Another morning at Barnes & Noble checking out what’s happening in recent picture book releases. Sadly, I found a couple I’m not going to include here which remain nameless, but which for whatever reason just didn’t excite me. And that’s ok. They got published because someone out there finds them fabulous– and maybe you will too. They’re just not going to show up in my reviews today. I save those for the ones that I can personally recommend. So, here we go!
Title: This is NOT a cat
Author: David LaRochelle
Illustrator: Mike Wohnoutka
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books (August 2016)
The “gist”: A group of mice are given instruction on how to recognize danger (in the form of a cat!) and end up putting their learning into practice.
My favorite part: I loved the little twist in this book (which of course I will not give away). Even better, was the fact that the twist was only in the illustration and not in the text. Great interplay!
My response as a reader: This is a great book for preschoolers or perhaps even kindergartners who will appreciate the “school” aspect and the focus on labeling pictures. They’ll also enjoy being “smarter than the teacher” as the cat sneaks up. As an adult reader, I loved the expressions on the faces and the fact that this book is just plain light and fun– would be a great read-aloud!
My “take-away” as a writer: Short! Short! Short! If I have a quibble, it’s a bit of a “one-trick pony” sort of book, but for the right audience, that’s exactly what you want. It’s a picture book not a novel, right? This one doesn’t really follow most traditional “picture book rules” since there’s not really a main character who solves his/her problem, just a really cute scenario that kids would definitely enjoy.
Title: The NO SO QUIET Library
Author/Illustrator: Zachariah OHora
Publisher/Date: Dial Books (July 2016)
The “gist”: Oskar and Theodore are exited for their weekly trip to the library for quiet reading when suddenly the library isn’t so quiet–the giant disruptive monster hates the library and threatens to eat them, but somehow they figure out how to solve the problem.
My favorite part: The solution to the “monster problem” was somewhat predictable, but was brought about in such a fun way that you felt less like you were let down and more like you were part of the solution.
My response as a reader: I know Zachariah OHora’s illustrations from “Wolfie the Bunnie” and “Horrible Bear” (both by author Ame Dyckman) which are both adorable. Well, adorable isn’t quite the word for OHora’s work– it’s kind of poky and stiff…and totally lovable, like morning stubble on the face of someone who is cute enough to rock it. Maybe not the best simile for a picture book, but there ya go. Some of OHora’s characters don’t look quite right either, but they end up being charming in spite of (or perhaps) because of their awkwardness. Anyway, this is the first book I’ve read with OHora as the author and I loved it. The title drew me to it right away and the interplay between the two main characters and the monster was fantastic. I love “misunderstood monster” stories and this one was handled in a really entertaining way!
My “take-away” as a writer: Geez, these illustrators have GOT to stop writing things on their own or I’ll never break into the picture book business! Just kidding…but hats off to OHora for a really great book! And my real take-away? Don’t be afraid to throw in some lines for the adults– I loved how the father was described as heading up to “the nap department,” and the way the older and less-friendly of the librarians was described as “old pickled onion Mr. Tasker.” Both were clear flags that the story was made for kids, and if we’re not interested in fun, we might as well just step aside.
Title: 88 Instruments
Author: Chris Barton
Illustrator: Louis Thomas
Publisher/Date: Knopf BYR (August 2016)
The “gist”: The narrator’s parents bring him to a music store with 88 instruments and the instruction he can choose only one to learn (for now).
My favorite part: I really loved the playful descriptions of all the instruments (the squeeziest, the slideyist, etc.), but a pianist, I’m a total sucker for anyone who chooses to learn the piano.
My response as a reader: The title gives away the ending for a piano player– the number 88 for me is connected with two things: piano keys, and the speed necessary to travel in time in your DeLorean. But the title isn’t that important, it’s much more fun to tromp through the crowded music store with the narrator and explore the potential in all the instruments. I would have liked a little more elaboration on each one than the (sometimes very inventive) one word adjectives, but overall, the quick movement of the story was more effective.
My “take-away” as a writer: During my participation in last November’s PiBoIdMo (a picture book event challenging writers to come up each day with one idea for a new picture book), one of my ideas was a book about someone trying to decide what instrument to play. While there’s probably still room for another take on this theme, Barton’s done a nice job providing a window into the wonderful possibilities of choosing an instrument. I’ll have to think hard about what would make my story unique before I go back to that idea!
Title: How to Catch the Tooth Fairy
Author: Adam Wallace
Illustrator: Andy Elkerton
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (July 2016)
The “gist”: The tooth fairy makes three hundred thousand visits a night and many children try to catch her with very sneaky traps, but she’s never been caught…so far!
My favorite part: It’s right on the cover, but I love that the tooth fairy flies a toothbrush. So simple but I never would have thought of it!
My response as a reader: Hey, no fair! I thought this book was about HOW to catch the tooth fairy, not about how she keeps from being caught! Yeah, there’s bait and switch here, no doubt about it. It’s ok, though, because the fairy is so cute and the little traps are so inventive– combined with the detailed illustrations it’s got a tiny bit of a steampunk/maker-space feel that I think a lot of kids will like.
My “take-away” as a writer: This is another example of a rhyming work done well. It’s really hard to do, people, but this one does it. No, not every line is perfect, but since it’s told in first person, the cadence and emotion in the lines makes up for any little gaps in meter. I’ve got a friend who has written a tooth fairy picture book manuscript which is extremely different from this one, so hopefully the tooth fairy is an “in” topic right now and she’ll have some luck with it!
Title: My Thumb
Author: Karen Hesse
Illustrator: Andy Elkerton
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (July 2016)
The “gist”: The narrator is in love with her thumb– as much as others might think she should give it up, it’s not going to happen!
My favorite part: I appreciated that she noted several things to do that were harder when you suck your thumb– most notably gum-chewing–which her mom actually saw as one of the rare advantages.
My response as a reader: I was skeptical of this book because, without wanting to start a huge debate, I’m not a fan of thumb-sucking. I used a pacifier as a baby, my kids did, and I will freely admit to a tiny bias against #teamthumb. Not going to fight over it, but there it is. However, this little girl is so earnest and the text is done in such a light-hearted way, I can’t be angry with her or her parents. It’s just downright cute.
My “take-away” as a writer: This is another example of a rhyming work done well. It’s really hard to do, people, but this one does it. No, not every line is perfect, but since it’s told in first person, the cadence and emotion in the lines makes up for any little gaps in meter. It’s encouraging, because there’s definitely a “Dr. Seuss” vibe, and agents usually tell you that’s the kiss of death. On a different note, I’ve got a friend who has written a tooth fairy picture book manuscript which is extremely different from this one, so hopefully the tooth fairy is an “in” topic right now and she’ll have some luck with it!