Karen Beaumont, author; David Catrow, Illustrator. Harcourt, 2005
I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More is everything a picture book should be. It’s irresistible. I was once told the following formula for making a near sure-fire winner picture book: if you can sing it, it’s a keeper. My girls and I have found ourselves humming “I ain’t gonna paint no more no more, I ain’t gonna paint no more,” to the tune of, “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More” all week. It’s very catchy. The concept of this picture book is simple and universal. A child’s paintbrush finds its way to the walls, ceiling, curtains . . . you get the picture. His mom gets mad (rightfully so) and puts the paints out of reach. But there ain’t no way that this child ain’t gonna paint no more, so he gets the paints down and continues creating–this time on his body. The rhyming text allows readers to guess where the child will paint next, culminating to an adorably clever ending. The lighthearted story is coupled with subtly hilarious illustrations (check out the dog!) that are bright and paint spattered in all the right places. I try to moderate my book-buying, but this is one picture book that I will be stocking in my home library very soon.
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.
Oliver Jeffers; HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2011
Outrageously silly, Stuck makes the adults and children in my house laugh read after read. The first page sets up the story brilliantly: “It all began when Floyd got his kite stuck in a tree”. However, the reader has no idea what ‘all’ could possibly include until they begin turning the pages. Freeing the kite proved to be challenging, because everything that Floyd threw up the tree to knock it down got stuck too! Floyd hurled up everything from the cat, kitchen sink, and a whale that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are some even crazier items that Floyd threw up the tree, but I’ll remain silent on those so as not to spoil the surprises. Finally, and miraculously, the kite became unstuck, and Floyd returns to enjoying the rest of his day. The ‘wink to the reader’ on the final pages is one of the cutest I’ve seen. Coupled with Oliver Jeffers’ trademark handwriting and cartoon-like drawings, this picture book may be a number of years old but it’s a great one start your 2017 reading list.
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.
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.
Do Not Open This Book!
Please, Open This Book! (Adam Lehrhaupt, author; Matthew Forsythe, illustrator. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013 and 2015)
Talk about nothing but fun. Do Not Open This Book!, the first of the series, warns not to keep turning the page. The reader finds out why when they let the monkeys out. Then the toucans. Then the alligator. There is nothing to do but trap the wild beasts by closing the book on them. None other than a banana is used as bait. Book two, Please, Open This Book!, is set in blackness of a closed book, brilliantly contrasting the white background of book one. The reader (aka ‘book closer’) from the first book is made to feel guilty by drawings of terrified and injured animals. But the shame really sets in when the “perfectly good banana” that was destroyed by the book-closing incident is shown. A ‘wanted’ sign depicting the ‘book closer’ gave my eight year-old the idea to read these with her cousin and tape a photo of said cousin over the ‘wanted’ sign. The fun continued. These picture books are some of the most entertaining that I have read; try to have them both on hand at the same time–a better pairing is tough to come by.
Stuck (Oliver Jeffers; Harper Collings Children’s Books, 2011)
I am developing a writer’s crush on Oliver Jeffers. I have included another of his picture books in my blog (The Heart and the Bottle, HarperCollins, 2010) and also recently fell in love with This Moose Belongs to Me (Philomel Books, 2012). His trademark penmanship and whimsical drawings also graced the pages of the wildly popular and hilarious Crayon books (authored by Drew Daywalt; Philomel and Harper Collins, 2013 and Philomel, 2015). There are many more, and even newer, titles of his that I need to check out.
Stuck caught me completely off guard the first time I read it–the unexpected occurs, more than once. A person can anticipate a kite getting stuck in a tree, a shoe, and maybe even a cat. But when Floyd fetches a ladder, one thinks he will finally retrieve his stuck items. The reader does not anticipate that it too will get stuck in the tree. Nor the saw that Floyd eventually fetches. The absurdity builds until finally Floyd manages to dislodge his kite from the tree. The ending also leaves the reader with a smile and a feeling of wanting to read Stuck again to see if it elicits the same emotion on subsequent reads. I have confirmed that it does.
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.
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.
The Bureau of Misplaced Dads (Éric Viellé, author. Pauline Martin, illustrator. Kids Can Press, 2015).
After misplacing his Dad, the protagonist in this picture book is taken to the Bureau of Misplaced Dads to hopefully reclaim his father. Apparently 20 to 30 dads wander into this Bureau every day; some have been there for a long time, but most are in good condition. The main character searches for his dad and finds that these interesting specimens come in all shapes, sizes, smells, and outfits. There is a superhero dad, a dad with crumbs in his moustache, a dad named Mike that wears a suit, etc. But none are his dad, who know him and drive him to school. And NO, he does not want to adopt a different one. The boy eventually remembers where he put his dad that morning and rushes home to find him–happy ending achieved. This picture book will spur you to ask your child(ren) what kind of dad theirs is; the answer is sure to be either heartwarming or hilarious. The response in my house was on the heartwarming side–“he’s just a good dad.” Agreed. We’re going to be careful not to misplace him.