Tuesday, June 14, 2011

4. Picture This!

Picture books that have you after one glance.

Pig Kahuna, written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler (Bloomsbury, $14.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages, 2011). While scouring the beach for treasures, Fergus the pig and his baby brother Dink spot a surfboard being washed in by the tide. So they pull it on the beach, climb on top and pretend to carve waves in the sand -- they definitely don't want to surf in the ocean. There's a lurking, murky ickiness out there: fish with jagged teeth and lots of pokies. As they play with the surfboard, their attachment grows. They give it a kelp toupee and a seaweed bulb eye and name it Dave. Such a loyal board, Dave never gets washed away. Then one day as Fergus is dashing back from getting ice cream cones, he sees Dink setting Dave free. Panicked, Fergus jumps into the ocean and wildly paddles out to save Dave. But no sooner has he rested his belly on the surfboard and let out a big sigh, Fergus feels water rising up beneath him. Oh no, is it one of those lurking terrible things? Will he get pitched? Adorable from cover to cover, this is a must for any child heading to a beach or or just dreaming of one.

Blackout, written and illustrated by John Rocco (Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages, 2011) It's a ho-hum night in a boy's city apartment. Windows are open and the air is sticky, and try as he might, he can't coax anyone in his family to play a board game with him. His sister snaps at him for interrupting her on the phone, his dad is too busy cooking something steamy and Mom waves him off as she types on the computer. So the boy plunks down in a chair and starts to play a video game by himself and a moment later, the screen goes out -- and with it, every light in the house. Suddenly the family has nothing to do but be together. They huddle with flashlights playing shadow puppets, then climb to the roof and discover a magical show of lights. Stars no longer masked by city lights glisten like Van Gogh's Starry Night. Neighbors are there having a block party and down on the street, a crowd is playing, singing and jumping through water. But what will happen when the lights go back on? Will things return just as they were?  Rocco, author-illustrator of the enchanting Moonpowder, envelops readers in the cozy bond of a blackout, and that familiar yearning for it to continue just a little longer. This is just the book to jump-start family time -- maybe even turning out lights for one memorable night.

Friends, True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships, written by Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, 2011, ages 4-8, 32 pages, 2011) Yes, I know what you're wondering: is the rest of the book as sweet as the cover? Absolutely. Just wait until you look inside. In the next picture, an abandoned baby macaque rests his head on the back of a white pigeon as one arm gentle wraps around its back. His eyes glance sidelong like a child who's content exactly where he is. Through this extraordinary book, Thimmesh captures affectionate exchanges between unlikely animal friends as she travels with photographers from an animal rescue hospital on Neilingding Island in China to the Cincinnatti Zoo. Every picture accompanies a sweet, spare poem that celebrates the wonder of what we're seeing. "A friend connects…" Thimmish writes on one page as we see a Vietnamese miniature pig reaching up to nuzzle a camel, "A stretch, / a slight strain, / a balancing feat; / friends go to great lengths / in order to meet." This is a book with sound effects, oohs and ahhs. All from you.

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