This illustrated kids' book of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is out of this world

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was released 35 years ago and the tale of a friendly space creature marooned on Earth continues to captivate our imaginations. This month, Quirk books is releasing an illustrated kids' book version of E.T. The large format book features color illustrations throughout by Kim Smith, and is appropriate for very young kids. I received an advance copy and took a few photos:

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What Do You Do With an Idea? What Do You Do With a Problem?

How do you explain an abstract concept to children? Kid lit is filled with depictions of good manners, sharing, and other physical acts that lend themselves well to visual representation, but until now I haven't read a book that tackles the very notion of idea itself. The fact that What Do You Do With an Idea? does it so effortlessly is even more impressive.

We’re given the story of a young child (interestingly, you can’t tell if they are male or female, and a case could be made for either) who one day has an idea. The idea visually takes the form of a small golden egg, which is the beginning of a great, easy to understand metaphor. We follow the child as they try to ignore the idea, then are afraid of the idea, and eventually embrace the idea, all while this visual metaphor expertly tells the story. I could say more, but it’s such a treat to experience the first time that I suggest finding a copy and discovering it for yourself.

The companion book What Do You Do With a Problem? follows a similar structure, in which a child discovers they have a problem, tries to ignore it, and has to confront it, this time learning the value of overcoming our problems. A new, clear visual metaphor again tells the story, but this time the story delves a bit more into what a problem actually is. Given that people tend to fear problems a bit more than they fear ideas, Problem is a bit darker than Idea, which is good for keeping it from being repetitive. Read the rest

Triangle — a new book about some very sneaky shapes

Triangle is a rascally shape with a trick up his sleeve. Well, it would be, if he had any arms. Mac Barnett’s wily story and Jon Klassen’s eyes-tell-all illustrations make Triangle a really fun read-aloud for preschoolers, early elementary kids, and their adults.

Both the grown-ups and the kid in my house were eagerly awaiting this book — the latest collaboration between Barnett and Klassen. Both are crazy talented picture book makers who have consistently put out silly, thoughtful, beautiful books over the past few years, together and apart. This is the third book they’ve done as a duo (the previous two are Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, 2014, and Extra Yarn, 2012) and it feels a little different.

Aesthetically, in the tone of the text and the images, Triangle is much more reminiscent of Klassen’s Hat books than of Extra Yarn and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. The main characters are shapes (keeping with Klassen’s typical non-human subjects) and the setting ranges from sparse snapshots to a simple yet stunning landscape of “shapes with no names.” (The brief traipse and chase through this land that lies between the neat, pointed places made of triangles and squares adds something magical to the book. That feeling is made even nicer when realizing that the magical place is the one most like our own.)

Amidst Klassen’s illustrations, Barnett’s voice is still quite present, especially in the dialogue. The reader can’t help but deliver Triangle's lines with a mischievous sneer and Square’s with a tight-throated hand wringing, and that despite the characters’ lack of mouths or hands. Read the rest

When an Elephant Falls in Love — an irresistible meditation on the quest for connection

Award-winning children’s author, Davide Cali, teamed up with visual artist, Alice Lotti, to create When an Elephant Falls in Love, a book about the sweet and silly things one does for love.

A no-named elephant works hard to impress the one he adores. He tries to eat healthy foods (no cheesecake!), he takes daily baths (and washes behind his ears), he tries on stylish neckties, and he leaves flowers on a doorstep (but runs away before the door is opened). He’s unsure, confused, gleeful and sometimes sad. He’s normal. He’s in love.

But does he enchant his beloved?

Charming pen and ink illustrations accompany text that is understandable to children and truly relatable to adults as well.

Appropriate for ages 4-8.

– Carole Rosner

When an Elephant Falls in Love by Davide Cali, Alice Lotti (Illustrator) Chronicle Books 2016, 32 pages, 7.8 x 0.5 x 10.5 inches, Hardcover $10 Buy on Amazon Read the rest

Margarash, the coin boogieman, puts a clever, modern twist on a classic folktale storyline

Deep down beneath the couch cushions, past the crumbs and pocket lint, lying in wait for loose change, lurks...Margarash! Mark Riddle’s titular character is a boogieman turned buddy in this sweet, silly, and just scary-enough picture book that follows Collin, a young coin collector, into the couch crack netherworld where Margarash lives.

Collin is your average coin-loving kid, the kind who collects, counts, and arranges his coins “by size or shape, country or state, even by smell or taste (which is something you should never do).” The monster, like Collin, hoards coins. When Collin, in his continuous quest to expand his collection, starts infringing on Margarash’s territory, the monster takes him prisoner, chanting a post-capture warning to the boy and to readers: “The coins that fall are for Margarash, / Margarash, Margarash, / The coins that fall are for Margarash, / Leave them where they lie.

Margarash puts a clever, modern twist on a classic folktale storyline. Tim Miller’s illustrations take the edge off of the more frightening parts of the book and bring subtle beauty and depth to Margarash’s dark world, lit by beams and points of light that fall, like the coins he craves, through the cracks and tears of couches everywhere.

Margarash by Mark Riddle, Tim Miller (Illustrator) Enchanted Lion Books 2016, 48 pages, 8.8 x 0.5 x 12.1 inches, Hardcover $14 Buy one on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

An unlikely hero tames a terrible dragon

It’s always fun to read about a rascally creature who does terrible things. In Dragon Was Terrible, Kelly DiPucchio’s frank, conversational telling and Greg Pizzoli’s bright, clear illustrations create an instantly accessible world. The reader is immediately drawn in, commiserating with the narrator and the frustrated villagers and freely judging that terrible Dragon, making it a really fun read aloud.

Dragon really does behave badly. He picks on creatures smaller than himself, he ruins nice things. From throwing sand to tagging the castle wall, he tends to be stereotypical in his terror. Every kid who reads this book will have experienced the act or aftermath (and, at some point or another, will have been at least an occasional perpetrator of) Dragon’s misdeeds. The strongest and loudest and maddest knights and villagers are no match for this jerk, but a clever boy tames the beast without a single blow. Of course, kids love a young hero, but for grown-ups, there is real satisfaction in seeing this battle of wits in which the hero’s weapons are words (he wins by writing a book!) and insight (a book that appeals to Dragon’s powerful self-image).

Sometimes, the only way to change a big orange beast is to trick him. Though I don’t really believe that all similarly hued and equally terrible creatures (I’m talking about the biggest, orange bully-elect of them all, here) could be so easily lured with good books and friendship, it’s nice, at least, to have a happy ending to read to my kid. Read the rest

The Pet Dragon – A whimsical girl-meets-dragon story that also introduces Chinese characters

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

The Pet Dragon

by Christopher Niemann

Greenwillow Books

2008, 40 pages, 9 x 11.8 x 0.4 inches (hardcover)

$16 Buy a copy on Amazon

Chinese characters are wonderfully expressive, straddling the fine line between the written word and illustration. Esteemed graphic designer and picture book creator Christoph Niemann realized as much with The Pet Dragon, a whimsical story about a Chinese girl who raises a baby dragon to adulthood. In his introduction to the book, Niemann states that he had fun imagining connections between the calligraphic characters and their meanings. Reading the book, it’s clear that the author has a love of his subject and was very much enjoying himself.

The story is straightforward. A young Chinese girl named Lin receives a baby dragon who grows too quickly to stay in her home. After breaking a vase, Lin’s father condemns the baby dragon to its cage. The wily dragon escapes, leading Lin on a quest to find her beloved pet. Niemann enriches his tale by transposing Chinese characters on top of his illustrations to demonstrate the relationship between each symbol and what it represents. A forest is shown as a series of trees with the symbol for tree superimposed on them, the curving lines below indicating the roots and the extended lines at the top stretching outward for the branches. The upraised slashes and crossed lines in the symbol for father become the raised eyebrows and nose on his face, while the character denoting mountain has its three upward prongs displayed over a towering mountain range. Read the rest

My Dad Used to Be So Cool – so what the heck happened?

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

My Dad Used to Be So Cool

by Keith Negley

Flying Eye Books

2016, 48 pages, 9.1 x 10.7 x 0.4 inches

$11 Buy a copy on Amazon

To believe that your own parents are “boring” or “typical” is a pretty common thought amongst children. Unless your parent is a spy or superhero, you aren’t going to refer to them as “cool.” And why would you?

Keith Negley’s book, My Dad Used to Be so Cool, illustrates the dynamic between a son and his father. The story is told from the son’s point of view as we journey through his fantasies of what his father used to be like when he was younger. Through descriptive illustrations and minimal word usage, a world that we are all too familiar with is created. The son sees his father doing laundry and vacuuming just like every other child has seen their parent do. Nothing particularly “cool” about those daily tasks, right? The son begs the question, “What happened?” A life event changed the father from a tattooed rock and roll super star to a laundry-folding dad. What was it? The answer – his son.

Negley perfectly demonstrates the sacrifices a parent makes for their child, but how beautiful those sacrifices really are. This story opened my eyes to how “cool” my own parents actually are. At 18 years old, I am not a parent but I can honestly say that the daily struggles and chores that any parent deals with are nothing short of remarkable. Read the rest

Alien Invasion in My Backyard – From slobbery robots and aliens with briefcases to didgeridoo lessons

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An EMU Club Adventure

by Ruben Bolling

Andrews McMeel Publishing

2015, 112 pages, 5.3 x 8 x 0.4 inches

$12 Buy a copy on Amazon

TV will tell you the truth is out there. Decades ago folks would warn you to “Keep watching the skies!” But kids know the truth: The mysteries aren’t out there, they’re right here. They are in every bump from the attic, that weird locked door in the basement, and, especially, the often mystifying backyard. Kids know that’s where the real mysteries lie, and we’re all lucky that Ruben Bolling knows it, too.

Alien Invasion in my Backyard, the first in the EMU Club series, is a fun and ridiculous (in just the right way) story of the creation of the Exploration Mystery Unbelievable Club. The book itself is intended to be the Official Report of their first mystery and written by eleven year-old President Stuart Tennemeier who, other than planning on a growth spurt in college, is planning to document all their amazing adventures. His best friend, CEO Brian, and his little sister Violet (no title because Mom makes them let her join) join him to solve all of life’s important mysteries. And we can’t forget Sergeant at Arms Ferdinand, Stuart’s loyal dog who proves critical to cracking the case. As an Official Report the reader gets direct access to the EMU Club files, including photos of their whole adventure lovingly taped to the lined graph paper it’s printed on. Read the rest

The latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid is as fresh and humorous as books 1-9

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Diary keeper Greg Heffley can’t just endure middle school in peace. His helicopter mom is working on a petition to get people to stop using electronics for 48 hours. His new pet pig, who’s learned to walk on two legs, gets more house privileges than he does. And even more annoying, his Grandpa, who can’t pay his rent at Leisure Towers anymore, has moved into Greg’s bedroom, which means Greg now has to sleep on the floor of his baby brother’s room. Worst of all, Greg ends up on the school camping trip to Hardscrabble Farms, which lives up to its reputation for being the worse camp ever.

The just-released Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School is the tenth book in the series, and happily it’s just as fresh and humorous as its predecessors. In fact, I laughed so loud while sitting alone on the couch of our living room, I was worried someone would spy me and think I’d finally gone around the bend (why do I always feel this way when I’m laughing out loud by myself?). The theme is old school vs. new school, or old geezers’ ways of doing things versus progress, and whether or not you’ve read books 1-9, Old School is a fun read for any age.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

by Jeff Kinney

Harry N. Abrams

2015, 224 pages, 5.8 x 8.2 x 0.9 inches

$8 Buy a copy on Amazon Read the rest

There's no way the words "I'm bored" will be uttered in a house that has Unbored on hand

See sample pages at Wink.

There's no way the words “I’m bored” will be uttered in a house that has the Unbored series on hand. Unbored: Adventure is the third action-inducing book by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen that inspires fun, innovation, and yes, real adventures. Split into four chapters (Adventure-ize, Adventures Close to Home, Urban Adventure, and Nature Adventure), these boredom-bashing pages show you how to make and hide a time capsule, build a kite, make a solar oven out of a pizza box, play after-dark outdoor games, “train your grownup” to let you climb a tree, learn survival science like purifying stream water with a bowl, plastic wrap and the sun, and loads more. There’s something wholesomely retro about Unbored, with its mostly outdoor projects, experiments, games, and old-fashioned fun. For more unboredness, make sure to check out the Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun and Unbored: Games.

Unbored Adventure: 70 Seriously Fun Activities for Kids and Families

by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen

Bloomsbury USA

2015, 176 pages, 6.4 x 8.3 x 0.6 inches (paperback)

$12 Buy one on Amazon Read the rest

Big Bear little chair – each tall and skinny page in this kids' books is as stunning as the next

The concept of Big Bear little chair is a common one: teaching kids to differentiate between large and small. We start off with “Big Bear, little chair,” move on to “Big Plant, little cocoon,” and carry on with this theme until the end, with “Big Snowstorm, little village, tiny bird,” and, “Big Bear, little bear.” What makes this simple book so compelling is the striking art by author and illustrator Lizi Boyd. The bold illustrations are dramatic yet whimsical, with a formal color scheme of black and white (and gray) that is playfully broken up with gumball red. Each tall and skinny page is as stunning as the next. Big Bear little chair makes me happy every time I open it up, and if my kids were still in their pre-school years this would definitely be a frequent read.

Big Bear little chair

by Lizi Boyd

Chronicle

2015, 32 pages, 6.3 x 12.3 x 0.3 inches

$10 Buy one on Amazon Read the rest