book coverStewart, Melissa. Can an Aardvark Bark? Illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Beach Lane, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–4814–5852–8)

Ages 5-9

A primary narrative strings together questions and answers about the sounds animals do and don’t make (“Can an aardvark bark? No, but it can grunt … Can a seal squeal? No, but it can bark … Can a wild boar roar? No, but it can squeal.”). Each question-and-answer pair is followed by a page spread that provides examples of other animals that make the same sound. (e.g, “Lots of other animals grunt too.”) For all of the animals named—and shown in Steve Jenkins’s striking collage portraits set against white pages—there is a brief description relating to the sound it makes: how it makes that sound, or under what circumstances. (“A European hedgehog snorts when it’s angry and purrs when it’s happy. When the prickly critter senses danger, it squeals and rolls up in a tight ball.”) There is playfulness in the rhymes and the occasional disruption of the patterned primary text, while the brief information about each animal is also offered in the spirit of both fact-finding and fun. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Heder, Thyra. Alfie. Abrams, 2017. 40 pages (978–1–4197–2529–6)

Ages 4-8

On her sixth birthday, Nia welcomes her new pet turtle, Alfie, into her home. She introduces him to her stuffed animals, sings songs she wrote just for him, and tells him stories each night about her school day. Alfie, though, is not the most enthusiastic companion, and Nia gradually loses interest in him— until he disappears as her seventh birthday approaches. A switch in perspective offers Alfie’s side of the story: despite his demure personality, he adores Nia and deeply appreciates everything she does for him. In search of a present for her birthday, he explores the nooks and crannies of their apartment before venturing outdoors. Tired after his long journey, he slips into the backyard pond for a nap. Beautifully detailed ink-and-watercolor illustrations show both Alfie’s perspective (scavenging behind the couch, crossing the sandbox “desert”) and African American Nia’s (building a snow turtle in the winter, planting seeds beside the pond in the spring unaware of Alfie’s presence nearby). Alfie’s obliviousness to the passage of time makes the ending all the more delightful when he emerges triumphantly from the pond, gift in hand (or rather, on shell), ready for Nia’s seventh birthday, never realizing that she is now celebrating her eighth. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Going, K. L.
The Shape of the World: A Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright. Illustrated by Lauren Stringer. Beach Lane Books, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–4424–7821–3)

Ages 5-9

“When the baby grew into a boy, his mother gave him gifts: cubes, spheres, cones, pyramids, cylinders. The boy loved the smooth shapes.” Young Frank Lloyd Wright builds with his blocks as a child, and, during summers on his uncle’s farm (near Spring Green, Wisconsin), “He saw shapes everywhere he looked. He found an arch inside the pathway of a frog, a cone inside the petals of a flower … ” This picture book look at Wright emphasizes the fascination with geometric shapes and love for the natural world that permeated his singular, brilliant career as an architect. “When other architects chose walls, he chose windows. … He built a house like a honeycomb, a museum like a shell … ” It is Wright’s work, rather than the sometimes difficult aspects of his personality, that takes center stage in this appreciative, accessible, gracefully illustrated account. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Raczka, Bob.
Niko Draws a Feeling. Illustrated by Simone Shin. Carolrhoda, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–4677–9843–3)

Ages 4-8

Niko loves to draw. His pictures, inspired by what he observes, are abstract images of the in between—the feeling or action or intent—of a situation. He draws the “ring-a-ling” of the ice cream truck, not the truck or the ice cream; the hard work of a mother bird building her nest, not the bird or nest. Friends and family don’t understand his pictures. Believing that no one will ever understand his art, Niko expresses how he feels in a picture he tapes to his door. When new neighbor Iris learns Niko draws, she asks to see his pictures. Looking carefully at each one, she doesn’t ask what they are. When she gets to the one on his door she says, “It looks like how I feel. You know, sad because I had to move.” Niko knows he’s found someone who understands him: a new friend. A straightforward yet thoughtful narrative touches on abstract art, the complex experience of creative inspiration, and the emotions of being misunderstood. Mixed-media illustrations provide a winning accompaniment, conveying the concrete of Niko’s world, including his mixed-race family, and his abstract art. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Cordell, Matthew. Wolf in the Snow. Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 48 pages (978–1–250–07636–6)

Ages 4-9

Snow is falling lightly as a red-hooded girl leaves her home and heads to school, walking across a winter-brown landscape. Elsewhere, there are wolves howling as the first flakes descend. When school lets out, the girl, in her pointy, slightly comical red parka, heads home in the thickening white, moving left to right across the landscape of the page. Elsewhere, the wolves are on the move, ominous and wild, moving right to left. But one small wolf pup falls behind. Girl (“huff huff”). Wolf pup (“whine whine”). When the two meet, the girl picks up the small pup and bravely carries him toward the howling as the snow deepens. She comes face to face with a yellow-eyed adult wolf (!), reuniting the pup with its pack. The girl trudges on until she falls and can go no farther. Will she be eaten by those wild wolves heading back her way? The drama is genuine, and breathtaking, and unexpectedly moving in this magical story brilliantly told. Masterful pacing, a mix of expansive page spreads and spot images, and the blending of stylized (the girl in her triangular jacket) and realistic (those sinuous wolves) pen-and-ink and watercolor images make for an exceptional (almost) wordless story. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Phi, Bao. A Different Pond. Illustrated by Thi Bui. Capstone Young Readers, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–62370–803–0)

Ages 6-9

A Vietnamese American boy’s predawn fishing outing with his dad is the subject of a narrative shaped by an exquisite accounting of details. So much beyond the action is conveyed through beautifully weighted sentences (“I feel the bag of minnows move. They swim like silver arrows in my hand.”): The specific experience of this immigrant child (“A kid at my school says my dad’s English sounds like a thick, dirty river. But to me his English sounds like gentle rain.”); a hard-working family’s economic hardship (“‘If you got another job why do we still have to fish for food?’ I ask. ‘Everything in America costs a lot of money,’ he explains. I feel callouses on his hand when he squeezes mine.”); bittersweet memory as the boy’s dad recalls fishing at a similar pond as a child in Vietnam with his brother, who died during the war. And running through it all is the boy’s happiness in their time together, a pleasure that extends to feelings about his entire family when they gather at day’s end. The evocative art masterfully and movingly reveals details of character, setting, and action while superbly reflecting the warmth and intimacy of the story. At volume’s end, both the author and illustrator share memories of growing up in Vietnamese families that came to the United States when they were children. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Denos, Julia. Windows. Illustrated by E. B. Goodale. Candlewick Press, 2017.  24 pages (978–0–7636–9035–9)

Ages 3-6

“At the end of the day, before the town goes to sleep, you can look out your window … / and see more little windows lit up like eyes in the dusk, / blinking awake as the lights turn on inside: a neighborhood of paper lanterns.” An early evening dog walk allows a brown-skinned boy in a red sweatshirt to observe all kinds of things in his neighborhood—a cat, an early raccoon, sleeping plants, but best of all, lighted windows, showing all sorts of life within. “Some windows will have dinner, or TV, / Others are empty and leave you to fill them up with stories.” But the best windows of all are those of the boy’s own home, with his mother waiting just inside, watching for him and waving. A beautifully lyrical text accompanied by quiet ink-and-watercolor illustrations capture the drama and appeal of glimpses into other people’s lives. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Butler, Dori Hillestad.
King & Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse. Illustrated by Nancy Meyers. Peachtree, 2017. 42 pages (978–1–56145–879–0)

Ages 4-7

King, a large dog,  narrates this appealing mystery story (part of a series). Here, he and  Kayla, the brown- skinned girl who is, he explains, “my human,” try to determine what happened to King’s ball after Kayla’s friend Jillian accidentally threw it over the fence. It’s nowhere to be found.  Kayla approaches the case by making lists of what she knows, and what she needs to find out. But King knows things he can’t communicate to Kayla, like the fact that the cat with no name says a mouse took his ball (which seems impossible to King). King is a hilarious narrator, in part because he is telling Kayla (and readers) what he knows, but of course all she’s hears is barking, and in part because he’s just funny.  Pencil and digitally colored illustrations accompany the narrative in each book. We look forward to more King and Kayla! ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Derby, Sally.
A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices. Illustrated by Mika Song. Charlesbridge, 2017. 48 pages (978–1–58089–730–3)

Ages 5-10

Six children ranging in age from kindergarten through fifth grade walk us through the excitement, jitters, and small pleasures that accompany the first day of a new school year. Divided into four time periods—The Night Before, In the Morning, At School, and After School—each child voices four poems. Dimensions of identity, economics, ability, and experience are seamlessly integrated into the poems. Fourth-grader Carlos, for example, notices that there are not many other black-haired, brown-skinned students like him—but he notes that his teacher, Mr. Liu, seems fine, even though no one else looks like him either. Third-grader Jackie goes to school early, because her mom has a long bus ride to work every day. Fifth-grader Mia wears hearing aids and is pleased to be assigned a seat near the front of the classroom, where she’ll be able to hear her teacher. Such details ensure that each child remains a distinct individual, even as their poems reflect the familiar emotions of so many children on such a momentous day. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

book coverRay, Mary Lyn. Stars. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane, 2011. 32 pages (978–1–4424-2249–0)

Ages 2-6

“A star is how you know it’s almost night. / As soon as you see one, there’s another, and another. / And the dark that comes doesn’t feel so dark.” From opening pages that show the first evening star appearing in a dusky blue sky to the final image of a dark night sky strewn with an array of stars, Mary Lin Ray’s lyrical words and Marla Frazee’s luminous illustrations describe the stars all around us. A star cut from shiny paper and pinned to shirt designates a sheriff, or can convert a stick to a wand ideal for wish-making. There are days when you can feel “shiny as a star,” and days when the opposite is true. And stars can be found in many places: in the white flowers of strawberry plants before they bear fruit, in falling snowflakes, and as dandelion seeds blown into the air. Illustrations show a diverse cast of children and families finding the stars in their world in a child-centered picture book that ends with them gathered as a group watching nighttime stars appear in the sky above. These are temporarily obscured by the bloom of firework stars before reappearing as they always do, “every night. Everywhere.”  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Wilson-Max, Ken. Max’s Starry Night.  Jump at the Sun / Hyperion, 2001. 24 pages (0-7868-0553-6)

Ages 2 – 4

When young Max and Little Pink, his pig, go outside to wish on a star, Big Blue, his elephant, is afraid to come because it’s too dark. The next day, Little Pink teases Big Blue about being afraid, until Max points out that Little Pink is afraid of swinging on the high swings, but Big Blue never teases him. Then Max comes up with a way for all three of them to enjoy the stars in this sweet and satisfying story set against bold, richly colored paintings and featuring a creative, brown-skinned child.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Barton, Byron. I Want  to Be an Astronaut. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1988. 32 pages (0-694-00261-5)

Ages 3-6

“I want to be an astronaut/a member of the crew/and fly on the shuttle/into outer space…” proclaims the young female protagonist of this simple poetic story of high aspirations. Barton’s bold figures of astronauts, shuttles, and satellites and Planet Earth are set against a deep blue background suggesting the vastness of outer space.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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