If you think you know this story, and you haven’t read the book, think again. Peter, Wendy, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell are all here, but probably not the way you remember them. In a tale much deeper and darker than most people know J.M. Barry explores both the wonder and savagery of innocence.
“Say tells the story of his decidedly nontraditional Japanese upbringing, supplying watercolors, photographs, and humorous sketches to create a vivid record of life in postwar Tokyo.…As the story of a young artist’s coming of age, Say’s account is complex, poignant, and unfailingly honest. Say’s fans—and those who also feel the pull of the artist’s life—will be captivated.” (Publishers Weekly). Part photo album, part sketchbook, part graphic novel, part picture book, and entirely moving. Grades 4 and up.
In this autobiographical picture book, Claire A. Nivola (Planting the Trees of Kenya) recalls her childhood memories of her father’s birthplace on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. Nivola’s lucid prose and paintings (reminiscent of Carmen Lomas Garza’s Family Pictures and Barbara Cooney’s Island Boy) immerse the reader in a sensory experience—the intensity of sunlight, the sweetness of fruit, the annoyance of flies, the “unspeakable strangeness of death.” Although an author’s note gives context to the era in which the narrative takes place, the story recalls a time of life before that context is necessarily important, in which events—birth, death, the eating of a fig, the baking of bread—simply happen, moment to moment. In this way, Nivola nearly slips into romanticism, but only just enough to make us fall in love with the beautiful Orani. Grades 1–4.
This conceptually original picture book in English and Arabic contains two stories to be read simultaneously, one from left to right about a day in the life of a boy in Sydney, Australia, and the other from right to left about a similar day for a boy in rural Morocco. Each page shows, side by side, an activity(breakfast, a trip to the metropolis, going to the store) illustrated in Baker’s meticulous collage. More than an impressive picture-puzzle book (though it is certainly that), her ingenious tableaus compel us to slow down and notice the delightful, surprising similarities and differences in the lives of these two individuals. Beautiful and thought-provoking. Ages 4–10.
I’ve always been drawn to nature journaling—the sort of doodling/sketching you do that allows you to see an object more clearly than you would if you weren’t drawing it. This picture book biography is a nature journal of sorts. Certainly its clarity is almost sublime. Jane, a small girl in England, studies nature and records her increasingly complex impressions in sepia ink on cream-colored paper. By contrast, McDonnell’s ink and watercolor drawings are sweet and a little goofy. In a sly reference to Burroughs’ Tarzan, we see the small child swinging through her jungle of yard in a cardigan and plaid skirt. “One day,” McDonnell writes, “curious Jane wondered where eggs came from. So she… snuck into Grandma Nutt’s chicken coop…hid beneath some straw, stayed very still…and observed the miracle.” Both hen and child have expressions of surprise. Jane dreams of traveling to Africa, and in a wonderful sequence, goes to sleep in her bed with her toy chimpanzee (page turn), wakes as an adult in her tent in Africa (page turn), and realizes her dream, illustrated by a stunning use of the iconic photograph of young primatologist Jane Goodall and a very young primate reaching across species to take one another’s hand. I’ve never seen better use of mixed media in a picture book. Only Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Keats’ Snowy Day, and Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon come this close to perfection. Ages 5 and up.
Willems has made a new generation of genuinely easy-to-read Easy Readers. Writing a great book using a very limited, repetitive vocabulary, of mostly one-syllable, consonant-vowel-consonant words, is very hard to do. Unfortunately, this does not keep a lot of writers from trying. Mo Willems succeeds. His Cat the Cat, Who Is That? is lovely, but my utter favorite is We Are in a Book!. Here two friends, a pig and an elephant, discuss several existential dilemmas in simple, clean, easy, and very funny (meta)text. Ages 5 through adult.
“Things get complicated for impulsive, prone-to-enthusiasms middle-child Sophie when her whole 4th-grade class finds out she’s getting a baby gorilla for her birthday—which she definitely isn’t. A lively chapter book exemplary for its humor, believable family dynamics, and characters who talk and act like real people.” —The Horn Book. Grades 2–4.
Beginning with The Penderwicks (winner of the National Book Award), and continuing with the Penderwicks on Gardam Street and now The Penderwicks at Point Mouette (a book on many 2012 Newbery shortlists), Jeanne Birdsall has created a series so well written that it easily deserves classic status. “Suffused with affectionate humor, this charming, old-fashioned story feels familiar in the way the best books seem like old friends. Nostalgic but never stale, this fresh, satisfying novel is like a cool breeze on a summer’s day.” —The Horn Book