Once again, I’m doubling up on subjects here, but they do relate. On one side, we have the wonderful world of imagination. Some of my favorite books I’ve read for the Cybils this year have been about children entering an imaginary world in one way or another. My son Raisin is quite imaginative, so I can relate to these books very well as a mother.
And then we have the magical twinkling stars that surround us at bedtime. Bedtime stories are some of my favorite books to read to a sleepy child. They, for the most part, do a wonderful job of getting a child ready to close their own eyes. I like to read the last sentences slowly and quietly myself.
King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bently and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Dial Books, 2011) fits in my self-imposed description of a perfect picture book: the text and the pictures are both required to tell the full story. Jack, Zack, and Jack’s baby brother Caspar are knights fighting dragons, planning to spend all night in their wonderful fort. Of course, when a “giant” comes to take Zack home, the illustrations help us see it’s a parent figure, and when Jack remains alone in his fort, the scary sounds and sights are also revealed to be their true nature in the illustrations. King Jack’s story shows how a child’s imagination can run away with him, something my similarly minded son can relate to. The illustrations are classic, and the rhyming text is so well done that one doesn’t even notice that it’s rhyming (another sign of “perfect” for a parent-child readaloud). (Nominated by Cara)
A Few Blocks by Cybele Young (Groundwood Books, 2011) tells the story of two kids walking a few blocks to school. Walking to school seems like it would a boring premise, but Ferdie and Viola’s imagination sees them through. Each time the two kids enter their imaginative world, they leave the black-and-white everyday scene behind and the illustrations become colorful and exotic. The art is Cybele Young’s distinctive (and internationally acclaimed) 3-D paper sculptures, which is Japanese paper printed with etched copperplates, and it is as fantastic as it sounds. The colorful magical world of knights and princesses is reserved for the imaginative child, and the masterpiece of art and creativity that tells of Ferdie and Viola’s walk to school is one all will enjoy. Truly magnificent! (Nominated by Mia Wenjen)
Doodleday by Ross Collins (Albert Whitman & Company, 2011) is about an imaginative day gone completely wrong, despite a young boy’s best efforts to make it right. Before his mom left, Harvey was warned not to draw because it was “Doodleday.” Of course, not knowing what Doodleday is, Harvey drew anyway, only to find that his crayon fly has come to life in his kitchen! Using his quick wits and his pencil, he tries to make things right, but it turns out Doodleday is more complicated than he anticipates, and his mom must come to the rescue in a very clever way. Raisin and I loved the combination of cartoonish illustrations and Harvey’s living crayon drawings, and the humor of Doodleday gave us pause: if our drawings would come to life, what would we draw? (Raisin says, “Nothing.” I guess he’s not very daring.) Doodleday is humourous, creative, and sure to being smiles to the face of readers young and old. (Nominated by Natasha Maw)
Perfect Square by Michael Hall (Greenwillow, 2011) is a book Raisin and I discovered a few months ago, before the Cybils even began. Whenever Raisin sees it on a shelf on the library he calls out in excitement, “Look, Mommy! The Perfect Square book!” (And somehow, we keep seeing it everywhere!) In Perfect Square, a square is perfectly happy being a square, only to find that on Monday he is cut in pieces and has holes poked in him. Using his imagination, however, Square makes the best of his situation, creating a fountain out of his pieces. Each day for the coming week, the square (which somehow changes color and becomes a perfect square anew each morning) is changed into something else, including a river, a mountain and a bridge. By the end of the week, he can’t wait to see what the next day will bring. I love the idea of making images out of various shapes (and Raisin and I enjoyed creating heart animals when we read Michael Hall’s My Heart is Like a Zoo a few months ago) and Raisin loves cutting things. This is perfect for beginning a “creativity with shapes” craft project with your youngster. If he or she is anything like Raisin, it may quickly become a favorite picture book. (Nominated by Janelle)
An un-pictured artist has been working on a simple painting of a barn and animals in Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman (Viking, 2011). The almost-finished painting, however, has a creative chicken that decides to help finish the painting once the artist is away. Climbing out of the picture, she only succeeds in making a big mess. I love way the sketched painting and scenery blend in with the watercolor mess. Blue Chicken is unfortunately rather accident prone, but she’s very sorry! As she tries to fix the painting, the mess begins to look like fun. Children may relate to the accidental mess that just seems to get worse, the adult can appreciate the humor and the wonderful illustrations of a painting coming to life, and the story comes full circle with the real barn getting painted outside. The back leaf of the book suggests, however, that those chickens have gotten into a mess once again! I love this picture book, and enjoyed rereading it and revisiting the surprisingly detailed artwork. (Nominated by Lily Z)
A visit to the beach gets a bit confused in When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore and illustrated by Howard McWilliam (Flashlight Press, 2011). This book is a warning for all those children who make perfect sandcastles, for a dragon is certain to move in to it! As the little boy plays in the sand, the dragon keeps getting him in trouble, from eating the brownies to blowing bubbles in the lemonade. Of course, no one else seems to see the dragon or even care about its presence in the boy’s sandcastle, but he sure has a fun day at the beach! The pencil and acrylic illustrations met the tone of the book well, and reading the story left Raisin eager to go to a beach to make his own sandcastle! (Nominated by Megan Gilpin)
My Bear Griz by Suzanne McGinness (Frances Lincoln, 2011) captures Billy’s friendship with his bear Griz, who is, of course, a grizzly bear. It is a wonderfully oversized book with few words on the page. This just makes it plain fun for examining the pictures, which are watercolor and pen, as well as what looks like collage. Some parts of the illustrations (and editorial remarks) look like they are drawn by a young child, but the detail of the pictures reveals otherwise. I love how Billy tells us about all the adventures he has with his bear, and it is only the last page that lets the reader see that Griz is, as one might have suspected, actually a teddy bear. Even after the last page, however, Raisin (my in-house preschool picture book assessor) insisted that Griz was a real bear. “See?” he said, pointing to the other pages in the book. “Billy plays with him all the time.” I should have known I wouldn’t have been able to convince my son, who is often in an own imaginary world of his own. A great celebration of imagination! I received a review copy of this book from the publisher for consideration for the Cybils awards. (Nominated by Jennifer Abel)
Stars and Bedtime
Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and illustrated by Holly Meade (Candlewick, 2011) captures a new side of the tradition of Noah and the flood by focusing on Noah’s wife in the evening calming the animals. Tradition suggests her name may have been “Naamah,” which means “great singer,” and Susan Campbell Bartoletti builds on that tradition by creating a soothing night-time lullaby describing Naamah singing the animals to sleep. A note included with the text suggests that the form of Bartoletti’s poem is the ghazal (see Wikipedia for information about this ancient Middle Eastern poetry form). Even if a reader didn’t realize it was a special poetic form (as I didn’t), the poem simply works wonders in this picture book combined with watercolor collage. The colors of the animals in the collage are bright, yet the setting is subdued for the evening setting on a stormy sea. Seeing the sleeping or otherwise rocking animals and the rolling waves of the sea tossing the ark along added to the nighttime solitude of a singing woman bringing peace to a troubled world covered in water. Raisin and I really enjoyed reading this book together, and I personally loved the new perspective on the Noah’s ark. A great bedtime lullaby. (Nominated by Greg Leitich Smith)
Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations are always sure to be a winning set, and those in Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (Little, Brown, 2011) are no exception. Pinkney weaves the words of Jane Taylor’s familiar children’s rhyme in with the creative imaginative adventures of a sleepy chipmunk. As the chipmunk climbs the foliage, he soars through the sky on a boat, visits a swan in a lake and then on the moon, and eventually settles in the swan’s down for his night rest. The sailor chipmunk reminded me of “Wynkin, Blynkin and Nod” (I loved the picture book illustrated by Giselle Potter). Does Chipmunk really go on an adventure? I don’t think so; he’s day dreaming as he watches the stars come out. But the end result is a beautiful bedtime story of chipmunk, told without any necessary words. As much as I love the illustrations, though, the creative Chipmunk’s imaginings and the “Twinkle, Twinkle” text don’t really go to together. I struggled to bring the song into context with the illustrated story as Raisin and I explored the pictures and read the song lyrics in the book. He loves the song, and I think he liked the pictures, but together something didn’t really work for either of us. (Nominated by Susan Kusel)
Stars by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane Books, 2011) is somewhat about stars. Not real stars, but the “magic” that comes from a star: wearing a star makes you a sherrif and taping one on a stick creates a magic wand. Marla Frazee’s illustrations are stunning and make the book a visual delight for the reader. However, some bits of the narration make no sense. For example, “Snowflakes are stars” just makes me scratch my head. Maybe snow seems like it is magical and special like a star. But stars? No. Although I love the emphasis that stars are a constant in the night sky and that everyday things we see around us, like strawberry blossoms, may give us that same feeling, I left the book with a feeling of confusion as to the point of it. It’s gorgeous, but it unfortunately lacked some degree of coherence. (Nominated by Carol Hampton Rasco)
The Twin’s Blanket by Hyewon Yum (Frances Foster Books, 2011) captures the pains of growing up for two look-alike twins that have always shared a bed and a blanket. Now that they are big, they need their own, which leads to new difficulties and quarrels. The childish tone of the two girl’s narration gives the book a sense of reality that kids can relate to, and the pictures of reconciliation and sisterly love are touching. One can’t help loving the two girls, and kids hesitant to embrace the change of growing up may appreciate their story all the more. All sleep well in the end. (Nominated by Anamaria Anderson)
Light Up the Night by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (Disney Hyperion, 2011) is the story of a young child recognizing his place in the universe. The boy imagines he flies in a rocket to see the night stars in his universe. He introduces us the planets of his universe, then the earth, then the country, and so forth, eventually coming back to his room, and his bed, where he has gone to sleep. This is a nice introduction to the big picture of the universe, with bright and fun illustrations to take the young child there. It’s also a nice reminder that we each have our own place, especially at night when it’s time to sleep. Raisin, who is interested in space, stars, and the night sky, enjoyed the book. He loved how, in the end, he could find the sun, the train, the moon, the blanket that looked like a rocket ship, and other clues in the boy’s bedroom; it indicated to Raisin that the boy’s otherworldly adventure had been an imaginative one. (Nominated by Rotem Moscovich)
The Big Snuggle-Up by Brian Patten and illustrated by Nicola Bayley (Kane Miller, 2011) is a story of a young child inviting a scarecrow in from the cold snowy evening. After the scarecrow, the other animals outside want to come in and get warm too. As the evening settles, a crowd of animals, from a dog and cat to a mouse, bird, rabbit, and donkey, sit around the fire drinking hot chocolate and enjoying one another’s company. Obviously, the story is a fantastical one, but the effect of the snuggle-up concept, as well as the soft and detailed illustrations of animals, makes it fun evening story for a cold and snowy winter evening. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher for consideration for the Cybils award. (Nominated by Lynn Kelley)
Unless otherwise noted, books were read via library copies; I was not compensated for review.