Lita Judge. Athenum Books for Young Readers, 2014
Penguin has the soul of an eagle. But with no feathers and those tiny little wings, signing up for flight school with feathered friends of the bird community seems fruitless. Penguin practices for weeks, but when the time comes to take flight, he plunges into the ocean. With a little help and ingenuity from the other birds, Penguin soars with the wind at last. Penguin is so impressed with the Flight School’s ability to help birds fly, that he brings his friend Ostrich. Yes, an ostrich; dense bones, not aerodynamically shaped . . .you can almost see what’s coming. This picture book ends with Penguin telling the flight school instructors that “My friend Ostrich has the soul of a swallow.” This ending, coupled with Judge’s *adorable* and expressive illustrations (this lady can draw birds!) take this picture book’s charm factor sky high.
This picture book tells a story of identity, be it gender identity or other, from a near perfect perspective. Red crayon is a red crayon because his paper jacket is the colour red and it says ‘Red’. Right? Not quite. It is very clear that the crayon peeking out from under its wrapper is as blue as blue can be. It turns out that Red is horrible at being red. Despite trying so hard, fire engines and strawberries just don’t turn out as they are expected to. All of the other crayons’ waxy bodies are the same colours as their wrappers. Red is obviously very different. Red’s mother, teacher, the other crayons and the art supplies have some advice. Maybe Red should practice more, mix with other colours, press harder, or needs tape to fix a break that isn’t even visible. Amber crayon is the only one that wonders if Red is really red at all. When Red meets Berry, who asks if Red can draw an ocean for its boat, Red replies “I can’t. I’m red.” With Berry’s encouragement, Red discovers that making blue waves is easy! So is drawing bluebells, blue jeans, blue birds, and blue whales! With the encouragement of the other crayons, who are beginning to understand Red, Red reaches for the sky, and stays there.
My sister is the staff member of her high school’s LGBTQ+ club. They read this book as a group a few weeks ago and discussion ensued as to the many messages this short picture book holds. I was secretly happy that they also discovered that picture books can be enjoyed by adults and teenagers, too! My 4 and 8 year-olds also like reading Red: A Crayon’s Story. It’s characters are crayons after all, and fantastically coloured crayons at that. I find this picture book to be a lighthearted read for a topic that can have such weight to it, and seize the opportunity to ask my girls questions about individuality and inclusiveness as we read this book together.
I am pleased to see on Michael Hall’s website (http://www.michaelhallstudio.com/pages/about/index.html) that Red: A Crayon’s Story was a multiple award winner and nominee. I’m a bit surprised it wasn’t nominated or a winner of some even bigger awards.
A Tiger Tail (Or What Happened to Anya on Her First Day of School) (Mike Boldt; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Children, 2016)
This picture book is a fitting theme for this month, as my youngest daughter just started kindergarten. It’s going . . . ok. She tells me that she cries a little bit every day. She also brought home lice the second week. She has not, however, grown a tiger tail, as Anya, the main character in A Tiger Tail, spontaneously does the night before her first day of school. Anya tries every way imaginable to remove or hide the tail, all to no avail. Mom tells Anya to calm down or she’ll make herself sick, and later, to hurry up or she’ll miss the bus. Anya thinks that these are both good ideas, but her parents catch on to her desire to stay home. Eventually Anya arrives at school, and discovers that her tiger tail pales in comparison to the mannerisms and physical qualities of her classmates. I particularly like the little fellow with his finger lodged up his nose and teacher’s beaver teeth. Mike Boldt’s illustrations are playful and his drawings of people fantastic. A Tiger Tail ranks at the top of its class for back-to-school reading, but will entertain all year long. Check out the other picture books written and/or illustrated by this Canadian who is making a name for himself in the picture book industry.
Hector and Hummingbird (Nicholas John Frith, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015)
Hector is a big brown bear and Hummingbird is, well, a hummingbird. Their differences in size make them seem like unlikely friends. Bear also appreciates peace and quiet while Hummingbird talks as incessantly as his wings beat. The story has a similar theme as many other picture books about friendship–life is more fun when you have someone to share it with. However, Hector and Hummingbird also includes humour, a fabulous colour palette, and a jungle creature search, making it one of my favourite picture books about the timeless topic of friendship.
Gaston (Kelly DiPucchio, author. Christian Robinson, illustrator. Athenum Books for Young Readers, 2014).
Scrumptious illustrations. Clever text. French flair. Not to mention highlighting authenticity and mixed families. This picture book is a charmer.
A springtime trip to the park reveals that a poodle and a bulldog were somehow switched at birth. They swap places and leave the park with the families that they were born into; everything looks as it should be. But the dogs and their families soon discover that looking and feeling like you’re in the right place are two very different things. The ending leaves the reader with a warm glow, for Gaston and Antoinette, the bulldog and poodle involved in the mix-up, breed puppies of their own, who are encouraged to be whatever they want to be. DiPucchio has some other fantastic books – check out Zombie in Love (Athenum Books for Young Readers, 2011) for another fun read.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (Peter Brown. Little, Brown and Company, 2013)
Doesn’t everyone want to go a little wild sometimes? Reading this book may give you a niggling to let go of socially acceptable norms and let a little bit of your silly side escape. Mr. Tiger has a good reason to need a release – he lives in a city during Victorian times, which is filled with wild animals that are expected to be perfectly proper. Mr. Tiger starts to show his wild side first by doing something fairly conceivable – he goes from bipedal movement down to all fours. Consecutive two-page spreads depict this brilliantly. Mr. Tiger can’t stop there – what he does next has made me fall hard for this picture book. Ready? He skinny dips in the city fountain! The fountain illustration is followed by another full spread of Mr. Tiger poised (on all fours again) and ready to embrace his wildness and all of its possibilities. Peter Brown is a fantastically talented author-illustrator with a number of publishing credits to his name; my second favourite of his picture books is is My Teacher is a Monster (Little, Brown and Company, 2014).