From bullying lions to runaway cats, from cave paintings to Lincoln’s life, here’s a crop of picture books for children to admire and re-read.
“What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings”
by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99)
This slim, elegant book, with its elongated format and red-ribbon bookmark, isn’t your conventional kids’ book by any stretch. The “chants, charms and blessings” are Wayzata poet Joyce Sidman’s lovely verses, which span diverse themes from bravery to invisibility to a “Blessing on the Smell of Dog.” Accompanying the words is poetry of another sort: Pamela Zagarenski’s gorgeous, sophisticated visual compositions. As she did in Mary Logue’s “Sleep Like a Tiger,” Zagarenski plays off the writer’s work, creating a kind of symbiotic hybrid of unique beauty. Read this book to someone, let someone read it to you and enjoy the loveliness at your fingertips.
“Lion vs. Rabbit”
by Alex Latimer
Alex Latimer’s Lion is a big bully (he’s King of the Jungle, etc.), giving wedgies to Buffalo, stealing Hyena’s “lunch monkey” — and worse. Miserable and fed up, the victims post an ad on the jungle version of Craigslist, seeking animals to challenge the tormenter. A veritable menagerie shows up, all predictably left in the dust. That is until sly Rabbit appears with a set of crazy challenges that bring puzzled Lion to ignominious defeat. Latimer’s critters are much fun, leaping, running and stumbling through the pages of this bright, colorful and very funny book.
“Big Little Mother”
by Kevin Kling, illustrated by Chris Monroe
(Borealis Books, $17.95)
Following up on their “Big Little Brother” collaboration, Kling and Monroe bring us another hilarious trip into childhood. Big Sister’s cat, Kittywumpus, is fed up with dressing up, playing the piano and other indignities, so she disappears in a spectacular break. Consequently, Little Brother is subjected to Big Sister’s tiresome makeovers until, worn down, he stomps off in a snit. Big sibling trouble. But a dance recital saves the day; that’s when Little Brother displays his Big Sister dancing skills. Universal praise for all ensues.
Kling and Monroe share the gift of rich childhood memories anchored in loving, telling detail. Never cloying or sentimental, their work is infused with a winsome humor that often verges on the surreal. The skillful Kling’s gentle, sensitive recollections are sweetly edgy, and Monroe’s equally sensitive illustrations add richness and feeling to this collaboration, making it appealing to kids and adults alike.
“The First Drawing”
by Mordicai Gerstein (Little Brown, $17)
In a story set in the dim reaches of human history, Mordicai Gerstein makes an imaginative leap to show how the magnificent cave art (discovered in 1994) at Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc in France came to be. Inspired by a child’s footprint on the cave floor, Gerstein weaves a story of a boy, his encounter with a woolly mammoth, and the making of this 30,000-year-old art. Our boy artist fixates on his encounter with the mammoth, whose image he draws on the wall of the cave. He’s followed by other “artists,” making the menagerie of remarkable animals, some long extinct, that fill Chauvet’s walls. Some might doubt that a child could make such art, but the notion makes for a compelling story, which Gerstein tells with great imagination. (Note: Werner Herzog’s 2010 documentary film, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” shows the spectacular Chauvet art as it appears today; a perfect followup.)
“Looking at Lincoln”
by Maira Kalman (Penguin, $17.99)