A Beginner’s Field Guide to Korean Fairy Tale Characters

Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim. Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), 2017. 9781632170774. 96pp.

“Halmoni” is Korean for grandma. My daughter’s halmoni became everyone’s halmoni; she lived with us in Seattle for over 13 years, from just after my daughter was born until she passed away a few years ago. So when I saw this book I pretty much had to buy it for my family. But it’s so beautiful it probably belongs on your shelf, or at least your library’s, too.

Two kids, Joon and his noona (a word that means “older sister,” but only for boys) arrive at their grandma’s house, but they can’t find her. They climb out the window and start following animal tracks only to find a Korean-speaking, chocolate-loving rabbit who they can’t quite understand. (The Korean text is in hangul throughout, but if you can’t read it there’s a “What did they say?” section at the back.) But they do understand the word for “tiger” that the rabbit says, and then it gives them a back scratcher and wanders off. They also meet goblins, the tiger, and a white-haired, nine-tailed fox with a secret.

Lucky Ducks

Nobody’s Duck by Mary Sullivan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 9780544792500.

An irritated alligator sees a duck painting his toenails and reading the paper on the alligator’s lawn. When he asks whose duck he is, he says he’s nobody’s duck. So the alligator takes him all over town to find out who the duck belongs to, first to the library, then to the movie theater, and on and on. They bond.

It’s more than kinda great, and it’s all in comics format. While it has an after school special ending (which I usually don’t go for), it’s not very message-y, and it’s so genuinely, relentlessly upbeat that it works and I think everyone will love it.

Woof & Quack in Winter (Green Light Readers Level 1) by Jamie A. Swenson & Ryan Sias. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 9780544959026.

Quack tells Woof he’s not flying south for the winter. Woof is worried his friend will be cold. They have some fun together in the snow and then go south together, where they also have lots of fun at the beach.

This is a simple easy reader in comics format. And it’s a duck, so it will get kids ready for Howard The’s inevitable comeback.

My Friend Lucky: a love story (Ready To Read Pre-Level One) by David Milgrim. Simon Spotlight, 2017. 9781481489010.

Expressive cartoon images show the love between a boy and his dog and give kids a chance to learn a little opposing vocab. “Lucky gives.” (Lucky licking the boy.) “Lucky gets.” (The boy kissing Lucky.)

(If I wrote a book like this, the boy would be licking the dog on the second page. At which point the publisher would be like, “Next!” which I guess is why I don’t get to write books like this. Though this does give me some hope that one day I might be able to draw one if I keep it simple, because Milgrim makes it look so easy (even though I know it’s not).)

This book is just plain nice, like the hug on the cover. No ducks, sorry.

Big Lizard in the Big City

Bolivar by Sean Rubin. Archaia, 2017. 9781684150694. 224pp.

In a lot of ways this is the longest picture book I’ve ever seen. Or is it a graphic novel? Since there are comics and a tiny bit of prose, it’s probably fair to say it’s both. And it’s even more important to say that I enjoyed it as an adult, not for some generic, unnamed kid’s sake sake.

Bolivar, a dinosaur, lives in New York City, but only his neighbor Sybil seems to notice. Everyone else is too busy. (Bolivar lives on corned beef sandwiches and tonic water with lime.) Sybil spends the first part of the book trying to convince everyone that Bolivar is a dinosaur and entirely fails (in fun ways) to get evidence. After Bolivar is given a parking ticket (despite not being a car), he has to go to City Hall and file a complaint, and the book takes a fun turn.

My favorite part of the book are the illustrated mosaics on the endpapers, the title page, and on the subway walls in the book. I cannot imagine how much time Rubin spent on them, and they look amazing. But really the whole book is fab. The people are very cartoony but have a lot of character, the streets and interiors are amazingly detailed, and every page has a texture that reminds me of Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I’m so happy Archaia published this in an oversized format — it really deserves it.

Bonus: The whole book is as much a love letter to New York as Roz Chast’s latest.

1-2-3 Shoot!

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, pictures by Adam Rex. Balzer + Bray, 2017. 9780062438898.

The secret origins of the generations-long battle between the three equally matched rivals: rock, paper, and scissors. Each mighty warrior has defeated all of the possible challengers in their homelands and goes in search of worthy adversaries elsewhere in the house. All of the battles are wonderfully over dramatic and over the top in both text and art, with hilarious pre-battle smack talk in word balloons. According to Nancy Pearl, bookseller Rene Kirkpatrick says you should read it aloud as though you are announcing a motocross race. I totally agree.


Pissy Primates

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang (siblings). Random House Children’s Books, 2018. 9780553537864.

Jim Panzee is having a bad day, so he’s grumpy. But Jim denies it. Some other animals teach him how not to look grumpy, but that doesn’t change how he feels. So then they try to show him how to enjoy the day. And this is the high point of the book for me — animals talking about what they enjoy. Snake (wrapped around an alarmed rabbit): “You should hug someone!” Hyena (next to a fly-ridden pile of yuck): “You should eat old meat!” Max Lang’s drawings are absolutely hilarious, especially when he gives the animals bug eyes.

Monkey Brother by Adam Auerbach. Henry Holt, 2017. 9781627796002.

A kid has a monkey for a little brother, who follows him/her everywhere, including into the bathroom. (Where, I might add, the kid is sitting on the pot reading a dinosaur picture book. Which I guess is good?) The little monkey always copies him/her, too. Irritating? Yep. But there’s a happy ending, and the drawings are totally fun. The best two-page spread is of a monkey-filled birthday party. And it all ends on a happy, natural note about little siblings (especially those with prehensile tails).

This is not a a story about ecological armageddon.

Good Night, Planet (Toon Level Two) by Liniers. Toon Books, 2017. 9781943145201. 32pp.

When Toon’s Easy-To-Read Comics are good, they’re really good. This is one of my favorites. It’s going to be my go-to gift for early readers for the next few holiday seasons.

After an active day playing outside, a little girl tells her stuffed animal, Planet, good night and goes to sleep. Planet gets up, gives the sleeping girl a kiss, and goes off to have his own nighttime adventure with the family dog and a mouse who gets Planet to climb a tree and reach for the moon. Many cookies are eaten by all before Planet returns to bed and the girl wakes up. It’s sweet, fun, and perfectly executed.

Yes, sir, that’s my baby manual

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, 2017. 9781484767467.

I grabbed this book off the shelf because I was looking for books on immigration as a part of a Welcoming Week display, and then found out it was for a different kind of newcomer: babies! The book welcomes these new arrivals and explains the joys (music, cats, stories) and challenges (sadness, hurt, ice cream disasters) that will be faced in the weeks and years to come, all in the form of an instruction manual with simple infographic-style symbols. Useful tips and reassurances are included: if the new arrival has questions, they only have to “call or flail about or scream like a banshee. Someone is standing by 24 hours a day 7 days a week” and love and help is always available. Each page ends with “while we read this book together,” keeping the traditional picture book feeling among the jokes for parents. It is utterly charming and destined to be a perennial baby shower present.