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A Good Day for a Hat

T. Nat Fuller, illus. by Rob Hodgson. Abrams Appleseed, $15.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2300-1

The subcategory of hat-related children’s literature is extensive and august, but Fuller and Hodgson acquit themselves with style in this sweetly silly tale. Their hero, Mr. Brown, is a dapper bear who has “just the hat” for every occasion. Unfortunately, the ever-changing environment outside his home turns Mr. Brown into in a kind of millinery Sisyphus—he’s too busy changing his hats to get where he needs to go. He swaps his rain hat for a warmer one when it begins to snow, only to discover that a band is now marching by. He goes inside, returning with a marching band hat and trumpet, but now there are “magical rabbits loose on his lawn.” (In fact, the only constant besides Mr. Brown is a wand-wielding white rabbit tucked into each scene, raising the question of whether a bit of magic might be responsible for all of the chaos.) Fuller and Hodgson’s story has a naive, crafts-room look, the unstoppable momentum of a windup toy, and a punch line that’s just right (it’s Mr. Brown’s birthday, and there’s a hat for that, too). Hats off! Ages 3–5. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Fox Wish

Kimiko Aman, illus. by Komako Sakai. Chronicle, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4521-5188-5

Roxie forgets her jump rope in a nearby park, and when she returns with her brother to look for it, she finds that it’s been claimed by a litter of fox kits. Rendered in Sakai’s (Hannah’s Night) careful, natural style, the paintings of jump-roping foxes are adorably realistic as the animals struggle with a problem: “They were good jumpers, but their tails kept getting caught in the rope.” “Well,” Roxie advises, “just keep your tail straight up your back.” When they’ve finished playing, Roxie reaches for her jump rope, but there’s a mix-up. The smallest kit is also named Roxie, and she explains that she wished for a game to play before coming to the park: “This rope was just hanging there,” she continues, “from a branch, with my name on it and everything, just a little wish come true!” Putting the fox’s happiness before her own, Roxie surrenders her rope without a murmur. Aman’s blend of fantasy and the gentle moral nudge toward generosity will linger in readers’ minds, as will the bewitching vision of baby foxes jumping rope. Ages 3–5. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Charlotte and the Rock

Stephen W. Martin, illus. by Samantha Cotterill. Dial, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-101-99389-7

Knowing that their daughter craves a pet, Charlotte’s parents, with great fanfare, present her with a large rock. Charlotte, who has glasses and pigtails and looks a tiny bit dorky, is a good sport: “It wasn’t quite what Charlotte had in mind, but she tried to remain positive.” Cotterill’s (No More Bows!) droll ink drawings show Charlotte naming her rock Dennis by tipping it out the window onto a grid of names written in chalk on the sidewalk. “We chose it together!” she tells a neighbor proudly. Charlotte discovers things she and Dennis can do together (read, dress up as superheroes) but mourns that Dennis can’t love her back. When Dennis hatches (spoiler: he’s an egg), he delivers unexpected joy. Readers who expected Charlotte to reconcile herself to Dennis may resist the egg ex machina, while those looking for excitement may be frustrated by the long setup. But Martin’s (Robot Smash!) dry humor delivers giggles (“You said what ate your homework?” Charlotte’s teacher snaps), and so does the concluding reversal of fortune. Ages 3–5. Author’s agent: Laurie Abkemeier, DeFiore and Company. Illustrator’s agent: Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Me Tall, You Small

Lilli L’Arronge, trans. from the German by Madeleine Stratford. Owlkids (PGW, dist.), $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-77147-194-7

German author-illustrator L’Arronge, whose doll-like animal characters and understated sight gags may remind readers of Patrick McDonnell’s work, offers an amusing overview of the parent-child dyad starring two weasels: “Me” is the parent/narrator, while “you” is the offspring. She begins with the eponymous, empirical observation—which also establishes the book’s playful, concise, and dialectic style—but quickly moves on to more interesting comparisons and contrasts, which play out in a range of distilled settings. The little weasel has its parent beat when it comes to energy reserves (“You whoop. Me droop,” says the big weasel, exhausted after giving the child an airplane swing) and ingenuity (the little weasel builds a precarious stack of objects to get to a deliberately out-of-reach cookie jar). But both animals like to get goofy in the kitchen and chomp on their sausage dinner at the table. Being winsome without being wince inducing is no easy task, and this playful, tender book may inspire real-life parent-child pairs to come up with some me-vs.-you comparisons of their own. Ages 2–5. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Botanicum

Kathy Willis, illus. by Katie Scott. Big Picture, $35 (112p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8923-0

In a coffee-table-ready companion to Animalium and Historium, readers make their way through seven “galleries” devoted to “the first plants,” trees, herbaceous plants, and other categories of flora, which are further subdivided; a spread devoted to “belowground edible plants” features cutaway images of a winged yam, beet, carrot, and other roots, assembled as if ready for a recipe. Scott’s exquisitely detailed illustrations call to mind antique botanical prints, and Willis, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, identifies each plant and provides vivid descriptions: “Orchids are the actors of the plant world, and the weird and varied shapes of the flowers reflect many highly specialized pollination systems.” Visually stunning, it’s an engrossing overview of Earth’s remarkable and diverse plant life that provides opportunities for ongoing discovery on every page. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Earth Book

Jonathan Litton, illus. by Thomas Hegbrook. 360 Degrees, $29.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-944530-06-8

Though the Earth may seem vast, it’s more fragile and mutable than people realize, Litton suggests in a far-reaching tour of the planet, which covers the formation and physical makeup of the Earth, life forms extinct and still present, regions and ecosystems, and the presence of humanity. Through a conversational and accessible narrative, Litton adeptly explains complex topics, such as the sheer scale of Earth’s history (“You might be surprised to learn that less time separates us from T. Rex than separated T. Rex from Stegosaurus”), assisted by Hegbrook’s handsome, softly textured graphics. Litton puts humanity’s relatively brief presence on Earth, particularly in light of past extinctions and geological time, into sharp perspective, while highlighting the creatures, landscapes, and human accomplishments that have made the planet what it is. Ages 8–11. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Shakespeare Timeline Wallbook

Christopher Lloyd, illus. by Andy Forshaw. What on Earth (IPS, dist.), $19.95 (24p) ISBN 978-0-9932-8476-2

This foldout book expands to create a six-foot-long removable timeline of Shakespeare’s life, featuring panels devoted to his plays. Cartoon figures, drawn in a clear-line style, appear in key dramatic scenes, accompanied by quotations and summaries that readers can examine through an included magnification sheet (on its own, the font used for the recaps and context is almost comically small). Supplementing the timeline and its miniature theatrical stagings is the “Wallbook Chronicle,” which is designed to look like a broadsheet newspaper filled with fictitious Shakespeare-related stories (“Stars crossed as West Side lovers take a tragic turn,” reads the headline for a faux review of West Side Story). A selection of sonnets, letters to the editor from across the centuries, and a quiz round out this engaging resource for readers just getting to know Shakespeare and his work. Ages 6–14. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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All Kinds of Cars

Carl Johanson. Flying Eye (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-911171-01-0

If it has wheels and can be driven, it’s a car—that’s the takeaway message from Swedish illustrator Johanson’s first children’s book, which presents some wildly unusual vehicles, rendered in a flat, screenprintlike style in bold shades of red, yellow, blue, and green. A “ridiculous car” with extra-large wheels looks downright normal beside a two-turreted “castle car,” a square-wheeled “chewing-gum car” blowing a giant bubble, and a driver-free “poo car” that needs no explanation. As if to suggest that a “dinosaur car” is every bit as plausible as, say, a bulldozer, Johanson intermixes spreads devoted to specialized, real-life mechanisms, including vehicles designed for fighting fires, construction, and farm work. It’s a stylish and imaginative collection that all but guarantees kids will be reaching for art supplies as they dream up their own vehicles. Ages 3–5. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Day with Dogs

Dorothée de Monfreid. Gecko Press USA (Lerner, dist.), $19.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-776570-98-0

Working in a cheery style reminiscent of Richard Scarry (to whom the book is dedicated), French author-illustrator de Monfreid (Shhh! I’m Sleeping) shows dogs of breeds engaging in all sorts of activities normally reserved for humans. Each spread introduces a different environment or concept, along with associated objects. During a visit to the doctor’s office, a stethoscope, syringe, and other items are labeled, and a smiling poodle with a broken leg looks on the bright side: “I always wanted crutches.” Quips and conversations, captured in speech balloons, offer light laughs throughout. “I look best in yellow,” offers one dog, squirting itself with a tube of paint in an art class scene that explores color mixing. It’s a personable introduction to useful concepts, and attentive readers will enjoy getting to know the specific dogs in the bustling scenes. Ages 2–5. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Passover Scavenger Hunt

Shanna Silva, illus. by Miki Sakamoto. Kar-Ben, $17.99 (24p) ISBN 978-1-4677-8937-0

Silva makes her children’s book debut with the warmhearted story of a family’s Passover seder, during which one of the young cousins, Rachel, gets fed up with how bad her Great-Uncle Harry is at hiding the afikomen. Taking the initiative, Rachel organizes a scavenger hunt for her cousins, featuring rhyming clues built around the ingredients on a seder plate (“The shankbone reminds us/ of when the Jews fled./ Find Clue Number Four/ Where Frank rests his head”). Sakamoto’s (Let’s Build) genial cartoons send Rachel and her cousins all over Great-Uncle Harry’s house, quietly emphasizing the closeness among the older and younger members of the family. It’s a no-stress, no-conflict portrait of a Passover celebration that emphasizes ingenuity and the creation of new traditions to accompany the old. Ages 4–9. Illustrator’s agency: Shannon Associates. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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