Between the pandemic and the chaos of being a teacher right now, I don’t get out to explore new books as often as I used to, but when I do, it sure is amazing to see how many fun and creative new picture books are out there. I wanted to focus on books published since the start of the pandemic, since they are most likely to need some “extra love,” but a couple just jumped out at me and begged to be read, so I couldn’t refuse!
Author/Illustrator: Andrea Zuill
Publisher/Date: Schwartz & Wade; Illustrated edition (March 26, 2019)
The “gist”: Sweety’s aunt calls her a “square peg,” since she just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, but does that mean she should change?
My favorite part: I loved that of all creatures, Sweety was a naked mole rat– and there was a sweet note about how the illustrator was thankful they liked clothing so there was no worry about drawing “embarrassing” parts!
My response as a reader: Sweety’s story resonated with me greatly, because I never had many friends growing up. My social skills weren’t great, and I preferred the company of adults much of the time. My dad once told me he was proud I didn’t have friends because it meant I had not sacrificed who I was and tried to be like the popular kids. But life without friends can be lonely and painful. It wasn’t until I got to college that I met “kindred spirits.” I hope that kids reading Sweety will realize they don’t have to change and things WILL get better.
My “take-away” as a writer: Who knew that all this time I could have written about my lonely childhood? Then again, childhood trauma is what makes a good writer, right?
Title: How to Meet a Mermaid
Author: Sue Fliess
Illustrator: Simona Sanfilippo
Publisher/Date: Sky Pony (June 16, 2020)
The “gist”: The title says it all: this book takes you through the steps of where to find mermaids, how to make a crown to entice them, etc.
My favorite part: I love that the children basically have a magical moment of turning into mermaids and then when it is over, they are kids again! How fun!
My response as a reader: Who doesn’t love mermaids, right? Not only are they super fun, but they are really popular right now, so I bet kids would love this! (I did!).
My “take-away” as a writer: This book is part of a whole series of “Magical Creatures and Crafts” which includes books about Unicorns, Christmas Elves, etc. all of which pair a story with some crafts families can make– genius idea!!
Title: This is NOT that kind of Book
Author: Christopher Healey
Illustrator: Ben Mantle
Publisher/Date: Random House BYR (October 15, 2019)
The “gist”: In this very “meta” kind of book, the characters are all confused about just what kind of book they find themselves in.
My favorite part: I love the apple! Similar to “Groot,” he pops in repeatedly with “I am an apple!” and is simply adorable!
My response as a reader: This is the best picture book I have read in while— I am a sucker for books that break the fourth wall or play with the concept of picture books (Julie Falatko’s Snappsy is another big favorite!)
My “take-away” as a writer: While the characters in this book are essentially “stock” characters, they do not seem one dimensional and they all fit really well with the plot, ultimately working really naturally together to create a plot.
Title: The Same, but Different, Too
Author: Karl Newson
Illustrator: Kate Hindley
Publisher/Date: Nosy Crow; (March 19, 2020)
The “gist”: Told in sparse and simple rhyming text, this book highlights what unites us even though we may look different or have different talents.
My favorite part: The illustrations have a great “Richard Scarry” quality which makes them seem really timeless. (Just googled their two names, by the way, and Hindley lists Scarry as an inspiration– she can feel proud, because she nailed him!)
My response as a reader: This would make a splendid board book for very young readers– the text is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss (without the outlandish made-up words) and has a similar “feel good” moral.
My “take-away” as a writer: Simplify, simplify! I didn’t count, but I would be surprised if this text topped 300 words, but it doesn’t need more than that. What can I cut in my own writing?
Title: Gurple and Preen
Author: Linda Sue Park
Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster BYR (August 25, 2020)
The “gist”: Gurple and Preen are robots whose spaceship has crashed. They use random objects which come out of the broken crayons to fix the spaceship.
My favorite part: I adore Debbi Ohi and her art, and one of her taglines is “You never know what will come out of a broken crayon.” (I highly recommend her Flickr page for more brilliant examples!) So, I just loved seeing his concept turned into a whole book!
My response as a reader: I would love reading this with a little one and asking them to anticipate what you could do with each of the items that comes out of the crayons!
My “take-away” as a writer: This book made me even more respectful of the amazing partnership between author and illustrator. I have no idea if Linda Sue and Debbie worked together on the plot for this, but there is truly no separating the text from the pictures here and if I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn they had to come from one person! Bravo, Ladies!