When I first started work at Hooray for Books in August, I was so excited to explore the picture book section, and I quickly discovered the go-to favorites that I regularly recommend to customers. Now that I’ve been here for a few months, as much as I still love The Circus Ship and King Jack and the Dragon, I decided it was high time to add to my list of favorites, and I found these three hidden gems. Enjoy!
The Incredible Book-Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers; Philomel Books; $17.99; ages 3-7
Henry loves books, but he doesn’t like to read them; he loves to EAT them! (Especially the red ones). The more he reads, the smarter he gets, until he starts to think that one day “he might even become the smartest person on Earth!” Henry eats more and more books, until he starts to develop indigestion from too much information. Can he learn to savor reading books, instead of just gobbling them up?
My favorite books are the ones that spark interesting conversation, and I can tell you from experience that “Book-Eating Boy” does. After reading it aloud to my five-year-old charge, we had a long conversation about whether it’s possible to “get smarter” from reading books. What kinds of books should you read, and how should you read them? Should you read a ton of books very quickly, or one great one slowly? It could be a weighty topic in the hands of a lesser author, but Jeffers introduces the themes in such a humorously unexpected way that the tone is anything but preachy. The illustrations are wonderfully original: Jeffers paints over the pages of used books! I really can’t recommend this book enough. Pick it up and start your own conversation!
Squish Rabbit by Katherine Battersby; Viking Children’s Books; $12.99; ages 2-6
Squish Rabbit is lovely in its simplicity. Squish “was just a little rabbit, but being little led to big problems.” No one wanted to play with him, or listen to his stories, so he made a pretend bunny out of cloth, “but pretend friends can only do so much.” When Squish notices a little squirrel in the forest, will he have the courage to speak up and make a friend?
It’s always a pleasure to find an author who understands that childhood is not all sunshine and birthday parties; that children sometimes feel loneliness, and feel it deeply. “Squish Rabbit,” however, is it not dark in the slightest; it’s matter-of-fact and elegant in its emotional honesty. The bold and bright illustrations are wonderfully direct; your little one will be able to follow the story from Squish’s expressions alone. This is a book that manages to be sweet without cloying, and take on the universal theme of friendship in a new way. I highly recommend it as a thoughtful read-aloud, even for the wee ones.
Bear’s Picture by Daniel Pinkwater; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.00; ages 3-7
Bear’s Picture is the simple story of a bear who paints, and two “fine, proper gentleman” who try to discourage him. On each page, we see Bear’s picture grow more and more colorful and vibrant, and the gentlemen’s protests grow more and more disgruntled. They do not know what to make of Bear’s beautiful abstract picture: is it a clown? A butterfly? They conclude that “bears are not the sort of fellows to paint pictures.” Bear responds confidently: “Why not? Why can’t a bear do anything he likes?”
It’s not very often that a picture book makes me simultaneously laugh out loud and marvel at the art. The bear, as depicted by D.B. Johnson, is as wonderfully defiant as the two gentlemen are ridiculous, matching Pinkwater’s wit perfectly. But the art is not just humorous, it’s also beautiful to look at: vaguely Cubist-inspired, the figures jump off the page, seeming almost 3D. I also love the message: it’s the rare picture book protagonist who is this self-assured! Pick it up for your own little artist, or for an adult who appreciates marvelous illustrations.
Well, there you have it. Have you gotten the impression that I love working here? If you have, you’d be right — it’s so much fun to discover the variety of picture books out there. Stop by and find your own hidden treasures!