Picture Books 2015: Part One

This review contains spoilers.

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson

In a black and white, nearly colorless world displayed in worldless panels of sequential art, a little girl in a red coat finds the titular colored sidewalk flowers while walking with her father. As they walk, she distributes them and slowly spreads color throughout her world--metaphorically, no doubt, but nevertheless. I can't say I'm fond of worldless picture books; I can't shake the feeling that I should be watching a short film, not flipping through a book.

Your Baby's First Word Will be Dada by Jimmy Fallon

There's really not much to it. Every page save the last two features a different father-and-child animal pair, on one side of which the father animal firmly insists "Dada!" in hopes of persuading his youngster to chose it for his or her first word… and every single one is rejected. On the last two pages, however, the fathers band together, and the kids all finally declare, "Dada!' in unison. Honestly, I'm not sure what the point of this is; because of the simplicity, it's clearly intended to be one of a child's very first experiences with books. So, is it simply trying to make a joke about children not giving their parents the first word the parents want to hear? Is it actually intended to encourage children whose parents read the book to them to ultimately decide "Dada" is a first word worthy of them after all? Am I putting too much thought into a book that has, at most, thirty words within it? Almost certainly.

Float by Daniel Miyares

Another wordless picture book, this time about a boy in the rain with a newspaper boat. Unsurprisingly, it meets a soggy ending in a storm drain… but once the rain clears, the boy returns to the outdoors with a newspaper airplane and is every bit as thrilled as he was before the sinking of the S.S. Newspaper. The best feature of the book is actually the inside cover decorations; the front displays pictorial instructions on how to fold a paper sailboat, while the back teaches one to fold a paper airplane.

I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

It's a very simple "story" (I say this with quotations because there's no plot to speak of) written from the perspective of a parent speaking to his or her child, outlining all the things he or she wishes for the child, each metaphorically meaning that the parent wishes their child to live a fruitful, enjoyable life. And I do mean that it genuinely expresses that hope, without the added caveat of pointing out that many, many children do not, in fact, live such lives or else will not any longer upon reaching adulthood; for better or for worse, there's no cynicism or stark realism to be found here.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

This one's a very sweet story about a little boy and his nana on their way to volunteer at their local soup kitchen. The boy is as curious as his grandmother is wise and compassionate, and ultimately it's a story of her efforts to impart these virtues unto him. The illustrations go out of their way to show people of varying skintones, body types, subcultural identities (when was the last time you saw a man with tattoos in a picture book?), and physical abilities (including a blind man who plays a brief but large role in the short plot).

Goodnight, Already! by Jory John

I'll admit, I was a bit worried this was going to be a deeply misguided G-rated version of Go the Fuck to Sleep, but I'm pleased to say that's definitely not what this is. Instead, it's the story of a busybody duck who utterly refuses to let its Bear neighbor sleep, and the entire time I was reading it, I could not stop picturing this exact same scenario playing out between Spongebob and poor Squidward; this plot would have been right at home in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants. It even ends on the kind of note the show would; when the Bear finally gets angry enough to deter the Duck for any significant length of time, the Duck returns home… and promptly falls asleep. The Bear, meanwhile, has been annoyed into insomnia. Such is life. Poor Squidbear.

The best books in this batch were definitely Goodnight, Already! and Last Stop on Market Street, but the others were all enjoyable enough--as they should have been, considering each was a 2015 Goodreads Choice nominee. Though none of these won (that honor went to Drew Daywalt's The Day the Crayons Came Home, which I have yet to read), I think Last Stop on Market Street would've gotten my vote, had I found the time to read it before voting closed. But then again, I haven't yet read all the nominees; perhaps there are a few other gems involved.

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