Misnomer. False advertising. NOT picture books for parents. This is NOT a review of Go the F**k to Sleep. What I think about that book was expressed quite soundly - and strongly - by Roger Sutton of The Horn Book. Roger Sutton is a modern-day hero.
No. These are picture books that are fully for children. Funny, sweet, colorful, devoid of swear words. BUT. They are books that grown-ups will legitimately enjoy themselves. It is one of the perks of having little kids - you have an excuse to consume picture books. Some picture books are insipid or tedious. But some are sly and sparkling.
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Star of every show at which it has appeared, this book has been generating buzz since at least May. Finally released to an adoring, snickering public, it is right at this moment being passed around library workrooms throughout this great nation.
What do the librarians like about it? Why are we grabbing our colleagues and saying, "Have you seen this yet?!"? We might claim that it's because of the way the book uses inference to deliver its punchline, but in fact we are really just loving the bear's deadpan expression, and how his eyes widen just a tiny fraction once he realizes that not every one of his woodland neighbors has been entirely truthful with him.
What kids like: Same. (But this is maybe for ages 7 and up.)
A rhinoceros might seem like an awesome pet. Until you learn that a rhinoceros will not fetch a stick nor a ball, will not catch a Frisbee or roll over. If one had purchased a rhinoceros as a pet, one might in fact become a bit disappointed at one's rhinoceros's lack of verve. That is, until your rhinoceros employs the two skills native to all rhinoceroses in an unexpected way - and then demonstrates a third skill not at all common.
What adults like: Talk about your deadpan. The rhinoceros expert alone, with her shoulder bag and unfashionable haircut, is worth the price of admission here. Also, the deceptively simple shapes and colors of Jon Agee's style are very appealing to grown-up consumers of illustration.
What kids like: The super surprise ending, plus the kind of frenzied expression on the rhino when the kid imagines him frisking through the park, in direct contrast to its usual phlegmatic demeanor.
Lest anybody think I am All Boy All the Time, this great picture book about a style-conscious little girl and her crafty - in both senses of the word - mama almost made me wish I had little girl style crises in my own life. But alas. My boys will wear a pair of pants until it falls apart on them - not because they love those pants but because they have not actually noticed that their butts are visible through the holes in the seat.
Julia Denos is the perfect illustrator for this happy, visually-oriented story. Her characters are cute and funky and her technique is light and accessible.
Oh, brother! "It was a quite morning, until..." All hell breaks loose at a kindergarten (or perhaps Pre-K), beginning with artless little Adelaide, who puts on a tiger mask and annoys Bailey, which causes him to jostle Clyde, who drops the class mouse. Feeling defensive, Bailey blames Clyde, who cries. Miss Mabel mutters, "My, my, my." Energetic, funny, with super duper word choices and inventive misbehavior, every page of this book has something to love. I'm going to go read it to my big boys right now.
One of my sons has a serious eye for sequential art. He draws his own comics pretty much every moment that he isn't kicking a soccer ball. That one found all of the wordless stories in this book, all the background barely-sketched-in sequences of Adelaide chasing the mouse. So clever. I mean, the book. Also the eight-year-old, but we knew that.
I love Miss Mabel particularly. She wears layers of t-shirts and leggings, with cargo shorts on top, big bangles on a wrist, and hiking boots. Miss Mabel is always carrying books and paintbrushes, and she is loaded for kindergarten bear. Possibly she is on the same madrigal singing / synchronized swimming team as Miss Brooks, whose book she is reading to the class after everything settles down. Jules at 7-Imp has a wonderful post about this book, from which I pinched the sketchbook image above.
What you will like: Oh this is a sweet one. Loose scribbly illustrations show a pair of baby hands doing what baby hands do - clap, slap, eat - and then what hands do as the baby grows older. Wash, type, make, shake... until there is a new pair of baby hands clapping.
What your kid will like: Super-short little rhymes that are closely tied to the pictures make this a great candidate for shared reading.
What is bugging you in your mind about this illustration style and/or author name: Jeff Newman also wrote and illustrated Hippo! No, Rhino and The Boys - both of which are also recommended as picture books for children that adults will enjoy.
And this is where I mention Grandpa Green by Lane Smith.
But only to say that Grandpa Green is an example of a picture book that IS just for parents. Topiary is the vehicle by which a forgetful old man tells his great-grandson the stories of his life - his rural childhood, war, love, family. Although stunningly illustrated - Lane Smith's talent is evergreen (ooh! it's a pun!) - and lovely in its appreciation of an older family member, this book is flat-out boring for kids.
I am not sure, by the way, that Lane Smith would be bothered by this. It's a Book had a grown-up viewpoint, too. Here is a new category, one that I think he and Sophie Blackall and Bob Staake should pioneer and the rest of us should promote: picture books written for adults (that link is Jules again). Why should large-format illustration essays be the exclusive property of children? Children are great, don't get me wrong - but grownups are missing out.