Here are some of the fabulous picture books that have been making their way into our home of late. Even though I’m loving reading chapter books to my daughter, I’m so glad she still lets me read her picture books from time to time!
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. Greenwillow Books, 2015.
The main theme of this story is pretty obvious from the cover – a crayon with a “red” label grows up thinking there’s something wrong with him, until the day he figures out that the problem is the wrapper and not him. As Betsy Bird points out at A Fuse #8 Production, this kind of preachiness isn’t for everyone. But the lesson is helped down by a large spoonful of humor, both in the pictures Red is trying to color and in the people around him, from the other tall young crayons to the short old crayons in appropriate color. Both of my kids really loved this one and kept going back to it, which also says a lot. They also took it as an open-ended message to find out who you are for yourself, without paying too much attention to what others say you should be.
Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
I’m a big fan of novel-length dark fairy tale retellings for teens and up – but this retelling goes in the complete opposite direction with delightful results. Our heroine is about two, and refuses to be scared of the “foxie” she meets on the way to Grandma’s house. She absolutely will not share her cakes with him, and she is unswayed by the charms of “lello” flowers – she likes RED. But what happens when she arrives at Grandma’s with “foxie” in tow? This is short and un-scary enough for toddlers Very Little Red’s age, but silly enough to be very amusing to kids old enough to know how the story is supposed to end. Heap’s child-like art, framed with lots of white space, suits the story perfectly.
Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn. Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw. Charlesbridge, 2014. (UK Lulu Loves Flowers)
Thanks to my friend Maureen at By Singing Light for recommending both this and the next title. Preschool-age Lola’s favorite nursery rhyme is the one about Mary, Mary, which talks about her garden. Lola’s mother helps her plan and plant a garden, which her father helps decorate to match the rhyme. The adorable illustrations add to the comforting, homey feel of the book – words and pictures working together to make something perfect for a spring story time. My daughter especially loved reading the two versions of the rhyme in the endpapers – first the original, then a new one about Lola. She picked this out for a visiting friend to read to her at bedtime. His comment was “Dad? Who is this Dad character and where did he come from?” – it’s true that Dad doesn’t make his appearance until ¾ of the way through the book. Preschoolers are unlikely to be as disturbed by this as our friend, however. Pair this with Cathryn Falwell’s Rainbow Stew for another multicultural gardening story.
Gingerbread for Liberty by Mara Rockliff. Pictures by Vincent X. Kirsch. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
This is the true history of a patriotic German-American who switched from baking gingerbread to baking bread for the Revolutionary army. Kirsch’s illustrations are full of energy while looking like iced gingerbread cookies, which I thought was pretty amazing. The baker, Christopher Ludwick, was dedicated to feeding everyone, and especially poor children. While the main story is really short, the afterward fleshed things out, making Ludwick an even more interesting character. I read this aloud twice in one evening, once for my daughter and once for my son and my mother – everyone was fascinated. Once again proving that picture books are for everyone. I hope neither of my kids ever feels that they have outgrown them.