As a pre-K–5th grade librarian, I get asked all the time, “What is your favorite book?” I always answer, “That is like trying to choose a favorite star in the sky!” My favorite book changes daily, sometimes hourly. And this is good because it means that the world of children’s literature is alive and well. Rather than promise that the books reviewed here are the brightest stars ever to shine in the picture book and early reader galaxy, I can merely say that these are the stars that have caught my eye for the moment.
- Atkinson, Cale. Explorers of the Wild. Disney-Hyperion, 2016.
Bear and Boy are both great explorers who love adventure. They know the joy of picking up stones, rolling down hills, and looking under logs. Bear’s and Boy’s stories are told in parallel until they meet in the woods. They are terrified of each other but quickly discover that they are both explorers and that exploring with a friend is more enjoyable than exploring alone. This book is a delight and provides and great opportunity for comparing and contrasting. Be sure to find the snail hidden on every page.
- Cummins, Lucy Ruth. A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016.
A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals is a picture book that will delight students in upper grades. A great vocabulary lesson starts with the title: What do the words “dwindling” and “assortment” mean? Suddenly, students have predictions about what is going to happen in this story. The story starts out, “Once upon a time, there was a hungry lion” and then lists a collection of adorable animals, but the author has to keep revising the list of adorable animals because they seem to be disappearing. Cummins has created a book filled with unexpected plot twists that keep readers guessing until the very last page. I would not necessarily read this book to preschool or kindergarten classes due to the fact that the assortment of animals is dwindling.
- Ellis, Carson. Du Iz Tak? Candlewick, 2016.
A 2017 Caldecott Honor Book, Du Iz Tak? is a wildly imaginative and fun book. Written entirely in an invented language, readers use the pictures to figure out what is happening and what is being said. When a mysterious shoot sprouts, the local bugs wonder, “Du iz tak?” (What is that?). As the shoot grows taller, some young bugs come along and use the shoot to build a tree fort until winter comes and kills the plant. This book is wonderful to use for making inferences and predictions. Students of all ages will enjoy this book and will notice small details on each beautifully illustrated page.
- Fan, Terry, and Eric Fan. The Night Gardener. Simon & Schuster, 2016.
Grimloch Lane is a sad, grey, depressed place. One morning, William looks out the window of his room at the Grimloch Orphanage and discovers that a tree has been cut into the shape of an owl. Each night, the Night Gardener works more magic and creates bigger and better topiaries. The once gloomy town starts to change, and by the end of the book, when the Night Gardener disappears, the town is full of life and color. This book has a great message about how one person can make a huge difference without needing accolades.
- Freedman, Deborah. Shy. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016.
Shy lives in the gutter (the space between the pages) of this book. He loves birds but has never seen a real bird because he is afraid to venture out into the world. One day a real bird trills by, and Shy dares to leave home in hopes of meeting this bird. The wonderful twist in this book is that we don’t find out the identity of Shy until the end when we watch him emerge from the gutter. Shy is a quiet book that keeps readers engaged and guessing about who Shy is. The colors on each page are warm and inviting. Freedman captures the beauty of nature and the joy of adventure, while encouraging readers to be braver than they ever thought possible.
- Harrison, Hannah E. My Friend Maggie. Dial Books, 2016.
The first time I read this book, I cried . . . hard. Paula and Maggie have always been best friends, but when Veronica arrives and points out that Maggie is big, clumsy, and her clothes are a bit too tight, Paula finds herself abandoning Maggie for a new group of friends. Maggie stays true to herself and to her friendship with Paula as they quickly discover Veronica’s true self. My Friend Maggie is a beautiful illustration of the meaning of friendship and how a person’s appearance doesn’t reflect who he or she is on the inside.
- Hendrix, John. Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus. Harry N. Abrams, 2016.
I am always a bit skeptical when I find a new picture book about Jesus, but John Hendrix has done an incredible job with this book. Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus takes the reader through the many miracles of Jesus: feeding the five thousand, walking on water, healing the lepers, and the resurrection—the most important miracle of all. This book inspires discussion about why the author wrote the book (be sure to read the author’s note in the back matter) and how books like this can help us go back and reread stories in the Bible with a fresh perspective.
- Litchfield, David. The Bear and the Piano. Clarion Books, 2016.
What happens when a bear cub discovers an abandoned piano in the forest? He becomes a world-renowned pianist, of course. Bear works diligently to develop his talents and enjoys sharing them with his friends and family. When a young boy and girl discover Bear and persuade him to come to the city, Bear has to leave his community behind to share his talents with the world. Bear discovers that big city life can be lonely and decides to return home. Will his friends welcome him back, or will they be upset that he left in the first place? Litchfield has created a wonderful story about pursuing your dreams, while never forgetting where you came from or who your friends are.
- Wenzel, Brendan. They All Saw a Cat. Chronicle Books, 2016.
Another 2017 Caldecott Honor book, They All Saw a Cat is the first book that Brendan Wenzel both authored and illustrated. “The cat walks through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws,” but the cat appears in drastically different ways to every creature it encounters. This book is beautifully illustrated and helps the reader consider how people view the world differently. This book is a must have for classrooms from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
- Zenz, Aaron. Monsters Go Night-Night. Harry N. Abrams, 2016.
How do monsters brush their teeth? What do monsters snuggle with? What do monsters wear to bed? All these questions are answered in hilarious ways in Monsters Go Night-Night. Zenz has written a book that is much more than a bedtime story. Readers are presented with a series of questions about the nighttime habits of monsters, and the answers are revealed with colorful and funny illustrations. This book would be great to use to teach about making predictions. Sidenote: if your school is looking for an excellent author visit, Aaron Zenz would be a great choice.
Atkinson, Cale. Explorers of the Wild. Disney-Hyperion, 2016.
Cummins, Lucy Ruth. A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016.
Ellis, Carson. Du Iz Tak? Candlewick, 2016.
Fan, Terry, and Eric Fan. The Night Gardener. Simon & Schuster, 2016.
Freedman, Deborah. Shy. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016.
Harrison, Hannah E. My Friend Maggie. Dial Books, 2016.
Hendrix, John. Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus. Harry N. Abrams, 2016.
Litchfield, David. The Bear and the Piano. Clarion Books, 2016.
Wenzel, Brendan. They All Saw a Cat. Chronicle Books, 2016.
Zenz, Aaron. Monsters Go Night-Night. Harry N. Abrams, 2016.
Mary Jo Staal is a pre-K–5th librarian at Hudsonville Christian School in Hudsonville, Michigan.