Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recently Published Children’s Picture Books 2017 (2)

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Here are ten tremendous new children’s picture books I hope you’ll consider sharing with children you care about. This list includes two picture books for older readers. You’ll find the first edition of my 2017 children’s picture book round-up here.

Two Rainbows is a children’s picture book written by Sophie Masson, illustrated by Michael McMahon, and published by Little Hare. RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

From the publisher:

All the colours of the rainbow are explored against the striking backdrop of two different worlds.

A stunning exploration of colour by internationally acclaimed author Sophie Masson and emerging illustrator Michael McMahon.

I love to find picture books that foster a mood of calm contemplation. There’s definitely a place for hilarity in books for kids, but sometimes you need a book that is gentler and more thoughtful. Two Rainbows contrasts two different ways of life - the country where the young narrator’s farm was, and the city where she lives now. We notice the similarities and differences via colours. For example, while orange in the city might be a curl of orange peel in the gutter, on the farm it was the colour of sunset and the twine around bales of hay.

In beautiful poetic language, Masson unfurls the features of these two lifestyles, while McMahon celebrates them with limited colours and wonderful perspectives and contrasts. This picture book will bloom with re-reading, and give kids lots to think about. It would make an excellent resource for local and school libraries, and I hope it makes its way too into the sorts of homes that value beautiful books.

Good Night, Sleep Tight was written and illustrated by Kristina Andres, translated by Sally-Ann Spencer and published by Gecko Press (2017.) $NZ 26.08 HB.

(Not to be confused with Good Night, Sleep Tight by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek reviewed here.)

From the publisher:

A beautiful read-aloud story book for all ages featuring 11½ goodnight stories from friends fox and hare who help each other get to sleep.

This is not what I would describe as a conventional children’s picture book. It is a jacketed hardback, has 64 pages, and is a book of delightfully illustrated short stories. It is subtitled “Eleven-and-a-half Good Night Stories with Fox and Rabbit” and that’s exactly what they are. But oh so beautifully imagined and written! The illustrations are intriguing and offer interesting perspectives.

The first story reminded me of a folk tale. A chain of events unfolds that leads Rabbit (whose ears look a lot like a hare's) to believe Fox is a wolf in a leather jacket, and Fox to think that Rabbit is his own shadow. Luckily Elephant drops by with a solution to their problem. The story is quietly humorous and utterly delightful. Some of the other stories are more conventionally about saying goodnight, and yet there is something delightfully different about them too, especially in their implicit invitation to celebrate the joy of language. We meet other characters, read about exciting adventures, are given little snippets to think about - for instance, how else can you sleep, besides “like a log”? - and all the time we are reassured by the loving friendship between Fox and Rabbit.

A book of short stories is a great resource for schools, both as a text model, and for those occasions when a short story is exactly the read-aloud you want. I would recommend Good Night, Sleep Tight to libraries, and to families looking for something different in the way of bedtime reading.

The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show is a children’s picture book by Mini Grey, published by Simon and Schuster (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

From the publisher:

When the great magician, Hypno, goes missing just before a show, his rabbits Abra and Cadabra step in to save the day. But are they all that they seem? Or is there more to their sleight of paw than meets the eye?

An exciting new novelty book from British author and illustrator Mini Grey that will have children and parents laughing out loud.

I loved the voice the story unfolds in. We can hear the bombast and hyperbole of someone introducing any circus or magic act, and can’t help but giggle over the magic words and not so magical outcome all in rhyme. Grey’s illustrations practically crackle with magical energy - they’re highly coloured and bursting with hilarious detail. Can children work out where The Great Hypno has gone? There are visual clues to help.

Kids will love the tension introduced by flaps to open and reveal the naughty rabbits’ less-than-successful tricks. There’s fun to be had too in some tricky vocabulary - words like prestidigitation and cephalopod, sleight of paw, octopesto and cannon of doom will make great fodder for discussion and give a wonderful flavour of an era when magic acts in a theatre were more prevalent. In the final page, we see Abra and Cadabra caught and chastened. Or are they?

If you’re looking for an over-the-top, fun and entrancing book to share with kids, I highly recommend The Bad Bunnies' Magic Show!

A Perfectly Posh Pink Afternoon Tea is a children’s picture book written by Coral Vass, illustrated by Gabriel Evans and published by Koala Books (Scholastic) (2017.) RRP: $Au 15.99 PB. I have previously reviewed Evans’ The Mice and the Shoemaker, and Vass’s Good Morning Possum.

From the publisher:

Annabelle Mae and her friends are set to have the most delightfully posh afternoon tea. But when the no-good Darcy and Dean get up to mischief, Annabelle doesn't let them spoil the fun!

From the the first pages, kids will understand all the work and anticipation that has gone into this afternoon tea for five little friends by the old willow tree. There they are, little girls in their dress-ups, playing ladies. And next door are two little boys, perhaps not invited, but definitely planning mischief. Vass unfolds the tale in rhyme, showing us the airs and graces of the girls, the smirking faces of the boys. And then… The girls don’t wallow in misery, they wallow in mud, courtesy of that mischief! I loved that Vass and Evans share with us the sheer unmitigated delight of forgetting lady games and plunging into puddles instead.

Evans’ detailed illustrations are energetic, and the children’s expressions really add to the humour. Vass does a fine job of telling a fun story which will appeal to both boys and girls, and perhaps provide a spark for discussions on gender stereotypes. A good choice for a read-aloud.

Bim Bam Boom is a children’s picture book by Frédéric Stehr, published by Gecko Press (2017.) RRP: $NZ 17.38

From the publisher:

What are you all doing with the pots, pans and spoons? Making music! A joyful celebration of the unwitting naughtiness of toddlers.

This is a sturdy board book, large enough to use as a read aloud to a group, but small enough for toddlers to hold themselves. Any parent or caregiver who has witnessed the glee with which youngsters discover the music pots and pans can make will appreciate Bim Bam Boom. One by one the baby animals join the band, and the looks of joy on their faces are priceless.

When Mother Owl swoops in and gathers the “instruments”, it seems the fun is over. But she soon returns with a cake to share and (what was she thinking?) leaves them to it. But…"now what will we do?" they wonder after the cake has been enjoyed. “Painting?” The final page of Little Owl having a lightbulb moment as he notices the jars of colourful preserves will appeal to both kids and parents!

Stubborn Stanley is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom, and published by Scholastic Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 HB I have previously reviewed Eckstrom’s A You’re AdorableMe and Moo and Roar Too, The Ugly Duckling, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

From the publisher:

Stanley loves inventing fun things to play with. But Stanley is so stubborn he won’t let anyone else join in–no matter what! Can Stanley work out how to make things fun all by himself? Or will he have to come up with another plan...?

I think we’d all agree that perseverance is a positive character trait. But being stubborn can be a problem. Sometimes we take a stand and end up missing out on all sorts of good things because of this. Kids will understand the there are some people who must do things their way, “No matter what!” and see that there may be a better plan. Luckily Stanley meets Martha, someone else with good ideas, and together they become inventors extraordinaire.

The publisher suggests 3-6 as the age range for this book. I think it will work equally well as a read-aloud or book-to-read for slightly older kids, especially if an adult wants kids to think about the benefits of co-operation. Eckstrom’s illustrations are expressive and detailed. Children who are interested in gizmos and gadgets will enjoy the pictured inventions, particularly the fantastic super dooper playground near the end of the book.

What’s Up Top is a children’s picture book by Marc Martin, published by Viking (Penguin) (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Martin’s Max and The Curious Explorer’s Illustrated Guide to Exotic Animals A - Z.

From the publisher:

What's at the top of the ladder? Is it a hat? Is it a cat? Is it a snail on a whale? Simple, playful and absurdist, this new picture book by Marc Martin is about imagination and creativity.

I do so love children’s picture books that encourage kids to imagine, wonder and play. What’s Up Top isn’t so much a linear narrative as it is an invitation to play a visual game. We watch as we see a hat transform into a black and white cat and ponder their similarities and differences. A dog becomes a log with a frog, a boat becomes a castle and moat. The accompanying comments all rhyme and as the book proceeds, the imaginings become more detailed and almost frenzied. Finally we are left with an unanswered question, the knowledge we have had fun, and the compulsion to “read it again!”

I’ll be adding What’s Up Top to my list of Children’s Books with a Focus on Imagination. You'll find excellent suggestions for activities on What's Up Top in Liz Derouet's review.

I Can’t Sleep is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Stephanie Blake, published by Gecko Press (2017.) RRP: $NZ 17.38 PB /$NZ 26.38 HB

From the publisher:

Simon’s little brother can’t sleep without his special blanket. In this new book with the bestselling rabbit, Simon needs to show how brave he can be.

Simon the Rabbit has appeared in several books by Blake, as has his baby brother. In this story, little brother Casper can’t sleep without his blanky, and big brother Simon tries logic which naturally fails. So Simon puts on his super cape and sets forth bravely into the dark, dark night. I loved that Simon was such a great big brother. Kids will love the Very Scary Monster, and especially that Simon makes it back home safely.

The illustrations are bright, cheerful and colourful, and there is lots of contrasting colour in special text on page backgrounds too. Blake’s characters will make kids laugh - I loved the rabbits’ facial expressions, and the part of the story where the facing page is retold as a comic. I think this makes a fun read for kids up to 7, and a most enjoyable read-aloud for younger kids.


Drawn Onward was written by Meg McKinlay and illustrated by Andrew Frazer, and published by Fremantle Press (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

From the publisher:

From the masterful pen of multi-award-winning Meg McKinlay and dynamic new illustrator Andrew Frazer, Drawn Onward explores shifting perspective and the inner voice. The text is a palindrome that takes readers from the glass half empty – ’There is no light on the horizon and it is foolish to think you can change anything at all’ – to the glass half full: ‘You can change anything at all. It is foolish to think there is no light on the horizon.’

This powerful picture book for older readers is a call to hope that cleverly illustrates how the very same situation can be viewed quite differently depending on your perspective.

The teaming of McKinlay with Frazer works very well in this book. The illustrations remind me of ones I used to see in early political cartoons - at first glance they seem quite dark, but then you realise there’s a Kafka-esque metamorphosis happening as the book proceeds. As the blurb says, the text is a palindrome, and it’s created on the page for us using a font that reflects the lack of colour, then a change to colour, of the images. McKinlay jolts us by addressing us directly and at first seems to be encouraging us to despair. But slowly we realise that there is another totally different way of looking at life, and that is by choosing hope and optimism over pessimism.

With picture books for older kids, it’s often not so much about the story as about the thinking the text encourages. Sometimes the words and images can be unsettling, nudging us out of our comfort zones, and toward a new reality. I think McKinlay and Frazer have achieved this, and recommend this book particularly to secondary schools and libraries looking for something to challenge students’ thinking, to raise issues on mental health and to expand students’ visual and media literacy skills. There are teaching notes available via Fremantle Press website.

Ruben was written and illustrated by Bruce Whatley, and published by Scholastic Australia. RRP: $Au 29.99 HB

From the publisher:

Ruben’s dreams were of places that made no sense to him.

Places that didn’t exist. At least not anymore.

Ruben lives in a safe place in a city that takes everything and gives nothing back. He begins to feel that he is in danger and ventures to Block City where he meets Koji. She too has been hiding from the dangers of the industrial city and its excesses. Ruben and Koji realise that if they combine their knowledge of how the city works, they can find a way to escape... together.

Ruben is a triumph of Bruce Whatley’s imaginative and technical skills.

Wow! I love finding picture books written expressly for older kids. It always seems crazy that we tend to shoo them away from visuals and toward text-only books. In Ruben, readers will find incredibly detailed, skilful and evocative black and white drawings that enhance a sparsely told story. We see a bleak, dystopian world, the scary robots who run it, and two children who despite its bleakness hug bits and pieces they find to themselves, and hide in their safe places.

There’s lots for kids to pore over, infer and discuss with their friends in Ruben: the symbolism of the tiny special things Ruben finds and hides in his safe place versus the huge, steaming, clanking machines in the outside world; the different robots and their functions; the way tension builds as Ruben and Koji strive to evade being spotted in a dystopian world that seems inimical to them.

The publisher suggests the book to children from 5 - 10. While I believe that children should be able to read what they choose, I think Ruben is so much more suited to older kids. Thoughtful independent readers, particularly those who love science fiction and fantasy, and don't need an obvious and straight-forward narrative, will relish this book. It makes a great choice as a fiction resource to support themes of environment and sustainability, and is an ideal read-aloud for adults looking for something meaty that will challenge kids and lead to great discussions.

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  1. Most (all?) of these are not (yet?) available in the U.S. I hate waiting!! But you've given me lots to look forward to.

    1. Waiting for books is torture! I hope a publisher picks them up for you.


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