These picture books require audience involvement, whether it’s peeking beneath panels and flaps on a page or simply reading between the lines of a multilevel story. The interaction lends extra magic to these entertaining books.
INTO THE REAL WORLD
Set in the days of the dinosaurs, Patrick McDonnell’s Tek: The Modern Cave Boy is a winning sendup of digital addiction. Tek—a hairy little tyke—spends all his time inside. Neither his parents nor his dino pal, Larry, can coax him from his cave. That’s because he’s lost online, connected to not one, but three individual devices! When Big Poppa, the local volcano, blows, something wonderful happens: Tek loses internet access and rediscovers the pleasures of the outside world. McDonnell presents the first section of Tek’s story in gadget format: Each page is like a tablet screen, complete with a border featuring WiFi and battery icons. But when Tek gets disconnected, the electronic elements disappear, and McDonnell’s exuberant cartoons fill the pages. Tek is a smart story that sets a great example in an era of digital distraction.
TURN FEAR INTO FUN
In Little Mouse’s Big Book of Beasts, Emily Gravett’s tiny hero introduces readers to the creepy creatures he fears the most, including “sharp-tempered” sharks and “un-bearable” bears. Can Little Mouse stand up to the beastly bunch? But of course. Using a paintbrush and his own smarts, he’s able to disarm his adversaries and demonstrate his own strength. Gravett’s rhymed lines turn this tale of triumph over fear into playful poetry, and her signature interactive storytelling style rewards re-readings. There are fun flaps and folds, and tell-tale signs of Little Mouse throughout (many of the pages have a chewed-through appearance, and paw prints in paint are everywhere). Gravett’s ingenious collage-like visuals will inspire scrutiny in readers of all ages (check out the origami instructions). This is a story to be savored.
NO FROWNS ALLOWED
Bob Shea’s whimsical, wonderful The Happiest Book Ever is a story that speaks to the reader—in more ways than one. Personified on the page by a grinning face, the book itself—irrepressibly upbeat—addresses the audience directly: “Whaddya say we make this the happiest book ever?” The book then introduces a surreal assortment of friends, starting with a sullen-looking frog and a dancing cake. Grinning clouds, napping cats and parading candy pieces follow, but their jollity is lost on the frog, who remains impassive. Exasperated, the book banishes the frog from the story, but soon backtracks: “Being mean is not happy . . . I was wrong to chase Frog away.” Lesson learned! The frog returns, and the gaiety resumes, Shea-style. With his neato illustrations and a snazzy color palette, this is a tale that lives up to its title.