Fishing. Searching. Solving. Playing. Peeing (dogs, that is). Gardening. While these 11 new picture books are all about action, it’s likely that readers of any age also might pick up on more serious themes — inclusiveness, racism, poverty, independence, astronomy, growth. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the story is good. And these stories are good.
Spring and summer books:
“A Different Pond,” by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui. (Capstone, $15.95, Aug. 1.)
A boy and his father slip out of the house early on a chilly morning to go fishing. The father’s voice “sounds like gentle rain.” The minnows they buy as bait “swim like silver arrows.” The faint stars overhead as they cast their lines look like freckles. Minneapolis writer Bao Phi is a poet, and this lovely book — told through the eyes of the little boy — employs the same economy of language and vivid imagery as any fine poem. Themes of immigration, hard work, racism and the uniting power of nature are touched on lightly and naturally. Thi Bui’s nighttime illustrations glow.
Bao Phi will launch the book at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8 at Red Balloon, 891 Grand Av., St. Paul. He’ll be at the Minnesota Children’s Book Festival, Anderson Center, Red Wing, on Sept. 16, and he will sign books at 1 p.m. Sept. 24 at SubText Books, 6 W. 5th St., St. Paul.
“Round,” by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99.)
In the poetic “Round,” a small girl finds pleasure in all things circular — eggs and seeds, blueberries and bubbles, mudballs and the moon. Wayzata writer Joyce Sidman’s picture books often focus on nature — woods and animals and the wilderness at night. And like any good round (the song kind, I mean) at the end, the book starts over: “I love round things.” Identical opening and closing lines make a perfect circle.
“Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Silly School Mystery,” by Chris Monroe. (Carolrhoda, $17.99, Aug. 1.)
In the latest in a string of entertaining adventures, the intrepid and well-equipped monkey Chico Bon Bon comes to the rescue when someone — or something — makes off with half of the books in the school library. And then the world map is chewed. And the students’ show-and-tell items are gnawed. It’s madcap silliness, and as with all of Chris Monroe’s lively and witty books, the best fun is in the details — the funny tools that Chico carries (a smencil saw, a squickle, a staple kitten and a marker mitten), the frenetic full-page views, and the occasional lapses into rhyme.
“Creekfinding: A True Story,” by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Claudia McGehee. (University of Minnesota Press, $16.95.)
How can you catch a brook trout in a cornfield? Jacqueline Briggs Martin tells the story of Minnesotan Michael Osterholm, who bought a farm field in order to restore it to prairie — and found that the farmer had long ago buried a creek that ran through the land. So Osterholm set about restoring that, instead. Iowa artist Claudia McGehee’s scratchboard illustrations show the magnitude and complexity of the task of unburying the creek and bringing back the fish, birds, bugs and plants to their original home.
“Percy, Dog of Destiny,” by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann. (Boyds Mill Press, $16.95.)
Minneapolis writer Alison McGhee captures the ebullience and short attention spans of pups at a dog park in her story about Percy, the vaguely British (“What ho!” he cries) spotted dog. At the park, Percy and his canine friends race around, chase a ball, pee on trees and go one-on-one with squirrels. Jennifer K. Mann’s comic illustrations add to the fun.
“Anywhere Farm,” by Phyllis Root, illustrated by G. Brian Karas. (Candlewick Press, $16.99.)
Such a treasure is Phyllis Root, the Minneapolis author of more than 30 books for children. In her latest, told in kicky rhyme, she celebrates the simple joy of planting a seed anywhere and watching it grow. “An old empty lot makes a good growing plot. But a pan or a bucket, a pot or a shoe, a bin or a tin, or a window will do.” G. Brian Karas’ illustrations show kids of all kinds — big, small, girl, boy, black, brown, pink, in wheelchairs, in baseball caps — diligently planting, watering and resting. Like any good farmer.
“If You Were the Moon,” by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Jaime Kim. (Millbrook Press, $19.99.)
In Laura Purdie Salas’ rhythmic story, the moon “spins like a ballerina,” “lights a pathway to the sea,” and “whispers wisdom from the sky.” Each poetic sentence is augmented by a scientific explanation — just enough for young children, not too much to bog down a lovely book. Salas lives in the Twin Cities and is a winner of a Minnesota Book Award. Korean artist Jaime Kim (who also illustrated Kate DiCamillo’s “La La La,” reviewed below) has said her favorite things to illustrate are the sun, the moon and the stars. Here, the moon smiles broadly and the stars twinkle like glitter.
“Sadie Braves the Wilderness,” by Yvonne Pearson, illustrated by Karen Ritz. (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $16.95.)
A timid girl discovers joy in the wilderness when she, her little brother and her parents travel “for a hundred hours” past Lake Superior, through “a thousand trees,” to the Boundary Waters, where “monster rocks” and bellowing waterfalls await. The girl scares off flying dinosaurs (herons) and alligators (loons) and finds strength and courage through protecting her little brother (who is blithely unaware he needs protection). Karen Ritz’s realistic watercolors capture the intensity of the girl’s experience.
Coming in the fall:
“Little i,” by Michael Hall. (Greenwillow, $17.99, Sept. 5.)
Little i loses his dot and sets off to find it in this new picture book by two-time Minnesota Book Award winner Michael Hall. Gorgeous mixed-media illustrations in strong, saturated colors — deep blue, bright orange, lime green, turquoise — highlight this story of searching, growth and change. Threaded through the narrative is a clever spelling lesson for smart readers to discover. (“ ‘No way!’ said n and o, and w, a, and y.”)
“Seven Ways to Trick a Troll,” by Lise Lunge Larsen, illustrated by Kari Vick. (University of Minnesota Press, $19.95, Oct. 3.)
Duluth folklorist Lise Lunge Larsen retells seven ancient myths about the biggest, clumsiest — and, apparently, stupidest — fairies of all, trolls. How do you trick them? Each story gives a new way: They burst if they get mad, sunlight will turn them to stone. Soft illustrations by Kari Vick of Lutsen, Minn., have a strong Nordic feel.
“La La La,” by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Jaime Kim. (Candlewick, $17.99, Oct. 3.)
The text of this book is one word: La. But the story is abundantly clear. A solitary little girl marches out into the world, singing, looking for someone to hear her and respond. All alone, she sings to the autumn leaves, to the stars, to the moon. Kim’s illustrations show the girl, in turn, spunky, dejected, exhausted and serene.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books.