Bolivar by Sean Rubin. Archaia, 2017. 9781684150694. 224pp.
In a lot of ways this is the longest picture book I’ve ever seen. Or is it a graphic novel? Since there are comics and a tiny bit of prose, it’s probably fair to say it’s both. And it’s even more important to say that I enjoyed it as an adult, not for some generic, unnamed kid’s sake sake.
Bolivar, a dinosaur, lives in New York City, but only his neighbor Sybil seems to notice. Everyone else is too busy. (Bolivar lives on corned beef sandwiches and tonic water with lime.) Sybil spends the first part of the book trying to convince everyone that Bolivar is a dinosaur and entirely fails (in fun ways) to get evidence. After Bolivar is given a parking ticket (despite not being a car), he has to go to City Hall and file a complaint, and the book takes a fun turn.
My favorite part of the book are the illustrated mosaics on the endpapers, the title page, and on the subway walls in the book. I cannot imagine how much time Rubin spent on them, and they look amazing. But really the whole book is fab. The people are very cartoony but have a lot of character, the streets and interiors are amazingly detailed, and every page has a texture that reminds me of Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I’m so happy Archaia published this in an oversized format — it really deserves it.
Bonus: The whole book is as much a love letter to New York as Roz Chast’s latest.
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, pictures by Adam Rex. Balzer + Bray, 2017. 9780062438898.
The secret origins of the generations-long battle between the three equally matched rivals: rock, paper, and scissors. Each mighty warrior has defeated all of the possible challengers in their homelands and goes in search of worthy adversaries elsewhere in the house. All of the battles are wonderfully over dramatic and over the top in both text and art, with hilarious pre-battle smack talk in word balloons. According to Nancy Pearl, bookseller Rene Kirkpatrick says you should read it aloud as though you are announcing a motocross race. I totally agree.
Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang (siblings). Random House Children’s Books, 2018. 9780553537864.
Jim Panzee is having a bad day, so he’s grumpy. But Jim denies it. Some other animals teach him how not to look grumpy, but that doesn’t change how he feels. So then they try to show him how to enjoy the day. And this is the high point of the book for me — animals talking about what they enjoy. Snake (wrapped around an alarmed rabbit): “You should hug someone!” Hyena (next to a fly-ridden pile of yuck): “You should eat old meat!” Max Lang’s drawings are absolutely hilarious, especially when he gives the animals bug eyes.
Monkey Brother by Adam Auerbach. Henry Holt, 2017. 9781627796002.
A kid has a monkey for a little brother, who follows him/her everywhere, including into the bathroom. (Where, I might add, the kid is sitting on the pot reading a dinosaur picture book. Which I guess is good?) The little monkey always copies him/her, too. Irritating? Yep. But there’s a happy ending, and the drawings are totally fun. The best two-page spread is of a monkey-filled birthday party. And it all ends on a happy, natural note about little siblings (especially those with prehensile tails).
Good Night, Planet (Toon Level Two) by Liniers. Toon Books, 2017. 9781943145201. 32pp.
When Toon’s Easy-To-Read Comics are good, they’re really good. This is one of my favorites. It’s going to be my go-to gift for early readers for the next few holiday seasons.
After an active day playing outside, a little girl tells her stuffed animal, Planet, good night and goes to sleep. Planet gets up, gives the sleeping girl a kiss, and goes off to have his own nighttime adventure with the family dog and a mouse who gets Planet to climb a tree and reach for the moon. Many cookies are eaten by all before Planet returns to bed and the girl wakes up. It’s sweet, fun, and perfectly executed.
Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, 2017. 9781484767467.
I grabbed this book off the shelf because I was looking for books on immigration as a part of a Welcoming Week display, and then found out it was for a different kind of newcomer: babies! The book welcomes these new arrivals and explains the joys (music, cats, stories) and challenges (sadness, hurt, ice cream disasters) that will be faced in the weeks and years to come, all in the form of an instruction manual with simple infographic-style symbols. Useful tips and reassurances are included: if the new arrival has questions, they only have to “call or flail about or scream like a banshee. Someone is standing by 24 hours a day 7 days a week” and love and help is always available. Each page ends with “while we read this book together,” keeping the traditional picture book feeling among the jokes for parents. It is utterly charming and destined to be a perennial baby shower present.
If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 9781626724136.
It says something about the power of art and storytelling (and a lot about Lily Williams) that she can make a complex idea like a trophic cascade (the drastic changes in an ecosystem resulting from the disappearance of an apex predator) clear and compelling to a young audience. As she shows, even though sharks can seem scary, they are absolutely necessary to the health of the oceans. They keep their prey populations in balance which in turn keeps their food sources in balance, and so on and so on, which extends to populations on land as well. The book ends with steps ordinary people can take to protect sharks that are vulnerable to extinction, from buying sustainably caught fish to creating their own shark art.
This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee. Caitlyn Dloughy / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481441391.
Lee’s black and white and oh-so-blue Wave was so beautiful that, after finding it in a bookstore, I read it three times before I made it to the counter. This one also has a lot of that wonderfully blue water as three kids enjoy a rainy day. And then even more color explodes on the pages as more happy kids with umbrellas join them, the sky clears, and the gray goes away.
Little Red Riding Sheep by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Cale Atkinson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481457484.
I can’t think of a folk tale where color is more important. Retellings don’t usually do much for me, but this one features a Heidschnucke sheep named Arnold who refuses to be in a traditional version tale and talks back to the writer/narrator, bringing more light into the forest, casting his friends in key roles, and finally just changes the story to altogether. My favorite picture is of his friend Einer, a muskrat, making his scary face.
Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire. Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481461313.
After two colorful picture books, round things out with a bit of nonfiction about artist Mary Blair, who collected colors wherever she went. She was one of the first women to be hired by Walt Disney Studios, but the men there rejected her colors as too vivid and wild. After she left and became a successful illustrator on her own, Walt Disney himself invited her back to use her colors to design the It’s A Small World ride.