Category Archives: PICTURE BOOKS +
I’ve been thinking about creating this post since the spread of coronavirus and the changes it’s brought to our lives. By chance, many of the titles in a recent stack of books I received for review from publishers spoke specifically, I thought, to this theme of comfort in one way or another.
You’ll find here some brand new books and some forthcoming as well as a few from recent years—and one classic that rings true for me in any difficult season (and always).
My intent is that some of these titles bring comfort to kids (and to you). If you’re someone who is hunkering down right now, thank you for taking compassionate action for the greater good by keeping physical distance from others as an act of care. If your job outside your home is vital and necessitates being out, thank you for providing community services that we all rely on with the work you do.
Each of these books speaks to and offers comfort in one way or another, some in seriousness and sincerity and some through a rest from seriousness in favor of silliness.
Wishing you soothing, strength, health, hope, and picture books.
When the Storm Comes written by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (2020).
This one outlines what we do and what animals do when a storm comes—and readers can apply this to any kind of storm. We prepare, we hunker down, and then, when the storm passes, we go outside, we survey, we repair, we help those who need help. “What do you do when the storm has passed—when the sun comes out and it’s calm at last?”
A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel (2019).
This is about a stone that sits still and what that stone is to other animals in different lights or seasons or from different perspectives. It speaks to me of permanence and transience, of being of use to others, of being present to what is—now. “A stone sat still with the water, grass, and dirt and it was as it was where it was in the world.”
Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan, illustrated by Saffa Khan (2020).
A beautiful picture book that contains a series of wishes for a child as they grow that are deep and kind and full of love, with artwork that warms every page with washes of moon-hues and sky-hues: oranges, golds, blues. From the author: “Every line, or wish, in the book is inspired by the Quran, the Muslim holy book, which offers guidelines on how to live a thoughtful and grounded life filled with fairness, charity, justice, and most of all, love.”
We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands by Rafael López (2018).
You’ll know the tune of this one! It’s been transformed slightly to be more about our roles in the world and captures the joy and connection and small moments we have with one another. These magical spreads will truly buoy your heart with hope!
Bedtime for Sweet Creatures, words by Nikki Grimes, pictures by Elizabeth Zunon (2020).
Sweet indeed! A clever mother enlists the help of imaginary animals to coax her child to sleep as the child embodies each one with playful abandon. Rich, patterned, collage illustrations; lyrical language; and a wonderful bedtime routine.
Lilah Tov Good Night by Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G) and Noar Lee Naggan (2020).
“Lilah Tov” is a Hebrew lullaby and this family embarking on a journey—one that has echoes of those taken by refugees—repeats those words to all the bits of nature and the world they pass on their way to toward a new home.
A Last Goodbye by Elin Kelsey, artwork by Soyeon Kim (2020).
Now I need to warn you that this one is about death, and it’s quite frank. It details the way animals say goodbye when one of them dies. The way animals grieve. And it tells us something about what we do when one of us dies. The way we grieve. It is beautiful. It is deep. It is real. And it is full of the comfort of being loved and then sent off with love before returning to the earth in a connected way when the time comes.
Over the Moon by James Proimos, illustrated by Zoey Abbott (2020).
A girl is adopted by wolves, raised by wolves, and then finds her own kind, but still returns to her ever-present and sometimes hilarious wolf-parents. It’s the embodiment of safety found when safety’s needed. A strange, beautiful, and funny fable with the most charming, spirited pastel illustrations.
Hat Tricks by Satoshi Kitamura (2020).
A rabbit is the magician with the hat in this one, and animal, magical surprises ensue!
I Can Be Anything by Shinsuke Yoshitake (2020).
This book is hilarious! It captures a creative kid and an exasperated parent during a guessing game of “What am I?” that is inventive and funny and relatable and kind of never-ending in the best way. Let the guessing begin!
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel (2017).
This book embodies kindness, joy, and respect for others with engaging, tender, pink-cheeked illustrations. It came out of the author’s desire for “healing and Reconciliation” in response to the history of oppression of Indigenous people, particularly in regards to Residential Schools in Canada.
I Am Loved, poems by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan (2018).
A collection of poems that exude love for oneself and for others.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak (2020).
A stunning book that follows the journey of poi being made, from farming to family and community coming together for a lū’au. An uplifting ode to kale or taro and to its centrality in Hawaiian culture and life.
Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Angela Dominguez (2020).
A book about beekeeping, bees, bravery, and the sweet-honey-reward of overcoming a fear.
The Red Tree by Shaun Tan (2003).
This is in all honesty my favorite picture book ever and has been since I first discovered it. A picture book that explores what it’s like when the world seems upside-down, when you feel lost and disoriented and down. A book that, even in the middle of all that, still contains vivid hope.
I featured Shaun Tan’s Picture Book Life a few years ago if you want to check that out.
Picture books touch on so many topics, including elements surrounding food—feasting it, traditional kinds of it, and the connections shared over it. Here’s a roundup of 18 food-centric picture books to savor! Bonus, some of these include recipes in the back matter too!
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (December 10, 2019).
Ti Gran teaches Belle to make Freedom Soup for the new year in a book that celebrates the history of the Haitian Revolution, family, and the joy and connectivity of traditions. Includes a recipe at the back and the most wonderful, gestural illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara.
Amy Wu and Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua (2019).
The main character struggles to make the “perfect” bao with her family until she discovers her own answer—making some just her size. Sweet, relatable, delicious.
Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala by Meenal Patel (2019).
Babi Ba reminisces about her memories of India by relaying sights and smells and spices with her granddaughter while they make rotli together.
Apple Cake: A Gratitude by Dawn Casey and Geneviève Godbout (2019).
A series of thank you’s to nature and its ingredients for, you guessed it, apple cake!
Wild Berries by Julie Flett (2013).
A contemplative journey in the woods for blueberry-picking with words in Cree and a recipe for wild blueberry jam. (You’ll find this one in my feature of Julie Flett’s Picture Book Life too.)
No Kimchi for Me by Aram Kim (2017).
Yoomi loves her grandmother’s food—except for kimchi, something the “big kids” eat. She’s determined to develop a taste for it to prove she’s a big kid too.
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (2018).
An inventive, gorgeously illustrated mother-daughter moon myth inspired by Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncake midnight snacks!
Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear, pictures by Julie Morstad (2013).
A fictional imagining inspired by Julia Child on keeping the joie de vivre of childhood in cooking and eating no matter how old you are. And the one and only Coco Cake Land made chocolate almond cupcakes from this picture book in our collaborative blog post a few years ago too!
Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora (2018).
Omu’s stew smells so good, it attracts all kinds of visitors from her neighborhood, who she shares it with. When she has none left, those same people show up to return the favor. You can check out my post and craft to go with this lovely picture book here.
Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando written by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz (2019).
A biography of Momofuku Ando who invented instant ramen with the desire to provide convenient, tasty meals to hungry people after World War II.
Frankie’s Favorite Food by Kelsey Garrity-Riley (2019).
A school story about food and costumes that’s full of cute food puns!
Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge written by Carrie Clickard, illustrated by Katy Wu (2017).
This picture book is the story of Joyce Chen who brought dumplings from Beijing to Cambridge and became a restauranteur and TV show host!
Porcupine’s Pie by Laura Renauld, illustrated by Jennie Poh (2018).
A sweet story of baking, sharing, and friendship.
Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin (2018).
Rashin visits the beach in Brooklyn and compares and contrasts it to the beach she used to visit in Iran, the home she misses. Luckily, she meets a new friend and a new ice cream flavor in her new home, both ways to sweeten it.
Tea With Oliver by Mika Song (2017).
This one centers on two tea drinkers destined for friendship, eventually.
Max Makes a Cake by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by Charles Santoso (2014).
A story of a sibling making a birthday cake for his sister that folds in the Passover story and Jewish traditions as well.
To Market To Market by Nikki McClure (2011).
An exploration of a farmer’s market—its food and its growers.
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony (2013).
This picture book has two key ingredients that make it a fit for a food list: manners and donuts! Plus, you can check out the donut recipe my dear friend at Thirsty for Tea made to pair with Mr. Panda’s story a couple of years ago.
Your turn! Any favorite food-centric picture books to share?
My favorite thing about this picture book is the way it plays with expectations and perception and reversals, namely who is Alma and who is the beast. It might not be who you first assume! In fact, like the cover, this book turns what we expect from a fairy tale on its head. Plus, a shaggy forest containing a “plumpooshkie” butterfly—I mean, this world is as inventive and charming as a world can be.
If you’ve read Ooko, her first author-illustrator offering, you’ll know that Esmé Shapiro likes to experiment with perception, the unexpected, playfulness, hand-drawn type, and quirky yet gorgeous artwork where you can see the strokes and seep of watercolors and paint, all with a fantastical quality. (She also illustrated Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear, whose picture book life I’ve featured.)
And now…the trailer! Made by Esmé Shapiro, followed by an interview with the author-illustrator and some behind the scenes photos.
This Picture Book Life: How did you conceive of ALMA AND THE BEAST?
Esmé Shapiro: I always have believed that ideas land on our heads like little clouds. They have a mind of their own and we never know when they are going to choose us. The idea for Alma and the Beast landed on my head about six years ago in the form of an image. The image was of a little girl being surprised by a hairy being in her garden. It was a striking idea, and I wanted to unfold the story around it.
TPBL: What were you thinking about when you got the idea and began the process of creating it?
ES: Once the image came to me, I wanted to understand it more. The big thing I wanted to explore was, what did hair mean to me? This little hairy girl in the garden – who was she? I have always been fascinated with the symbology of hair. To me, it represents the side of ourselves that is more connected with nature and to our instincts. In Alma and the Beast I used hair as a symbolic device for our inner wildness, our untamed and true selves.
Originally, the story was told from the point of view of the little girl, who was frightened to see a bluish grey hairy girl in her garden. Eventually I started to question why I was telling it from the perspective of the little girl. I suppose I related to her right off the bat because she looked more like me. I felt it was important to challenge that impulse, because the little hairy being would be just as frightened to see the little girl. That’s when I decided to flip the story on its head and tell the tale from the perspective of the hairy girl. That’s when the fun started. What would her world look like? And how would that change in perspective challenge our ideas about what we expect from a picture book and from other people?
TPBL: What did you want to achieve or get across to readers especially in terms of reversals and perception?
ES: Kids and adults alike are often wary of people they don’t understand, when really if we just took the time to get to know them, we would find we are much more alike than different. We all just need to feel safe and most importantly, be loved for who we are. In Alma and the Beast, I wanted to show that empathy is a powerful tool that can bring us closer together in understanding each other. I think the reversal in point of views from the beginning helps hit this message home. It was important to me to show that, at first, Alma was imperfect in how she reacted to this strange human creature in her backyard. She even refers to her as “a beast.” But a conversation with the “beast” leads Alma to understand that this creature is really just frightened and far away from home. Alma’s empathic moment brings these two girls together, and eventually leads her on an adventure into friendship and understanding.
TPBL: Where did you find inspiration for Alma’s “hairy world”?
ES: I drew a lot inspiration from nature, especially willow trees, who seem to always have the best hair styles. That’s why I wanted a willow tree to be the portal between the two worlds, because they seem like they could belong in either realm. I started to see grass as the earth’s hair, and I thought about fuzzy moss and the thin lines on bark, too. And, of course underwater plants, like lanky kelp and stringy seaweed. I imagined that in the hairy world, the plants and trees are always a little wiggly. I tried to channel Mary Blair, and the strength of her landscape design for early Disney animations. I wanted Alma’s world to seem like it could possibly exist if we just looked long enough through the forest – perhaps in a bog behind a log.
TPBL: Please tell us about the process of making the trailer, which is wonderful!
ES: Thank you so much for your kind words! I knew from the beginning that I wanted to send Alma and the Beast into the world with an animated book trailer. The world just begs to be explored through sound and movement. But there was only one small problem: I don’t know how to animate.
So I tried to teach myself – but, boy, was that difficult! My instinct was to imagine the story as if it were a play. So I made a stage out of paper cutouts and created little paper dolls of Alma and the Beast. Then I took photos of it at a photo studio in the back of my friend’s shop. I spent a few days slowly moving the paper dolls across the stage. It took a long time and many bowls of soup to get through it.Then I brought the footage home and thought it looked wonderful, but it was really missing the hair moving through the wind. I taught myself how to draw on top of the photos to create a sense of movement.
Once I was finished animating some hair flowing in the wind and tiny squishy bugs, I had my incredibly talented friend Allyson make the soundtrack. Allyson has been very supportive of this hairy tale from the beginning and feels very close to it. So when I asked her to make the music for the trailer, I barely had to give her any direction. She used sounds from a really old-fashioned sampling keyboard called a mellotron. The recorded sounds are from people playing instruments in the 1950s. It gives the sound a really interesting texture. The result is a song that is equal parts whimsy and bizarre. In my mind, it carries you away to another realm: Alma’s hairy world.
We’re giving away a pair of books in honor of Alma and the Beast‘s release! Hop on over to my Instagram account (@writesinLA) to enter a giveaway for both of Esmé Shapiro’s author-illustrated books, Ooko and Alma! Come see!
It’s been six years of This Picture Book Life in July.
To mark the occasion, I’m giving away the six picture books above to one reader! (N. America only.)
Another by Christian Robinson (2019), a wonderful, curious, and wordless mind-bender in Robinson’s signature illustrative style.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson (2019), an incredible, jaw-droppingly gorgeous book the author describes as a “love letter to America. To black America.”
My Papi Has A Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña (2019), a portrait of a hometown and a family and change and what stays the same.
You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry (2018), a lullaby of a book to feel safe in any storm (and you can see the craft the illustrator contributed to a blog post last year here!).
How to Two by David Soman (2019), an inventive counting book that honors play and collaboration and inclusion.
It’s Time for Bed by Ceporah Mearns and Jeremy Debicki, illustrated by Tim Mack (2018), a bedtime book featuring Siasi, who would charmingly rather commune with Arctic animals than fall asleep.
I’m thrilled to be able to share the cover of STUDIO: A PLACE FOR ART TO START by Emily Arrow and The Little Friends of Printmaking with you today! This picture book is a debut for both author and illustrators and is coming to you from Tundra in March of 2020.
Studio might be best described as an ode to being you and finding your singular expression and space to cultivate it, and then sharing that with the world. It has bright, thoughtful, detailed, and exuberant art and feels like a truly kismet collaboration between text and visual story. It explores and honors creativity and making. (And it was written by one of my dearest friends.)
I give you…
the charming and truly eye-catching cover by The Little Friends of Printmaking!
Just look at all those different kinds of studios and makers on display! Even the title itself on that sign is in the very process of being made, which is such a brilliant thematic touch! There in the middle of the top row of windows is our main character, a bunny who we follow as they tour studios and see artists of all styles and stripes, soaking up the energy and options they might pursue. By taking a tour along with bunny, readers will get a chance to do the same.
And here’s one bonus spread from the inside as well!
In honor of Studio’s cover reveal, I asked the creators three questions each and they’re all giving us a tour of their studios, past and present! What a complete treat!
- What does a studio mean to you?
James: Art is a job, and the studio is the place where the work gets done. What having a studio means for me is the benefit of having a private, peaceful space where I can work out new ideas; a place where I can experiment and even get frustrated without feeling like I’m bothering anyone; where I can put down a project for the night and pick it right up in the morning, without having to put everything away. It’s the freedom to work the way you want to.
Melissa: The studio is the place where we make our work, but it’s also a place to be inspired. We decorate it with the kind of work that we like to see, fill it with books that we can reference, and houseplants and other trinkets that help make it a comfortable and inspiring place to be.
- What and where was your first ever studio?
James: First ever? The kitchen table or an elementary school art classroom would probably be the most accurate answer, but the first studio that really felt like my own was an out-of-the-way photo darkroom at high school. I finally got that sense of freedom and ownership you get with a studio because I could work there independently, uninterrupted, and play whatever music I liked. It felt great to be in charge of my own space, which is something I didn’t have at home.
Melissa: My first studio was a very similar situation! I had wanted to study oil painting in high school but there wasn’t place in my high school art classroom so my teacher lent me an underused storage closet that I could use as a painting studio. I had my own key, which felt very grown up. In retrospect, it was probably a terrible idea to let a teenager use solvents in an unventilated storage closet but I couldn’t have been happier.
From our studio in Milwaukee circa 2006-2008. We built and ran a community print studio and workspace in a Milwaukee children’s museum called Discovery World and worked on our personal work after the normal workday was complete. The work hanging behind us was from our students.
From our studio in Milwaukee circa 2008-2013. It was in the basement of our house and was our first non-shared studio (we had worked out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison print studio – our alma mater – before moving to Milwaukee to run the Discovery World Print and Publishing Lab).
- How did you approach creating the visual story for STUDIO after reading the text?
James: First, we felt it was important to create a visual story, independent from the text, with a strong through-line. That way, readers of all ages and skill levels could return to the book and enjoy it, even if someone isn’t there to read it with them. We also wanted to treat this as a true picture book of artists’ studios, showing as much detail and as many tools and supplies as we could fit in. That way, young readers could get a sense of the studio as a real place—and of being an artist as a real job that they could aspire to.
Melissa: As the characters go through the various studios, our thought was to show the little bunny getting progressively more comfortable among the community of artists and feeling more and more free to express themselves, and in the end, join the community of artists.
From our current studio circa 2014-present.
Next up the author, Emily Arrow, who you may already know from her music!
- What does a studio mean to you?
Right now, my studio means the place with:
my stack of books and notebooks
my sweet rescue dog
- What and where was your first ever studio?
Finding a space to be creative has been one of my favorite adventures for as long as I can remember. When I was about 7 years old, my piano teacher helped me record my own songs in her home recording studio she called “Squeaky Floor Studios.” I was in my happy place with headphones on, listening to the music and finally being able to step into the song with my own voice. Other special studios over the years include the recording studios where I’ve recorded my “Storytime Singalong” albums!
3. Tell us about the genesis of this story concept.
Because I believe creating art leads to peacefulness, I believe spaces that foster creativity have a special magic. I love visiting artists’ studios, dreaming up ideas about where I might create a music video, and finding the creative spark that can turn even an ordinary place into a studio space. A few summers ago, I decided to create my work in a shared studio space in Nashville. That cozy studio full of artists and illustrators was bursting with creativity, twinkle lights, and collaboration. Naturally, it became the “place for my art to start,” and I wrote Studio.
And here are all three makers of this book, together!! How special is that!
And finally, a giveaway! Simply comment below to be entered to win this pair of pins from The Little Friends of Printmaking. (N. America only; ends Friday, June 28th at midnight PST.)
Big thanks to Emily and to Little Friends for collaborating on this post—photos were provided by them. And to Tundra for book images!