Wow, I had a hard time narrowing it down to five picture books for this month’s reviews– there were so many on the shelves that looked amazing– I’m going to try hard to get back in less than a month for my next reviews, because there are a LOT of great books out there! The title of today’s post is a nod to the fact that each of today’s books stars (ha! you’ll get it later!) non human characters with human emotions– from a star who is sad (see?) to some pieces of chalk on a mission, to forest animals on vacation– definitely some fun and fantasy!
Title: Star in the Jar
Author: Sam Hay
Illustrator: Sarah Massini
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (September 4, 2018)
The “gist”: A boy finds a star and realizes it needs to go home, but isn’t sure how to get it there.
My favorite part: The way the illustrator was able to make the star look droopy and sad was perfect!
My response as a reader: I loved that there were two types of friendship here– the boy with the star, and the star with his star friends, and both were valued.
My “take-away” as a writer: This is a simple book but it would be a great mentor text for pacing — although it is quiet and doesn’t start with a bang or suspenseful action, it’s got a beautiful smooth rhythm which flows seamlessly from one step in the story to the next to ultimately solve the boy’s problem.
Title: The Good Egg
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Pete Oswald
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins (February 12, 2019)
The “gist”: A companion book to John’s The Bad Seed, this book follows a similar pattern– the “Good Egg” talks about his history of always being good and ultimately learns that reality (and good mental health) lies somewhere in between.
My favorite part: I loved the part in the beginning, when we see the egg helping everyone including those who may not really appreciate it (see the illustration of the house being painted).
My response as a reader: I reviewed The Bad Seed last month and loved it, so I was excited to read the new book and they make such a wonderful pair together. I unfortunately can’t buy all the books I review, but I brought home both of these today (along with The Great Indoors…oops! Mac and Cheese this week, perhaps!) My two boys (10 and 13) might be considered too old for picture books by some, but they still love them and they each relate to the two different characters (if you knew them, you’d easily guess which was which). This book was a wonderful way for them to subtly learn that their uniqueness matters– and also that it’s possible to change without changing who you REALLY are.
My “take-away” as a writer: I’m working on a companion piece for my upcoming picture book The Great Holiday Cookie Fight right now and it’s been a rough battle to find just the right way to move forward when the first book basically stands alone. I loved how this book is very much in the same vein as The Bad Seed, but doesn’t try to be a sequel. It’s what I’m trying to do with my new book (hint: it’s about bread) and I’m definitely drawing some inspiration from The Good Egg!
Title: The Case of the Missing Chalk Drawings
Author and Illustrator: Richard Byrne
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (November 13, 2018)
The “gist”: This is sort of a cross between Drew Daywalt’s The Day The Crayons Quit, and Tara Lazar’s 7 ate 9 — and that’s a pretty big compliment!
My favorite part: My favorite tidbit about this book is that the original UK edition was titled The Case of the Red-Bottomed Robber, and I think that’s pretty awesome.
My response as a reader: I’m a sucker for a good mystery, and finding those in picture book form is not easy. It gets solved pretty quickly, but the subplot (what to do with the culprit) provides a nice little secondary lesson and combined with the adorable illustrations, this is a super fun book!
My “take-away” as a writer: Richard Byrne is a superstar in the picture book world and I have huge respect for his ability to write (and illustrate!) kid-pleasing and very funny books with unique concepts. I need to read more of his work because I’m always trying to fine tune my humor!
Title: Olive and Pekoe in Four Short Walks
Author: Jacky Davis
Illustrator: Giselle Potter
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books (March 5, 2019)
The “gist”: Olive and Pekoe are dogs with different interests but they manage to be great friends.
My favorite part: I love the contrast between Olive and Pekoe from the very first characterization of Pekoe as a “bouncy puppy” and Olive as an “old dog with very short legs.”
My response as a reader: The font on this book makes it look like something from the 50s and even the book feels very classic in a “Dick and Jane” sort of way. It’s a quiet book and at first I had to search to “get it,” but part of the satisfaction is that you don’t really have to have explosive action to have a good friendship.
My “take-away” as a writer: It charms me that something this innocent has been published in 2019. The fact that it’s divided into “four short walks” is a lovely throwback to earlier “storybook” styles. I just finished teaching my German students about fairy tales and we discussed the “magic numbers” of 3 and 7– four definitely breaks the rules.
Title: The Great Indoors
Author: Julie Falatko
Illustrator: Ruth Chan
Publisher/Date: Disney-Hyperion (April 9, 2019)
The “gist”: The cover tells it all: forest animals eager for a vacation in the “great indoors” take over an empty house (whose inhabitants are obviously also on vacation). And, of course, hilarity ensues.
My favorite part: Like Julie’s other very funny picture books, this requires a complete suspension of disbelief. Animals act like people. Got it. After that, the fact that the beavers are hurriedly carrying in a huge stack of boxes of ice cream so they won’t melt just becomes another of the many laugh lines in this book.
My response as a reader: I loved how Julie gave each animal a trait — the beavers are busy (get it?) cooking, the deer have a dance party, the teenage bear hogs the bathroom, etc. It’s as if they each have their own subplot through the book. Considering how few words you have to work with in a picture book, this is pretty amazing.
My “take-away” as a writer: Like Julie, I also live in Maine, but she’s a couple steps (or a couple hundred?) ahead of me in my publishing journey, so seeing her come to such great success is a real inspiration. Obviously she’s very talented, but I’m hoping there’s room for another great picture book writer in Maine (hey, at least I’m not trying to be a horror writer, right?)