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Jacey’s Epic Love of Picture Books: #24!

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Cloudette, by Tom Lichtenheld.

This is a story we’ve all heard before: A tiny, “weak” underdog (in this case, a cloud) wants to do something big and important, too. It’s been told countless times, in countless ways.

And in the hands of a lesser author, this could be a huge detriment to the book. No one wants a dry rehashing of age-old material, not even in children’s books.

But in the hands of Tom Lichtenheld (remember him?), this actually becomes a huge asset, instead. He takes a well-worn trope, and he makes it his own. He makes it fresh. He makes us want to hear this story again.

And again, and again.

Cloudette is cute as all hell, first of all. The art style is precious and used to great effect here, and Cloudette herself is just incredibly endearing. You can’t help but root for that little face.

And he really does make the trope his own, and every bit as adorable as Cloudette. There are a number of aw-inducing asides scattered throughout the book — for example, the fact that Cloudette’s small size makes it easy to always find a good spot to watch the fireworks, no matter how crowded it is. (And cute little nicknames are always a plus!)

Or Cloudette attempting to make friends with the puffs of smoke wafting out of a chimney, mistaking them for tiny clouds like herself.

Or the line, “This gave Cloudette an idea… (More like a brainstorm!)”

Or the fact that, apparently, clouds make thunder by shaking their behinds.

The more you know.

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Jacey’s Epic Love of Picture Books: #23!

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Steam Train, Dream Train, by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld.

Kids love trains (and cars, and trucks, and ponies) because kids love to move.

Kids hate bedtime because bedtime means you have to stop moving.

Ergo, a bedtime book about a dream train is the perfect thing.

And the book itself is every bit as good as the concept.

The art is retro-flavoured, a seeming nod to the classic bedtime books of yore, but it very much has its own identity. The colours are soothing and lovely (everything looks painted over in twilight), while the animals loading the train are expressive and exhuberant. Which I’m sure the still-energetic kids hearing this before bed will appreciate, even if sleep does inevitably win out in the end!

The text is gently rhythmic, with the occasional fun clang! — exactly what you would expect a “dream train” to sound like. If you’ve ever heard a train at night, that’s honestly what the prose here reminds me of.

Through the darkness, clickety-clack…
coming closer, down the track…
hold your breath so you can hear
huffing, chuffing drawing near.

A whistle blares out in the night:
a mighty engine–
wondrous sight!

See?

All in all, I think this book is the perfect bedtime compromise. Sleepy kids will love it. Still-very-awake kids will love it. Parents won’t want to shoot themselves reading it over and over. (Hopefully.) Boys will love it. Girls will love it. (Yes, girls can like trains and boys can like cute animals.)

And most importantly, it shows kids that bedtime doesn’t just mean putting all of your adventures on hold.

It can mean the start of a whole new adventure unto itself. :)

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Jacey’s Epic Love of Picture Books: #22!

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Wave, by Suzy Lee.

With picture book art, my tastes tend towards either the incredibly elaborate (Graeme Base), the evocative (Divya Srinivasan), or the wildly expressive (Mo Willems!).

But when you can say this much with this little, I can’t help but be impressed.

Wave, in nothing but two shades of watercolour and absolutely no text, tells the story of a little girl’s day at the beach — and a story of friendship, and of nature’s cycles.

Immediately, the girl (followed by a posse of seagulls) begins to interact with the ocean itself, and the ocean is very nearly as much of a character as she herself is. She waves; it waves back. She chases the waves as they recede; the waves then chase her. She plays in them, and taunts them, and the ocean “responds.”

There are no words between the two, just as there are no words in the book itself, but they manage to communicate just the same.

And their interaction arguably goes even beyond the superficial — when the little girl crosses the line and ends up soaked as a result, the ocean leaves behind presents for her in turn.

Because sometimes, you’ve just got to risk getting wet to find out what’s hidden beneath the surface.

To make friends. :)

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Jacey’s Epic Love of Picture Books: #21!

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Little Owl’s Night & Little Owl’s Day, by Divya Srinivasan.

Since they’re two variants on the same general story (Little Owl experiences both night and day, respectively), and I’ve the same things to say about them both, I’m just lumping these two together in a joint review. And really, if you buy one, you should buy the set.
 
 
The Good: Do I even need to say it? Her art is wonderful. It’s cutesy and childlike (those giant eyes!) and highly appealing, yes, but it’s her colouring that really pulls me in. Her use of gradient, in particular — she perfectly evokes the feeling of watching night turn into day, of watching day turn into night.

It’s adorable, but it’s also incredibly atmospheric.

The books feel like dawn. Like twilight.
 
 
The Not-So-Good: Her text just can’t compare to her art. It isn’t bad, by any means, but it’s obvious she’s an artist first and foremost, not a writer. And when put with such exceptional art, her prose just pales and distracts from the art itself.

In all fairness, though, finding prose that could hold its own here would be something of a feat. Still, I’d love to see her pair up with a stronger author (or become one herself!), or do a textless picture book instead. Something where her art isn’t distracted from.
 
 
The Most Important Thing: The scene in Little Owl’s Day where Bear, seeing Little Owl awake during the day for the very first time, seizes the opportunity to take him to a waterfall and show him a rainbow. Seriously. Out of all the cute things abounding in these books, this has got to be the cutest.

And that’s saying something. :)

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Jacey’s Epic Love of Picture Books: #20!

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We Are in a Book!, by Mo Willems.

We’ve already established that I love Mo Willems, and pretty much everything that he’s done. I love Pigeon. I love Elephant and Piggie.

And I love books that break the fourth wall. Or that have no concept of the fourth wall to begin with.

Enter We Are in a Book!

I love Pigeon for his epic overloads of sass, but I love Elephant Gerald and Piggie simply for their friendship:

Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.
Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.

Gerald and Piggie are best friends.

And they are adorable, and so are all of their stories. If I have to limit myself to just one, though… We Are in a Book! wins. In it, Gerald and Piggie discover that they are, in fact, in a book. That a reader is reading them.

At first there is excitement. (“We are in a book? THAT IS SO COOL!”) There are shenanigans. (“Oh! I have a good idea! I can make the reader say a word!”)

Then comes the realisation that their book, like all books, will end, and the panic sets in. (“This book is going too fast,” Gerald wails. “I have more to give!”)

But eventually, they come to realise the great thing about books: Every book ends, but it can also be picked back up and read again and again. ♥

It’s great for kids because it approaches fictional characters quite literally as friends, and shows just how books can evoke empathy. But I think that every adult reader should have a copy on their shelf, too — and every author ought to have one on their desk!

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Jacey’s Epic Love of Picture Books: #19!

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems.

It’s a fact: Everything Mo Willems touches is gold. Everything.

Realistically, I could have just done a review of every single one of his books for this little project, but that seemed a bit unfair. :P Instead, I somehow managed to narrow it down to two — one from his Pigeon series, and one from Elephant and Piggie.

If you’re at all familiar with the Pigeon already, you’ll understand why we’re starting with him first. This bird doesn’t let anything stand in his way, you see. Not rules. Not bathtime. Not bedtime.

And certainly not a lack of a driver’s license.

Pigeon wants pretty much everything, and in this particular book, Pigeon wants to drive the bus. And he refuses to take no for an answer.

The book opens with the bus drive addressing the reader: “Hi! I’m the bus drive. Listen, I’ve got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks. Oh, and remember: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.”

The Pigeon, of course, wastes no time and immediately tries to seize his chance.

At first, he asks politely. He bargains. He tries to scheme. He “reasons.” (“My cousin Herb drives a bus almost every day!”) He attempts to bargain and “reason” some more. (“What’s the big deal!? It’s just a bus!!!”)

Then he pouts. Then he has a rather epic two-page spread of a meltdown. And pouts some more.

But then, the driver reappears, and Pigeon’s hopes are finally dashed. Or…are they?

(Spoiler: No. Never.)

Pigeon, honestly, is quite possibly one of my very favourite characters in all of Kids’ lit. Largely because his facial expressions alone are God’s gift to sass, and the sass just never stops.

(Also, because my head somehow automatically associates Pigeon with birdsrightsactivist, and that makes me love him even more.)

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Jacey’s Epic Love of Picture Books: #18!

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Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson.

Look at that cover. Look at that little face. Tell me you’re not already falling a little bit in love.

Just tell me you’re not.

Sometimes, though, when the art is this damn adorable, the rest of the book just has a hard time keeping up with it, so I was attempting to not be too hopeful on my first read-through.

But as it turned out, I needn’t have worried have at all, because that is not at all the case here. The art and the story itself are on equal footing, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed.

In case you couldn’t tell, our little hero is Gaston, who “works the hardest at his lessons on how to be a proper pooch.” Much like his poodle sisters, he has learned to sip — never slobber! He has learned to yip — never yap! And he has learned to walk with grace — never race!

He may look different from his mother and his sisters, it’s true, but he fits with them. He feels as though he belongs.

But when a chance encounter with a bulldog family in the park reveals there’s been a terrible mistake, Gaston doesn’t know where he fits in anymore. Can Gaston follow his nose — and his heart — to find where he belongs?

The story and art are simple and incredibly appealing in and of themselves, but the book’s real strength lies in the fact that it’s a sneaky little bugger. It imparts an impressive share of lessons — family is more than blood, “one sees much more clearly with the heart than with the eye,” one should never limit themselves to what society says the “should” be, etc — but it is never once heavy-handed. You’re not told the lessons so much as you are made to feel them, to have them take up residence in your gut rather than merely flit through your brain.

And that’s the way it should be.

And did I mention it’s adorable?