If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 9781626724136.
It says something about the power of art and storytelling (and a lot about Lily Williams) that she can make a complex idea like a trophic cascade (the drastic changes in an ecosystem resulting from the disappearance of an apex predator) clear and compelling to a young audience. As she shows, even though sharks can seem scary, they are absolutely necessary to the health of the oceans. They keep their prey populations in balance which in turn keeps their food sources in balance, and so on and so on, which extends to populations on land as well. The book ends with steps ordinary people can take to protect sharks that are vulnerable to extinction, from buying sustainably caught fish to creating their own shark art.
This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee. Caitlyn Dloughy / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481441391.
Lee’s black and white and oh-so-blue Wave was so beautiful that, after finding it in a bookstore, I read it three times before I made it to the counter. This one also has a lot of that wonderfully blue water as three kids enjoy a rainy day. And then even more color explodes on the pages as more happy kids with umbrellas join them, the sky clears, and the gray goes away.
Little Red Riding Sheep by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Cale Atkinson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481457484.
I can’t think of a folk tale where color is more important. Retellings don’t usually do much for me, but this one features a Heidschnucke sheep named Arnold who refuses to be in a traditional version tale and talks back to the writer/narrator, bringing more light into the forest, casting his friends in key roles, and finally just changes the story to altogether. My favorite picture is of his friend Einer, a muskrat, making his scary face.
Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire. Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481461313.
After two colorful picture books, round things out with a bit of nonfiction about artist Mary Blair, who collected colors wherever she went. She was one of the first women to be hired by Walt Disney Studios, but the men there rejected her colors as too vivid and wild. After she left and became a successful illustrator on her own, Walt Disney himself invited her back to use her colors to design the It’s A Small World ride.
Pajamarama Carnival by Michaël Leblond and Frédérique Bertrand, with help from Frédéric Rey. Thames & Hudson, 2017. 9780500651254.
Pajamarama Fever by Michaël Leblond and Frédérique Bertrand, with help from Frédéric Rey. Thames & Hudson, 2017. 9780500651155.
In Pajamarama Carnival, a boy goes to bed in his striped pajamas and dreams of flying over and through a carnival. In Pajamarama Fever, the same boy has bizarre dreams because he has a fever, but his parents save him from the scary parts. Both books come with a striped screen to move over the abstract illustrations, which makes gears turn, spots race across the page, colors change and flash, and tendrils wiggle. Carnival requires the screen to be held perfectly straight for the illusions to work, while Fever lets you tilt the screen for even crazier effects.
Will today’s kids with their interactive tablet books and animated gifs and whatnot enjoy mechanically produced optical effects? Yes! These books are really fun to play with, and the effects are not obvious before you use the screen, so each one is a surprise. And I think there could be a pretty significant secondary market for these books — adults who like to induce particularly relaxed and awe-filled states of mind (totally legal in Washington State).
Big Hid by Roisin Swales. Flying Eye Books, 2017. 9781911171300.
Big (a turtle) and Little (a squirrel) have lots of fun climbing trees (Little hauls Big up with a rope), chewing stuff (leaves for Big, cake for Little), and dressing in matching costumes (ghosts, dinosaur and caveman, and robots). But one day Big doesn’t feel like doing anything at all and hides in his shell. Little tries all sorts of things to tempt Big out to play. Nothing works until Little tries (spoiler!) a hug. The artwork’s simple shapes show a lot of personality, and the book includes visual jokes to counterpoint the story. It’s quite a bright book, and will entertain kids during multiple bedtime readings.
Prudence the Part-Time Cow by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis. Godwin Books, 2017. 9781627796156.
Prudence the cow spends hours being a scientist, an architect, and an engineer by observing her world and building new things. The rest of the cows are unimpressed, and even say she’s not really one of the herd because she can’t act like a normal cow. Prudence is heartbroken, but her efforts to fit in are quickly overcome by her desire to calculate wind speed and invent a sunhat to supplement their shade tree. The resolution is a lovely bit of problem-solving by Prudence showing the benefits of science by someone who knows a community’s needs. (That’s a message that I hope sticks with kids who have been told that they don’t belong in scientific fields.)
Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez. Nobrow, 2017. 9781910620137. 56pp.
Right from the title page it’s clear this book is going to be amazing. It and the facing dedications page have a few transparent bulbs that are home to cute cute and colorful plant creatures. The pictures seem to glow. Turn the page and there’s the girl, Sandy, drawing them and other creatures on her floor as her mother tells her to go to bed. There’s a ton of white space so that Alvarez controls exactly what we’re paying attention to. Turn the page again and it’s a beautifully colored graphic novel. Sandy’s mother doesn’t get her — she’s too busy worrying about her daughter’s homework to appreciate her drawings. Bedtime is time for her to float along with the creatures she imagines. And the next morning at Catholic school (complete with a scary nun) Sandy meets a new purple haired girl named Morphie, who loves her drawings. But Morphie is a ghost with a nasty plan for Sandy’s artistic talents.
The ghostly parts don’t go on too long, and they’re so beautifully drawn they won’t be too scary for most kids transitioning up and out of picture books. Anyone with a love of art or comics is going to love this one, too.
Agatha Christie by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Elisa Munsó, translated by Raquel Plitt. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2017. 9781847809605. In the series Little People, Big Dreams.
I’ll admit that I was confused by the series name Little People, Big Dreams. Are all the biographees short? No, turns out they are all about women who had some aspiration in childhood that led to their achievements as adults. In Agatha Christie’s case, she thought up better endings for the books her mother read aloud to her. She grew up to learn about poisons as a nurse in WWI, and later created the legendary detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She wrote mystery novels that became famous all over the globe. (The afterword notes that her books have been translated into more than a hundred languages and that her book And Then There Were None is one of the ten most-read books in the world.) This book is both an accessible biography for kids who won’t be reading Christie’s novels until they’re older, and an encouragement to explore their interests.
I wish I had Gene’s eye and vocabulary for illustration so I could say something more informative than “I really liked it!” The pictures are black and white pen drawings full of detailed patterns and swooping lines. Each page has an accent in red, and the faces are simple and appealing.