New picture books range from seemingly simple art to classical styles with thoughtful stories to share with a variety of ages. The following are 20 favorites to enjoy during the spring and summer.
"EXCLAMATION MARK,” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, Scholastic, $17.99 (all ages)
A story by a punctuation mark seems impossible, but this isn’t any ordinary mark like a quotation mark or a comma. This is an exclamation mark that tries to fit in but “wasn’t like everyone else. Period.”
Until one day he meets a question mark that teaches him endless possibilities. “It was like he broke free from a life sentence.”
“Exclamation Mark” has a seemingly simple lesson in being true to oneself and making a difference. Bravo!
"JASPER & JOOP,” by Olivier Dunrea, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $9.99 (ages up to 3 years)
Olivier Dunrea follows up his successful dot-eyed Gosling series (“Gossie” and “Ollie”) with two new friends — Jasper, who “tidies his nest and puts on his cap and tie” and Joop, who “rumples his nest and messes his feathers.”
The small size book is the right story for small hands that may recognize themselves as happy and clean or messy and … well, clean. The visual and textual clues let readers know that Jasper and Joop are best friends that will surely find lots of book friends.
"NIGHT LIGHT,” by Nicholas Blechman, Scholastic, $16.99 (ages 3-5)
This is a counting book, a puzzle book and a hole-in-the-page book with abbreviated text. The very youngest audience can guess, “1 light bright?” (an illuminated train on the next page), “2 lights hovering in flight?” (an airplane) counting up through the number 10. Die cuts on shiny black pages alternate with vehicles that are familiar to preschoolers. “Night Light” is a read-it-again book.
“NO FITS, NILSON!” by Zachariah OHora, Dial, $16.99 (ages 3-6)
Nilson and Amelia are best friends and play together until something goes wrong. Then Nilson throws a fit. Not just a little tantrum, but a house-shaking, raging fit. Even with a promise of banana ice cream, it takes some calming down on Amelia’s part. Or does it? There’s a twist here that will cause all tantrum-aged children to take a better look at themselves. Bold acrylic paintings keep complete focus on the story in this picture book due out in June.
“HAVE YOU SEEN MY NEW BLUE SOCKS?” by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier, Clarion, $16.99 (ages 3-5)
Duck looks for his lost blue socks. He asks for help from the ox, the fox and even the peacock: “They are new. Without my socks I feel undressed.”
It is peacock that discovers where they are. Young listeners will begin to chant the rhyming couplets almost immediately.
"STRIPES OF ALL TYPES,” by Susan Stockdate, Peachtree Publishers, $15.95 (ages 2-6)
Both exotic and more familiar animals with stripes are portrayed in acrylic stylized drawings; for example, a tiger in a stunning double-page spread and a detailed swallowtail butterfly created with striped bodies. Simple alliterative and rhyming text accompanies the menagerie. The author has included an appended page with information on each creature as well as a puzzle for guessing the animals featured in the book.
"YES, LET’S,” by Galen Goodwin Longstreth and Maris Wicks, Tanglewood, $15.95 (ages 3-8)
“Yes, Let’s” captures the preparation of a family of seven who enjoys a day’s picnic and hiking trip. From skinned knees to the discovery of a huge spider, the pages are filled with a day’s successful events. Young readers will not miss the many subtle details of each activity: swimming, ("yes, let’s”) eating ("yes, let’s”), and wish for just such a day for their own family.
"THE HIGHWAY RAT," by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Scholastic, $16.99 (ages 4-8)
Somewhere in the upper grades, Alfred Noyes’ “The Highway Man” might have been a required assignment. Using the same rhythmic pattern and adding a rowdy cast of characters, “The Highway Rat” comes to life challenging and robbing all creatures along the way, “With never a please or thank you, the Rat carried on in this way. Flies from a spider, milk from a cat! He once stole his own horses’ hay!”
Visual hyperbole appears on every page as the highway rodent gets tricked and finds that sharing might have been a better plan.
"TEA REX,” by Molly Idle, Viking, $16.99 (ages 3-5)
And who is the guest of these polite children straight out of a Puritan setting? Why, a dinosaur, of course. It isn’t easy for the humongous green Rex to fit through the door, much less sit on a petite chair and drink from a dainty tea cup. Molly Idle allows the children to take each calamity with grace, and their propriety adds a surprise ending that will delight young readers.
"UH-OH DODO!” by Jennifer Sattler, Boyds Mills Press, $15.95 (ages 2-5)
A young dodo bird is enthralled with his talented toes. He is good at singing. Loudly! He loves making friends as he takes an afternoon stroll with his mother. But not all the animals enjoy his clumsiness or his noise. When he gets lost and cries “MAMA!” his mother is always close at hand. Body and eye expressions add much to the story’s humor, and the large, spunky pictures will hold the interest of even the youngest listener.
"NORA’S CHICKS,” by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Kathryn Brown, Candlewick, $15.99 (ages 4-6)
Nora is lonesome when her family moves from Russia to the American prairie. When her father brings home 10 chicks and two geese, friendships are formed in the farmyard and beyond. Kathryn Brown’s lovely watercolor paintings capture early American landscapes and bring to life the award-winning author’s worthy message.
"MARY WRIGHTLY, SO POLITELY,” by Shirin Yim Bridges and Maria Monescillo, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (ages 4-6)
Mary Wrightly is a polite little girl and uses “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” One day when shopping for a birthday present for her baby brother, people repeatedly pushed her aside until she nearly missed out on the perfect purchase — a stuffed blue elephant. Her polite manners had to be put aside to get the gift. There is a great lesson in “Mary Wrightly, So Politely” for all children about being polite, but also for standing up for yourself.
"RAIN!” by Linda Ashman, pictures by Christian Robinson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (ages 3-6)
Two people view the rainy day in completely opposite ways. “Dang puddle!” says a frowning, crotchety old man. “Ribbit!” is the smiling boy’s reply as he jumps in a puddle. The two meet again at a restaurant and later as the boy finds and returns the old man’s hat. In a clever surprise, the old man changes his frown to a “Ribbit!”
Christian Robinson’s paint and collage pictures expand the understated text with much success.
"MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS,” by Eliza Wheeler, Penguin, $16.99 (ages 4-6)
Each year Miss Maples rescues orphan seeds, nurturing and instructing them so that by spring they will take flight knowing, “the grandest of trees had to grow from the smallest of seeds.”
In pastel watercolors, “Miss Maple’s Seeds” is a springtime favorite which, like Miss Rumphius before her, is a beacon to nature’s beauty.
"WHEN STRAVINSKY MET NIJINSKY: Two Artists, Their Ballet and One Extra Ordinary Riot,” by Lauren Stringer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (ages 4-8)
One hundred years ago, a brilliant composer, Stravinsky, wrote an unusual piece of music, "Rite of Spring," which was performed by ballet dancer Nijinsky. They “brought their new show to town.” But it was not welcomed by everyone in Paris. In fact, “some people hated it!”
Centennial performances are taking place around the world in 2013. This will be an interesting addition to anyone loving the music and realizing the background. The book and music could be an impetus for children to act out their own lively interpretation.
""WHO’S ON FIRST?” by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, illustrated by John Martz, Quirk Press, $16.95 (ages 7 and up)
The classic Bud Abbott and Lou Costello routine of the 1930s is brought back with splashy art and cartoon figures. Just like the repeated old skit that was named best comedy sketch of the year, this will be a favorite and completely nostalgic for those who remember, “Who’s on first. What’s on second. I Don’t Know’s on third. … Now, who’s playing third base? … Why do you insist on putting Who on third base?”
"“PRAIRIE CHICKEN LITTLE,” by Jackie Mims Hopins, illustrated by Henry Cole, Peachtree Publishers, $15.99 (ages 4-8)
Mary McBlicken, the prairie chicken, panics when she hears a noise, “Stampede’s a comin’!” She runs “lickety-splickety” to tell Cowboy Stan and Red Dog Dan and the other animals each in turn (Jeffrey Snog the prairie dog; Beau Grabbbit, the Jack rabbit; June Spark, the meadowlark) because “They’ll know what to do!”
At each venture the animals ask, “How do you know that this is so?”
The highly repetition text will surely be chanted by young listeners even when Slim Coyote, the sly coyote, tries to spirit them away for a tasty meal. The old familiar tale of “the sky is falling in” is the basis of the lively new version that will bring giggles all around.
"THE MATCHBOX DIARY,” by Paul Fleishman, illustrated by Bagram Ibotoulline, Candlewick Press, $16.99 (ages 5 and up)
A girl chooses a box from the many things in her great-grandfather’s crowded library, from which will come a story. “It is a diary of sort,” he tells her.
Inside are 20 small matchboxes, each containing something the man wanted to remember: an olive pit (from a tree in Italy where he was born), a tattered picture of a father who came to America, a ticket stub for a boat trip to America, a coin, a medallion to calm the sea, a buttonhook and bones from a fish. Finally, in one of the tiny boxes, great-grandfather draws out a ticket stub for his first ballgame in America.
Paul Fleishman does not sugar coat great-grandfather’s history represented in his “diary” since becoming a successful shop keeper. “I bought and sold antiques — filled with stories.”
“The Matchbox Diary” is a must-read for grandfathers to their grandchildren with an inlaid encouragement to begin their own diaries "of a sort" and to make their own stories.
"THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA!" by Mo Willems, Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
When a hungry fox meets a goose, one thinks "What Luck" and the other thinks "Dinner." As the fox invites the goose to go for a walk in the woods, to visit the fox's kitchen and to make soup, a chorus of chicks chants "That is not a good idea!" In Mo Willems' fashion, there are twists and humor that parents may even smile at.
"HOW MARTHA SAVED HER PARENTS FROM GREEN BEANS," by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mark Fearing, Dial Books, $16.99 (ages 5-8)
Martha isn't a fan of green beans and doesn't eat them. When a mustached and beady-eyed posse of green beans who rustle up all sorts of havoc, including kidnapping her parents Wild West style, she has to puck up her courage against the veggies who don't think she'll hurt them. After all, she hasn't eaten a green bean in her life.
It's a fun mealtime book that will show one reason to each those green veggies.