New picture books for kids' summer reading
Summer is a great time for kids to undertake industrious projects. "Henry's Map" by David Elliot (Philomel, $16.99, ages 4-8) may provide inspiration for a little independent summer adventuring. Henry is a fastidious pig who sets out to map his home farm because there is "a place for everything and everything in its place." His expeditions and notations may not be as epic as polar explorer Ernest Shackleton's, but the results are, for him, as world-expanding. There is a moment in the development of cautious children when mapmaking seems just the way to get a handle on an uncertain universe.
In "20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street" by Mark Lee, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Candlewick, $15.99, ages 3-7), a boy out on his bike notices the beginnings of a traffic jam: "One ice-cream truck selling everything sweet/Breaks down and blocks the middle of our street." Pretty soon another truck gets stuck behind the first, then another and another in this lively counting book. The crowded street seems to get so noisy that readers might be tempted to cover their ears. The large format, bouncy rhyme and increasing mayhem all answer the energetic child's desire for things to be big and loud. However, the book subtly focuses the attention, too, as its captivating illustrations invite careful "reading." Kurt Cyrus moves the point of view around like a battery of cameras: Now we see ground-level, now close-up, now a bird's-eye view.
For a quieter look at bike-riding, check out Chris Raschka's "Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bike" (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, ages 4-7), an ode to the anticipations, frustrations, joys and triumphs of mastering that lifelong skill.
A boy's crayons suddenly start writing him letters in "The Day the Crayons Quit" by Drew Daywalt, illustrations by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, $17.99, ages 3-7). People who like to read aloud to their kids will have a field day with the personalities of the different crayons: Green is quite the diplomat; Beige is proud, but feels slighted; Red complains about having to work all the holidays (Christmas! Valentine's Day!); Orange and Yellow feud about their rival claims to be the color of the sun.
Matt Phelan's gorgeous graphic novel "Bluffton" (Candlewick, $22.99, all ages) is set in a small Michigan town, where life is humdrum until a crowd of vaudeville performers comes to summer at the nearby lake. Henry, son of the local storekeeper, becomes friends with teenage Buster Keaton, star of his family's famous act. The book captures the excitement of vacation friendships, but it is also an introduction to Keaton's artistry and a touching coming-of-age novel.
Jennifer LaRue Huget offers tongue-in-cheek tips in "The Beginner's Guide to Running Away From Home" (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, ages 4-8). Her advice on the all-important note announcing your departure: "Imagine your parents' faces when they read it. If they look like they're about to burst into tears, you'll know your note is perfect." Red Nose Studio's illustrations are a marvel of clay figures photographed in constructed sets; especially appealing is our hero with madly expressive red hair.
Two beautiful stories about immigrant heritage are presented in "The Favorite Daughter," by Allen Say (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99, ages 4-8) and "The Matchbox Diary," by Paul Fleischmann, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick, $16.99, ages 6-9). In Say's story, the biracial daughter of a Japanese father and a white mother struggles with being different; the interaction between father and daughter conveys the author's subtle understanding of how family culture gives people their spirit. In Fleischmann's story, a kindergartner asks her grandfather about his collection of matchbox's, each of which contains a memento of his family's passage from Italy to America. "When I was your age," the old man tells his granddaughter before launching into his stories, "I had a lot I wanted to remember, but I couldn't read or write."
The fertile imagination of Mo Willems, author of the Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books, among many others, is on display in "Don't Pigeonhole Me: Two Decades of the Mo Willems Sketchbook" (Disney Editions, $40, all ages). Chapter 17, "Float," contains a whole and perfect picture book, ready to curl up with and read over and over -- proof positive that Willems has much more up his sleeve.