I've fallen hopelessly 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 is Kane Miller. Here are three picture books that I especially enjoyed from their latest shipment. All fall into the 4 to 8 age range, but will probably hit their sweet spot with first and second graders. Kane Miller books are available from the Kane Miller website or through Usborne consultants like this one.
1. Bears Don't Read by Emma Chichester Clark. Previously published by HarperCollins Children's Books. In Bears Don't Read, a bear named George lives in the woods, and wonders about Life. He is bored, and doesn't fit in well with his brothers and sisters. One day George finds a book that someone has left in the woods. He sets out in search of the book's owner, in the hope that this person will teach him to read. After a long journey (and some misunderstandings involving riot gear), George meets a girl named Clementine, and finds what he needs.
Bears Don't Read is a delightfully ridiculous story (George can conveniently talk to humans, for example, even though he can't read). At it's heart, Bears Don't Read is about having higher needs than pure survival. It's about striving for more, and the value of learning. And of course, Bears Don't Read is a celebration of books. Clark's illustrations are full of cheerful colors and bright-eyed characters, with George front and center on every page. Bears Don't Read is a book that kids will want to read, and then probably will want to read again.
2. A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton. Previously published by Hodder Children's Books. A Tale of Two Beasts tell the same story from two different perspectives. A girl goes out into the woods and finds a strange animal. She brings the animal home, makes him a lovely house, shows him off to all of her friends, and then is disappointed when he runs away at the first opportunity. He comes back, though, and animal and girl appear to find common ground. Then we hear the story again from the animal's perspective.
A Tale of Two Beasts is a fun look at the way that people can perceive the same event very differently, particularly when there is a language barrier. Astute readers may guess that the animal is unhappy living indoors, being forced to wear a blue hat and sweater, but the girl remains optimistic and proud of herself. Right up until the animal jumps out of the window, anyway. Roberton's illustrations area mix of full-page images and spare vignettes, with big-headed, small-eyed children shown in contrast to the wide-eyed animal. There is fun vocabulary (like ambushed and lair), and plenty of drama. All in all, A Tale of Two Beasts is a fun, engaging story.
3. Jessica's Box by Peter Carnavas. Previously published by Auer-System-Verlag Carl in German. Jessica's Box is about a girl who starts school for the first time, and tries various schemes in an effort to make friends. Jessica sits in her wheelchair with a box on her lap. She tries putting her favorite stuffed animal in it, to derision from the other students. She tries cupcakes, and a dog, but these don't work out either. But eventually, Jessica's box does help her to make a friend.
What I like about Jessica's Box is that the text never actually mentions that Jessica is in a wheelchair (though the illustrations make this quite clear). This makes Jessica's efforts to make friends seem universal, rather than the tribulations of someone who is physically disabled. Sure, the wheelchair matters (because how else could she get manage going to school every day with a big box?). But the story is larger than that. Canavas' simple, vignette-style illustrations are perfect for this story, in which readers are left to fill in the details for themselves. I also like Jessica's parents, who are supportive without trying to solve the problem for her. I'm interested to read this one with my daughter. I think it will spark some interesting conversations.
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