Beth Ferry, author. Juana Martinez-Neal, illustrator.
“Sweet and salty”, as the jacket flap says, is the perfect way to describe this seaside story, where the sea herself is a character. The sea is the only friend that salty Captain Swashby has ever known and has ever wanted. Indeed, the sea has provided for Swashby his entire life.
Swashby’s solitary life on the shore is swept away when an exuberant child and her grandmother move in next door. Swashby does not want company and feeds their oatmeal cookies to the gulls. He proceeds to write them pointed messages in the sand. But the sea knows Swasbhy better than he knows himself, and proceeds to ‘fiddle, just a little’. The sea erases some letters in Swashby’s ‘NO TRESPASSING’ message leaving the child with instructions to ‘SING’.
The modified messages continue, and the child’s response to some incite Swashby to teach her some seaside tips. But it’s the sea who, in the end, teaches Swashby that even a salty seaman can be sweetened by friendship.
This story is of the same high calibre of other of Beth Ferry’s picture books, with clever use of language, a sprinkle of humour and loads of heart. Martinez‑Neal’s illustrations in beige and blues make for a perfect seaside palette. The child’s personality swells from the page and the wild and windblown Swashby is what one imagines a salty, and sweet, seaman to be.
Terry Border is the genius behind the bent object project, where wire is added to ordinary things, enabling them to pose and almost come to life. Check out that the book cover! His bent objects grace calendars, greeting cards, puzzles and a number of picture books.
In Peanut Butter and Cupcake, peanut butter is looking for a friend. On Peanut Butter’s journey to find Jelly, his true condiment mate, he meets a number of interesting characters, such as hamburger who is out walking his dogs, cupcake who is building a sprinkle castle, and alphabet soup, who isn’t shy about spelling out exactly how he feels. The wordplay is hilarious and the bent object art is cleverly executed (look for the high heels on momma toast). While this book carries some subtle messages about friendship and perseverance, it is predominantly an entertaining read–right down to the last crumb.
When Emily Carr Met Woo (Monica Kulling, author; Dean Griffiths, illustrator. Pajama Press, 2014)
This picture book shares a snapshot of the life of a storied Canadian artist and writer, and also tells of friendship and following the path that makes your soul sing. Emily Carr wasn’t only passionate about painting, she also loved animals. She brought a caged, lonely monkey home from the pet store who she named ‘Woo’, a name inspired by the monkey’s shrieks as it rode Emily’s shoulders home along Victoria’s oceanfront. The artist and monkey shared something very special–a deep sense of wonder and peace when they journeyed into British Columbia’s sublime wildernesses. This picture book recounts a time that Woo acted (not surprisingly) like a monkey, which almost resulted in tragedy. Woo’s story will draw animal lovers to this book again and again. Emily Carr’s story will lead you to seek out her art and stories. The National Gallery is only a short bus ride away . . . lucky me!
You’re Mean, Lily Jean (Frieda Wishinsky, author. Kady MacDonald Denton, illustrator. North Winds Press, 2009)
This is a gem of a picture book from a well-known Canadian author. The girls and I finally borrowed it from the library again after reading it for the first time a few years ago. Our second sign-out did not disappoint and I’ve taken better notice of its humour and the engaging illustrations. Snooty Lily Jean moves to the neighbourhood and immediately breaks up a sister playmate duo. Carly, the youngest sister, is intentionally left out, so agrees to anything that Lily Jean suggests so that she can play with the older girls. Carly is delegated to the role of the baby that crawls, the cow that moos and eats grass and the dog that sits under the table and says ‘bow-wow’. But dogs are smart, and so is Carly. Dogs also like to dig in the sand; so does Carly. She plays Lily Jean’s game and wins. Look for the fantastic one-liners in the final pages of this picture book. The topics of bullying, standing up for yourself and forgiveness are touched on in a light, kid-friendly manner, making this picture book thoroughly enjoyable for my girls (and their mom).
Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick Press, 2000)
“You haven’t read Because of Winn-Dixie?” my school teacher friend asked me [she reads it to her class]. “Sydona [my 8 year-old daughter] would love it,” she continued.
“I’ve heard of it. I should try reading it to the girls, but Madilyn [just turned 4] might be a little young,” I replied.
Well, Because of Winn-Dixie was a hit with all three of us. A book featuring a neglected yet grinning dog named after a grocery store quickly hooks most readers. To this, add a colourful cast of characters, humour and raw emotion. I got teary a few times reading it, although the ‘Beth Cry Test’ is fairly predictable. There were some meaty topics in this book for my girls to digest: a runaway mother, a distracted father, loneliness and alcoholism were the biggies. But, as I’ve heard many times–kids can handle big topics. And they did. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of depth was lost on them, but that’s okay, because many age appropriate questions were shooting from their mouths and my eldest was showing concern and compassion for Opal, the main character (qualities I would often like to see more often!). The theme of friendship permeates throughout novel. Opal develops a number of unlikely friendships thanks to the four-legged companion that she brought home from the Winn-Dixie instead of a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice and two tomatoes. And I’ve been upset when a surprise bag of candy makes it way home from a shopping trip . . .
Because of Winn-Dixie is a heartwarming book with short chapters, which made it a perfect first novel to read aloud to my young children. It’s received some impressive accolades; a Parent’s Choice gold award in 2000 and a Newberry honour in 2001.
Bink & Gollie: Two for One (Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, authors. Tony Fucile, illustrator). Candlewick Press, 2012.
Superstar authors Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee have teamed up to create the Bink & Gollie series. Suitable for early readers such as my daughter, each book contains three chapters that are low on word count and high on visual stimulation provided by Tony Fucile, who has designed and animated characters for Disney and Pixar. In this second of the three-book series, Bink and Gollie are at the state fair. Their adventures are laugh out loud funny, quiet chuckle funny, shake your head funny . . . you get the idea. The theme of friendship runs strongly throughout each story and culminates in the last chapter and the final two-page spread (gulp; it’s outstanding). I have ordered the third book; I hope that a fourth installment is coming soon.
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.
Bear Snores On (Karma Wilson, author. Jane Chapman, illustrator. Scholastic, 2002)
As a writer I know it’s hard, make that really, really, hard, to create rhyming perfection. Bear Snores On has found it. This books repeating lines are fun for children to say. The lyrical writing causes the reader to unwittingly give each of the animals that pass the winter storm in the bear’s den its own unique voice. The animals light a cozy fire and prepare snacks while the bear snores on. Eventually the bear wakes up, and the ending suddenly appears to be tragic for the animals who were enjoying their party moments before. A story of friendship with an ending sure to leave a smile on the faces of adults and children, Bear Snores On is a fun and feel good picture book. Snuggle up this winter and enjoy.
Nugget & Fang (Tammi Sauer, author. Michael Slack, illustrator. Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013).
Nugget is a minnow and Fang is a shark – they have no idea that they are unlikely friends until Nugget is taught at minnow school that sharks are scary and want to eat him! This picture book favourite of many is now one of mine because its words and illustrations provide high entertainment value. The story also served as a launching point for a conversation with my 7 ½ year-old about friendship and Nugget making his own judgement about Fang’s character. Sauer’s clever puns will be appreciated by adult readers while children will be engaged by the well-paced plot, the pallet (blue with bright pops of colour!), and the expressive faces of the characters. The repeating lines tie the story together and also give children a chance to participate; there is no denying that “glug, glug, glug” is just plain fun to say out loud.
Caterina and the Perfect Party (Erin Eitter Kono, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013)
Caterina is planning the perfect party down to the last detail – there will be NO surprises. When her party is literally turned upside down by inclement weather, she learns that being with friends is all you need to have fun and that some surprises are surprisingly delightful (mud-dipped worms, anyone?). One of my daughters is a perfectionist to the point that it prevents her from doing things, so Caterina and the Perfect Party is a favourite picture book for me to read to her. Following her sidekick, a little chick, from page to page adds a significant cute factor to the beautiful and detailed illustrations. I have recently learned that there are other “Caterina” books by the same author – I am off to find them and will report back as to whether or not they too are recommended picture books!