Dan Yaccarino. Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.
“Today you will be learning about the city,” Doug’s robot mother says. “Happy downloading,” says Dad-bot. Doug plugs into an electronic board and learns many number facts about his city, such as, more than 500 million pigeons live there. When a pigeon lands on his windowsill Doug hears its funny cooing sound. Hey, his download didn’t teach him that pigeons cooed! Doug can’t help himself; he does something he has never done before–he unplugs. Doug flies out of the window to explore the city and makes many new discoveries, like taxis stop if you raise your hand and some garbage cans are smelly. Then a boy at the park asks him to play. Play? Playing is a new thing for Doug, but he is quickly learns how.
Without a hint of preaching, this picture book subtly communicates the positive power of play-based learning and the joyful discoveries that come when one ‘unplugs’.
Also check out the sequel, Doug Unplugs on the Farm (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).
Never Follow A Dinosaur (Alex Latimer, Peachtree, 2016)
Children love following animal tracks in the snow or mud. With each step further mystery unfolds as to who the footprints could belong to, why their pattern has changed and why they have suddenly disappeared. Joe and Sally have a lot of questions, but also answers. They are convinced that the footprints they’re tracking belong to a hungry, heavy, swimming, dancing dinosaur with a headache and sore foot, which also has wings! They set a trap to catch it, and are successful. But as their Mom reminded them, “You should never follow a dinosaur. Especially a hungry one!” Joe and Sally manage to escape the dinosaur’s dinner plate and a happy ending ensues in this picture book that is big on imagination and pushes the boundaries of silliness. Alex Latimer is the author-illustrator of a number of picture books; another favourite in my house is Lion vs. Rabbit.
I almost didn’t blog about these books because I am intimidated to try to capture their magic and message in a few hundred words. These books are a visual marvel. Although there are no words-not a one-this trilogy tells a story that is exciting and emotionally charged.
A bored child of a busy family uses a coloured crayon to draw a door and enter into a new world. At the end of her heroic adventures to save the purple bird from the evil soldiers in Journey, she meets a boy with an equally powerful purple crayon. In Quest, they achieve their mission to find the other four magical crayons and return them to the king. Return completes the trilogy’s emotional story as the distracted father realises his folly and follows his daughter into her secret world. Initially she is angry with him but he eventually saves the purple bird and the kingdom from the villains. All is forgiven.
There are many fine details sketched into each and every page. In an interview, Becker shared that he moved to Europe for a number of months so that he could become a better drawer; the intricate land of castles and kingdoms that the reader is transported to demonstrates the success of his experiment. The palette’s change from sepia tones to brilliant colours as the crayons are found and their powers unleashed adds a layer of visual interest. These books could be poured over for hours by children and adults. It’s no wonder that Journey received a Caldecott honour in 2014.
Beyond the Pond (Joseph Kuefler, Harper Collins, 2015)
Beyond the Pond is a magical tribute to the power of imagination. Ernest D. is bored. He decides to dive into the pond in his backyard, which is conveniently bottomless. He swims down deep to discover an amazing world, then comes out on the other side to find a land filled with things that frighten and wow him. When he returns home, his own yard seems much more interesting. The illustrations show that Ernest D. now sees the extraordinary in the ordinary and realises that there are many discoveries to be had on his own side of the pond. Ernest’s dog accompanies him on his adventure which adds to this book’s charm. This picture book is the first for Joseph Kuefler and has received a number of starred reviews. Lovely, lovely, lovely!
Harold and the Purple Crayon (Crockett Johnson, Harper Collins Publishers, 1955)
This is a gem of a picture book! My daughters and I were surprised and delighted by young Harold, who makes his own adventures by drawing them (of course). Particularly humorous is when Harold backs away from a frightening dragon, his crayon shaking in his hand behind him and creating, unbeknownst to him, a wavy ocean. Before Harold realises it, he is in over his head! But since he managed to hold onto his purple crayon, Harold saves himself by drawing a boat. In the final pages, the play on words is irresistible – Harold draws up his covers, drops the purple crayon on the floor, then drops off to sleep. Don’t let the publication date deter you – the fact that this picture book inspired a book series and adaptations for stage, television and beyond, should be enough to convince you to seek it out.
How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World (Marjorie Priceman, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)
I have never come across another picture book that is a culinary adventure story (if you know of one let me know!). This book includes step-by-step instructions about how to collect the ingredients for and make an apple pie. It also shares practical advice that you won’t get just anywhere, such as finding a chicken and bringing it with you to reduce the chances of breaking the eggs. The ending of this picture book ties in cleverly with the beginning, hinting that another excursion to collect the ingredients to make ice cream may be necessary. Thankfully the adventure is over, because the reader may feel slightly exhausted from the international pie-making adventure that they have just been taken on. In my opinion, the final page turn is even more satisfying than eating apple pie ‘a la mode’ (and that is tough to compete with). This picture book will be a favourite for food lovers, travellers, and those that enjoy a little silliness.