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Five Recent HarperCollins Picture Books that I Enjoyed

I've fallen behind on my picture book reviews of late. So I've decided to try something new. I'm going to do small round-up posts featuring my favorites of the titles that I've received from various publishers. First up was Kane Miller. Second was Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Third was Chronicle Kids. Today I am featuring five titles (or so) from HarperCollins Children's Books.

1. Paddington in the Garden, written by Michael Bond and illustrated by R. W. Alley. In light of the recent movie, HarperCollins has been issuing and re-issuing various  editions of Paddington stories. Among my favorites are the picture books, including Paddington in the Garden. This story, lovingly illustrated by R. W. Alley, focuses on Paddington's love of the Browns' garden, and his joy when he's given a little patch of garden to maintain on his own. A contest ensues, and mishaps occur, but in the end, Paddington triumphs.  

Paddington in the Garden is text-heavy as picture books go, reflecting Paddington's original status as a chapter book character. There are sentences like: "They (gardens) usually require a lot of hard work, and the one at number thirty-two Windsor Gardens was no exception." Parents reading this aloud may have to stop and explain some things. However, the Paddington picture books still provide an accessible entry point for kids into the world of the Paddington stories. Alley's busy, colorful illustrations will make readers of all ages smile. My own daughter gave the first Paddington chapter book a try, but (at five) she likes the picture books better. 

2. Paddington at the Beach, written by Michael Bond and illustrated by R. W. Alley. Paddington at the Beach is a shorter, simpler story than Paddington in the Garden. It focuses on a visit that Paddington makes, by himself, to the beach, and his interactions with a pack of greedy seagulls. Paddington at the Beach is also a counting book, as seagulls 1 to 10 arrive gradually over the course of the story. This book feels more like it was conceived as an original picture book (vs. an adapted incident from one of the chapter books), though I don't know this for certain. Regardless, there is still a relatively sophisticated vocabulary that will reward parents and children reading together. 

Other Paddington titles that we've been reading include the original Paddington picture book and a The Paddington Treasury: Six Classic Bedtime Stories. I've also seen my daughter looking through a couple of movie tie-in edition paperbacks, but she hasn't asked me to read those to her. I suspect we'll get back to the chapter books soon... 

3. Goose, by Laura Wall. Goose is the story of a lonely girl named Sophie who wishes that she had someone to play with. At the park, she befriends a goose. They play together on the seesaw and the slide and have a great time. Eventually (after nearly going off for the winter with the other geese), Goose is allowed to go home with Sophie. 

I like that Goose is just ridiculous, with no moral messages or larger theme (beyond the idea that it's nice to have someone to play with). There's a boy playing in the park with his teddy, and I expected Sophie to end up playing with him, but no, Wall avoids this obvious solution in favor of Goose as playmate. 

There's an old-fashioned feel to Goose (Sophie and her mom both wear dresses, and there's no question of her mom playing with her in the park), but this is balanced by bright, eye-catching illustrations. The illustrations were drawn in charcoal, and then digitally colored. Each page has a single-toned, bright background. The text is brief and straightforward, meaning that Goose could also work well as an early reader. But I think that Goose will work best as a lap read-aloud for very young readers, who can practice identifying the colors, and laugh at the idea of a Goose on a slide. 

4. Goodnight Already!, written by Jory John and illustrated by Benji Davies. Goodnight Already! is the story of Bear, who just wants to sleep, and his neighbor Duck, who is awake and looking for company. Duck keeps hounding Bear, and Bear responds with ever-increasing levels of grouchiness. Until, eventually, Duck falls asleep, and Bear is left wide-awake and frustrated. 

There's a long tradition of books like this, of course, with a pesky friend trying to win over someone grouchy (who often is a bear). What I like here is that Bear never is won over (even though he is woken up). No matter what Ducks asks ("Want to play cards?" "Can I borrow some sugar?") the answer is always "No." There's also plenty of humor, both in the dialog and in the illustrations. My favorite scene is one in which Duck wakes up Bear by poking him on the nose. Bear's eyes pop open, and so do the eyes of Bear's pink stuffed bunny. I laughed out loud. 

I'm actually surprised that this book has a different author and illustrator, because the text and illustrations mesh perfectly. I recommend Goodnight Already! for home use, because it's a perfect parent-child read-aloud. The only risk in reading it as a bedtime book, of course, is that the child will be kept awake from laughing. But that's a small price to pay. Goodnight Already! is going on my keep shelf. 

5. Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens, written by Nina Nolan and illustrated by John Holyfield. Very different in tone from the picture books profiled above, Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens is a picture book biography about a girl from a poor family in New Orleans who grew up to be a famous gospel singer. 

Nolan's prose somehow begs to be read with a Southern accent. When her aunt tells her "One day you'll walk with kings and queens", what follows is: "How was Mahalia going to walk with kings and queens? She didn't even have shoes. But Aunt Bell had a way of knowing things." 

Her aunt is strict, and takes her out of school after fourth grade, but she still tells Mahalia to believe in her own greatness. That aunt is remarkable, as is Mahalia's story. There's a lack of melodrama to Nolan's recounting. Just the facts. Out of school, back in school, working hard, but always singing. Holyfield's acrylic illustrations add more softness to the book. They are works of art, too, capturing the various settings experienced in Mahalia's journey, as well as the affection between Mahalia and her relatives. 

Young readers will, I think, be inspired by Mahalia's dedication to her music, and to her religion. If she could rise up from nothing and sing in front of prime ministers and presidents, it will be hard for readers to complain. I hope that kids will find Mahalia's story. Recommended for school and public library purchase. 

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).