Animal kingdom escapades
Four recent picture books
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Three Little Kittens by Barbara McClintock: McClintock updates a well-worn nursery rhyme, adding personality and humor. Three little kittens find mess and trouble as they lose, find, soil, and wash their mittens to appease their finger-pointing mother—and of course to eat some blueberry pie. Speech bubbles and interjections—as when the kittens all shout in unison, “Watch out pie, here we come!”—are interspersed with lines following the original tale’s formal language, adding humor and unique flavor. McClintock’s scenes pop with a blend of pencil, watercolor, and gouache. Children will delight in this sprightly rendition of a classic tale. (Ages 3-5)
Barkus: Dog Dreams by Patricia MacLachlan: Protagonist Nicky narrates five short, episodic chapters about Barkus—a large, well-mannered brown dog—and tag-along kitten, Baby. Barkus charms and entertains with his uncanny talents. In the final chapter, Barkus and the kitten help ease Nicky’s fears when they seem unfazed by a severe thunderstorm. Nicky wonders aloud why the pets are unafraid. A neighbor who is sheltering at Nicky’s home replies, “They know we will take care of them.” This is the second book in a series from Newbery Medalist MacLachlan, and its cheery illustrations and short sentences will delight early readers or read-aloud audiences. (Ages 6-9)
Unstoppable by Adam Rex: The story curiously begins with five wordless, double-page spreads, with only a shriek from a cat as it leaps at a crab that pinches back. A bird cries “AHH” when the cat pounces upon it, too. The text begins with the crab and bird wishing to trade places, causing an epiphany: They could join forces to become a “crabird.” A silly story ensues as they attract other animals, and the combinations become more outlandish and harder to pronounce, including “birdraburtlebear!” Then the animals spot a bulldozer and discover their forest is doomed to become a shopping mall, and their wild collaboration soon involves a woman president and Congress. (Ages 5-8)
When You Look Up by Guillermo Decurgez, aka Decur: Lorenzo moves to a country home with his mother and discovers a notebook in a secret compartment of an old desk in his room. The notebook unlocks stories with mysterious scenes and animal characters that Lorenzo soon realizes have real-world corollaries. Argentine writer and illustrator Decurgez employs a variety of artistic techniques to transport Lorenzo, and middle-grade readers, in and out of the imaginative world of the notebook. At 184 pages, this extended picture book is a visual feast, but also quietly thoughtful. (Ages 7-12)
A new board book series uses simple language to introduce young children to key Christian truths. Devon Provencher’s Big Theology for Little Hearts (Crossway, 2020) includes three titles—God, Jesus, and The Gospel—with engaging illustrations and concise descriptions that will give children ages 1 to 5 a beginning framework of theology.
Porcupines, turtles, and raccoons learn real-life truths in a recent series from the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. The Good News for Little Hearts series (New Growth Press) includes gospel-centered stories of animal characters dealing with topics like sadness, loneliness, stress, and failure. Numerous editors, including Paul David Tripp and Jayne V. Clark, have contributed to the titles. Each book ends with Scripture verses and tips for parents. —M.J.
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