Monday, July 29, 2013

Five 5-Star Picture Books

Here are five recent picture books that I loved:

There are tons of dirty fun in Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg. Cowpoke Clyde likes a clean home and has just gotten his spotless when he spies Dawg, all caked with mud. Clyde figures on a quick wash, but Dawg has other ideas and leads Clyde on an outrageous chase. Written is tight, fast-moving rhyme and just enough dialect to be entertaining but not distracting, this book will appeal to kids of all ages. Gorgeous, full-color illustrations done in acrylic and colored pencil highlight and expand on the text as Dawg goes running and sends soup, chickens, fleas, hogs, and a host of other things flying. One facet that many children will love are the cliffhangers left on several pages where the rhyme is not completed, allowing them to guess how to finish the rhyme, or chime in if they already know. The story includes a humorous and satisfying ending (complete with rubber ducky). This is a winner that kids will want to hear again and again.

Goat thought he was special until Unicorn showed up and started showing off. In Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great, anything that Goat tries to do, Unicorn can do better without even trying. Or so it seems, until Goat starts learning about some of the things Unicorn can't do. There is suddenly a chance that they might be friends (or even a crime-fighting duo!). Bob Shea has done a delightful job of capturing the attitudes of so many children when they are feeling jealous of others. Goat perceives Unicorn as trying to show off when really he is just being himself, and once they start talking is more than ready to admit that he has many shortcomings ("I can't play soccer. One head butt and it's game over!"). Shea combines several media to craft colorful, animated illustrations very similar many modern cartoons. Differing fonts and colors make it easy to tell who is speaking without having to state it. The book carries important lessons about seeing beyond preconceptions without ever belaboring the point, and will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Snippet the Early Riser is about a snail who likes to get up early, while the rest of his family does not. When he wakes and wants to play, Snippet tries a number of ways to wake up his family (with the help of a few friends), but does not succeed until he gets an idea from watching Caterpillar munching on a leaf. Murguia's blend of ink and water colors creates a wonderful mixture of sharp lines with soft hues. Most pages contain both large and small illustrations interspersed with text, making the action fast paced and immediate throughout. It is also incredible how expressive the characters can be with just three dots for eyes and a mouth. A fun, creative book and highly recommended both for independent readers and as a read-aloud.

In A Long Way Away, Viva has done a remarkable job of crafting a story and accompanying artwork that can be read from either end of the book. A young, smiling alien travels from deep space to the depths of the ocean, or vice versa, depending on where you begin. The illustrations appear simple, but on most pages there are several things to discover. Lines of color against blue and black backgrounds allow even very young children to follow the progress of the traveller. And regardless of which direction you go, the traveller ends up in a happy place, either deep asleep or at home with a family hug. This book makes an excellent bedtime story that your children will want you to read forward and backward (literally) again and again.

Flora and the Flamingo comes without any words, but contains plenty of story just waiting for a child to discover it. Flora does her best to imitate a flamingo, both in her attire and her actions. The flamingo, noticing her and apparently disapproving, contorts into increasingly difficult poses until Flora topples. Then, noting her distress and feeling apologetic, the flamingo enters into a duet with Flora to finish out the book. The illustrations are simple but elegantly crafted. Ample white space, framed by trees and blossoms, focus attention on the characters and remove any background distractions. It is easy to follow the emotions on the faces and in the body language of both characters. Perhaps the nicest touch is the yellow of Flora's bathing cap, which keeps the book from being too pink. This book will appeal to a wide range of readers from preschool and adult. It is particularly suited to young children who do not want to be confined to a story with words, but would rather use their imaginations to tell their own story.

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