There’s great fun to be had in messing around with letters and words, and these four new picture books balance hilarity and education.
After his first day of kindergarten, author Tony Johnston’s grandson asked him, “We’re learning the letters, but what do they do?” Johnston was then inspired to write The Magic of Letters, an exhilarating answer whose cover shows letters tumbling out of a magic hat in front of a rabbit. Inside, the rabbit explains that “Letters hold magic. When you know their secrets, they open worlds.” The text shows how letters form words, proclaiming “Letters hold POWER. You can shuffle them around to make loads of mighty words.” On this poster-worthy spread, the rabbit drives a bright orange dump truck filled with words like “diversity,” “libraries,” “art” and “science.” Subsequent pages are playful, toying with words like “flibbertigibbet” and “quesadilla.” Wendell Minor’s childlike illustrations set a variety of moods, ranging from scenes of moonlit enchantment to the excitement felt by a boy and girl who hop on the back of a colorful toucan and soar into a sky filled with letters. Johnston urges readers to roll words “in your mouth like lollipops.” Yup, there’s a mighty sweet reason for learning those ABCs, and The Magic of Letters is proof.
A girl and her younger brother spend a glorious summer day camping near the sea, going to an amusement park, and swimming in author-illustrator Fiona Woodcock’s effervescent Hello. The story is cleverly told with only one or two words on each page, each and every one containing the paired letters “ll.” It’s a nifty follow-up to Look, in which the same siblings visit a zoo, “oo” words. Once again, Woodcock makes her amusing premise work well, starting out with the words “hello” and “yellow” as the sun rises over the family’s tent site. The siblings collide on bumper cars, yell their way down a giant slide and gallop aboard a carousel. Adding to the charm, Woodcock often incorporates those double letters into her illustrations, as the poles of each carousel horse or the boy’s long legs as he views himself in a hall of mirrors. Woodcock’s cheerful art accentuates the joy of every moment in a wonderful graphic style, often using the spatter of blow pens to mix her muted colors. Hello is a book readers will be eager to greet again and again.
As a green lion repeatedly approaches a stoplight, instead of the expected green light, a series of new surprises await, each beginning with the letters “li.” Sometimes the resulting events are “startling” (lightning and rain), sometimes “alarming” (a flood), sometimes “timely” (a passing rowboat), and so on. Occasionally, a picture book can strike a deep chord, and Candace Ryan’s Red Light, Green Lion does just that, serving as the perfect parable for its epigraph from Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen, part of which says, “Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy.” Never fear―this book is anything but heavy. With wonderfully spare text, Ryan builds anticipation with repetitions that prompt young readers to guess what might be next. Illustrator Jennifer Yerke’s simple line drawings in a limited palette of primary colors serve as the perfect counterpoint to the text, keeping the story light and lively. Red Light, Green Lion is a squeal-worthy preschool read-aloud that contains an invaluable lesson for all ages.
Sometimes the wrong word can be a lot more fun than the right one, and that’s certainly the case in Lambslide, the first picture book from award-winning adult author Ann Patchett. On a bucolic farm owned by none other than the Farmer family, young Nicolette is running for class president. When her mom says, “You’ll win by a landslide,” a group of rambunctious, self-centered lambs hear her prediction as “lambslide.” The lambs conclude that this wonderful sounding malaprop is exactly what they need, and through a series of negotiations with their mom, the other farmyard animals and the Farmers, they are forced to consider the needs and wants of others. Finally, after a farm-wide vote, these wooly crusaders get what they’re after, sharing the fun with everyone. This lively tale of teamwork―along with a playful peek at politics―features bestselling illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser, of Fancy Nancy fame, whose appealing art has something of an old-fashioned feel. The result is a book full of visual and verbal delights, brimming with joy, energy and humor.