It’s been a great couple of weeks of picture book reading: so many five-star reads! And one five-star parenting book!
First, the five-star parenting book. Hold On to Your Kids is an ambitious book that argues that most of the behavior problems we see in children and teens are the result of unmet attachment needs and peer orientation: kids look to their peers for a sense of identity and belonging, shared values, and connection when they should be looking to parents and other significant adult caregivers to meet their attachment needs. Neufeld and Mate argue that throughout childhood and adolescence, attachment is the primary need. When parents are not available to meet their attachment needs, kids will seek to have their needs met by immature peers, often to disastrous results. It’s a deeply disturbing, even alarming, look at our parenting culture and our adult priorities. It’s also utterly convincing. Without doubt, the most important book I’ve ever read on parenting and one I wish every parent I know would read. (It would also be an eye-opening read for middle school and high school teachers, as many perplexing and disturbing tween and teen behaviors from sexting to bullying are addressed and understood through the lens of unmet attachment needs.)
A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals is a really excellent title: how can you not want to read it with that title? You might think you’ve got the plot figured out based on the title–but trust me, you don’t. And just when you do think you’ve got it figured out, Cummins adds another twist. And another. Perhaps not for the very faintest of heart, but for the child (and adult!) who likes his humor just a bit shaded (not quite dark), this book is such a delight. There is so much visual humor in addition to the humor of the language. A very clever story.
There is also the threat of nice creatures getting eaten in Adam Lehrhaupt’s I Will Not Eat You, but thankfully Theodore isn’t hungry and decides not to munch on the bird or the wolf or the tiger who wander by his cave. But then a boy appears and suddenly Theodore feels a bit peckish. Although this book does have its moments of shaded (not dark) humor, this is ultimately a sweet and surprising story of friendship. Scott Magoon’s illustrations are so good.
Fox’s Garden is a simple, elegant, and exquisitely illustrated wordless story. Princesse Camcam creates cut paper art and cut-outs; arranges the paper in scenes that tell the story; and lights and photographs the cut-outs to convey tone, warmth, atmosphere. This is one I need to own.
Brendan Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat may end up being my favorite picture book of the year. It’s one of those deceptively simple stories that’s actually deeply profound. The illustrations are the star here, but the text is equally well crafted. I read it five or six times before returning it to the library, and just writing it about it here makes me long to pick it up and look at my favorite spreads again (the cat from the fish’s perspective and the bee’s perspective).
I had many expectations for Jon Klassen’s We Found a Hat, but I wasn’t expecting sweet. Heartfelt. Even adorable. Especially when the book seems to be heading in the direction we know so well from the first two books in the hat trilogy. But it stands to reason that tortoises would be wiser than other animals. So much to love here, especially the open spaces for readers to wonder and work through possibility.
Philip Stead’s Ideas Are All Around was another favorite this week. Stead’s task is to write a story, but he doesn’t have an idea, so he and his dog, Wednesday, set off on a meandering walk that shows how ideas really are all around us. A wonderful text to use in a writing or creativity class.
I had no idea that Mac Barnett and Adam Rex had a new book out, so finding this on the shelf was a delightful surprise, and the book itself is a treat. I’m a sucker for metafiction and for Barnett’s particular brand of quirk. The story line dragged a bit for me in a couple of places, but that simply meant more pictures by Rex, so I didn’t mind overly much. (Has any picture book writer ever been luckier with his illustrators than Mac Barnett??)
Ada’s Violin tells the fascinating true story of a group of children in Paraguay who want to take music lessons but have no instruments. Their creative music teacher sifts through garbage heaps to find objects that he, with the help of a carpenter, can transform into musical instruments. The story would be inspiring enough if it ended with the children taking lessons and expressing themselves musically, but they study and practice to become great musicians and travel the world performing. There is solid back matter (including links to view musical performances online), and the book is beautifully written and illustrated.
Maybe Something Beautiful is another book about the transformative power of art. In this case, a young girl is inspired to brighten up her bleak urban neighborhood with colorful murals that bring the entire community together. The story was inspired by the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, and it’s illustrated by Rafael Lopez, one of the original artists who conceived of the Urban Art Trail.