Puzzle Pals: Kiki the Kitten by Egmont. Sandy Creek, 2014. Intended audience: Age 3.
This is an intriguing concept for a book. Pieces of the illustrations are removable and become puzzle pieces to form when put together a complete image of the title character, Kiki the Kitten. Kiki is never named except for in the title. She is not much of a character, but perhaps a fairly stereotypical cat. The story—call it that—is exceedingly short, having only four pages of text, and each page having only a sentence, maybe two. I found the cover sadly pink and “feminine.” In our gender polarized world, it’s hard to imagine most boys wanting such a book, though there is nothing inherently feminine about a cat, even if it is a female cat. While I am impressed by the ingenuity of the illustrations, that’s about all I can really give this book.
Your Baby’s First Word Will Be DADA by Jimmy Fallon and illustrated by Miguel Ordóñez. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 1-3, Grades PreK.
I knew very little about this book before its release. We had signs up at the store that displayed the cover, but gave no description. Honestly, I expected something very different—and I was glad to hear from a coworker that I wasn’t the only one. I thought not of the paternal pet name when seeing “DADA” but of the modernist art movement. I expected a book lauding Dadaism. Instead I was given a book of adult (presumably paternal) animals pleadingly or with frustration saying “dada” only to have their children blithely answer with their stereotypical animal sound (“moo” for a cow, for example). At the end all of the children look mischievously at one another and cry aloud, together “dada!” I can be impressed by Ordóñez’s expressive illustrations, though I’m not sure that I like the association with frustration (which expresses itself fairly like anger) and fathers, however accurate the emotion may be when trying to get a child to say a specific word. Ordóñez also uses good, pastel colors, which I believe are still recommended for the very young, especially as being soothing around bedtime. I may have liked this book better without the hype, without the chance to expect a book on Dadaism. On the whole though, it’s an animal sounds primer, and nothing much special beyond that. It’s hard to be outstanding with a primer.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr and illustrated by Eric Carle. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 1996. First published 1967. Intended audience: Ages 2-5, Grades PreK-K.
This is a classic to be sure, and as such, one I really feel incapable of fairly rating. This duo has had incredible staying power, most of their collaborations surviving today, being reprinted in numerous formats, still selling well, and being displayed prominently. This, I believe, was one of their earlier collaborations, maybe the first, and one that started a series of similar books that can serve as primers for animals. This one doubles as a color primer as well. Some of the animals are their natural colors. Some like the blue horse and purple cat are less so. Carle’s illustrations are fairly realistic, and yet his style is unique and recognizable. The story ends with the goldfish seeing the teacher and the teacher seeing the children and the children seeing all of the animals that had been previously mentioned, so there is the repetition of the lesson to help cement the words in the mind as well a crack in the fourth wall, of which I am always a fan. Carle includes children of many races, which was probably particularly radical in the 1960s, but we still need that diversity.
It’s Okay to Make Mistakes by Todd Parr. Little Brown-Hachette, 2014.
I discovered this book—as honestly I do most of these books—by pure accident. Most of them I find while cleaning up after customers. This one was in a section that I know to be less frequented (the parenting section just outside of the children’s section), and I would if I could, move it to a more prominent location. I think I might even move it out of the children’s section altogether. Though marketed for the very young, I feel as if I have more insecurity as an adult about making the mistakes given as examples in this book than I ever did as a child—maybe because as an adult I feel the pressure to succeed and to conform more than I did as a child, and I know that my consequences may be more devastating in that they may result in losing a job and being unable to pay my rent or feed myself rather than being kicked off an extracurricular team or being called to talk to the teacher. How many children care if they put on mismatching socks? How many adults worry that a manager or potential employer will notice their mismatched socks and think less of them because of they grabbed the wrong clothes in the dark, rushing out the door to be on time? The other examples given in the book are more universal across the ages. It’s always important to know that you don’t have to know the answer. It’s always good to be reminded that you might discover something new by trying something different. Honestly, I think I would sell more copies of this during graduation season alongside Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! than during any other time or to any parents of smaller children. I actually think that this book would go nicely just beside Bradley Trevor Greive’s in my room—books to read when feeling discouraged.
I’ve read several of Todd Parr’s books, and I find him enchanting. His colors are beyond Crayola vibrant. His vibrant colors create a universality that leaps across racial barriers and his childlike drawings sometimes surpass gender barriers besides. Animal characters also help to create a universality of reader. Parr leans towards second person text, directly addressing the reader, again lending a more universal feel to the story.
The illustrations are fairly simple, his faces being noseless, little more than smiley or frowny faces. The characters, figures, and backgrounds are all fairly blocky with a few lines to illustrate movement when necessary.
Parr ends his books with a brief summary of his idea and his “Love, Todd” signature.
Hector’s Shell by Thomas Radcliffe. Little Bee-Bonnier, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.
Hector misplaces his shell while playing at the beach and goes in search of a new one, coming up with many creative solutions, including an origami shell, which turns mushy and leaves smudges of ink all over his body. It was enjoyable turning the page to see what new idea Hector would try and how it would inevitably go wrong. There was a lot of text in this book, making it better for an older reader. In Hector’s joy at finding his shell, there was a touch of a message about positive body image. After the fantastic build up, [SPOILER] it was a little bit anticlimactic for Hector to find his shell in the place that he’d left it. [END SPOILER]
Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett. Templar-Candlewick, 2015. First published 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades PreK-2.
Orion is scared of a lot of things—but especially of the dark. Fed up one night he yells at the dark, and the dark descends in a humanoid shape to show Orion why he shouldn’t be afraid of the dark and how much fun can be had in the dark. There’s even more text in this book than there is in Hector’s Shell. As with Hector’s Shell, a lot of the text is outside the story thread. For example, the sounds that Orion hears in the dark are written out. Examples of Orion’s fears and his ideas to escape the dark are also written into the illustrations. One of the cleverer aspects of the book is several pages where a flap is pressed towards the previous page to create a different image and reveal the text of the page. One page like this makes Dark shake Orion’s hand. A later page allows Dark to wrap his arm around Orion. It is a touching effect. The book is gentle and gently humorous, laughing at Dark’s fears of Dad’s snore and elbowing adults with references to the stars of Orion’s Belt. A Booklist review rightly compares the illustrations with Oliver Jeffers, who ranks among my favorite illustrator-authors. Emma Yarlett may become another illustrator for whom I watch when shelving new picture books.
These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.