Three new picture books for kids

From the Globe and Mail this week, reviews:

A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals

By Lucy Ruth Cummins

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, $23

This book opens on a menagerie of animals, counting out a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle and a half-dozen other critters. As each page is turned, the smaller animals start to disappear, the lion appears increasingly menacing and the befuddled narrator has to restart the count. There are a lot of twists packed into such a brief story book, making it highly interactive; every child with whom I’ve read this book took great joy in shouting out their theories of where the animals were disappearing. Cummins’s scrappy illustrations (she colours within the line, more or less) add to both the innocence and darkness of the story, in the way that the presence of a children’s choir in a horror movie just causes everything to be that much more ominous. Kids who can’t get enough of Jon Klassen’s Hat books will eat this one right up.

The Stone Thrower

Written by Jael Ealey Richardson, illustrated by Matt James

Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $19

It’s the 1950s and Chuck Ealey is growing up in the segregated town of Portsmouth, Ohio. Poor and black, Chuck lives with his mother in the rundown North End neighbourhood. Chuck’s mother instills in him at a young age the drive to get out of the North End and pursue an education, but Chuck knows they can’t afford fancy schools. What follows is an original plan that will lead him to a football scholarship and later, the CFL. The problem with trying to distill the complexities of systemic inequality into a storybook include turning adversity into a feel-good narrative about the importance of working hard and having a good attitude, and with another author perhaps that’s what this book would be. But The Stone Thrower, based on a true story, was penned by Chuck Ealey’s daughter, whose focus lay more in preserving her father’s singular narrative, rather than moralizing.

Are We There Yet?

By Dan Santat

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, $22

For a kid on a road trip, the line between exciting adventure and dull monotony is a thin one. This is what the boy at the centre of the latest book from Caldecott medalist Santat learns within the first two pages. The book takes a twist, literally, in an immersive gimmick that requires the pages to be rotated as its spiral into a journey through space and time, accompanied by a kid-friendly, Rod Serling-like narration. The car drives through the Wild West, medieval times, a pirate ship, ancient Egypt, onto which the parents look with wonder while the boy sits in the back seat, totally unenchanted and making comments as such (“I feel sick,” “My butt hurts”). It will take a lot more than jousting knights and cowboys to overcome the boredom of a long drive. Pack this for your kids to flip through on that summer road trip; Santat’s enchanting illustrations will hopefully engage them for a little while.

NOTE: All these books are available, or currently on order, at the Ottawa Public Library. Order now and pick up at the North Gower Branch!

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