If our family doesn’t have any other weekend plans (somewhat rare these days), we often take a trip out to the public library on Saturday morning. York Public Library has a really excellent children’s section. I found five great new picture books today — first I read them out loud to the boys, now it’s time to gather my thoughts in some reviews…
Title: P.Zonka lays an Egg
Author/Illustrator: Julie Paschkis
Publisher/Date: Peachtree Publishing (March 2015)
The “gist”: All the hens in the yard lay eggs consistently except for P. Zonka who never lays an egg. She’d prefer to spend her time enjoying the beautiful colors and flowers of nature.
My favorite part: Gloria, the Rooster.
My response as a reader: I have friends with chickens and the characterizations were amusing, but most of all, the illustrations made me feel like I was looking at scraps from Pysanky eggs. I’m not an artist by any stretch, but I love doodling, and while my doodles wouldn’t turn out like Julie Paschkis’ drawings, it inspires me to try. Easter is only 3 weeks away and this book has convinced me to decorate eggs this year even though I had sort of decided against it.
My “take-away” as a writer: Keep it simple! This plot was a little predictable, but the pacing was perfect and there were NO wasted words. She just let the story tell itself. Lots of lessons for wordy writers like me!
Title: Catch that Cookie!
Author: Hallie Durand
Illustrator: David Small
Publisher/Date: Dial Books (August 2014)
The “gist”: Marshall doesn’t believe that old “Gingerbread Man” story can possibly be true, until the gingerbread men they bake in school run away and his class has to go on a treasure hunt to find them.
My favorite part: The part where Marshall figures out the last clue and dashes back to the classroom, finding the gingerbread men all “tucked in” was adorable!
My response as a reader: I checked out some of the Amazon reviews and found that evidently baking gingerbread men and having a “hunt” in school for them is actually a pretty common thing, but I’d never heard of it and I just love it! How much fun would it be to follow clues and then get a cookie at the end??
My “take-away” as a writer: Hallie Durand has such a great feel for making the language modern (The teacher says “You rocked it, dude” without it feeling the least bit forced!) I love the accessibility of the treasure hunt rhymes and the illustration of the little ghost gingerbread men making footprints was a cute touch contrast with Marshall’s more edgy look.
Title: The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk
Author: Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sengal
Illustrator: Jess Golden
Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books (January 2016)
The “gist”: It’s the traditional “Wheels on the Bus” song, but redone with references to riding a tuk tuk (traditional 3 wheeled taxi) in India.
My favorite part: I read this with my 10 year old son and he loved trying to sing along with it (even though it doesn’t quite fit the normal rhythm). I also enjoyed being able to share the cultural differences with him.
My response as a reader: There are just enough references to foreign cultural elements (tuk tuk, rupees, yogi, wala) to justify a glossary and make the text beautifully rich, but not distancing for the average reader.
My “take-away” as a writer: To some extent, books like this are frustrating for me– not because I have any bias against multiculturalism, but quite the opposite. I loved it, and I love all the calls for “diverse books” happening on Twitter among agents and editors. But I’m a straight white girl from a rural town in Maine, so there aren’t a lot of “diverse” issues that I can jump on as a writer. I try, sure, but it’s hard to have the same authenticity and voice when that’s not your perspective. So I need to find other ways to make diversity present in my work and that’s fine, but sometimes I wish I had an Albanian grandmother to write about.
Title: The Plan
Author: Alison Paul
Illustrator: Barbara Lehman
Publisher/Date: HMH Books for Young Readers (November 2015)
The “gist”: A little girl convinces her father to fly his plane again – but more important than the plot is the “gimmick” – the story is told in only 20 words, which form a word “ladder” as they add, subtract, or change a letter to form the next word.
My favorite part: There’s a poignant catch in the action as the caption word is “pain” and the daughter and her dad stand before a gravestone. My first thought was that it was a grandmother, but my son and I paged back and realized it must be the mom. Sad, but it all fit together beautifully.
My response as a reader: My 10 year old son has been doing “word chains” at school so we both were enthralled with the creativity of creating a story from them. Bravo! I also loved this because the heart is about flying and my dad was a private pilot so I got to fly with him a lot as a kid. It’s a great memory and I identified with her wanting to fly with her dad.
My “take-away” as a writer: Like the “P. Zonka” story above, the story is sparse, but it rises and falls just as it should. My son loved the way the last word looped back to the beginning, and I also love it when a story can take you somewhere but also bring you back where you started (like an airplane flight, huh?)
Title: The Day the Crayons Came Home
Author: Drew Daywalt
Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
Publisher/Date: Philomel Books (August 2015)
The “gist”: Sequel to “The Day the Crayons Quit”, this time Duncan receives postcards from all the various crayons he has somehow lost over the years — maroon was stuck behind the couch, tan was swallowed by a dog, etc.
My favorite part: I read this aloud to my sons and did different voices for each crayon. The surfer dude “neon red” crayon’s convoluted journey home was hilarious.
My response as a reader: Again, Jeffers does a completely stellar job with the handwriting and faux “kid drawings.” I was so excited to read this sequel, wondering how he could write another book like the first, but it completely works and while it’s still in the same vein as the first, Daywalt takes enough inventive twists to keep it all from feeling old.
My “take-away” as a writer: This book and its predecessor are those books you read and go “Wow, why didn’t I think of that idea???” It’s so deceptively simple, but amazingly done. Every writer longs for that goldmine of an idea (I’m still waiting for mine).