.

Near the end of the book, Morstad briefly poses two questions that have stumped physicists for millennia: “Is time a line? Or maybe a circle?” Rather than venturing an answer, her humorous resolution is a reminder that sometimes life’s immediate pleasures trump its unanswerable metaphysical quandaries.

Author-illustrator Julie Morstad explores the complex and abstract notion of time in Time Is a Flower, a thought-provoking picture book.

Author-illustrator Hudson Talbott shares his personal experience of growing up with dyslexia in A Walk in the Words, a picture book that will help other “slow readers” feel seen and, refreshingly, celebrated.

In descriptive prose, Talbott takes us back to his childhood. An avid artist, he struggles with reading: “A whole page of text looked like a wall—keeping me out.” Long sentences are overwhelming, and he is the slowest reader in his class, which leaves him feeling ashamed.

Talbott’s bright watercolors playfully convey his early fear of books. On one spread, books (spines down and flapping like birds) chase him. In another, a book with all text and no pictures morphs into a purple monster with long claws. “ME EAT PICTURES! You read!” it growls.

As we see Talbott’s boyhood self “lost in a world of words,” his illustrations bring a forest metaphor to life. Young Talbott stands in a foreboding copse of trees while branches filled with long, complex words (“trepidation,” “impenetrable,” “undulating,” “ineffectual”) snake ominously around him.

But enough is enough. Talbott decides to “picture” his way out by looking for words in text that he knows and letting them “lead me into the story.” He also realizes that being a slow reader shouldn’t scare him and that many brilliant minds also found reading difficult. Here, Talbott imagines a “Slow Readers Hall of Fame” filled with the likes of Sojourner Truth, Babe Ruth and William Shakespeare.

Talbott does not mention dyslexia specifically until his author’s note at the end of the book. Whether a child is dyslexic or merely gaining reading fluency slower than their peers, they will appreciate all that Talbott does here to lift the stigma around those who don’t read quickly: “Slow readers savor the story!” he jubilantly exclaims as he depicts himself knocking down his literal “Wall of Shame,” a densely constructed barrier made of blocks of text.

A Walk in the Words is a welcome tale for readers everywhere who know that relishing a story at your own pace brings tremendous rewards.

Author-illustrator Hudson Talbott shares his personal experience of growing up with dyslexia in A Walk in the Words, a picture book that will help other “slow readers” feel seen and, refreshingly, celebrated.

The moon is melting, but Granny saves the day in this picture book originally published in South Korea and translated into English by Jieun Kiaer. Author-illustrator Heena Baek won the 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and this is the first of her books to be published in English.

Based on the Korean fable of the moon rabbit, the tale takes place in a multistory apartment building at night. It stands tall against a pitch-black sky as we peer into each apartment to gaze at the tenants and their homes. The residents are anthropomorphized animals, and Granny is a bespectacled wolf. The summer heat is oppressive—“too hot to do anything”—and the sense of claustrophobia and sweat is palpable. Descriptive onomatopoeia (“whir-whir” and “hum-hum”) capture the animals’ attempts to cool off by firing up their air conditioners, turning on fans and opening refrigerator doors. 

When Granny discovers that the moon is melting—the dripping luminescent moon makes for a surreal and indelible image—she catches some drops in a bucket and whips up a batch of glowing moon pops, which cool everyone off. Then two hapless bucktoothed rabbits appear at her door. “Our home has melted away,” they explain. Ever resourceful, Granny brainstorms a creative way to send them back to their “home in the sky.” 

Baek illustrates the tale with photographs of intricate 3D dioramas that use light and shadow to beguiling effect. The image of the tenants enjoying their moon pops, which also adorns the book’s cover, shows the creatures gazing incredulously at their gleaming treats in the dark of night, their faces illuminated by their moon pops’ light. Granny’s solution for getting the rabbits back to their home on the moon also involves shimmering lights and wondrous, sparkling orbs that shine against the cloudy, starless night sky.  

Moon Pops is a strange and delightful tale made for lingering over—and perfect for reading with your own moon pop. (You can always grab an ice pop from the freezer and pretend it’s lunar.) Leave room on your summer reading list for this story that is cool in more ways than one. 

The moon is melting, but Granny saves the day in this picture book originally published in South Korea and translated into English by Jieun Kiaer.

Kim Hyo-eun’s splendid picture book, originally published in South Korea in 2016 and translated into English by Deborah Smith, is told from the perspective of a subway train in Seoul: “Carrying people from one place to another, I travel over the ground and rumble under, twice across the wide Han River.” Three full spreads introduce us to this unique voice before we even arrive at the title page.  

Everyone has a story, and the train listens to and observes its passengers closely, capturing the nuances of the personalities who board at many stations. There’s Mr. Wanju, always running for the train so that he can spend as much time as possible at home with his daughter. There’s Mr. Jae-sung, a cobbler who “can tell so much about a person just from looking at their shoes.” There’s Na-yoon, a student taking classes after school who is “so tired she’s barely awake.” In alternating spreads that briefly shift among the different riders’ points of view, we follow these characters into their lives beyond the subway’s cars.

Thanks to the subway train’s musings, readers gain poignant glimpses into the joys, sorrows and hopes of these passengers. The train’s voice is tender and compassionate, and the sound of its movement, “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum,” is a refrain that anchors the book. 

Early spreads feature smudgy faces in shadow, but the faces of the riders whom the subway introduces are distinct and detailed. Kim’s eloquent, fine-lined watercolor illustrations capture the commuters’ humanity and the beauty in what might otherwise be dismissed as mundane. In a striking closing spread, “a gentle afternoon light . . . washes over everything,” and the image’s composition draws our attention not to the subway riders in the upper left-hand corner of the spread but to the light hitting the floor of the car—the extraordinary amid the ordinary. 

A poetic tribute to Seoul and its people, I Am the Subway makes for an unforgettable journey. Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.

Kim Hyo-eun’s splendid picture book, originally published in South Korea in 2016 and translated into English by Deborah Smith, is told from the perspective of a subway train in Seoul.

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