Julie Danielson

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Expect the giggles to begin from the opening endpapers of Chester van Chime Who Forgot How to Rhyme. They feature small drawings, and each illustration is accompanied by a pair of rhyming words. For example, a depiction of a green slug smiling on a fluffy green rug says “Slug Rug.”

The book itself is about poor Chester van Chime, who awakens one morning to discover that he has lost the ability to rhyme. Scattered across his bedroom are objects that evoke rhymes: The same slug from the endpapers smiles happily from a green rug next to Chester’s bed, and we see two toy ducks inside a blue toy truck. Despite all these visual clues, Chester simply can’t “match up two sounds.”

Author Avery Monsen presents a text filled with rhyming couplets that fall flat on their poetic faces. “He tried not to panic. He played it real cool / and picked up his backpack and walked to his . . . / . . . learning place with teachers and stuff.” Adults, welcome to your next Best Storytime Book.

Abby Hanlon, illustrator of the side-splittingly funny Dory Fantasmagory chapter book series, brings her playful sensibilities to these vivid tableaux. Her spreads teem with rhyming pairs. Owls decorate Chester’s bathroom towel; a pup smiles from the cup on his sink; a fox steals a sock while Chester’s getting dressed; and can you guess what winged mammal appears on his doormat? As Chester’s frustrations over his failures escalate, so do the visuals. Chester’s classroom devolves into chaos as his classmates try to resuscitate his rhyming acumen.

Chester walks home from school in despair, but he soon realizes that everyone has off days and no one can be perfect all the time. Besides, by day’s end, Chester can rhyme again—for the most part. And remember those winning opening endpapers? The book’s closing endpapers feature an entirely new but equally delightful set of drawings.

It’s a must-read, a hit, a guaranteed good time. If only more books were like Chester van . . . what was his name again?

Poor Chester van Chime may have lost the ability to rhyme, but young readers will lose themselves to giggles at this book’s delightfully unsuccessful couplets.
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The opening of Mac Barnett and Kate Berube’s John’s Turn ushers readers into an elementary school. Every Friday at this particular school, students gather in the cafeteria for what’s called assembly. Best of all, if everyone behaves, one student “gets to do something for the whole school.” The school dubs this tradition “Sharing Gifts.” (In one of many instances in the book that proves Barnett is no stranger to how children think, we read: “A lot of us think that’s a kind of dumb name, but we also think Sharing Gifts is the best.”)

John is reticent and uneasy on the day of his turn for Sharing Gifts. While Mr. Ross makes announcements, John prepares behind the curtain. In a series of vignettes, we see him change into a leotard, pants and slippers. John has decided to perform ballet.

Berube’s warmly colored illustrations capture how John’s apprehension turns to confidence and even elation as he dances; his facial expressions and body language are spot-on. Much of this perfectly paced book is devoted to John’s performance, including five elegantly and economically composed, almost wordless spreads. In one, John gracefully lifts himself in an arc across the page. In the next, he moves across and down the spread in a series of steps, Berube’s sure lines showcasing his strength and skill. Near the end, a blur of movement ends in John’s beaming face as he is suspended mid-air in a leap.

Barnett wisely avoids heavy-handed commentary about ballet and gender stereotypes. There is no need for it. In John’s accomplished, nuanced and athletic performance, readers can see for themselves that boys, too, do ballet.

And anyway, at its heart, John’s Turn is about much more: It’s about the abundant and everyday courage of children, and it is also about “sharing gifts.” John faces down his fear to share his gift with determination, beauty and a style that is all his own. A true gift, indeed.

It’s John’s turn to perform at assembly, and he’s feeling nervous. Will he find the courage to share his gifts with his classmates?
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A boy named Sydney plays outside, his hands and ankles wrapped around a tree branch. When his friend Sami calls for him, he responds, “Here,” then adds, “But I’m not Sydney. I am a sloth.” It is a day of imaginative play for Sydney, and it proves to be contagious. 

As she scampers up a tree, Sami declares she’d rather be a spider monkey. Next, Edward appears and decides to transform into an elephant. “I’M THE KING OF THE SAVANNA!” he trumpets. Anamaria wants to join in the fun, becoming an anteater. And when everyone looks up after hearing a squeaked “Be quiet!” they realize Brigitte is a bat with “velvety, dusty wings wrapped around her tiny furry body” and is trying to take a nap while hanging upside down from a tree limb above them. 

The soft-toned, full-bleed spreads in I’m Not Sydney! sparkle with color; some pages nearly glow with sunny, translucent yellows. Employing delicate, nimble linework, author-illustrator Marie-Louise Gay depicts each child as the creature they imagine themselves to be. They hang from trees, leap from branch to branch, run in the grass, roar with laughter and splash in the water. (When Edward transforms from an elephant to boy again, readers see him spraying his friends with a hose.) 

The book’s dialogue flows seamlessly. Subtle descriptive moments flesh out the story (“Startled hummingbirds flew every which way.”) while the lively text engages readers’ senses (“The yellow grass smelled of burnt toast and red earth.”). Gay infuses I’m Not Sydney! with ebullient, fanciful humor. For instance, when Anamaria decides she’s an anteater, she gets down on all fours and sticks out her tongue. On the next spread, we see her (in anteater form) slurping up ants. “Yuck!” exclaims Sami the spider monkey. When their parents call the children in for supper, they return home “like a herd of small wet animals,” and their creative reveries carry them through to bedtime. 

I’m Not Sydney! is a playful tribute to the deeply inventive inner world of children that will encourage young readers to amp up their own imaginations. Animal noises are sure to follow. Rrrrooooaaaarrrr!  

Marie-Louise Gay’s I’m Not Sydney! is a creative tribute to the inventive inner world of children in which a group of friends use their imaginations to transform into various animals and play together.
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Matt Katz, president of Kat Hats Incorporated in the city of Pretzelburg, runs a successful business as a world-renowned cat trainer. Kat Hats are felines who have been trained to arrange themselves on the heads of humans “as a living headpiece.” (Be sure to remove the book’s dust jacket to see some charming examples.) The Kat Hat shop doubles as the home Matt shares with his wife, Glamorella, and their children, Pocketmouse and Lambkin. Also visiting the family is “the pride and joy of Kat Hats, and the warmest cat ever known,” Thermal Herman 6⅞ths. If you can’t already tell from the character names, Kat Hats is beloved author Daniel Pinkwater delivering what his fans love: a story that sparkles with eccentric characters, skillful comic pacing and originality.

At its heart, this is an adventure tale. It seems that the local witch, Chickarina, has gone on a hike up the Witch’s Spitz with an “extra-large jumbo frozen fruitsicle, blueberry and avocado flavor.” Her son, Old Thirdbeard, knows that she often gets an ice cream headache when consuming such treats and worries she is stuck atop the snowy mountain with a “frozen brain.” Since Chickarina was not wearing her witch’s hat when she was last seen, the Katzes know the solution: Send Thermal Herman 6⅞ths out into the cold night to find her.

Illustrator Aaron Renier’s thickly textured gouache illustrations bring the Katz family and their unusual work to life in vivid and entertaining detail. We read, for instance, that Glamorella is famous for her pretzels flavored with peach and apricot; Renier paints her baking them while wearing a space helmet (which is, in point of fact, a cat). The book’s full-bleed spreads—no borders can contain this family’s spunk—are packed with many such peculiar surprises, ready and waiting for readers to discover.

Utterly weird and wonderful, Kat Hats is a picture book you won’t soon forget.

Utterly weird and wonderful, Kat Hats sparkles with eccentric characters, skillful comic pacing and complete originality.
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Love grows in the face of fear in Love in the Library, a picture book based on the experiences of author Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s maternal grandparents in Minidoka, a World War II incarceration camp in Idaho.

As the book opens, a young woman named Tama has been forced to live at Minidoka for the past year, because in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, being Japanese American is “treated like a crime.” Though she finds the camp unsettling, she makes the most of her assignment to work in the camp’s library. There, she is surrounded by books and receives regular visits from a man named George. It’s not until a conversation in which George validates Tama’s feelings of dread that she realizes he has been coming to the library to see her: “You can’t possibly be reading all those books you check out,” she tells him. “No,” he replies. “Do you see how long they are? I’m only human, you know.” They marry and have their first son while imprisoned at Minidoka.

Illustrator Yas Imamura’s soft, muted, earth-tone illustrations work wonders in bringing the characters and setting to life. Her fine, smooth lines gently capture the tenderness that permeates this tale, and backlit scenes seem to lift Tama and George from the page.

Tokuda-Hall depicts Tama as a multifaceted woman who is vulnerable yet tough, scared but willing to seek out the miraculous in her newly limited life. That she conveys Tama’s abiding spirit while also acknowledging the great injustice of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during this time is important: Tokuda-Hall never sugarcoats Tama’s experience, and her author’s note emphasizes the hate that spawned the imprisonment: “Hate is not a virus; it is an American tradition,” she writes.

Love in the Library returns again and again to Tama’s search for the words to describe her experience, such as constant: “Constant questions. Constant worries. Constant fear.” Later, when Tama realizes that George loves her, he tells her that the word for when she feels “scared and sad and confused and frustrated and lonely and hopeful” is human.

Love in the Library is an exquisite piece of historical fiction and a love story for the ages.

This exquisite picture book, based on the experiences of the author's grandparents, tells a love story for the ages without sugarcoating history.
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Matthew Cordell is best known for his Caldecott Medal-winning Wolf in the Snow, a book that contains almost no words. His new book, Cornbread & Poppy, contains a lot of words—80 pages of them, in fact! It’s Cordell’s first foray into early readers, those books nestled snugly between picture books and chapter books and designed for children who are just beginning to read independently.

Featuring oodles of Cordell’s signature sketchlike illustrations, Cornbread & Poppy is an endearing tale of two mice who embark on an expedition up Holler Mountain in search of enough food to see them through the winter.

Why did you want to create an early reader?

I love the picture book format for its challenge and need to distill and consolidate lots of thoughts and ideas into a short amount of text and space. But I’ve often wondered what it would be like to open things up and put more words on the page for readers to chew on. Not quite ready to jump into a full-length novel, I thought an early reader would give me a chance to play with a longer text and still hold on to lots of illustrations.

What are some early readers you admire, and what did you want to accomplish in your own?

There’s quite a range of offerings, past and present, in early readers! I wanted to write a longer text, broken up into chapters. I really wanted the character development, world building and rich plot that one can create with a fuller text.

‘After years and years of keeping only essential words and working with the picture book mindset of ‘showing not telling,’ it was liberating to just write and write and write.’

Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad is the gold standard for its charm, humor and exquisite, pitch-perfect writing. In terms of contemporaries, I love Cece Bell’s Rabbit and Robot books for all of the same reasons.

What were the pleasures and challenges of telling and illustrating a story in more than 32 pages?

After years and years of keeping only essential words and working with the picture book mindset of “showing not telling,” it was liberating to just write and write and write and not worry too much about how much pruning would need to be done in the end.

But it was challenging too, not to go in and start slicing and dicing. I’m so used to working that way that I had to remind myself that I wanted to keep the storytelling language nice and beefy for those new little reading eyes that would be reading it.

Early readers are designed for children who are still gaining literary fluency. How conscious of these developmental needs were you as you wrote the text, and how did you balance them with the creative demands of the story?

I’m a dad of two kids who are on either side of the world of early readers. My daughter is 13 and devours books, but it wasn’t all that long ago that she was just learning to read. My son, who’s 8, is just now picking up early readers. So, having seen it firsthand, I was very conscious of wanting to not write over the heads of these littlest readers. I did, however, want to make the book a little challenging. Something longer and a little complicated, so that they might take a little more time with it—maybe even not finish it in one sitting.

“Going on adventures in life is a great way to find new things to write about and draw.”

How did Cornbread’s and Poppy’s names come to you?

They are such great names! I can say that with actual modesty, because I didn’t come up with them. My cleverer-than-me wife, author Julie Halpern, gifted me these character names one day, and I used them as a springboard for everything that followed. To me, Cornbread and Poppy conjured a world of fun and adventure with animals in a rural setting. And Poppy is a great name, but Cornbread . . . I was in love with that character name from the get-go!

Were Cornbread and Poppy always mice?

More or less, yes, they were always mice. In the very beginning, before I even had any stories, I jotted down a list of animal possibilities. Those notes are forever lost, but I remember thinking, maybe pigs or dogs could work. But my very first sketch was of these two mice, and I looked no further!

Cornbread and Poppy sketch © Matthew Cordell

What was their character development like? Did you land on their personalities right away or did they evolve as you wrote?

I think it was a gradual development, overall. I knew I wanted one to be uptight and the other to be a free spirit, but it wasn’t until I started writing more from that basic premise that I felt like each personality should have positives and negatives. When you put the two characters together, they fill each other out nicely. One’s positive traits fill in for the other’s flaws and vice versa. They don’t always see eye to eye, but they really like each other, they’re willing to listen and learn from each other, and in the end, they make a great team.

What’s your favorite illustration in the book? Do you have a favorite line?

My favorite spread is where Cornbread and Poppy first encounter an owl on Holler Mountain. It’s their worst fear to be descended upon by a mouse-eating owl, and when they find themselves under the giant shadow of a flying owl, the look on their gaping faces is horrific and priceless. There’s lots of drama in that picture, and I just like how it looks.

Illustration from Cornbread & Poppy © 2022 Matthew Cordell. Reproduced by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

My favorite line (or lines) in the book are probably the very first two. “It was winter. The first snowflake had fallen.” Very simple idea, but I love the idea and visual of the first single snowflake falling signifying the beginning of winter itself.

The book’s dedication hints that you may be more of a Cornbread than a Poppy. What Cornbread-ish qualities are handy for a writer and illustrator to have?

Cornbread is very on top of things and has things planned out perfectly. He’s ready for anything! This mindset would be very helpful to someone writing or illustrating a book. Or to any person doing any job, really. Be prepared! I should follow my own advice.

Are there Poppy-ish qualities that are also helpful for a creative person?

Poppy loves to try new things, explore and seek thrills. Going on adventures in life is a great way to find new things to write about and draw. We’re never too old to learn and experience new things. As long as we keep looking, we’ll always have something to be inspired by and something new to create.

Read our starred review of ‘Cornbread & Poppy.’

In his first early reader, Matthew Cordell offers a mouse’s tale that’s perfect for the youngest of readers.
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Author and illustrator Matthew Cordell has earned critical acclaim for his picture books, even winning the Caldecott Medal in 2017 for Wolf in the Snow. In Cornbread & Poppy, Cordell ventures into a new form: the early reader.

In three short chapters, the book introduces two sweet friends, a pair of anthropomorphized mice with very different personalities. Cornbread is a planner. When we meet him, he is stocking his pantry with food he has foraged. It’s almost winter, and Cornbread knows it’s important to be prepared. Cornbread’s best friend, Poppy, is “not one to worry.” She has spent her time having adventures, and when she shows up at Cornbread’s house to invite him to join her on a foraging expedition, Cornbread tells her it’s too late and there won’t be any food left for her.

Although they ask all around town, no one has any spare food for Poppy. In desperation, Poppy tells Cornbread that she thinks there may be food on Holler Mountain. The mice shiver, because “no one goes up Holler Mountain!” There’s even a legend about someone named Ms. Ruthie, who once dared to try—but never returned. When Poppy decides Holler Mountain is the only way for her, Cornbread commits to the journey, like any best friend would do. What they find when they reach the summit is a satisfying surprise.

Read our Q&A with Matthew Cordell.

Cornbread and Poppy are endearing characters, poised to join the ranks of other memorable early reader sets of best friends old and new, including James Marshall’s George and Martha, Laurel Snyder’s Charlie and Mouse, and Sergio Ruzzier’s Fox and Chick. Cornbread and Poppy are broadly but carefully delineated, and their personalities drive the story at a brisk pace.

In a palette of cool, wintry colors juxtaposed against pops of warm pink, Cordell brings a lively community to the page, including Old Larry, “the town grump” whose doormat reads “NOPE”; the mysterious Ms. Ruthie; and a vegetarian owl they meet on their journey. The characters are rife with narrative possibilities for future books that promise more humor and heart (and, we hope, Old Larry’s grumpy backstory).

Nestling snugly between picture books and chapter books, early readers are designed for children who are just beginning to read independently. Cornbread & Poppy will leave those readers hungry for more.

Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell’s first early reader, the tale of two mice who embark on an expedition up Holler Mountain, will leave young readers hungry for more.
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This exuberant celebration of family, written in an inviting second-person voice, portrays a girl’s trip overseas with her mother to visit Baachan, her grandmother, and her experience at a traditional Japanese bath house. When they finally arrive and reunite with all of her aunts and cousins, the girl runs into Baachan’s arms, the love between them unspoken and “understood,” a word repeated throughout the text.

After changing out of their clothes, everyone heads to the bath house. Author Kyo Maclear details the sensory delights of the journey—the clip-clop of their wooden sandals on the road and the sound of the breeze as it rustles the fabric of their yakuta. When the group enters the bath house, Maclear slips seamlessly into pleasing, fluid rhymes: “The water will flow / and the garden will grow / at the big bath house.”

Illustrator Gracey Zhang’s energetic watercolors have a relaxed sense of line as she reverently brings to life the Japanese setting and the easy camaraderie among the girl’s family. She depicts the bath house in warm shades of rose and embraces the bodies of the people there by refusing to conceal them. Readers see nude women of all ages washing one another and relaxing together in the big bath. “You’ll all dip your bodies, / your newly sprouting, / gangly bodies, / your saggy, shapely, / jiggly bodies, / your cozy, creased, / ancient bodies,” Maclear writes. “Beautiful bodies,” she declares.

In her closing note, Maclear explains that The Big Bath House was inspired by her own childhood trips to her grandmother’s home in Japan. At the bath house they’d visit together, she notes, “the idea that bodies should always be private and clothed wasn’t the norm.”

The book is infused with great tenderness as it chronicles a child’s supremely happy memory. In its final image, Baachan and her granddaughter hold hands. “Someday,” Maclear writes, “you’ll find the words, / but for now, / you have this.” That Maclear finally found the words is a gift to readers.

A girl visits a traditional Japanese bath house with her grandmother in this tender picture book that offers a different way of looking at nudity and the human body.
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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.
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Based on a “fantastically fun daladala ride” that author Naaz Khan once took in Zanzibar, Room for Everyone is an entertaining and bighearted joyride of a picture book that features fabulous illustrations by Mercè López. 

Musa and his sister climb aboard a daladala, a type of Tanzanian minibus, heading to the shore “to feast on fish at the Friday bazaar by the blue crystal waters of Zanzibar.” The bus and Khan’s pleasing prose bounce along rhythmically. The text is full of satisfying alliteration, flowing dialogue and rhyming couplets that are a delight to read aloud. 

The daladala has only a few passengers when the siblings board, but as they travel along, the driver spots people in need of a ride and yells, “It’s hotter than peppers out there in the sun! Come in, there’s room for everyone!” The additions include an older man with a bike that’s missing its seat; a herder and his two goats; three vendors carrying baskets of fruit; a farmer with four pails of milk; and so on. By the time the daladala finally reaches the shore, it’s packed with people, fish, chickens, large kitenge umbrellas, coconuts, a team of scuba divers and much more. 

Room for Everyone is an energetic counting book. Numbers on each spread stand out in a larger font and contrasting color. Key words and phrases also receive special attention with changes in size and color: For instance, in yellow and salmon lettering, “six stinky chickens” and “squawking” leap off a page’s jade background. 

The book’s palette is especially rich, featuring saturated yellows, sapphires and teals balanced against occasional warmer, softer hues. López’s delicate, fine-lined drawings are expressive and dynamic, filled with movement and momentum. 

Throughout the journey, Musa sustains a concern that the bus is overcrowded, but everyone manages to carve out space or wiggle their way in. After all, as the daladala’s passengers and driver alike shout, “There’s plenty of room for everyone!”

This entertaining joyride of a counting picture book features bouncy rhymes and expressive, dynamic illustrations.
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Caldecott. Sendak. Mo. They’re giants in the field of children’s literature, and they are the subjects of three 2013 releases, two at the hands of noted historian and scholar Leonard Marcus—Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawingand Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work—and one introduced by the legendary Eric Carle, Don’t Pigeonhole Me!, a Mo Willems collection. Anyone who follows children’s book illustration with interest could spend many happy hours exploring these entertaining books, each one appealingly designed and providing fresh insight into the celebrated illustrators featured therein.


Both the late Maurice Sendak and author-illustrator Mo Willems have been recognized multiple times by the American Library Association with either Caldecott Honors or the big award itself, the Caldecott Medal. That award wouldn’t be possible without British illustrator Randolph Caldecott, the subject of Leonard Marcus’ new biography for young readers, Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing.

As a young man in England, where he was born in 1846, Caldecott made a living as a bank clerk, doodling while on the job; Marcus even treats readers to several of those sketches in this art-filled biography, as well as previously unpublished drawings from the illustrator’s last sketchbook. After he landed his first editorial illustration assignment for a London monthly in 1872, his career accelerated and he became known for his lively illustrations, eventually finding success with picture books in England and the United States. It was in the States that he died while traveling, one month shy of his 40th birthday, and was buried in Florida.

Caldecott is remembered today for his innovative work in merging text and art to tell one seamless story. It’s for this reason that the American Library Association named the award in his honor in 1938. Prior to his time, children’s books included illustrations that made no effort to extend the story told by the words. Caldecott put page-turns to work to add drama, increase tension and establish unique rhythms, and he introduced story elements in his illustrations that were not mentioned in the text, further expanding a book’s storytelling possibilities. This, at the time of Walter Crane and John Tenniel, was revolutionary.

Marcus’ exploration of Caldecott’s pivotal contributions to picture books make this juvenile biography an essential read for picture book lovers of all ages. He tells the story of Caldecott’s life with great reverence (and thorough research), and those who appreciate good design may linger over such things as the thick, cream-colored pages and the endpapers filled with Caldecott’s picture book illustrations.


One of numerous illustrators inspired by Caldecott was Maurice Sendak. He often spoke during his lifetime about his deep respect for Caldecott’s work, even naming his 1989 anthology of essays on writing and illustrating for children Caldecott & Co. Recently, Abrams published Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work, a lavish volume edited by Leonard Marcus and released in conjunction with a June 2013 Society of Illustrators exhibition of Sendak’s work.

This one is a must-have for Sendak fans, a compelling tribute to the famed illustrator. It includes 12 essays from art collectors, librarians, editors, fellow illustrators and more. Featuring the private collection of art curators Justin G. Schiller and Dennis M.V. David, the book treats fans to rare drawings, posters, lithographs, sketches, commercial art and design work of all types. Some previously unpublished photos are also on display; Sendak mimicking a Wild Thing doll, circa 1970, captures an impish joy.

The essays in this in-depth volume, many giving us compelling peeks into Sendak’s personality, are not to be outdone by all the rare artwork on display. Author-illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky, whom Sendak taught at Yale, contributes an outstanding essay, writing about Sendak’s energy and conviction as a lecturer and teacher, as well as his disdain for those who condescended to children’s books: “He believed that art can be for children,” Zelinsky writes, “that it mustn’t be treacly or pandering, and that it should be as rich and good as the art that adults want for themselves.”


Like this Sendak tribute, Don’t Pigeonhole Me!—a look at two decades of Mo Willems’ sketches—is aimed squarely at adults. “Mo Willems is a master of the doodle, sketch, cartoon, and scribble,” writes Eric Carle in the book’s foreword. In the introduction, Mo explains that the book—which even shows the birth of the Pigeon, his most famous protagonist—is a culmination of decades of making art that is “purely mine, free from any restrictions, without regard for those who will eventually see it.”

Well, his fans can see it now, and it’s worth their time. It opens with sketches from the early ‘90s and takes readers all the way up to recent sketches made on the butcher paper laid out on the kitchen table in his home, where visitors are encouraged to sketch. Readers see Mo’s personality from just about every angle in this collection of his minimalist cartoon sketches. Some are particularly clever and funny; others, obscure and mildly to moderately amusing. “I was so tired,” Willems writes about the sketches in the “Wise Things” chapter, the most refreshing of them all, “of rendering jolly round-headed scamps that my subconscious just wanted to kill them.” This was the phase, he explains, where an Edward Gorey influence snuck up. The youngest of Pigeon fans need not apply, but for adults, it’s a trip.

The holiday season draws nigh. Consider any—or all, if your pocketbook allows—of these books great gift choices for the picture book fans in your life.

Julie Danielson conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.

Caldecott. Sendak. Mo. They’re giants in the field of children’s literature, and they are the subjects of three 2013 releases, two at the hands of noted historian and scholar Leonard Marcus—Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawingand Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work—and one introduced by the legendary Eric […]
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Two of this year’s most emotionally compelling picture books tell the story of immigrants. 

Caldecott Honor-winning author and illustrator Yuyi Morales tells her own personal immigration story in Dreamers, a picture book that pays tribute to picture books themselves, as well as the libraries where they live. In Morales’ intimate, first-person narration—which unfolds from her perspective as a mother who is new to the U.S.—she addresses a baby and details in concise, eloquent language the confusion she felt in a new country and the ways in which the library opened her world. Her first library visit is described with wonder and incredulity: “Suspicious. Improbable. Unbelievable. Surprising.” She could retrieve books from a place where she didn’t need to speak—books (and here she illustrates the covers of many beloved picture books) from which she learned to read and speak English. The experience utterly changed her life forever. This place, previously “unimaginable” to her, helped her find nothing less than her own voice.

Illustrated in vivid colors, with dreamlike vistas and detailed compositions, Dreamers is a powerful, truly inspiring tale. Morales uses pen and ink, acrylics, photography from her personal collection, pages from her first handmade book and embroidery to illustrate her story, and the pictures are filled with objects in flight—bats, birds, butterflies, even a shooting star—that serve as symbols of her journey to the U.S. She paints herself wearing a backpack and in a dress of what could be flower petals or multi-colored flames with her young son in her arms or in his stroller; the two are an indelible image. A closing author’s note brings readers more details, and Morales further sings the praises of picture books and the librarians in California where she had, once upon a time, made her new home.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s Imagine opens memorably: We see a boy picking chamomile flowers and whispering to “their fuzzy faces.” We watch him grow, and we discover that the boy is Herrera as a child as he recounts specific, detailed childhood memories of playing in nature, leaving his home and eventually moving to a country where his native language is not spoken. The entire text is a series of conditional sentences ending with “imagine,” the word in a larger, bolder font on each spread: “If I moved to the winding city of tall, bending buildings and skipped to a new concrete school I had never seen, imagine . . . ” A young Herrera learns English in his new school and falls in love with writing, collecting “gooey and sticky ink pens” because of the way the ink flows across the page. He writes his first poem and crafts his first song on the guitar. And then, we see Herrera as U.S. Poet Laureate, speaking at the Library of Congress in front of a large crowd. If he can start as a small, unassuming boy smelling flowers in his homeland and grow into a famous poet, he asks readers on the final spread to “imagine what you could do.”

Filled with vivid imagery (the “milky light” from the moon that shines on the boy’s blanket as he sleeps outside, the “silvery bucket” he carries for fetching water) and Lauren Castillo’s highly textured, earth-toned illustrations rendered via foam monoprint, Imagine is a tender story that is brimming with hope. 

Two of this year’s most emotionally compelling picture books tell the story of immigrants.  Caldecott Honor-winning author and illustrator Yuyi Morales tells her own personal immigration story in Dreamers, a picture book that pays tribute to picture books themselves, as well as the libraries where they live. In Morales’ intimate, first-person narration—which unfolds from her […]
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Children are natural explorers, traversing their world with wide eyes and delving into their own imaginations with curiosity and gusto. Two new picture books put adventures on the map for eager preschool and elementary-age readers.

Before we even get to the title page of author and illustrator Deborah Marcero’s My Heart Is a Compass, readers are treated to a spread showing a group of children in an elementary school classroom, reading silently on their own. And we see that our blue-haired, brown-skinned protagonist has chosen to read an atlas with a map at the ready. Her name is Rose, and she longs to be “an explorer, a pioneer, a trailblazer.” Show-and-tell is tomorrow, and Rose is determined to discover something new to share with her class. Since she doesn’t know precisely where that thing might be, she draws her own maps before setting out: “Her imagination became a blueprint, with her heart a compass.”

Rose’s journey includes the intricate, imaginative maps she so carefully draws—a road map, a sky map, an ocean map and a map of the mountains—but she returns home with no exciting or unusual discovery. However, she realizes that the four lovingly rendered and hand-drawn maps clutched to her chest are treasures themselves, and she shares them with her inquisitive classmates.

Rose’s maps are visual delights, filled with both geographical information (the sky map includes “thermosphere,” “exosphere,” etc.),  map vocabulary and plenty of her imaginative musings. (The mountain map includes a secret lair and “Blue Dragon Smoky Mountains.”) Marcero’s textured mixed-media illustrations are filled with inviting patterns that make up features like sandy beaches, bumpy mountains and waves in the water. My Heart Is a Compass is a tribute to the exciting adventures a child’s imagination can launch.

Joyce Hesselberth’s Mapping Sam shares Marcero’s sense of adventure, but it features a furry, four-legged and whiskered protagonist. Sam is a cat, and once she puts her family to bed, she slips out of the house to explore at night, and readers are privy to the adventures that unfold in Hesselberth’s sleek illustrations with rich, nighttime colors and crisp, clean lines.

Hesselberth illustrates Sam’s journey for readers with a simple map of the cat’s neighborhood that includes a compass and scale. But things take a surprising turn when Hesselberth lays out an altogether different type of map—a diagram of Sam’s inner workings as she strolls through the grass. This is followed by a transportation map; the diagram of a flower and its parts; a cutaway map showing the depth of a pond; a diagram of a water molecule; a world map; a diagram of our solar system; a constellation chart and a blueprint. All of these different maps and diagrams are seamlessly woven into Sam’s journey as she explores nature and ponders the starlit sky. Information about each type of map is appended. “Can you map a dream?” the author asks, as Sam arrives home to see one of her humans snuggled comfortably in bed. “You might try.” Readers may be eager to do so, as well as explore a variety of other types of maps, after reading both of these informative stories. Bon voyage!

Two new picture books—Deborah Marcer's My Heart Is a Compass and Joyce Hesselberth's Mapping Sam—help young readers learn about maps.

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