For those of us who love great illustration as much as a great story, I’ve found three new picture books that are worth making space for in your kids’ bookcase or wrapping to give to a child this holiday. What I love most about all three is that they’ll keep you talking about what you see as you go through the pages and maybe even long after the book cover is closed.
Flora and the Flamingo, one of my family’s favorite recent picture books and a 2013 Caldecott Honor book, has a sequel that is just perfect for these colder days. Flora and the Penguin brings little Flora back as she forms an unlikely friendship with a curious penguin while out ice skating on a winter’s day.
Former DreamWorks Animation Artist Molly Idle’s soft, sweet illustrations tell the entire story with Flora and her friend’s glances, body language, and expressions. This makes Flora and the Penguin a wonderful book for non-reading kids in preschool and kindergarten to flip through on their own too.
And while Flora and the Flamingo was all about the pink, Flora and the Penguin is features the most beautiful muted shade of blue without a lot of extraneous stuff going on to distract from the two stars of the story. And what a wonderful story it is, about the excitement of making new friends, soothing hurt feelings, and becoming friends again. It’s a message that needs no words to make its point and will resonate with a lot of ages.
If you like a little audience participation when you read aloud to your kids, get ready for some reaction when you sit down to read Sam & Dave Dig a Hole. Written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, whose book This Is Not My Hat won the 2013 Caldecott Award, the story seems simple enough: Sam and Dave decide to dig a hole until they find something spectacular. Any kid old enough to have tried to dig for treasure in your backyard will feel instant camaraderie with these two boys.
Page after page, Sam and Dave keep digging their hole, and anyone looking at the pictures will start getting more and more excited as it becomes clear that the two diggers are this close to finding something REALLY spectacular. Don’t be surprised if your kids start offering Sam and Dave some advice as you go through the pages.
I love how Mac Barnett’s simple narrative keeps its emotions in check, letting your kids react to what they see in their own way. And you’ll all smile when you see how exasperated the boys’ dog gets throughout the story. And just when you all think the story is going to end one way, things go topsy turvy. What exactly just happened to Sam and Dave? Don’t be surprised if your kids start digging to find out.
Good Dream, Bad Dream: The World’s Heroes Save the Night! is a visual feast for anyone who loves action-packed pages, graphic novel-style illustration, and a message that will help your grade school kids sleep a little sounder at night. Written by both Juan Calle of Colombian art studio Liberum Donum and Serena Valentino in both English and Spanish, it is a bilingual treat for those who can read in both languages, or would like to learn.
Little Julio is resisting bedtime because of the monsters that visit him in his dreams. His clever Papa tells him to use his imagination to defeat each of the monsters, since all monsters fear at least one good guy (or girl!) As Papa runs through all the scary things that Julio may dream up, we are treated to the gorgeous, evocative illustrations by Juan Calle and Liberum Donum who has such a singular style, it’s no wonder the book was supported with a successful Kickstarter campaign. Some sensitive kids may find the pictures a little too intense right before bedtime, or they may just get too worked up over how cool the pictures are, so you may prefer to save this lesson of good versus evil for earlier in the day.
As a parent of two girls, I appreciate seeing strong female characters defeating the bad guys, as shown above in the fierce Archer who holds back the pack of scowling Cyclops. Those who love details can peer closely at the pictures and see the names of mythical and storybook creatures worked into the illustrations.
The underlying message in Good Dream, Bad Dream is that imagination is strong enough to fight back their fears–so comforting for kids who worry about bad dreams. And while I can’t guarantee a night free of worries, it’s a great message for kids to hear as often as possible.
You can find Flora and the Penguin, Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, and Good Dream, Bad Dream: The World’s Heroes Save the Night! at our affiliate Amazon. For more great books for kids, check out our archives.