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Some Miscellaneous Picture Books that I've Enjoyed Lately

I've fallen behind on my picture book reviews of late. So I've decided to try something new. I'm doing 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. Fourth was HarperCollins Children's Books. Today, I'm sharing titles from three different publishers: The New York Review Children's Collection, Little, Brown, and Flying Eye Books. 

1. The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars, written by Jean Merrill and illustrated by Ronni Solbert. The New York Review Children's Collection has re-issued the 1964 picture book The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars. Their beautiful new edition, with red binding and thick paper, is sure to bring a new generation of readers to this classic story. 

The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars, as the title promises, is about an elephant who gets much joy out of smashing small cars. Merrill recounts this matter-of-factly, like this:

"Every time a small car came along
the road where the elephant lived,
the elephant would jump on the car.

He would jump up and down on it
until he smashed it."

There's no explanation of what happens to anyone who might be in the car. But there is a song about the elephant's love of his hobby. When a man opens a car dealership, focusing on small cars, on the elephant's street, there is trouble (and a lot of car smashing). A resolution is reached in the end, but it does take some degree of violence to get there. I see small boys particularly appreciating this book. 

The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars is a quirky, subversive story with simple, colorful illustrations. The whole thing is deceptively simple, really - there's more to it than initially appears. It's not going to be for everybody, but I think that for people with the right sense of humor (an appreciation of subtle black humor, mainly), The Elephant Who Likes to Smash Small Cars is going to be a hit. Libraries will definitely want to add this one to their collections. 

2. Wild About Shapes, by Jérémie Fischer. Wild About Shapes is a well-executed concept book that uses color mixing to reveal hidden animals. Each page spread shows seemingly random shapes on the left-hand side, in one color. On the other side is a clear page that has some shape on it of a different color. When you flip the clear page back over the left-hand side, a meaningful shape is revealed in the blended third color (e.g. blue left-hand page and yellow overlay => green giraffe.

Minimal text says things like: "Quick! Look over there..." and "Look closer." With practice, one can start to guess what the merged shape might be on some of the pages, but I think that very young kids will find Wild About Shapes continually surprising. My five -year-old enjoyed reading through this book once, but it wasn't something that, at her age, she was interested to do again. I could see Wild About Shapes becoming a favorite of a two- or three-year-old, though. There's ample opportunity to point out colors, discuss how the colors blend, and identify animals. Wild About Shapes has a sturdy spiral binding and thick pages, and so should hold up to the clumsy hands of toddlers (at least at home - I'm not sure how long it would last in the public library). I think that Wild About Shapes would make a great first or second birthday gift. I believe we will find a younger child to whom to pass this one along. 

3. The Grasshopper & the Ants, by Jerry Pinkney. The Grasshopper and the Ants is quite similar to Pinkey's The Tortoise and the Hare (reviewed previously). The Grasshopper & the Ants has a bit more text than The Tortoise and the Hare, but both have equally lavish, detailed illustrations. The story is straightforward enough. Throughout the year, starting in springtime, Grasshopper relaxes, and urges the ants to follow his example. They are too busy working, however, and quietly go about their business. Eventually, the Grasshopper ends up cold and hungry. But Queen Ant takes pity on him, and offers him a cup of tea. 

Pinkney's text shows the artistic soul of the lazy Grasshopper, giving the reader sympathy for him, even when he is clearly not following the right path. For example:

"Why toil so steady?" asked Grasshopper.
"It's fall and the world is a playground of leaves.
Oh, how their colors twirl and glide!
Come dance and sing!"

The ants are much more brusque. The Grasshopper is also visually much more dramatic than the ants, with colorful wings and clothes, and interesting musical instruments in hand. The ants toil away, not distracted by the riot of color and activity surrounding them. But set against the cold white of winter, their cozy home has considerable appeal. 

The Grasshopper & the Ants is simply beautiful, with the lavish feel of an embroidered tapestry, and many tiny details to reward re-reading. The moral of the story is never overtly stated (until an author's note at the end), a subtle approach which I appreciated. The Grasshopper & the Ants belongs in homes and libraries everywhere. It's a keeper!

© 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).