Are you looking for a book that will add a bit of whimsy to your own stories or the stories you and your young reader share? If so, The Birdwatchers by Simon James (Candlewick Press, 2002) is a book you need. I’m an amateur birdwatcher so I was intrigued, however it is much less about bird watching and much more about the fun and silly way we can have a relationship with someone we love and trust.
Many parents or grandparents tease their children in a fun-spirited way and the child is quite capable of understanding truth versus fiction, of knowing when they’re being spun a tall tale. The Birdwatchers captures this kind of relationship brilliantly. As the author and illustrator, I suspect Simon James knew from the start what he wanted the illustrations to show. There are several times in the story where you could stop and talk about tall tales with your child, but I would definitely not do that with the first reading. You would spoil the magic.
Often I am too serious and so I wonder and wish I could write a picture book this quirky and humorous. I am off to reread it and ponder how to develop some eccentricity in my writing.
Martin Jenkins and Tim Hopgood have created a fabulous frog book. Portraying brief information about many kinds of frogs, Fabulous Frogs (Candlewick Press, 2015) is a delight to read from different sized, informative text to fantastic illustrations; you’ll want to ponder over each page.
Starting with a two-page spread before the title page, Jenkins and Hopgood give the basic life cycle of a frog from egg to tiny frog. Then the reader is thrown (happily) into the amazing and varied world of frogs. I don’t want to describe too much because it is a wonderful journey through kinds of frogs and features of frogs such as speed, size, poison and loudness. The illustrations are fabulous and the way Jenkins presents the text is fabulous. I especially love how Jenkins gives a sweet shout-out to how special it is to have an ordinary back-yard frog too, despite all the amazing variety presented in the book. This book is a keeper.
If you’ve ever loaded up a family and taken a summer trip, you will immediately connect with Counting Our Way to Maine by Maggie Smith (1995, Orchard Books). In this concept book, Smith is able to capture the moods and nuances that accompany a summer vacation trip beautifully and nostalgically (especially as I write on a chilly March morning). You feel like part of the family, and you know just want she means as she evokes, through her illustrations, the multiple expressions of the hope that gets packed into our suitcases.
At its basic level, this is a counting book. But it’s also, wondrously, a kid-friendly memoir of a family’s trip to Maine. Not everything Smith counts on the trip is related to a good experience, yet it’s all wrapped up in one big meaningful memory-making trip. If you take such family trips, you will understand. You and your young reader can write your own counting book based on your personal trip. And if your young reader has never had a beach vacation, this book might make her ask for one. Start counting your pennies. It’ll be worth it, except maybe for those 18 mosquito bites!
What is it and who is Henry? It is a word and Henry is the main character in Henry Finds His Word by Lindsay Ward (2015, Dial Books for Young Readers). Henry is a baby who tires of hearing those around him wonder about his first word, especially when he felt he was communicating just fine. So he sets off to find it.
This book is fun, silly and charming. Parents will love it and young readers will delight in Henry’s quest for a milestone they probably don’t remember having, but of which they’ve likely been told. If a reader has a sibling Henry’s age, I can imagine the layered thinking that may occur as they wonder what their sibling thinks when trying to communicate. Or maybe your young reader will ponder if words really do look like anything. Despite its simple theme, Henry Finds His Word is sure to bring up some engaging questions.
If you plan to read this book to your child, you can start with a question of your own. When you come to the page where Henry sets off to find his work, ask, “What do you predict Henry’s first word will be?” You don’t have to of course, but predicting will add a little spice to an already fun reading session.
On Earth by G. Brian Karas (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005) is a wonderful book to show your young reader the vastness of their home, planet earth, in space. I like this book because it could be used for an introductory science lesson on seasons and movements of the earth and sun, but it also makes for a book parents can share with younger readers because of its easy to grasp illustrations and simple text. Starting with, “On earth we go for a giant ride in space, spinning like a merry-go-round,” Karas explains how the earth is tilted, why we have day and night, how the tilt causes our seasons and how months and years go by, all in kid-friendly illustrations. We are meant to pause and dwell over many of the pages in order to fully grasp the science. These pages are balanced with other pages that only need a brief pause to harness a sensory detail such as the warmth and light of the sun, but that promote a caring for this special planet that is our home, and produce a nice pace to the reading experience.
This book lends itself to rereading since the science concepts are new to young readers, and not necessarily easy to grasp quickly. The bold, yet simple illustrations will help; I love the scenes of beds or beaches taking up a quarter to a half of the globe and suspect kids will too. And as your child ponders the pages, you too should stop and share. You might catch a distant memory of your early awareness and awe of living on our special planet. I found myself reflecting on my many journeys around the sun, and hope you will too.
OK, I know, Dog didn’t go anywhere. I just found a book new to me about him. I first fell in love with Dog when I read Dog Loves to Read by Louise Yates. https://lisaconnors.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/dog-loves-read-across-america-day/
Now I’ve discovered an equally endearing read in Dog Loves Drawing (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). Your young reader will delight in Dog’s imagination as he and his friends not only take, but also create their own journey though the blank pages of an art journal. I won’t give it away; you’ll need to see for yourself – but there is a monster!
You and your young reader will delight in sharing Dog’s journey. Just make sure you’ve a new blank journal and some crayons for when you finish. There’s sure to be some wild imagination flying about.
This week’s recommendation is not a Valentine’s Book, but it easily could be. Hedgehugs and the Hattiepillar by Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper (Henry Holt and Company, 2015) gives the reader a heavy dose of cuteness and love. Hattie and Horace, two adorable hedgehogs, are best friends. One day they come across a caterpillar egg and embark on a wonder journey very similar to that which young children experience when observing the life cycle of a butterfly. However, Horace and Hattie take their wonder a step further, hoping they too can transform from a caterpillar to a butterfly – a notion that might enter into young minds too*.
I won’t steal the magic of how they try to transform for you. Obviously, hedgehogs can’t turn into butterflies. However, if you’ve ever marveled at nature – whether a grand event, a glimpse of something rare, or the daily happenings in your backyard – I dare say you may agree with me that Horace and Hattie indeed were transformed.
So for this time of year, a time when we’re often feeling a little down, I highly recommend Hudgehugs and the Hattiepillar. It will have you humming, and it just might get you excited about finding some magic of your own.
* My son loved to count the callies on my asclepias in the mornings of our Houston home. When he was three, we moved to Virginia. One day soon after arriving, he told me that he was once an egg in my belly, and then a caterpillar, but that he turned into a butterfly and flew to Virginia.