Art matters a lot to me in picture and board books; if the art isn’t beautiful or sweet or somehow just right, for me it ruins the story. And the story, the text, is just as important, if not more so; if it’s not written well, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the artwork is, it just doesn’t feel right.
These four children’s books–1 picture book and 3 board books–all have beautiful illustrations and text that works and that makes these books a treat.
Duck & Goose: Goose Needs a Hug
Written and illustrated by: Tad Hills
Published by: Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House
Published: Dec 26, 2012
Recommended Age: 2-5 years and up
My rating: 5 out of 5
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My policy is only to review books that I love or enjoy.
Duck & Goose: Goose Needs a Hug is a keeper for me–one of my new favorites that feels just right story-wise, illustration-wise, and emotionally. Goose tells his bird friends he’s sad and needs something, but before he can tell them what he needs, they interrupt him with suggestions. His friends are sure they know what Goose needs, but each time they make a suggestion, again interrupting him, Goose is just a little bit more exasperated, until finally they ask and really listen to what he needs–and Goose can tell them: a hug. Then Goose gets exactly what he needs–though they ask why he didn’t tell them in the first place. This is a sweet and funny book, the last page a punch line that many readers will get–that feeling of not being listened to and then asked why they weren’t speaking out. The gentle humor, sweet illustrations, the fact that his friends so obviously care and want to help, and that Goose moves from being sad to getting what he needs, makes this book a feel-good book and keeps it from being a painful one.
Hills’ illustrations are both cute and beautiful, as always, with cheerful, bright colors; simple, expressive figures that show emotion so well; and beautiful backgrounds (blue sky with white fluffy clouds, lots of green grass and trees). There’s something so sweet and tender in the little birds that immediately draws me to the artwork. I also love how the copyright pages visually begin the story before the first page, with Goose walking with his head down, obviously sad. Goose’s expressions are almost comical as he is interrupted again and again, until finally he’s ready to burst–and that’s just when he gets what he needs. The figures are not static, either–not just talking heads–they move from talking to each other, to hiding, to running, and many other playful activities. The illustrations will make the reader want to hug Goose.
The text is beautifully written and feels just right, with lovely comedic timing, Goose being interrupted again and again before he can get it out and before the final punch line. Each time when Goose tells his friends their suggestion is not what he needs but he needs (and is interrupted) he says it in a slightly different way, making his dialogue interesting. All the story text is dialogue between Goose and his friends, and that keeps the story moving quickly. Readers will want to turn the pages quickly to see what happens next.
A sweet, warm-hearted, and lightly funny story of sadness moving into comfort that tells readers a hug can help if you’re sad; it’s okay to ask for a hug; your friends love you; and there are many things that may also help you when you’re sad. A great message lightly woven into a sweet, comforting story. Highly recommended.
Goose Needs A Hug is available in both board book and picture book formats.
Written and illustrated by: Carin Bramsen
Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers
Published: Jan 22, 2013
Recommended Age: 3-7 years
My rating: 4 out of 5
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Hey, Duck! is a sweet book about friendship between unlikely friends, and friendly persistence winning over even grumpiness.
The little duck in this book tries to make friends with a cat, insisting that the cat is a duck. The cat keeps saying that she is NOT a duck and resists the duck’s friendly overtures, until finally saying she wants to be alone. But after a while the cat realizes she misses the duck. When she finally finds the duck, she tries to be friends by saying that she is indeed a duck–but after the duck splashes water on her she realizes she really is a cat. The duck then metaphorically reaches over to the cat by meowing and saying that they’re friends.
Young readers will delight in realizing what the little duck doesn’t seem to–that her new friend is really a cat, not a duck. And they will enjoy the unusual friendship between a cat and a duck.
The illustrations are cute and look almost 3-D, with texture visible especially on the duck and the cat and the tree, making them seem to leap from the page. There’s always a gleam of light in their eyes that make them look almost alive. The characters have strong body language and are very expressive, so you know what they’re feeling by looking at them. The characters and foreground are all detailed and stand out greatly against the plain one-tone blue sky background, which draws your eye to the characters and their romp. Illustrations move from single page spreads to full spreads to two illustrations per page, which adds visual interest.
The text is written in rhyme, which isn’t my favorite to read, but Bramsen’s rhymes scan well and have a nice rhythm–so nice that for the first few pages I didn’t notice the book was in rhyme. A few odd times it felt like the last word in a rhyme was forced, but usually they read really well. The text is dialogue between the duck and the cat, which moves the story forward, and engages the reader in both the duck and the cat’s point of view. I loved the naive enthusiasm and friendly persistence of the little duck, and the way the cat came around to becoming friends.
Hey, Duck! encourages readers to see that you can be very different from someone else and still be friends and enjoy each others’ company. It also reminds readers that if you want something you shouldn’t give up right away. A bright, funny picture book that will have little ones giggling. Recommended!
Written by Hazel Hutchins, illustrated by Fanny
Published by: Annick Press
Published: August 2012
Recommended for Ages: 2-5 (and up)
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Up Cat is a funny, sweet little book about a playful cat going throughout her day, doing cat-like things–waking up and asking for food, then ignoring the food, playing with wool and empty boxes, and lying in the sun. Hutchins’ knows her cats well!
Hutchins’ text is made up of simple, very short phrases, usually ending in “up” that tell what the cat is doing (though you need the illustrations paired with many to know exactly what) such as “creep up/leap up/toss up/bat up”. I can see the text working well for babies and toddlers; Hutchins cleverly used simple words that young children will know or are already using–especially “up”. The rhythm works beautifully and encourages the reader to turn the page to see what will happen next. There was only one line that pulled me out of the rhythm, when the line didn’t end with up but rather started with it. The simple phrases that show the antics that the cat is doing will make readers laugh, especially paired with the illustrations.
Fanny’s illustrations help make Up Cat work, showing the reader exactly what the cat is doing when she is doing something “up”. You can see the curiosity, attitude, and happiness of the cat. The illustrations have a stylized feel to them, with slightly skewed perspectives and bodies that don’t look anatomically correct but are pleasing to look at. I like how you never see a person in the illustrations–only a person’s hands and arms–so that the focus stays solely on the cat. Most illustrations have a bright color as the background, with only needed details and of course the cat in the foreground.
Hutchins and Fanny have captured the mischievousness, playfulness, sometimes attitude, and fun of cats. Young children will love the mischief the cat gets into, and love, too, the many uses of “up”. Readers who have a cat will also especially enjoy and identify with antics of the cat in this book. Recommended!
Sweet Dreams Lullaby
Written and illustrated by: Betsy Snyder
Published by: Random House Books For Young Readers
Published: 2010, 2012
Recommended for Ages: 3-7 (and up)
My rating: 5 out of 5
Source: Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review
Sweet Dreams Lullaby is indeed a sweet book. Both the illustrations and the text are sweet, warm, and comforting, and reach out to readers like a hug–or a lullaby. Little bunny gets tucked into bed, encouraged to dream of happy nature scenes, and gently drawn into sleep.
The text is written in rhyme, each page a happy, comforting suggestion of what to dream about: blossoms soft as snow, clouds like puffy pillows, gentle raindrop showers, fireflies that blink and flash. I love Snyder’s beautiful language and imagery–“eggs wrapped in a nest/where mama bird has come to rest.” This is poetry that soothes and comforts, while uplifting the reader.
Snyder’s illustrations fit the text perfectly–they are sweet, comforting, and soothing, with gentle, warm colors, lots of nature, and a whimsical, loving, happy feel to the illustrations. In one spread, a bunny in turquoise pajamas blows dandelion seeds up into a warm yellow sky and a setting sun, her home under the grassy hill beneath her. In a later spread, the bunny lets a firefly go into the darkening sky, where it shines and sparkles with the other fireflies. The pages move easily into each other, moving from daytime to nighttime scenes, the moon rising higher and higher, slowly encouraging the reader to drift off to sleep.
This is a comforting, tender book that will give the reader a sense of safety and love, and remind readers that nighttime and the dark is safe, and dreams can be wonderful. Highly recommended!