“We believe words can transform the world.”
~ Kwame Alexander ~
Jerry Pinkney, in his acceptance speech for the 2016 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, proclaimed that he “learned through [his] own creativity that the world was limitless.” The books we share in our classrooms feed the creativity and imagination of children in limitless ways. Here are ten new books filled with beauty and humor that convey the power of observation and imagination.
Surf’s Up! by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Daniel Miyares (North/South Books, 2016)
“Books are boring”
“DUDE, BOOKS ARE FASCINATING!”
So begins this lively back-and-forth between two surfing frogs. Dude is ready to head to the beach, but Bro is engrossed in his book. The story Bro is so engrossed in comes alive through the illustrations, and as he reacts to the action, Dude gets drawn in & wants to know what’s so exciting. Bro won’t tell, so Dude starts reading, abandoning his surf board for a whale of a tale.
Daniel Finds a Poem, by Micha Archer (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016)— Curious because of a sign announcing “Poetry in the Park,” Daniel asks all his animal friends, “What is poetry?” Each animal replies with a poetic description of something important in their habitat. Daniel creates his own poem by stringing their lines together, learning in the process that poetry is everywhere.
One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories, by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Fred Koehler (Boyds Mills Press, 2016). When I was first teaching, a common writing assignment was to write a new ending to a story. In this charming book, Rebecca Kai Dotlich offers a variation: “For every story there is a beginning and an end, but what happens in between makes all the difference.” A series of episodes in a young girl’s life unfolds in Dotlich’s spare text. Fred Koehler’s witty illustrations bring these episodes to life. Together, the offer endless storytelling possibilities.
- I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!), by Rachel Isadora (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016) If, as Kwame Alexander tells us, “words can change the world,” we need a whole arsenal of them. This concept book for younger readers is a great introduction to onomatopoeia and what’s all around us to hear (and smell, see, touch and taste) when you open your senses to the world around you.
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read, by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Kate Berube (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016) It’s a truth universally acknowledged that cats have a mind of their own. So when Nick decides to teach his cats to read, we aren’t surprised they aren’t too cooperative. But Nick is determined. He makes flash cards in the shape of objects, “and Verne got interested.” and is “soon reading new stories all by himself.” Not so Stevenson, who hides whenever Nick approaches with a book. Lo and behold, Stevenson has his own ideas for a story and has drawn all the pictures. The three friends join forces to create “The Tale of One-Eyed Stevenson and the Pirate Gold,” which turns out to be the first of many adventures. The subtle humor and message of this book make it a must-read.
Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt. (Clarion Books, 2016) Words are beautiful and have the power transform us, but they are also funny and fun to play with. Clever illustrations contain a subplot and definition for each pair of words, and an afterword lists the origin of each animal name and its matching verb.
This Is Not a Picture Book, by Sergio Ruzzier (Chronicle Books, 2016) Duck is excited to find a book, but quickly becomes discouraged when he discovers the book has no pictures. Luckily, he has a friend to cheer him on and encourage him to try reading the book anyway. Ruzzier brilliantly illustrates the magic of a book coming to life though his use of color and the gradual introduction of, wait for it, pictures! As Duck discovers he knows some of the words, he realizes that “Some are funny” and “Some are very sad.” The illustrations convey these shifting emotions and moods. A lovely reminder that words are magical, transformative, and “stay with [us] forever.
Ideas Are All Around, by Philip C. Stead (Roaring Book Press, 2016) At the opening of this book, an unnamed narrator tells us “I have to write a story today. That is my job. I write stories. But today I don’t have any ideas.” How often have we all heard that? To unlock his stories, Stead takes his narrator (him?) on a walk around his neighborhood where ideas are indeed “all around.” The blend of photographs with “monoprint techniques and collage” add to the child-like quality of this book and make it accessible to kids. A wonderful testament to the fact that ideas for stories don’t have to be fanciful.
The Storyteller, by Evan Turk (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016) This rich and nuanced book draws on millennia of storytelling traditions, including frame stories and Scheherazade to weave a warning to the modern world of what’s at stake when”One by one, the storytellers were drowned out by noise…” and stopped telling stories. This beautifully illustrated book reminds us that our stories are as vital and nourishing to our lives as water.
The Whisper, by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) Pamela Zagarenski is known for her whimsical illustrations full of fanciful crowns, somber tigers, and buzzing bees. These elements are all present and accounted for in The Whisper, as is a clever subplot to the main story. “A little girl who loved stories” is given a “magical book of stories” by her teacher. Excited to read this treasure, the little girl hurries home, not realizing that the words are escaping out of the book as she runs. Bitterly disappointed by “the wordless book,” she soon hears a whisper telling her she “can imagine the words…and stories.” Slowly, the girl’s stories unfold and become more elaborate as she finds her voice and a storyteller is born.
- Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White, by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) At 176 pages, this biography is not a picture book, but it is filled with Melissa Sweet’s loving illustrations. It is sure to inspire older readers and writers to “be on the lookout for wonders.” When I was at the International Literacy Association in Boston earlier this summer, I happened upon the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt booth when an author signing was taking place. I wasn’t familiar with the author or the book, but there weren’t too many people in line, so I joined the queue. As I was waiting, one of the sales reps and I started chatting. There was a poster for Melissa Sweet’s new biography of E.B. White, which is coming out in October. I had already scoured the list of author signings to see if Sweet would be at the conference, but alas, she wasn’t on the schedule. So I asked the rep if there were any ARCs of Some Writer! hiding in the booth. To my astonishment and delight, there were! When the rep handed me the book, I felt that I had been given a great treasure, just like the little girl in The Whisper. I promised the rep I would write about the book. I will write a longer review closer to the actual publication date, but felt this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of this book.
Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for creating and curating this celebration of picture books. You can read all the lists contributed to this labor of love here. It is teachers like them, and others in this community, who will keep the gift of stories alive for years to come.
My previous Picture Book 10 for 10 lists: