School has started, and there are many new picture books to get children excited about a year of reading and learning. From cats to mice, and princesses to inventors, there are books for every reading level and every interest. Even a book about dragons.
On the light side are two animal-themed books. “Papillon, Book One, The Very Fluffy Kitty” by A. N. Kang (Disney-Hyperion Books) is a charming story about a big white cat who is so fluffy that he floats. His owner thinks of clever ways to keep Papillon grounded, using hats and other accessories, but finally Papillon throws off the accoutrements and follows a new friend. Unfortunately, he floats out the window and away into the wild. How Papillon makes a new friend and finds his way home will have young readers demanding this as their nightly read.
Another book featuring a dare-devil animal is “I Am the Mountain Mouse (Four Furry Tales, One Crazy Mouse)” by Gianna Marino (Viking Books). There are four cautionary tales about the folly of being careless. And while the “mountain mouse” doesn’t get killed by the camel or the cat or the other dangers, the reader quickly gets the idea that being careful is a necessary characteristic if one wants to live a long, healthy life! Interestingly, Marino choses to make the main character a white mouse, while the three mouse companions are gray field mice. The main character gains a semblance of wisdom in the end (which the author clearly indicates may only be temporary). More adventures may follow.
“The Princess and the Warrior” by Duncan Tonatuih (Abrams Books) is a picture book retelling of the legend of the two most famous mountains in Mexico, Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl. It’s a Romeo and Juliet kind of story with the two lovers becoming the largest mountains in Mexico. The story even explains why one of the mountains is still a live volcano, belching smoke and ashes at intervals. The book features Tonatuih’s stylized drawings, which his website says are “… inspired by Pre-Columbian art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex.” His book “Separate Is Never Equal” about a group in California fighting against discrimination in the schools before Brown v Board of Education became law is a must-have for any elementary school classroom.
“The Water Princess” is written by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). It’s the story of one girl who relates to children the plight of millions of people who have no access to fresh water. In the story, a young girl and her mother travel miles to get the “dusty-earth-colored liquid.” They travel the miles home with the water in pots carefully balanced on their heads. When they arrive back home, tired and dusty, the water must be boiled before they can drink it. They use the water to bathe and clean their clothes, too. But the next day, they must make the same trip again. The story is based on the childhood experience of Georgie Badiel, a model who has worked to provide fresh water for those in her home country. There is information at the end of the story, including photographs, about how to learn more and how to help. Reynolds’ illustrations are bright but filled with hues of gold and yellow to drive home the dryness and heat of Africa. The aqua endpapers represent the fresh water that the villagers desperately need.
“Ticktock: Banneker’s Clock” by Shana Keller and illustrated by David. C. Gardner (Sleeping Bear Press) is the story of an unusual man, Benjamin Banneker. Lucky Benjamin was born free in 1731 in Maryland — one of very few free African-Americans at a time when most were slaves. While he was permitted to attend school for only a short time (the laws at that time didn’t allow him to be educated in school), he was fascinated by science, mathematics and astronomy. This story takes place when Benjamin was 22. Inspired by the pocket watch of an acquaintance, he built a wooden clock that struck the hours. The story details the precision and patience that Benjamin showed as he persevered and problem-solved to build his clock. While students in schools everywhere are learning the value of perseverance and precision, this story can only serve to emphasize how important these traits truly are. The illustrations are noteworthy as well. They are beautifully and delicately colored.
“Dear Dragon” by Josh Funk and illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (Viking) is told (almost) completely in letter form as two unlikely pen pals correspond with each other over the course of a school year. The project, the students learn, is a combination of poetry and pen-pal writing. So George Slair and Blaise Dragomir are paired up and begin a year-long writing exchange. Astute children might giggle at the clever hints in the letters that could indicate who is behind the letters. Blaise’s favorite sport is skydiving while George’s is trick-or-treating as a knight. Blaise responds that “knights are super-scary!” Very cute — and touching — ending. Using this book as a read aloud is a wonderful opportunity for lessons in preconceptions and dealing with those who are “different.”
Using picture books in the home or classroom is a valuable way to kick off discussions for kids of all ages. The books previewed here are appropriate for kids from age four to forty. They are all enjoyable, and even the silliest has a lesson to share.
Please note: This preview is based on the hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.