Picture Book Parade


Donna Jo Napoli.  The Crossing.  Illus. Jim Madsen.  New York: Atheneum, 2011.

Napoli retells the story of Lewis and Clark from the viewpoint of Sacajawea’s son, who was a baby at the time.  Gorgeous mellow-toned digital scenes (I could have sworn they were hand-painted) match the soothing rhythm of the child’s thoughts.  At each part of the journey, he describes the sounds and sights like dream images: “Flit, flit, salmon sparkle in my dreams.”  “Bugle, bugle! Elks romp in my dreams.”  Even the roars of grizzly bears and the screams of cougars seem more gentle from the child’s perspective.

Robert Neubecker.  Wow!  Ocean!  Hyperion: New York, 2011.

One hot summer, Izzy and Jo travel with their family to the seaside, where they see the most amazing sights – whales!  sharks!  reef animals!  Within each illustrated environment, Neubecker scatters the names of various plants, animals, and objects – like the shells Izzy and Jo see on the beach, from the small Dove Snail to the great Knobbed Triton.  My only criticism is that these labels are typed so small, and sometimes blend too well into the background color.  On the other hand, this would be a great book for parents and children to read together.  Children could point out all the creatures and objects they see, while parents explain each item’s name.

Willa Perlman.  Good Night, World.  Illus. Carolyn Fisher.  Beach Lane Books: New York, 2011.

Also reviewed by Waking Brain Cells.

This is a variation on Margaret Wise Brown’s Good Night, Moon, with the young boy imagining the sun, stars, planets, and various Earth environments (desert, ocean, jungle…) before he goes to sleep.  I actually expected the story to show children from around the world as they prepare for bedtime, and was a little disappointed that the story’s focus was so general.

Perlman does include at the end of the book a list of translations for “Good Night” in other languages, though, and Fisher’s illustrations were fun splashes of color and clashing textures.  My favorite was the illustration of the “Ocean’s breaking waves,” with the green shadows of whales swimming through.


Monica Brown.  Chavela and the Magic Bubble.  Illus. Magaly Morales.  Boston + New York: Clarion, 2010.

Chavela loves chicle (chewing gum).  She can make all sorts of amazing shapes – not just ordinary balloon-shaped bubbles, but dogs and butterflies!  One day, Chavela finds a packet of Magic Chicle and blows the biggest bubble ever, so big that it lifts her off the ground.  Over the mountains and deserts and rivers she flies, to a place her grandmother once told her about…

Brown’s story teaches not just the process of making chicle, but the need to protect the natural resources that give us this sweet, magical treat.  Morales’ acrylic paintings are as wild as the taste of Chavela’s magic chicle – bright yellow-green skies, swirling trees and ocean waves, swaying shops and houses painted orange and purple and yellow and pink, and of course the wild bubbles of chicle.

Helen Cowcher.  Desert Elephants.  Farrar Straus Giroux: New York, 2011

Vivid soft-textured paintings of the central Mali landscape, and the coexisting people and desert elephants, accompany Cowcher’s descriptions of life among the Tuareg, Fulani and Dogon people and the yearly 300-mile elephant migration.  The text reads like a documentary, and the story as a whole is organized into a number of short scenes – a girl listening to a local radio broadcast on the way to market, a family settling down with their camp for the night, a village meeting to decide how to help newcomers who have settled too close to the elephants’ migration route.  Interspersed among these scenes are descriptions of the elephants’ journey.

Donna Jo Napoli.  Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya.  Illus. Kadir Nelson.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

The people called her Mama Miti, which means “mother of trees.”  Women came from all over Kenya to seek advice from Wangari Maathai.  One woman had lost her job and had no way to feed her children.  Another could not afford medicine to heal her cows.  To each woman, Maathai offered seeds – “Plant a tree.”

Based on the life of Nobel Prize recipient Wangari Maathai, this book teaches children about the useful properties of trees.  The leaves of the muthakwa wa athi tree can heal cows from gall sickness.  The mukuyu (sycamore fig) can help filter water.  Each scene is illustrated through a collage of patterned fabric and oil paint – “African culture is rich with textiles and color,” explains illustrator Kadir Nelson, “and I felt it essential that the artwork reflect an aesthetic of both East Africa and my own work.”*

In the end pages, Napoli offers more information about Maathai’s work with the Green Belt Movement, an organization that fights deforestation.

* “A Note from the Illustrator,” pg 32.


Paul Budnitz.  The Hole in the Middle.  Illus. Aya Kakeda.  New York:  Hyperion, 2011.

Morgan feels empty, somehow.  His best friend Yumi tries to help him, but not even cake or music or a day at the park can fill the hole.  Then, when Yumi needs cheering up, Morgan finds a way to help both of them feel better.  This is a cute story about having and being a good friend.  Kakeda’s illustrations are equally cute and goofy – bright striped flowers, fluffy clouds, grinning three-eyed dolls…

Carter Goodrich.  Say Hello To Zorro!  New York: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2011.

Mister Bud is used to being the center of attention.  Everyone follows his schedule, from “wake-up time” to “movie, then bed time.”  But then a new dog joins the family, and what a pain!  Zorro is bossy, and what kind of name is Zorro anyway?  But wait – maybe two dogs can have more fun than one!  Goodrich creates hilarious watercolor scenes with minimal background and maximum character expression.  My favorite images are of Mister Bud’s giant nose peeking over his master’s bed in the morning and Zorro’s giant openmouthed grin as he chases a cat.

Christine McDonnell.  Goyangi Means Cat.  Illus. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.  New York: Viking, 2011.

Soo Min has just come from Korea to live with her adoptive family in America.  Her new mother and father try to help her feel comfortable, and day by day, she feels more at home.  What helps most is spending time with the family’s cat, whom Soo Min calls Goyangi.  Then one day, Goyangi disappears and Soo Min feels lonelier and more homesick than ever.  Can her new family help her feel better?

Throughout the story, McDonnell teaches readers the Korean words Soo Min uses to communicate with her new parents:  mok-da  (eat), jip (house), po-po (kiss), goyangi (cat) …  Each scene is a bright mix of paper collage, acrylic, and oil paint, with patterns that, as the note on the copyright page explains, “reflect the Eastern and Western worlds of Soo Min.”

Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  This Plus That:  Life’s Little Equations.  Illus. Jen Corace.  Harper: New York, 2011.

Like Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s Math Curse, Rosenthal’s This Plus That shows that anything can be a math problem – only this time, the attitude is less “Aaaah! Math is everywhere!” and more “Cool!  Math is everywhere!”  It doesn’t even have to be about numbers.  For instance:  Smile + wave = hello.  Laughter + keeping secrets + sharing = best friend.  And anything + sprinkles = better.  Each “equation” is accompanied by an illustration of two girls who are best friends.

This would be a fun class exercise – teachers could ask students to list and maybe even illustrate more “life equations” – to give students a break from math as numbers and formulas, and help them think of math as a simple part of life.


Leslie Lammle.  Once Upon a Saturday.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2009.

Before June can enjoy her Saturday learning to fly or searching for lost treasure, she has to finish her list of chores.  It’s so long and boring!  But what if she did her chores a little differently today?  Instead of walking to the mailbox, could she fly there?  Instead of just sweeping the leaves off the front steps, could she ask the wind for help?

June’s antics gave me strong Calvin and Hobbes flashbacks – especially when she tried to eat her lumpy oatmeal breakfast.  Some of Lammle’s illustrations are even a bit Watterson-esque, like the creepy-eyed sock-eating bunny on page 21 or the aforementioned oatmeal on pages 7 – 10.  The style overall is a mix of quaint and goofy.


Kate Coombs.  The Secret-Keeper.  Illus. Heather M. Solomon.  New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006.

Every day, the people of Maldinga village travel deep into the woods to see the secret-keeper.  Every day, Kalli listens to their stories of shame and unhappiness, and tucks each secret away in her house.  Months pass and the secrets grow heavier and heavier on her heart, until Kalli becomes sick.  Are there secrets that could actually heal her?

This is truly a story in the style of a fairy-tale, a fable about secrets that burden when hoarded, and secrets that heal when shared.

Dominique Demers.  Today, Maybe.  Illus. Gabrielle Grimard.  Trans. Sheila Fischman.  Custer, WA:  Orca Book Publishers, 2011.  Victoria, BC, Canada, 2010.

Once there was a girl who chose to stay a child forever.  She lived alone in the woods, with only a bird for company.  Once in a while, though, she was visited by characters from her favorite books, characters who wanted to take her away.  But the girl was waiting for someone.  She didn’t know who he was, but she knew he would come.  Maybe today.

This is another truly fairy-tale-esque story, with soft scenes of bright forest glades and sweet red jam.  The girl is clever and persistent, treating her adversaries with firmness when necessary, and kindness when that would work better.  I just wish the story had explained more fully who the long-awaited visitor was, and why the girl was waiting for him in particular.

Dawn Jeffers.  Beautiful Moon / Bella Luna.  Illus. Bonnie Leick.  Trans. Eida de la Vega.  McHenry, IL:  Raven Tree Press, 2009.

A little girl wishes it was always daytime, and with a wink, the moon grants her wish.  But things aren’t quite right when it’s always day.  The story is told both in English and in Spanish – there is even a vocabulary guide at the end.  The images are surreal, and the story as a whole has a magical realist feel.

Yannick Murphy.  The Cold Water Witch.  Illus. Tom Lintern.  Berkeley: Tricycle Press, 2010.

Inspired by the stories her mother would invent on winter nights, Murphy’s story begins with a little girl woken by an icy howl – it is the Cold Water Witch, here to take the girl away “to where the waters run cold … to where the world is covered in snow.”  Like the girl in Today, Maybe, this girl is stubborn and strong, refusing to let the witch boss her around, but also showing kindness when it matters.

The illustrations are somewhat reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie, but with a brighter, less creepy tone.

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