Monday, February 28, 2011

New picture books: what's in a name?

I will admit that even after years of bookselling, and of course calling myself a discerning reader, I still make occasional snap judgments of books based on covers and titles. Even while I am trying to train myself not to, there are still those glorious moments when I read a title like The Boy Who Cried Ninja, and I am immediately, irrevocably in love with it, no matter how terrible it may be. Fortunately, these new picture books live up to their great titles, and then some.

If the title - complete with speech bubble! - alone hadn't grabbed me, the illustrations of Alex Latimer's The Boy Who Cried Ninja would have held me tight. Reminiscent of Oliver Jeffers style, these characters have such funny, endearing qualities as tiny stick legs and gaping mouths indicating speech. Don't let the title fool you into thinking this is a heavy handed morality tale, simply placing ninjas, sunburned crocodiles and time-traveling monkeys in lieu of wolves; it is more capricious than cautionary.

Just a few days ago a customer had been looking for books about stuffed animals and I wish we had had I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen and Marc Rosenthal in then! Not only am I apparently weak-kneed for It-Wasn't-Me kitty stares, I also have a soft spot for appropriately exclamatory titles. (Don't even tell me you too don't want to exclaim LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!, with various emphases)
Willy and his stuffed, beshirted monkey Bobo do everything together, from coloring to investigating potentially mean bitey-bigs. Unfortunately, Willy's conniving cat Earl also likes Bobo. The gentle humor and comforting sweetness of this story reminds me of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, with the added humor of a plush-filching cat named Earl, of all things.

This next book has a tongue-twister of a title: Where's Walrus? written and illustrated by Stephen Savage. This cheeky walrus escapes from the zoo, a la Good Night Gorilla and A Sick Day for Amos McGee, with a bumbling, mustachioed zookeeper hot on his tail, so to speak. With vibrant colors and a modern art feel, both children and adults will be amused by the walrus's plain sight hiding places and visual gags. I am particularly fond of the mermaid fountain scene and the cover's nod to Edward Hopper. Maybe there will even be a sequel with a certain red and white tourist hat for the walrus to try on...

My last latest picture book love has an understated title with an enticing cover: Renata Liwska's Red Wagon not only depicts one of my favorite animals (a hedgie! In the eponymous wagon!), but these animals look comfortingly familiar because Liwska was the illustrator of the much-talked-of adorable The Quiet Book. This tale of imagination and friendship is the definition of a picture book, with a perfect tension between the text and illustrations. My favorite spread is from the line "She was almost down [the hill] again when the wagon hit a rock!", where the wagon turns into a rocket ship with the fox and bunny friends as astronauts and the raccoon pal becomes a three-eyed alien raccoon in a UFO! Three eyed raccoons get me every time.

No comments: