You should never underestimate the power of those books conceived to be the first ones held in tiny hands. The best of them fascinate readers of all ages. Using less space and length than other titles, their words, art, and layout are designed with intention to convey specific concepts, often with humor, beauty, and cleverness.
These books caught my attention in 2020. The first two I might have missed except for Elizabeth Bird, currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and author of the School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production, 31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Board Books. The other eight were already a part of or destined to become a part of my personal collection.
Let's start with laughter. We can never have too much, for it is truly a healer of heart and soul. And shared with children, laughter is one of the best moments in the world. As soon as you read the title of I Love My Tutu Too! (Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, March 3. 2020) written and illustrated by Ross Burach, you'll start to smile. There is something about the word tutu that starts the giggle machine.
I love my tutu!
Before the laughter has a chance to subside, the roly-poly penguin is joined by an equally roly-poly bear who says:
I love my tutu too.
Their conversation proceeds in short rhyming statements. Now there are two tutus.
New creatures continue to chime in with their love of tutus. Each time a new animal joins the group, the count goes up. Before you know it, there are ten lively, animated animals standing before you in tutus. Then, they do exactly what wearing a tutu invites you to do.
Two things are readily apparent about Ross Burach when reading this book. First, he has a firm grasp on humor and its portrayal. Second, he knows children. His word play through alliteration, homonyms, and rhyming is perfection. Here are two companion passages.
We need MORE tutus!
I know a gnu with
a new tutu.
The art in each of the images rendered in pencil, crayon, and digital coloring is bold, bright, and colorful. The front book case cover is one of the more subtle scenes but look at the facial expression on that penguin. There is a lot of happiness and anticipation in that glance. Each of the subsequent animals maintains the wide-eyed look, the arms spread on either side and legs and feet poised for action.
Although the backgrounds change, each large number in the counting is in pink and placed on the right page, opposite the latest conversation. Sometimes a new chat is shown with the number. Most of the text is placed in speech bubbles and in different colors according to the character speaking. You won't believe the phone number the bear dials to reach the gnu!
One of my many favorite images is for the ewe in a tutu. She is alone on the right, up on the toes of her back legs. She is standing on one of three snow-capped purple mountain tops in the clouds. Shouting to a pink sky she says:
She is wearing a tutu with a top and a bottom in pale green with white stars.
For your daily dose of hilarity, you'll want I Love My TuTu Too! written and illustrated by Ross Burach in your personal and professional collections. It would make a superb participatory read aloud. To learn more about Ross Burach and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. Ross Burach has an account on Twitter. Ross Burach was a guest of Judy Newman at Scholastic for an interview.
The talk in the world of astronomy now is the near meeting of Jupiter and Saturn on the winter solstice, December 21, 2020. Sometimes we forget to glance skyward and enjoy the other displays except when something exceptional will occur. Truth be told, there are spectacular constellations to see on every cloudless night, depending on the phase of the moon, throughout the year. Animals in the Sky (Phaidon Press Inc., March 18, 2020) written and illustrated by Sara Gillingham (How to Grow a Friend and How To Mend a Heart) is a stunning and clever look at the night skies.
Every night, when the sky is clear,
it's filled with twinkling stars.
But did you know that it's full of pictures, too?
We are told if you draw lines between the most noticeable of the stars, they become animals. Seven of these animal constellations are featured. The format for the presentation of each is the same.
On the first image, we are given a clue as to the identity of the animal followed by a question. The animal is drawn in its star shape. When we open the two-page gatefold, the animal reveals its name on the left along with a realistic portrait over the star shape. Opposite the animal is a fact about stars, constellations, or the brightest star in each showcased constellation.
At the close of the book the seven constellations are shown together. A final two-page gatefold shows ten other constellations to locate. The reader is directed to ask an adult for help or to consult a star map.
It is the repeat composition for each animal that invites and engages readers. Sara Gillingham supplies clues which will appeal to the youngest of readers. They will hardly be able to wait to open the gatefold. Here is the text for one of the animals.
I have fins and gills,
and a tail to help me swim.
I live in the ocean in a
big group called a school!
What animal in the sky am I?
I am the Southern Fish!
Here I am in the sky.
The limited color palette seen on the front book case cover is used throughout the book. Wide two-tone turquoise borders with a fine golden line frame the night skies in dark blue on each page. The animals are colored in turquoise and golden brown or a combination of the two. Sometimes the sky color is used as a part of the animal. There is decorative linework above and below the clue text.
One of my favorite depictions is for the Big Dog. His body is turquoise on the blue sky. The stars and golden lines are outlined inside his body. Golden shading textures his fur, ear, nose and eye. The Big Dog is wearing an ornate collar.
For those seeking to introduce children to the wonders of the night sky and sharing those moments, Animals in the Sky written and illustrated by Sara Gillingham is a title you must have on your personal and professional bookshelves. To learn more about Sara Gillingham and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name. Sara Gillingham has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior pages.
Our planet, Earth, is the only one we have. The more we know about her, the better able we are to take action to protect her and the abundant life in every corner of the land, air, and water. Our World: A First Book Of Geography (Phaidon Press Inc., July 22, 2020) written by Sue Lowell Gallion with pictures by Lisk Feng is a factual and pictorial representation of places all over our planet. In a glorious burst of ingenuity, it is designed, when opened, to form a globe.
Many places to explore,
From mountain peaks to ocean floor,
Look around you, step outside . . .
With thirteen page turns we are treated to a marvelous view of a space in our world. Each space is described through rhyming, connected verse on the left. On the right, accompanying these phrases, are more detailed explanations of the areas.
We learn how weather and climate affect the type of trees found. We learn about the multitude of living creatures that call the grasslands home. In the rainforests some animals live high in the trees and never touch the ground. Plants and animals adapt in amazing ways to survive in deserts.
At the South and North Poles melting ice is causing rising temperatures and water levels. Can you name a place on the planet called the tundra? Can you imagine a place in the oceans deeper than our tallest mountain? Water cycles up and down and all around our world. Seven continents rest among oceans and seas. Our planet, whether seen by an astronaut in space or by us gazing outside a window in our homes, is teeming with life each day as it spins.
This is a book to read more than once. Author Sue Lowell Gallion has first penned a poem to guide us from one portion of our planet to the next. Then she selects essential facts to place in the more detailed paragraphs. Within those paragraphs, questions are sometimes asked readers. Here is a portion of a passage.
Do you live up on a mountain or down in a valley? Many
mountains were built over millions of years by blocks of land
pushing into each other. Others were formed by erupting volcanoes. . . .
With each turn of page, we are greeted with either a full-page circular image or a half-circle, crescent, depicting two different aspects of the same area. For two of the topics, the circle is divided into three sections. The full-color illustrations rendered by Lisk Feng are highly detailed welcoming readers to pause and enter the scene. Depending on the spot, perspectives shift.
One of my many favorite illustrations is for the discussion of mountains and valleys. Across the top of the circle is a bright blue sky dotted with rows of clouds. A giant mountain peak reaches into the center with smaller peaks to the left and the right. Rolling green hills are layered in front of the mountain creating a green, tree-filled valley. A single raptor flies left from the bottom. We see what the bird sees.
Let me ask you this. Who wouldn't want a book that turns into a globe? Our World: A First Book Of Geography written by Sue Lowell Gallion with pictures by Lisk Feng is a must have for your personal and professional collections. It's an introduction. It's a conversation and research promoter. You'll want to have multiple copies available. To learn more about Sue Lowell Gallion and Lisk Feng and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites. Sue Lowell Gallion has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Lisk Feng has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, Tumblr, and Twitter. At the publisher's website you can see multiple interior images. There are interviews with Sue Lowell Gallion at PictureBookBuilders, InkyGirl (Lisk Feng, too), Kathy Temean, Writing and Illustrating, Vivan Kirkfield's site, and Maria Marshall's site. Lisk Feng is a guest at Digital Arts. Author illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi talks about this book in this video.
Sunny days get sunnier when you are holding a book conceived by Aaron Becker. In a companion to his stunning You Are Light (Candlewick Studio, an imprint of Candlewick Press, March 26, 2019), My Favorite Color: I Can Only Pick One? (Candlewick Studio, an imprint of Candlewick Press, September 8, 2020) is equally extraordinary using die-cuts and frosted acetate to dazzle readers' senses. It proposes possibilities when trying to select one color as your favorite.
My favorite color is yellow.
Yellow, like the sun in a clear blue sky.
Thinking about the blue sky has the narrator switching their favorite color to blue. When they think of another color combination with blue, consideration is given to the other color, green. The musings start in earnest.
The hues in a sunset and the shades found in the coming dusk have a lot to offer. No, yellow is the narrator's favorite color. And two other colors, not yet named, are chosen as favorites. Clearly, selecting one color, only one color, is a decision for another day, if ever.
It's the simple conversational statements made by Aaron Becker which will draw readers willingly into the book. The thought processes of trying to select a favorite color connect us all. We think we've made a decision, then another example, another array of hues tempts us away from our choice. Aaron Becker's descriptions of those other choices will have you sighing with their truths. He sees color with a poet's heart.
Readers will be fascinated by the die-cut squares of color shown on the front and the die-cut windows on the back of the book case cover. The layout and design of the squares on each page ask us to hold the book up to the light to see what is revealed. Sometimes we see certain shades, but when another color is added it shifts the shades. And sometimes there will be die-cuts and solid squares on the same page to give us a wider range of results.
I think they are all my favorite illustrations.
I expect this book, My Favorite Color: I Can Only Pick One? written and illustrated by Aaron Becker, to have the well-loved look quickly. You'll want to have multiple copies in both your personal and professional collections. It will encourage discussions about favorite colors and the variety of colors seen in certain settings. To learn more about Aaron Becker and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. Aaron Becker has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. At the publisher's website you can view an interior illustration and download a teacher's guide. Aaron Becker is a guest at Nick Patton's Picturebooking, featuring this title. Enjoy the video.
When explaining forms and how to find them, the more interesting you make the delivery the more relevant it is for readers. We tend to remember fun. This Is A Book Of Shapes written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel will take readers by surprise and have them bursting out laughing.
This is a circle.
This is a square.
This is a triangle.
Given the first three sentences in the book are declaring three shapes along with pictures of each, you would think the fourth page turn would be another shape. You would be wrong. Instead, we are told an emu is pushing a wagon down a hill. That wagon is brimming with pancakes. What?
This is so unexpected readers will be puzzled for a few seconds before they start grinning and giggling. This technique is used two more times before we are treated to a different hilarious twist. The comedy continues with the consecutive commentary and conclusion.
Clearly Kenneth Kraegel has an amazing sense of humor. Readers like surprises, especially funny surprises. The pacing is pure perfection. Just when we think we have figured out the cadence of this narrative, Kenneth Kraegel throws us off course.
The illustrations, as you can tell from the front of the book case cover, are vivid and playful. The shapes and the descriptive text are placed on a crisp white background, shapes and text on opposite pages. Each shape is a different color, green, red, blue, purple, orange, yellow, turquoise, and a mix of purple and blue. The surprise insertions, double-page-pictures, are highly animated and in full color. The final double-page image features all the animals and the shapes in a scenic setting.
One of my favorite images is of the rhinoceros. He is speeding down a path in the desert dotted with cactus. The rhinoceros is on a skateboard and wearing orange goggles. He is also wearing a fully-functioning jet pack. I dare you to look at this and not laugh.
Children and children at heart are going to enjoy reading This Is A Book Of Shapes written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel. It might be fun to introduce other shapes and invent other surprise scenarios. Kenneth Kraegel has accounts on Facebook and Instagram. At the publisher's website you can download an activity kit. This title and Kenneth Kraegel are featured at author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Enjoy the video.
If there is any sort of rhythm to the words in a book, children will quickly and easily notice it. If it is during a story time they will start to move; some of them might even begin to hum. The Twelve Birdies of Christmas (Sleeping Bear Press, August 15, 2020) written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler is a fresh take on a well-known Christmas carol.
ON the first day of Christmas
my true love gave to me . . .
birdie in a
Those first words with the accompanying portrait of a tall green bird with red polka-dots, legs and feet and a beard carrying a red sack will be the beginning of a chorus of snickers. For the remaining days and numbers, readers will need to reference the initial words as they move forward. Several times between one and twelve, words are substituted for the original words.
There are purple doves. What word do you think replaces rings? To conclude the book, we come full circle with three additional familiar words. On the final page are the original verses.
Jennifer Sattler replaces the appropriate number of words to elevate the merriment. These new words and her interpretation of the earlier words allow for loads of humor in her artwork. On the front and back of the book case cover we can see how she depicts her quirky birds.
For all the birds and their numbers, they are placed on a white canvas. It is her attention to detail which will connect with readers. One of the purple doves is holding a candy cane as the duo lovingly touch foreheads. The four calling birds are using cell phones. One is wearing a Santa hat, another has a bow with a holly pattern on it, a third has a winter scarf, and the fourth has ornaments near its feet. Of the seven swans a-swimming, four are wearing underwater gear. The facial expressions, especially the eyes, and body positions are downright jolly on all the animals.
One of my favorite pictures is for
8 BIRDIES A-MILKING.
The eight birds of all shapes and sizes, one wearing reindeer antlers and another wearing ornaments on its head feathers, are around a green table. They are drinking milk out of glasses, many with straws. A plate of Christmas cookies is on the table. They all look so happy.
Who can resist counting, singing, and laughing? The Twelve Birdies of Christmas written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler is pure fun. This would be super for a creative drama activity. To learn more about Jennifer Sattler and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. Jennifer Sattler has an account on Facebook and Instagram. In the video below, she reads this book aloud.
In March of 2018 Christopher Silas Neal released a new concept book series. He begins with Animal Colors and Animal Shapes, both published by Little Bee Books. These books are wonderfully innovative. In the first, two animals are named with a coordinating color to fashion a third animal by mixing names and colors. For example:
they make a . . .
The initial text is placed on the left and the animals are on the right, both on single pages. The special critter is placed on double-pages in an appropriate setting. At the end all the newly made animals are combined to make a whimsical, one-of-a-kind creature. On the final two pages, eight color combinations are shown.
In the second book, the successful technique continues with mixing animals and shapes. For example:
WHEN A NOISY
THEY BECOME A . . .
In this book, the animal is shown with the text on the left. The shape is on the right side. The new shape-sation can be viewed within a two-page picture. The shape is featured along with the animal in action in wonderful settings. At the end of the book, all the shapes are placed like constellations in a night sky. The text reads:
A cat is curled in the right-hand corner sleeping.
Animal Numbers (Little Bee Books, October 6, 2020) written and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal takes a little different approach. Animals meet numbers and a certain physical characteristic on their body decreases or increases by that number. Their name changes, also. Here is the beginning.
THEY BECOME A . . .
The brown bunny is looking up at the number 1. He is not happy. He is minus one ear. For the remainder of the blends, the new physical features on the animal are exhibited within a double-page picture. Here is another one:
WHEN A LOUD
THEY BECOME A . . .
The dinosaur roaring through large exotic plants and four erupting volcanoes has four heads. Four pterodactyls fly in the distance. Four long-necked dinosaurs are in the background. In each illustration specific elements are shown in the same number being discussed. This reinforces the number and invites participation by the reader to look for other groups of that number.
One of my favorite illustrations is for the number six. A chipmunk meets the number six. A chipmunk is holding an acorn with another by its tail beneath the text. Four other acorns are scattered around the number six on the right. With a page turn we see a chipmunk's face up close, very close. It is framed by branches, nearly bare, with some autumn oak leaves. The chipmunk's mouth is stretched to the max and open revealing six acorns stuffed inside. (I might have burst out laughing when I saw this.)
Animal Sounds (Little Bee Books, October 6, 2020) written and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal maintains the layout and design, but the words are different to reflect the subject. The word If begins the statement. Verbs says and goes are used. The first one reads as follows:
IF A BEAR SAYS
GROWL, AND A
FLY GOES BUZZ,
SAYS . . .
The first image is a close-up of a bear's face, filling the entire page. He is looking down, a bit cross-eyed, at his nose. A single fly rests there. With a page turn we see six flies buzzing around a tiny bear with fly wings. He is buzzing along with the others.
Near the end of the book, we are asked what happens when all the sounds mix together. It's a boisterous blend, a line of sounds through the middle of two white pages. With an extra dose of comedy, one final animal is featured making a sound sure to generate loads of laughter.
One of my favorite pictures questions what results when a horse neighs and a duck quacks. This horse-duck says:
With a shade of green, duck green, for its body two horse legs stand in a pond. The tail is that of a duck. The chest, neck and head are large like a horse but instead of a mouth, there is a duck's bill. Cattails grow in clumps in the water and along the shore. Three surprised ducks are startled by this new creation. One takes flight. Eight ducks fly in separate groups in the distance.
These two books, Animal Numbers and Animal Sounds written and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, are fabulous additions to this distinctive series. Children, of all ages, and those adults working with them will enjoy reading these books repeatedly. They are fresh with every reading. They welcome participation. I highly recommend all four books for your personal and professional collections. To learn more about Christopher Silas Neal and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name. Christopher Silas Neal has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Twitter. You can view interior images at the publisher's website here, here, here, and here for the four books. There are also images at Simon & Schuster here, here, here, and here.