Julie Danielson

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People of all ages are fascinated with outer space and the largely unexplored frontier it is, but children are especially curious about the mysteries the universe holds. Two new picture books capture this wonder, and both stories are, in more ways than one, out of this world.


The smart twist at the end of author-illustrator Tom Sullivan’s Out There relies entirely upon his use of silhouette throughout the book. On the first spread, readers see what they assume are human children here on Earth—we see them from behind, shadows pointing up at a starlit sky—wondering if extraterrestrials exist in the universe. We see what we assume is an owl in a nearby tree. We also see the shadows of waving, alien-esque tentacles, but we figure they’re a figment of the children’s imagination; they are, after all, wondering about aliens. Before the big reveal, the children ponder what an alien planet may look like. “It could be filled with the strangest creatures,” Sullivan writes; the creatures pictured on the next page are all from Earth, albeit some of the most bizarre ones that exist (a blobfish, a flapjack octopus).

But at the book’s close, the children’s backs no longer toward us, we see that they themselves are the aliens, complete with green skin. We’ve been on another planet this whole time. What we thought was an owl in the tree were two alien creatures standing atop one another. And those tentacles are, well, actual tentacles! Out There is a book that reminds us of our humanity by revealing our own alienness from another perspective. And it reminds us that our planet—the bizarre, beautiful world we call home—is one worth taking care of.

Move over, Ms. Frizzle. In John Hare’s wordless picture book debut, Field Trip to the Moon, students hop on a lunar bus and take off into the darkness of outer space. Clad in astronaut suits, they land on the moon and follow their teacher on the surface, exploring and learning. One child who carries a sketchbook and crayons is always falling behind the class, and when they stop to do a drawing of Earth from the moon, they fall asleep. After waking just in time to see the school’s lunar bus depart, the dejected child sits and (what else is there to do?) draws some more.

When ashen-faced, one-eyed lunar creatures quite literally pop up out of the moon’s surface, they delight in watching the small human draw. Upon discovering them, the child shares their crayons and paper, and the whole group draws on the surface of a lunar rock nearby. When the bus finally returns, the alien creatures flee, and the happy, relieved teacher hugs the child, but the teacher is quick to scold the student for doodling on the surface of the moon.

Hare’s acrylic illustrations, occasionally divided into vertical panels to accelerate the action, are textured and expressive. He communicates emotion effectively via body language, given that this is a wordless tale and that all the humans characters are concealed in space helmets. It’s not until the last page that we see the protagonist without a helmet, and with medium-length, shaggy brown hair, it could be a boy or girl. This is a field trip that won’t soon be forgotten.

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.

People of all ages are fascinated with outer space and the largely unexplored frontier it is, but children are especially curious about the mysteries the universe holds. Two new picture books capture this wonder, and both stories are, in more ways than one, out of this world.

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Vincent van Gogh famously said that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day. Two new picture books about imaginative nighttime adventures prove the validity of this claim.


If it wasn’t already clear from award-winning team Philip and Erin Stead’s previous books, Music for Mister Moon demonstrates that these two really get introverts. In the first pages, we meet a cello-playing girl named Harriet Henry with long bangs hanging in her eyes. She loves playing her instrument, but only for her stuffed animals. She’d rather not play for crowds, thanks very much.

One night she strikes up a conversation with the moon after inadvertently knocking him from the sky with a teacup she throws in frustration at a loud owl. Mister Moon sometimes tires of being the moon and would like, for once, to float on a lake. With great determination, as well as the help of some friends (including the owl with whom she makes amends), Harriet makes that wish come true. After hauling the moon back up to the sky, Harriet plays her music for “no one but Mister Moon.”

With monoprint illustrations done in oil inks, along with additional flourishes in colored pencil, illustrator Erin Stead subtly anthropomorphizes the moon and creates exquisitely expressive characters and indelible images, like Harriet pulling the massive Mister Moon in a small wagon and rowing him in a frail boat on the lake.

Although she has help, it is the resourceful Harriet who primarily moves the story forward, and author Philip Stead gives her tremendous agency (and a sharp imagination). She makes herself a ladder to retrieve the moon, and she makes the wagon used for transporting him. She can even “change her room into a little house” so that she can make her cello sing. With a superb balance between text and art, Music for Mister Moon is a vivid journey into a child’s nuanced inner world.

David Zeltser’s tale of adventure, The Night Library, is inspired by Patience and Fortitude, the lions sculpted from pink Tennessee marble that guard the main entrance of the New York Public Library. The story—rendered by illustrator Raúl Colón with reverence, energy, cool blue hues for the night sky and warm earth tones for indoors—is told from the point of view of a young boy on the eve of his 8th birthday. He is disappointed when his parents give him a book, but later that night, he is greeted by a lion named Fortitude who stands outside his bedroom window. They take off together on a night journey into the “heart of the frozen city” and to the library, where the boy meets the second lion and tours the building with his new feline friends.

In the children’s section, the books fly off the shelves and form themselves into iconic book characters, such as Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor. The boy is moved to see another set of books form itself into the shape of his grandpa, reading to him. Before the boy heads home on the back of Patience, the boy spends quiet time in the library falling in love with literature, reading books he once shared with this grandfather. He writes it off the next day as a dream—until he finds a new library card, just for him, on the doormat outside his home.

Children’s books about the importance of reading are a dime a dozen, but The Night Library resonates on another level as it is also the story of a boy’s lingering grief following the loss of his grandfather. But sometimes richly colored stories can provide healing as well as adventure.

 

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.

Two new picture books, Music for Mister Moon and The Night Library, follow children on imaginative nighttime adventures.

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Celebrate all four seasons with these three new picture books that transport readers through the seasons and showcase the glories of Mother Nature.


Kim Norman’s Come Next Season captures the magic of a year spent outdoors on a journey from one summer to another. A brother and sister narrate the tale, anticipating the joys of each season—eating blueberries in the summer, filling their pockets with pecans in the fall, sledding with their dog in the winter and visiting “cheeping chicks” in the spring. The use of vivid figurative language animates their reveries, such as when they “scissor” their legs to warm up their bedsheets in winter and “roar like hungry bears” while jumping into piles of fall leaves. The well-paced text, with its gentle rhythms and perfect page turns, reveals the change of each season with a graceful and subtle fanfare. 

Daniel Miyares illustrates the children reveling in a screen-free, outdoor world. Vivid purples, yellows and reds are on display, but the bright, warm blues steal the show. The story comes full circle, opening with a visit to a lake and ending with a return visit. Both moments feature the girl leaping exuberantly into the water, but the latter visit includes a new puppy for a new year. 

A larger group of children plays outdoors through the seasons in Rebecca Grabill’s A Year With Mama Earth, illustrated by Rebecca Green. Both author and illustrator grew up in Michigan, and they base their words and art on those experiences. 

Children play and explore outside, from one autumn to the next, near a home in the woods. Toying with the notion of nature as “Mama Earth,” Grabill personifies objects in nature in evocative, lyrical language, such as pumpkin seeds that play peekaboo under fall leaves, oaks that are “stubborn,” geese that take vacations, sugar maples that sing sweet songs and rain that dances. Grabill describes Mama Earth with bustling verbs. She “tightens night’s reins,” “dresses holly shrubs in icicles,” “sings a lullaby to the fat black bear,” “bakes the ground dry as toast” and “gathers icy diamonds in her skirt.” Green’s richly colored illustrations depict a wide range of woodland creatures—from bees and squirrels to cardinals and deer. In a closing author’s note, Grabill likens Mama Earth to a “gentle, fun-loving” parent full of surprises and calls for readers to slow down and listen to nature speaking. 

Author-illustrator Eliza Wheeler’s Home in the Woods, narrated by 6-year-old Marvel, is a trip back in time to Depression-era Wisconsin. The book follows Marvel and her seven siblings from summer to spring as their family looks for a home after the death of their father. With each passing season, they are able to make the most out of having little. They create a home out of a shack in the woods, make a garden out of a “blanket of rotting leaves,” pitch in to do chores, fill their cellar with their garden harvests, hunt for food during the winter months and, working as a team, manage to thrive. 

Wheeler often singles out objects in the children’s lives in her lush, detailed spreads. Her language is rich—there are “crystal rains,” berries that are “sweet jewels of blue and red” and “ruby leaves”—and she uses repetition to great effect. An author’s note reveals that the story is based on her grandmother’s experiences. It’s a story, she writes, about finding “inventive ways to work together.” 

Celebrate all four seasons with these three new picture books that transport readers through the seasons and showcase the glories of Mother Nature. Kim Norman’s Come Next Season captures the magic of a year spent outdoors on a journey from one summer to another. A brother and sister narrate the tale, anticipating the joys of each […]
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The thrill of a big snowfall. Snow angels. Snow days! These three picture books celebrate the snowy season. 


Some Snow Is . . .

Ellen Yeomans’ Some Snow Is . . . revels in winter, exploring how wildly different each snowfall can be. There’s First Snow (the “we’ve waited for so long snow”) and Spring Snow (“time to go away snow”), with lots of variations in between. There’s Yellow Snow (uh oh, watch out) and Sledding Snow, which takes your breath away and freezes your face. Yeomans also explores the emotional extremes of such weather—from the frustration of light, early-winter Fluff Snow that doesn’t stick, to the complicated relationship with Driveway Snow, which makes Papa growl but also allows the building of a snow fort, which succeeds in making Papa smile. 

Illustrator Andrea Offermann takes readers on this journey with three children, best friends eager for outdoor winter play. She juxtaposes vivid colors against the bright white of snowfall. In one striking spread, we see a field of snow angels formed by a group of happy children, the text reading merely, “A flock of angels sing.” On a spread about Snow Day snow, Offermann’s energetic pen-and-ink lines nearly conceal houses in “a world of swirling white.” 

Yeomans writes in pleasing, flowing rhymes that form paired stanzas, with the first three lines of each stanza ending with “snow.” It all makes for an engaging read-aloud. 

Snowy Race

It’s another wondrous, wintry world in April Jones Prince’s Snowy Race. A young girl rides with her father in his snowplow. She has been counting down to this day and now feels abundant pride at the opportunity to help. But the snowplow does more than just clear the roads; it also takes the two of them to meet someone special at the train station, kicking off a thrilling race to reach a family member they love. 

Prince effectively uses short rhyming phrases (“whirl of snow”) and simple sentences (“off we go”), making this briskly paced tale a winning storytime choice. Prince writes with bustling verbs—slip, slide, chase, spin, whistling, howling, climbing, growling—as the plow chugs along, the snowy winds accumulate and father and daughter, always smiling, brave the elements. 

The page turns on these landscape-oriented spreads are especially compelling as the vehicle plows through the snow toward its destination. At one point, illustrator Christine Davenier even puts readers in the vehicle, seated behind father and daughter as we look through the windshield with them. Reds, greens and blues pop off these snowy-white spreads, as do the lemony yellows of the snowplow’s headlights and the sun trying to peek through winter clouds. 

The final spread is a wordless one, showing a family happy to be together—warm, safe and snug inside on a frigid winter’s day. Look closely at the opening and closing endpapers to see the impressive amount of snow that fell during the adventure.  

Almost Time

Written by Newbery Honor recipient Gary D. Schmidt and his late wife, Elizabeth Stickney (a pseudonym), Almost Time is a story about anticipating the turning of the seasons. Ethan is eager for winter’s exit, when the warmer weather causes the sap from the trees to run. But for now, there’s no maple syrup on his pancakes, cornbread or oatmeal. He must wait patiently for the days to heat up and the nights to get shorter. 

One day, he discovers a loose tooth. Eager to pull it, Ethan now has “two things to wait for.” Even children unfamiliar with the process of collecting and boiling sap—which illustrator G. Brian Karas depicts in three of the book’s final spreads—can relate to this story, because all children know how interminably slow time creeps when they’re excited for something to happen. 

Karas depicts the joys of sledding and chopping wood in a cozy, wintry-white world, even if Ethan wears an impatient scowl as he does these things. He’d rather be single-mindedly wriggling his tooth, thanks very much, or trying “not to think about maple syrup.” Once the sap starts to run, his tooth also comes out; it was all worth the wait. Spreads dominated by white snow make way for a closing spread of warm greens, as the snow melts and Ethan finally gets sweet maple syrup on his pancakes. 

The thrill of a big snowfall. Snow angels. Snow days! These three picture books celebrate the snowy season.  Some Snow Is . . . Ellen Yeomans’ Some Snow Is . . . revels in winter, exploring how wildly different each snowfall can be. There’s First Snow (the “we’ve waited for so long snow”) and Spring Snow (“time to go away snow”), with […]
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Four new picture books celebrate the lives of African Americans who have contributed to the arts, sciences and the written word. 


The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver opens in 1921 on the historic day that Carver addressed Congress and evangelized the many uses of the peanut. From there, author Gene Barretta travels back to 1874 to meet a frail young Carver, who lived with a white couple on the farm where he was once enslaved. Carver, who loved working in nature, tended to a secret garden. At age 12, he left the farm and eventually became the first black man to graduate from Iowa Agricultural College. Although the rest of the book emphasizes Carver’s contributions to botany and agriculture, Barretta goes beyond Carver’s work with peanuts, highlighting his innovative work in science and education and describing him as a “folk hero.” 

The final spread shows Carver as an elderly man, tending to yet another secluded garden. Illustrator Frank Morrison, working in richly colored oils, depicts Carver’s tall frame, resting on a cane, looking out over a field of vibrant flowers. Throughout the book, Morrison’s use of light is particularly effective, whether it’s the warm light that glows from behind the elderly Carver as he speaks to Congress or the rays of sunlight that illuminate his boyhood garden. The illustrations shine in this ode to a celebrated inventor who was “always ready to serve humanity.” 

By and By

By and By tells the life story of Charles Tindley, composer of dozens of hymns. Acclaimed poet Carole Boston Weatherford narrates via spare rhymes that read as if Tindley himself is singing directly to readers. “My life is a sermon inside a song,” the book opens. “I’ll sing it for you. Won’t take long.” 

Tindley’s life was remarkable. Since his mother was a free woman, he was spared from slavery at birth in Maryland. But when she died, he was hired out. He learned about scripture from spirituals sung in the fields. He taught himself to read and walked barefoot to church every Sunday. As an adult, Tindley promised himself he would learn one thing each day: “Farmhand by day, student by night.” He married, moved to Philadelphia, continued his education and became the pastor of the very church where he once worked as a janitor. As he nurtured his congregation, his “small flock” grew, and he wrote the influential hymnal Soul Echoes

Bryan Collier’s watercolor and collage illustrations, which incorporate sheet music, are a rich and layered tribute to Tindley’s life. The book’s backmatter includes a list of hymns that Weatherford quotes throughout the text. This first picture book biography of Tindley is a superb introduction to the man who left a rich legacy in American gospel music. 

The Power of Her Pen

Award-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransome tells the story of another talented writer in The Power of Her Pen, chronicling the life and career of journalist Ethel L. Payne, known as the “First Lady of the Black Press.” Although it begins with Payne’s childhood, describing a girl with an ear for storytelling, the book focuses primarily on Payne’s accomplishments as a journalist. Payne reported from Tokyo during World War II and worked at the black newspaper The Chicago Defender—all before becoming one of only three black journalists issued a press pass to the Eisenhower White House and the first African American commentator on a national television network. 

Cline-Ransome writes reverently about Payne, who fearlessly asked questions about race that politicians would have preferred to avoid, reported on stories that the mainstream white press dismissed and uncovered answers for those “whose paths were paved with dreams.” In his signature folk-art style, John Parra’s acrylic paintings capture snapshots of Payne’s career. He incorporates many images of birds in flight, a fitting motif for a journalist whose determined reporting “created awareness and activism in the fight for civil rights for people across the globe.” 

★ The Oldest Student

Mary Walker, dubbed “the nation’s oldest student” by the U.S. Department of Education, may not be as well known as Carver, Tindley or Payne, but her life is equally extraordinary. Author Rita Lorraine Hubbard brings Walker’s exceptional story to the page in The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read. In 1863, at the age of 15, Walker was freed from slavery. When she was a teenager, an evangelist gave Walker a Bible, telling her that her “civil rights are in these pages.” Understanding the “squiggles” of that Bible became Walker’s lifelong goal. She eventually moved from Alabama to Tennessee, where, well past the age of 100, she at last learned to read. Walker diligently studied the alphabet, famously noting, “You’re never too old to learn,” and read proudly from her Bible at the age of 116. 

Hubbard commemorates Walker’s story with care; she writes in an author’s note that much about Walker is unknown and explains that she “chose to imagine . . . details to fill in the blanks.” The book’s illustrations come from Caldecott Honoree Oge Mora, who also includes bird imagery as symbolic of Walker’s longing for freedom and her determined spirit. Mora collages scraps of text into many spreads as reminders of Walker’s spectacular accomplishment. It all adds up to a riveting portrait of a strong-willed American icon. 

Four new picture books celebrate the lives of African Americans who have contributed to the arts, sciences and the written word.  The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver opens in 1921 on the historic day that Carver addressed Congress and evangelized the many uses of the peanut. From there, […]
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When there’s thunder and lightning, people and wild creatures alike head for safe places to stay dry and ride out dangerous weather. Two beautiful and reassuring new picture books relate stories of characters who shelter together during summer thunderstorms. 

Together We Grow is the debut picture book from Susan Vaught, neuropsychologist by day and author by night, who has something to say about inclusion in this tale of barn creatures facing a harsh nighttime storm. In spare, eloquent rhyming couplets—“Lightning gash! Windy lash!”—the book opens as fierce weather drives a frightened fox and its cubs to a barn full of animals. After the animals tell the fox to scram (“Go away! We’re full today!”), a small, unassuming duck heads outside to assist the fox family and convince the other animals to allow some space in the barn—and in their hearts. 

Illustrator Kelly Murphy employs a color palette of deep, rich blues that juxtapose marvelously against the vivid oranges and yellows of the foxes, the duck and the warm light of the barn’s interior. Several spreads, including those toward the end of the book when the storm has passed, are lush and cinematic, and Murphy wields light and shadow to dramatic effect. The two-page spread in which the duck calls to the fox and its family to invite them inside is particularly striking; the duck stands in front of a block of yellow interior barn light, which accentuates the hope and promise embedded in an otherwise foreboding scene. Unusual perspectives and angles, many of them aerial, make for visually dynamic moments. 

Vaught’s depiction of furry farm life leans toward anthropomorphism, avoiding the messy biology of the food chain as it delivers a poignant message about embracing those who are different and caring for neighbors during difficult circumstances: “Learn and show / together we grow.” 

When the Storm Comes also unfolds in rhyming couplets, but author Linda Ashman adds a call-and-response structure: “Where do you go when the sky turns gray— / When the grasses bend and the treetops sway? / We gather here below the eaves. / We roost beneath some sturdy leaves.” Ashman’s use of the first-person collective “we” suggests that we’re all in this together. Like Vaught, Ashman considers how various creatures, including humans, respond to dangerous weather. Some of these creatures—a house cat, a pet dog—dwell indoors, while others, such as a hive of bees and a family of rabbits nestled in a hollow log, make their homes outside. Ashman’s narrative continues into the storm’s aftermath, depicting both cleanup efforts and a communal celebration of sunny skies. 

Illustrator Taeeun Yoo sets When the Storm Comes in a coastal town; among the humans’ preparation efforts, boats must be latched and tied in this neck of the woods. The comforting curves of Yoo’s linework give way to harder lines of flashing lightning and driving rains as the tempest arrives. Though storms are scary, there’s a cozy feeling when all the humans, along with the pet dog, gather inside to play a game, share stories and “curl up tight.” Once the storm has passed, Yoo returns to her signature soft and warm illustrations in this satisfying story of community.

These two books offer children an empathetic look at what it’s like for animals who fear storms just like we humans do. Readers will be comforted to see communities come together to stay safe during wild weather.

When there’s thunder and lightning, people and wild creatures alike head for safe places to stay dry and ride out dangerous weather. Two beautiful and reassuring new picture books relate stories of characters who shelter together during summer thunderstorms.  Together We Grow is the debut picture book from Susan Vaught, neuropsychologist by day and author by […]
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Celebrate National Poetry Month with two picture books that serve as engaging, accessible introductions to the world of verse while paying tribute to the Japanese poetic form of haiku.  

In Fran Nuño’s The Dance of the Bees, translated from the Spanish by Jon Brokenbrow and featuring exquisite illustrations from Zuzanna Celej, a woman recalls walking in the woods as a girl with her grandmother. As they walked, her grandmother taught her about bees—how they pollinate flowers, provide honey and are “important for life on our planet.” 

Nuño sets the story in the Japanese countryside, and the book has a classical, almost formal design. Each spread contains an illustration on one side and text on the other, both framed within gently hexagonal borders. On nearly every spread is a haiku, printed vertically next to a small symbol of nature. For instance, an early spread includes this evocative haiku: “Along the way / the buzzing of bees / and our footsteps.” Underneath is a small bee within a crimson-colored border. 

In this lovingly designed book (which is printed on environmentally friendly paper with an appealing heft), Celej’s muted, earth-toned cut-paper illustrations are spare, textured and feature the elegant lines of traditional Japanese art. In one image, she offers a close-up view of a bee in flight. Papery gossamer wings carry the insect, described in the accompanying haiku as a “tiny mystery,” beneath a branch with delicate cherry blossoms. 

Midway through the story, the girl, now a grown woman, visits the same wooded spot with her son. The pair follows a bee, which lands on a pile of stones. Underneath the stones, they find a notebook of 12 haiku written by the grandmother: “I kept them in a secret place where I was sure you would find them one day, thanks to the dance of the bees,” the notebook reads. Now the woman can share her grandmother’s poetry with the next generation. 

Mark Karlins’ Kiyoshi’s Walk, illustrated by Nicole Wong, is also an intergenerational tale. Effortlessly knitting together themes of creativity and family, it’s an exploration of the source of poetic inspiration, as seen through the eyes of Kiyoshi, a young boy spending the day with his grandfather Eto. 

When he sees Eto write a haiku with a brush and ink in traditional Japanese calligraphy, Kiyoshi is intrigued. “Where do poems come from?” he asks. Wisely, Kiyoshi’s grandfather decides to show (not tell) the boy and invites him for a walk. As they stroll through the city, Eto occasionally stops to compose a haiku. 

Kiyoshi is observant as he seeks out what inspires his grandfather. If a heap of oranges outside of a market—and the cat who topples those oranges—inspires a haiku, then Kiyoshi figures poems must come from seeing things. But then Eto writes a haiku after hearing pigeons and their “whir of feathers,” so the boy amends his statement: “Oh, you find poems by listening.” The gears in Kiyoshi’s head spin as he spends the day with his grandfather, eager to solve the mystery. Eventually the boy discovers that everything can contain poems—“the faces of the people, the sound of the river, the moon breaking from the clouds.” 

Karlins grounds Kiyoshi’s Walk in the tangible details that grandfather and grandson experience, ordinary moments that become extraordinary when seen through the eyes of a poet. The way the sun shines from behind a cloud, the flowers that grow out of sidewalk cracks, an abandoned house with a child’s toy left behind, a fleeting feeling of loneliness—observant eyes and open hearts know that any of these things can inspire a poem. Wong brings it all to vivid life with warmly colored, terrifically detailed illustrations of the pair’s walk through the city. 

Celebrate National Poetry Month with two picture books that serve as engaging, accessible introductions to the world of verse while paying tribute to the Japanese poetic form of haiku.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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A child’s first sleepover can be fraught with worry. Their usual routines are disrupted in a new house surrounded by new things and with new adults at the helm. Author-illustrator Julie Fortenberry expertly captures these concerns in Darcy’s First Sleepover, a sensitive, empathetic look at one girl’s first sleepover success.

This gently paced story spends the first three spreads establishing the routines at Darcy’s home. She has a favorite pair of pajamas (with polka dots!) and brushes her teeth with strawberry toothpaste. Little Cat, her favorite plush toy, keeps Darcy company, and before bed, her dad reads a story about Little Cat to her. He also regularly leaves the kitchen light on as Darcy falls asleep.

After a visit to her cousin’s house, Darcy is invited to spend the night. She agrees but is soon unsettled by the new surroundings and unexpected routines. There’s peppermint toothpaste and no Little Cat, and Darcy is troubled. The wind at the window in the middle of the night doesn’t help, but when Darcy sees the moon shine on her, just as it shines on Little Cat in her favorite book, she finally falls asleep. The book about Little Cat has a happy ending, and perhaps Darcy’s story will too.

Fortenberry tenderly and accurately captures the worrisome elements of a first sleepover: missing a favorite stuffed animal, a borrowed nightgown, an unfamiliar and “scratchy” sleeping bag that smells “like old leaves.” Darcy is surprised to learn that her cousin is even allowed to eat in her bedroom.

The characters’ body language and facial expressions communicate a great deal of emotion. When Darcy is awake as her cousin sleeps peacefully next to her during the night, her eyes are wide and her hands clutch the sleeping bag. The next morning, Darcy’s sense of triumph feels well earned.

This story about the courage it takes for some children to make their way through their first sleepover will resonate with many readers. Way to go, Darcy!

A child’s first sleepover can be fraught with worry. Author-illustrator Julie Fortenberry expertly captures these concerns in Darcy’s First Sleepover, a sensitive, empathetic look at one girl’s first sleepover success.

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