I am in a group for authors with books coming out in 2020 (“2020 Picture Book Stars”), so I have been anxious to read In a Jar, a book by fellow group member Deborah Marcero. In the process, I figured I might as well give some love to other books which are brand spanking new in 2020– and even though it’s only mid-February, there are already a bunch of beauties out there! Let’s explore them!
Author/Illustrator: Deb Pilutti
Publisher/Date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (February 4, 2020)
The “gist”: The pine tree, hummingbird and other woodland friends figure Rock’s life must be pretty boring, but he is not only happy with his life, he also has some pretty interesting stories to tell of his past few million years.
My favorite part: I love how his “friends” give him the “yeah, yeah, sure…but that was a long time ago” treatment until they wise up.
My response as a reader: My husband, who was a geologist in an earlier life, would love this book– it gives some great simple geological history in a sneaky way (as well as in some back matter), and yet it also has a lovely message about letting people be happy the way they are.
My “take-away” as a writer: Guess what? It’s another “breaks the rules” picture book! My faithful readers will recall that I love pointing out books that break the rules! So how does this one break them? Well, rock doesn’t “solve” a problem exactly, but he is able to convince his friends that he doesn’t need to change. And the dialog in this story has a wonderful rhythm to it which frequently does come in threes, so it makes a great mentor text for pacing.
Author: Jody Jensen Shaffer
Illustrator: Dave Mottram
Publisher/Date: Doubleday BYR (January 7, 2020)
The “gist”: Kittens make everything better, right? Superheroes are great, but seriously, if you really don’t know where to turn…you need kittens. That’s pretty much the book.
My favorite part: Kittens save a girl stuck in a tree. Priceless.
My response as a reader: While the cover makes it look a bit like a ripoff of the Powerpuff Girls, and the emergency kittens are totally as cute as Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles, their powers are probably even stronger, because pretty much all they have to do is show up and people are instantly happier. Excuse me while I go adopt a kitten…(confound my husband’s allergies…)
My “take-away” as a writer: Look! More rule breaking here, too! Rule #1: Main character solves their own problem. (Nope). Rule #2: Generally three attempts at solving problem fail before success occurs. (Nope). Pretty much this entire story is just “Kittens make everything better.” That’s it. But fortunately, it is enough. Because, well, kittens! So as a writer, will I use this as a template for my next work? No…but I am glad this one exists. Kittens DO make things better.
Author/Illustrator: Michael Rex
Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books (February 11, 2020)
The “gist”: It can be hard to tell fact from opinion these days, but these robots teach the in a simple, fun way.
My favorite part: The dedication: To R2D2, C-3PO, Marvin, Bender & RoboCop. Love it.
My response as a reader: This is an important book for kids, especially now. I love that there are occasional spots when the book stops and says “Wait. We can’t answer that right now. We have to have more information.” It’s ok for adults–and robots– not to know the answer but instead to illustrate how you find out.
My “take-away” as a writer: Robots are sort of like kittens. They make everything more fun. This is a book with a real lesson, but it totally doesn’t feel like it and that is key to why kids would love it. (Come to think of it, that’s something I need to remember as a teacher, not just as a writer!)
Author/Illustrator: Deborah Marcero
Publisher/Date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR (January 21, 2020)
The “gist”: Llewellyn keeps memories and special things in jars, as does his best friend Evelyn. They collect everything from feathers to sunsets. Unfortunately, Evelyn moves away and they need to figure out how to continue to share that magic together.
My favorite part: The way Deborah captures light in all these illustrations blows me away — just look at the cover for a great example!
My response as a reader: At first I read this book too literally and thought, “How can they possibly capture the stars and sunsets in a plain little jar?” Then I let myself give in to the magic of the book and the possibilities of imagination. And then the book really blossomed for me. Capturing a feather in a jar isn’t about keeping a feather in a jar, it’s about remembering the magic of flight. (By the way, this book reminds me of a really beautiful and heart-warming German Nutella commercial from this past Christmas. You should totally watch it).
My “take-away” as a writer: Lots of agents and editors say they avoid “quiet books.” This is a quiet book, but there is definitely room for books like this lovely gentle story on everyone’s shelf. Of course, Deborah’s illustrations absolutely make this book happen and I am not sure it would have been published as readily if not for her vision.
Author: J.F. Fox
Illustrator: Micah Player
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press (February 18, 2020)
The “gist”: Every member of the family gets in on the action Friday nights when a final wrestle stands between fun and bedtime!
My favorite part: I simply adored the fact that it was Dad who was putting the kids to bed and Mom came home from work in the middle of things. It was an important twist on old stereotypes.
My response as a reader: I don’t like wrestling, so I wasn’t super excited to read this at first– but TODAY is its book birthday so I couldn’t resist. Don’t be put off by the “wrestling” premise– it’s much more about a little family fun!
My “take-away” as a writer: If we look back at “the rules” again, we see that this is not a book with a single main character and a problem to be solved. It’s just a moment in time with kids who won’t go to bed and a Mom and Dad who are “all in” to make it an adventure these kids will remember forever. So what have we learned today? Write the book YOU want to write! If it’s good enough, someone else might just think it needs to be on the shelf.