Tag Archives: picture books

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity by Amy Alznauer

by Amy Alznauer
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Alznauer, herself a mathematician, portrays this 19th century math genius growing up in India. She tells of his family, how he didn’t speak until he was 3, how school bored him and he went to a new one each year until finally a teacher saw his potential and encouraged his brilliant questions about math and numbers. Somehow he was able to connect with professors at Cambridge and trade ideas with other fine minds of his time. Daniel Miyares’ beautiful illustrations more than do the story justice – they bring it to life.

“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses

by Beth Anderson
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars 

Illustrations by Jenn Harney really make this book, especially providing clarity in a couple of spots where the text is a bit confusing. They evoke the 1930’s and 1940’s, when James “Smelly” Kelly was at his prime in working for the New York City subway system, walking miles of track and fixing leaks (an average of 8 a day!). He used his super sense of smell to do the job, but also learned that listening well and using inventions he made were also crucial. Another winning picture book biography in a banner year!

Illustrations like: Day-Glo Brothers

Two Picture Books: Turtle Walk and Louis

Turtle Walk by Matt Phelan
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

A group of turtles goes on journeys each season. Repeating text is enhanced by the changing backgrounds, and then the very last one introduces a delightful change and the turtles go sledding down a hill on their tummies, then cuddle up in a big turtle pile and fall asleep. Completely adorable.

Louis by Tom Lichtenheld 
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Louis the teddy bear is NOT happy with the little boy who drags him around. Evocative of Daywalt’s quitting crayons, his story is a rant about how he’s so out of here – as soon as the tea party is over, and the show and tell about how brave he was when the boy left him on the bus. But then the boy falls asleep hugging him tightly, and all’s well. Louis’ scowls – as only a teddy bear can – are priceless and made me giggle, falling in love with Louis immediately. I understood the indignities he suffered, and was also glad when he stayed in the end.

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann

by Jennifer K. Mann
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Ernestine, maybe 5-7 years old, is excited for her first camping trip with her aunt and cousin. Cousin Samantha is a pro, but to Ernestine, fish in the lake, heavy hiking backpacks, and tofu hot dogs aren’t exactly what she was imagining. The last straw is that she can’t fall asleep and misses her dad. Finally she wakes up Samantha and Aunt Jackie and they all go look at the stars until Ernestine is sleepy, and falls asleep no problem.

Ernestine is so completely relatable! It’s easy to romanticize camping and then recoil at the reality if you’re not used to it. But she grows over the course of the story, which is a picture book but almost a graphic novel hybrid. I also loved that Ernestine and her family are Black; since there is a history of outdoor spaces, especially swimming facilities, being off-limits to African-Americans, it is extra important to have representation there. The only reason I docked it a star is that the illustrations didn’t wow me. But overall a solid story and sorely-needed diversity.

The Hidden Rainbow by Christie Matheson

by Christie Matheson
Overall: 2 out of 5 stars

My coworkers and I agreed that this book had a lot going on – almost too much. It’s a color book. It’s a counting book. It’s an interactive book (sorta). It’s about bees. I had such high hopes as I absolutely adore Matheson’s Tap the Magic Tree for storytime with my toddlers. My colleague thought this one might work for a slightly older audience who can handle multiple themes at once, which it might. What I love about Tap the Magic Tree is the creative movements that the story calls for: tapping on the book, blowing, clapping, shaking the book to make the apples fall. In this one, the movements are much less creative and also much more vague: wave the bees back to their hive, point to the crocus shoots, trace a line. On top of that, it was just a bit didactic for me: though bees are certainly important, I was hoping for more magic and several page spreads had nothing but dry lessons on how important bees are.

My Maddy by Gayle E. Pitman

My Maddy by Gayle E. Pitman
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Curiously, this one is not listed on Pitman’s website, even under new releases. It caught my eye in a review journal because I know exactly who I would give it to – a 7-year-old whose parent is nonbinary.

My Maddy is a little bit the story of a child whose parent is neither mommy nor daddy, but a combo of both – a maddy. But more than that, it’s about all the things that are neither one thing nor another, but somehow sort of both (Maddy rides a motorcycle, which is neither car nor bike; they like to eat with sporks, which are neither fork nor spoon, etc). Some are very clever and the metaphor works well. The lesson is clear: things that are both have their own advantages. It’s also clear that Maddy and their child have a strong, loving bond.

One Little Bag by Henry Cole

One Little Bag by Henry Cole
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

We passed this little gem all around the children’s department at my library, gasping and awwwing all the way through. I would be shocked if it’s not a finalist for the Caldecott. From his website, Cole seems to be talented across different media; I had to double-check that I had the right Henry Cole’s website, but it appears he is, in fact, the one behind Big Bug, Three Hens and a Peacock, and And Tango Makes Three.

One Little Bag is a wordless and mostly color-less story of a boy who reuses a paper bag throughout his whole life. It starts by following a log in its journey to become the bag, and the note after shares how Cole’s environmentalist background, and experience reusing a paper bag in childhood, led to the story. Then we follow the bag as it holds a child’s lunch every day, and then goes on to play a role in the big events in his life. In each spread, the only spot of color is the light brown of the bag (or log before it’s a bag). The story is lovely and sweet, and also stars an interracial couple.

This is a Dog by Ross Collins

by Ross Collins a dog
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I will admit that I was skeptical when my coworker handed me this one, proclaiming it’s hilarious. The first several pages are fairly benign, with simple text reading “This is a [animal]” and then a picture of that animal. But the dog on the cover gets increasingly bold and chases the other animals away or making their page say “This is a dog.” He even dresses up like an elephant on the elephant page, which made me laugh out loud. The text follows as the antics veer off into “this is a chase” and “this is a trick” and ends with the dog having eluded the others and curls up to sleep. (One note to those who try to stay away from potty humor is that one spread has the dog peeing on a giraffe.) This book would be a great Kindergarten read-aloud, plus the large type and repetition of “This is a” on every page would make it a good early reader too! Very reminiscent of Kelly Bingham’s Z is for Moose and Circle, Square, Moose – but this dog is less obnoxious than Moose.

President of the Jungle by André Rodrigues, Larissa Ribeiro, Paula Desgualdo, and Pedro Markun

President of the Jungle
by André Rodrigues, Larissa Ribeiro, Paula Desgualdo, and Pedro Markun

The jungle animals are upset by Lion’s selfishness. They hold a demonstration and then decide they want to be a democracy so that they can elect a new leader. Lion must run against Monkey, Sloth, and Snake. Lion runs on a platform of tradition; Monkey runs on a smear campaign that promises no more lies, Snake on being an everysnake, and Sloth on patient reform. The candidates campaign, rally, and debate and then everyone votes. Lion is disqualified for cheating and Sloth wins. In Sloth’s victory speech, they vow to make a team to work together.

Originally published in Portuguese (in Brazil), it’s easy to see how this book would be translated into 6 other languages, including English. It’s not just a good story that shows how elections work in a very general way; it also feels particularly apt right now in calling out selfish world leaders and increasing election turnout.

The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee

by Helena Ku Rhee
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

A young boy goes with his parents to their night job cleaning an office when his usual babysitter can’t make it. He is skeptical at first but his parents make the experience magical by spinning a tale about how the office is a paper kingdom, complete with kings and queens and dragons. The drawings are as fantastic(al) as the story; overall a delightful read for bedtime or otherwise.