I’m still going through my BookExpo bags (okay, I’ve moved them from one area of my room to another), but in the meantime, I’ve got picture books to talk about! Some are available, some are up-and-coming, all are a pleasure to read. Let’s take a look at what’s good!
SumoKitty, by David Biedrzycki, (Aug. 2019, Charlesbridge), $18.99, ISBN: 9781580896825
A stray cat hangs around a sumo training center, hoping for some food. He’s about to be thrown out by the manager when one of the sumo shrieks: a mouse! Looks like the kitty has a new job and a new home, which he quickly becomes accustomed to. But the good life makes him lose his edge: he’s gained weight and the mice come back with a vengeance. Tossed back out into nature, Kumo, a kind sumo, lets the cat back in, but levels with him: the mice have humbled the cat like the sumo’s main opponent, the yokozuna, has humbled him. From there, SumoKitty starts a faithful training routine, inspired by Kuna’s disciplined regiment. When a mouse dares show up in the dojo next time, SumoKitty is there, pushing and tossing the mouse and his friends around until they clear out for good. He’s rewarded by not only being welcomed back to the dojo, but he’s given a sweet topknot haircut, too. He also gets a front row seat at the next sumo tournament, where he watches his friend Kumo face his own demons and takes on his longtime opponent.
A sweet story about overcoming challenges, SumoKitty is loaded with Japanese sumo terms and wise observations like “Fall down seven times; get up eight” and “Even monkeys fall from trees”. Adorable SumoKitty is cartoonish with large, expressive eyes and exaggerated facial expressions, while the sumo artwork appears inspired by Japanese woodblock paintings. The black and white endpapers give readers a before-and-after glimpse into the story, with a mouse running in a Zen garden as someone maintains the area; later, SumoKitty is fast asleep on a rock in the same Zen garden, no maintainer, and no mouse present. It’s a sweet peek into sumo culture and an all-around fun read. Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and Zen Happiness are nice readalikes to SumoKitty; for a good giggle and a more madcap take on sumo, you can’t go wrong with David Wisniewski’s Sumo Mouse, which has been a favorite in my home since my eldest (now 20) was in Kindergarten and continues to be required reading with my first grader.
Hey, Dog, by Tony Johnson/Illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, (June 2019, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580898775
A boy finds a dog hiding in a bush. The dog is afraid, runs, but the boy returns, time and again, to care for the dog, leaving him food, water, even an umbrella propped up to cover him in the rain. The boy confides in his mother that the dog is skinny and has scars; he refuses to give up on Dog, determined if not to earn his trust, then to care for him.
Hey, Dog crushed me. It’s just gorgeous writing that packs an emotional punch. The boy’s relationship with his mother, who is nervous – her son is trying to care for a strange dog that could very well bite him, right? – but supports her empathetic child, helping him in any way she can and the boy’s quiet resilience in the face of Dog’s fear and mistrust will make you have hope for people after all. The boy is written so wonderfully, whether he’s asking a shopkeeper if his dog food “is the most luscious” or when he drops to his knees, tears “warming his face”, as he tries to comprehend how anyone could have it in them to hurt an animal. Dog is illustrated to provoke another emotional gut punch; his cringing and reticence come through so viscerally, it’ll bring tears to your eyes. Seeing this poor pup, single paw raised, ribs poking through his coat, and trusting once more to lick the boy’s hand make this story a powerful, must-have book for you collection. Read this, hand this to kids, talk about the need for empathy in our world.
Bear’s Book, by Claire Freedman/Illustrated by Alison Friend, (May 2019, Templar Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536205718
Bear loves to read, but his favorite book of stories has been read to bits! He decides to create his own story, but holy writer’s block, he can’t think of anything! He decides to go for a stroll and see if inspiration hits, and meets several friends along the way. When he returns home and goes over his day, he realizes that the best inspiration comes from one’s own adventures!
This is an adorable story of inspiration and friendship, and fits nicely with Small Moments writing prompts. Bear’s adventure is a series of small moments, pulled together to create a lovely adventure. He’s inspired by his friends, and they have all enjoyed their friend’s company for a day. A fold-out spread publishes Bear’s story for his friends – and our – enjoyment. Mixed media illustrations are gently rendered with soft earth tones. This one is a sweet storytime pick, and good inspiration for a Summer Reading creative writing program.
My Name Isn’t Oof!: Warren the Warbler Takes Flight, by Michael Galligan/Illustrated by Jeremiah Tramell, (May 2019, Little Bigfoot), $17.99, ISBN: 9781632171931
A little bird tries to fly after watching his siblings take off, but he falls, landing with a giant, “Oof!” Naturally, every animal in the forest has an opinion, and to add insult to injury, they all call him “Oof”! The chipmunk says he forgot to jump; the Mouse says he needs to spread his wings; Squirrel says he has to flap. While they all have feedback aplenty on Warren’s flying prowess, they manage to bonk, push, and trip one another up, but Warren – who keeps protesting this new nickname – finally takes to the sky, to everyone’s cheering!
A cute story of perseverance with some hilarious physical comedy, My Name Isn’t Oof! will have younger readers giggling during a read-aloud, especially if you move around and act out the story. The repeated phrase, “My name isn’t Oof!” is a good discussion point to get kids talking about how unwanted nicknames can stick; you can also point out that while all the animals jump to find fault with Warren’s first flight, they’re just as clumsy as he is: no one is perfect! Back matter includes a paragraph on the Townsend Warbler, the kind of bird our star Warren is, and what readers can do if they find a baby bird fallen from a nest. Suggest Charlie Alder’s Daredevil Duck as a readalike for more humorous stories of overcoming obstacles.
How To Take Care of Your Dinosaur, by Jason Cockcroft, (May 2019, Nosy Crow), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536205688
Taking care of your very own dinosaur is a very big job! How to Take Care of Your Dinosaur is here to help. Written similar to a handy-dandy manual, the book takes a look at some of the more light-hearted moments in pet parenting a dinosaur. Taking your dino for a walk? Bring a bucket and a shovel, there’s no pooper scooper that’s built for this job. Dinos can be a little tough on sharing, so make sure to get them around new people and encourage them to make friends! The book stresses the importance of routine when caring for your dinosaur; something parents and caregivers will appreciate!
Digital illustrations are adorable and feature soft colors. The endpapers add to the fun: the front endpapers show a mailman struggling under the weight of a gigantic package (the egg); the back endpapers show a brick wall, papered with “Dino Sale” flyers, and feature the poor mailman laboring with two giant packages this time.
A fun storytime addition. Pair with Dragons Get Colds, Too for a fun, wacky pet-related storytime.