Every Good Thing about I Am Every Good Thing

Lynn: The current schism in this country often has me attempting to build a nest of blankets and bury myself in them. The only way to keep moving forward is to search for the good things and focus on them. One of the really bright spots in our dysfunctional culture the last few years has been the movement for diverse and “our own voices” in youth literature. The stories are powerful, heartfelt and important. They are also excellent examples of writing and illustrating. I love seeing these outstanding books that offer kids the chance to see themselves in books and for all of us to see and hear those stories.

This year, in particular, we have a treasure trove of such books and my absolute favorite so far is I Am Every Good Thing (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, 2020) by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James. We loved Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (Bolden, 2017) by this same duo and I think I love this one even more. There is such joy in this exuberant picture book that celebrates all the good things about young boys of color. Barnes’ lyrical text soars. It is radiantly proud, dynamic and oh so tender. It is reassurance and it is a confident statement that goes straight to the hearts of readers.

Gordon James illustrations are a vibrant emphasis to the text. A rich energetic palette underscores the strength and the humanity of each scene. I would love to frame each and every illustration. I simply cannot say enough about this outstanding and deeply moving picture book. It demands to be read aloud and shared again and again.

Cindy: When I opened this book and saw the first spread of a young, black boy soaring through the air, superhero style, I thought, this should be a poster in every classroom and in every young boy’s bedroom. The words by Derrick Barnes are as powerful as the image painted by Gordon C. James:

I am
a nonstop ball of energy.
Powerful and full of light.
I am a go-getter. A difference maker.
A leader.

Imagine who these young black boys would grow up to be with those words in their heads instead of slurs and demeaning dismissals of their worth? Political yard signs were popping up this fall in West Michigan where we live with the slogan: “Joe and a Hoe, Vote NO.” Is this who we are as a nation? Do we want our young people growing up thinking this is okay? Do we want young people to internalize this message about the first woman Vice President?

What I want is the message on the final page of this book. The rival for a poster for every classroom and kid’s bedroom: A  young black boy smiling, eyes sparkling, hugging himself, with these words:

And without a shadow
of a doubt,
I am worthy
to be loved.

I am worthy
to be loved.

Pair this book with Hey, Black Child (Little, Brown, 2017) by Useni Eugene Perkins for another empowering book that features both boys and girls.

Alphabet Books Never Cease to Amaze Us

Lynn:  If you thought there could be nothing really new in alphabet books, think again! Alphabet books have been some of the very earliest in the history of picture books but authors and illustrators continue to bring their boundless imaginations to this topic. We have two of special note to review today and I’m leading off with an exceptionally original book, The Invisible Alphabet (Penguin/Rise, 2020) by Joshua David Stein.

Here Stein and illustrator Ron Barrett present their fascinating take on an alphabet representing things not seen. A is for Air, C is for Clear, E is for Erased and J is for Just Missed It. This is a conceptual breath of fresh air (B is for Brilliant), a nudge to children’s imaginations, and a unique approach to thinking about the alphabet for kids who have the knowledge solidly acquired.

On solid white backgrounds, Barrett used pen and ink and added bright orange in Photoshop to create fascinating scenes depicting something unseen or actions happening off the page. A drawing of an empty birdcage with an open door and a small orange feather is captioned F is for Freed. An exploding orange balloon illustrates P is for Popped and 2 blank pages represent N is for Nothing.

Each page turn is fascinating, challenging kids to think about this familiar concept in a totally new way. Every scene asks readers to imagine what has already happened. This is absolutely ideal for use as writing prompts or story starters in classrooms of all ages of students.

W is for WOW!

Cindy: ABC Animals (Peter Pauper, Oct. 15, 2020) by Christopher Evans is stunning. Each spread of the books features a letter of the alphabet and an animal whose name starts with that letter. On the left are the large capital letter, the name of the animal, and a silhouette of the animal in what appears to be scaled to size in comparison with each animal in the book. At the top of that page are two sets of upper and lower case letters, one in a serif font and the other in a more modern style. Both sets are positioned on a lined and dashed line space resembling those in a writing practice book. I could see young readers practicing their own letters on the space between the two sets! The Robin and the Quetzel are perched on those lines like wires while the Orangutan swings from them. On the facing page is a digital woodcut of the animal representing the letter. A for Alpaca, B for Badger…H for Hedgehog, etc. until Z for Zebra. What is a digital woodcut, you ask? Good question. Lynn and I aren’t sure we completely understand, but Evans says it is the “modern-day equivalent of wood engravings…images drawn by hand in an illustration software, point by point, and shape by shape.” Whatever they are, we are agreed that they are gorgeous. Each one is presented on a contrasting color background. If I were an early elementary teacher I would buy three copies of this book. One for students to read, and the other two to cut up and post around the perimeter of the classroom or on a bulletin board. Aspiring graphic artists will want a copy of this book as well. Brilliant.

 

Sometimes We Just Need to Laugh – Funny Picture Books

Lynn and Cindy: We don’t really have to say anything about just how tense and depressing things are right now! We have often sought relief and diversion in funny books and we think kids will welcome that escape too. Here are three new picture books that are just what the book doctor ordered! Share and enjoy!

Glory on Ice: A Vampire Hockey Story, by Maureen Fergus (Knopf, 2020)

You read that right. This hockey story features a vampire on blades! A bored, lonely Vlad heads to the local Community Center to find a new hobby. After rejecting dancing, scrapbooking, and water aerobics, he almost gives up but then overhears some young hockey players talking about pounding, crushing, and destroying the other teams Vlad knows he’s found his calling! After buying the “best hockey equipment that treasure plundered from ancient gravesites could buy,” and careful preparation and study of the sport, this vampire learns that ice skating isn’t easy! Mark Fearing’s hilarious illustrations of Vlad’s progress to master the ice and become a gracious loser as part of a team will have young sports fans chuckling along. (We raved here about The Great Thanksgiving Escape written and illustrated by Fearing a few years ago. It’s another fabulous funny book!)

The Staring Contest, by Nicolas Solis (Peter Pauper, 2020)

This hilarious book made us slap our foreheads and ask, “Why didn’t WE think of this?” Talk about the PERFECT funny kid book! The challenger, drawn only with big eyes and impressive eyebrows challenges readers to a staring contest. Each page turn is a new trick to get the reader to blink. The eyes roll up and down, side to side, and even cross. It asks “What is that behind you?” and suggests you might have to go to the bathroom. Kids will be giggling helplessly by this point as the tricks backfire. Everyone is a winner in this delightful picture book. Be prepared for multiple readings! Ready, set, GO!

The Attack of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman. (Random, 2020)

Of course, just the idea of underwear is funny to kids and dragons in underwear is guaranteed to be sidesplitting. This story is far more than just oddly-clad lizards, as funny as that is. Rothman takes on a knightly tale that begins when young Cole writes a letter to his favorite knight, Sir Percival asking to become his assistant. Illustrator Pete Oswald’s comic vignettes of Cole’s training are packed with visual jokes that will keep the giggles going. When the Underwear Dragon attacks, defeating ALL the knights, only Cole is left to protect the kingdom. But never fear—all that training pays off and the dragon is “barely” defeated.  Don’t miss the wonderful before and after 2-page spreads!

 

Stories That Need to Be Told – Picture Books Take Up the Challenge

Lynn and Cindy: One of the things we love about picture books is that authors and illustrators often take up the challenge of bringing a little known story to young readers. It is so important to keep our history and our stories alive! As reviewers, we also love that we get the benefit of these stories too. Here are two new picture books that do this important work—and do it wonderfully.

Lynn: Decades before Rosa Park refused to sit in the back of a bus, another brave determined woman demanded her rights on a streetcar in New York. Beth Anderson tells her inspiring story in Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, 2020). It was 1854 in New York City and Elizabeth Jenkins, a teacher and organist from a wealthy family, was on her way to church. When the horse-drawn streetcar arrived it had empty seats and Lizzie and her friend hurried to board. But the conductor would not allow them on, telling them to wait for the car for “her people.” Lizzie had no intention of waiting. There was no law keeping anyone of color from riding the streetcars although there was a custom of not riding if a white passenger objected. When no one on board objected, Lizzie persisted and the conductor physically threw them from the car. Lizzie, whose family were leaders in their community and well connected, took the Third Avenue Streetcar company to court where, with her attorney Chester A. Arthur, she won her case, paving the way for people of color to fight for their rights to ride then and in the future.

The text is wonderful, lively, and compelling and I’m truly sorry it has taken me so long to learn about Elizabeth Jennings. The author notes that the “dialogue closely follows her account as it appeared in the newspapers of the time,” and this gives the story a very immediate and personal feel that will appeal to kids. The back matter is outstanding too with fascinating additional historical material on Elizabeth Jennings and her case in an Author’s Note, information on the research. a bibliography, a list of further readings, and a Note from the Illustrator.

And speaking of illustrators! I am a big admirer of E.B. Lewis’s illustrations and here they add wonderfully to the overall impact of the story. Lewis, who usually uses a muted palette, chose intense colors and the result is a wonderful sense of the drama of the event. In an artist’s note, Lewis says, “I wanted to go all out in the way of color—to stretch my own internal prism.” He even had to purchase colors he had never used before. I’m so glad he did as the result is beautiful and effective!

Once again a picture book has introduced me to a memorable and important historical person that I had never heard of before. I’m beginning to think that we should give up textbooks and flood our classrooms with shelves of outstanding nonfiction picture books!

Cindy: Another African American girl who took an important seat is featured in A Ride to Remember (Abrams, 2020) by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan. Occasional peaceful protests at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore, Maryland were held for a decade asking for the right for people of color to visit the park. Nothing changed. But after new segregation laws were passed in Baltimore in 1962, a big protest was planned at the park for Independence Day, July 4, 1963. Arrests were made but the protest continued a few days later. When pressure mounted as the publicity surrounding the protests spread, change finally occurred and the park officials corrected their policy. On August 28, 1963, the park was opened to everyone. Sharon Langley’s parents bought tickets and they were the first family of color to walk through the gates. Sharon was photographed riding a horse on the carousel, a photo that ended up in the newspapers the next day. The carousel is now turning its circles on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and Sharon Langley’s name is on a horse’s saddle and horseshoe.

Co-author Amy Nathan wrote a book for teens and adults Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement that also includes the other historic event of 8-28-63, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. Award-winning illustrator Floyd Cooper’ artwork helps tell this important story in moving paintings.

Cast Your Vote for Picture Books about Elections

Lynn and Cindy: Unless your pandemic shutdown has included no access to electronic media, you will have noticed that the U.S is fast approaching an important election. Adults everywhere are talking about politics, candidates, and elections and for children, it can all seem mystifying. Happily, authors and publishers have stepped up and there are a lot of picture books currently being published on the subject. Here’s a round-up of a few that we think will help kids make sense of this important topic.

I Voted: Making a Choice Makes a Difference (Holiday House/Neal Porter, 2020) by Mark Shulman.

This book focuses on the idea of making a choice. It starts with the most basic of choices by asking what the reader likes best: ice cream or onions and apples or oranges? The concept slowly broadens by asking the reader to imagine a choice being made by more people such as choosing a class pet. In the simplest of terms that kids can easily understand, the book discusses facts about voting such as sometimes not getting what you want, ways to help people vote for what you want, and how a vote can be held. Broadening more, the topic shifts to grown-ups voting for leaders of their cities, towns, or states, why that is important and how to decide who to vote for. Kid-friendly and very accessible, this is a terrific vehicle for introducing the concept. Back matter includes Five Easy Steps for Voting and information on How Our Government Works. Serge Bloch’s cartoon illustrations make the book very appealing.

Natasha Wing’s The Night Before Election Day (Grosset & Dunlap, 2020) by Natasha Wing

This cheerful book is part of an extensive series told in the tradition of Clement Moore’s Night Before Christmas poem. Each book in the series tells the story of the night before a special event or festival. Here the event is Election Day and the children in the family are reminding their parents that school will be closed the next day so people can vote. Their classes have been decorating, everyone has been getting ready for months, and now the election is here. The basics of what is an election and the voting day process are covered here. Clearly stated yet retaining a child’s perspective, one of the chief joys of the book is the well-conveyed sense of excitement and importance of an election. This will be great to use in the classroom or at home in the fall as election time draws near. Extra nice to have a family of color at the center of the story. We love the idea of helping kids to understand how important AND exciting elections should be.

Vote for Our Future! (Schwartz & Wade, 2020) by Margaret McNamara

A diverse cast of children (and teaching staff) have the day off school in order for their elementary school to transform into a polling station. The children aren’t old enough to vote, but they figure out ways to perform other civic duties in this Get Out the Vote story. Their actions leading up to election day explain voting practices like registration, making a plan for election day, voting early or by mail, and the importance of voting. A gatefold shows a large crowd of people heading to the school to cast their votes in an effort to affect change. In addition to Micah Player’s colorful and lively illustrations throughout, the endpapers include images of political buttons encouraging voting. The end matter includes a list of Acts of Congress that improved life in the United States starting with the 1792 Postal Service Act signed into law by George Washington, and acts to protect national parks, Indian citizens, control air pollution, and protect civil rights, provide protection for Americans with disabilities, and access to affordable health care.

Grace Goes to Washington (Disney/Hyperion, 2019) by Kelly DiPucchio

The first book in this series, Grace for President (Little, Brown, 2008), explained the Electoral College as Grace tried to become the first female US president in her class’ mock election. This second book takes on the three branches of government as Grace’s student council struggles with deciding how to spend their fundraiser profits to best benefit their school. Everyone has a special interest (sports equipment, library books, or musical instruments). We all know how many adults in charge deal with these issues, but perhaps the kids can teach us something? Illustrated by the talented LeUyen Pham and including a field trip to Washington, D.C., an author’s note explaining the branches further, and a list of ideas for becoming an involved citizen, this book has a lot to offer an elementary classroom.

The Next President (Chronicle, 2020) by Kate Messner

And, while we wait to learn who our next president will be, take a stroll through presidential history with Kate Messner and Adam Rex. At any one time, we have approximately ten people alive who will become one of our next presidents, some who are still children and have no idea it will be them one day. Starting with George Washington, there were nine future presidents in the wing. In 1961 there were ten also, four of them just children (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, newly born Barack Obama, and teenager Donald Trump). The following page has stirred some controversy, but careful readers will understand that Kennedy and Obama, and on another wall in the illustration, Hillary Clinton, are representing this text:

“The truth is America’s earliest presidents weren’t all that different from one another. Most were wealthy, white, Protestant men who might have been surprised if they’d been around to see a Catholic or an African American man elected president…or a woman nominated by a major party for the highest office in the land.”

An empty frame labeled “46” awaits the “next” president either this November or another four years from now. Adam Rex’s illustrations are magnificent and complement the interesting details and timelines that Messner researched and threaded together about what each president was doing earlier in their life before becoming America’s Commander in Chief. It’s an inspiring collection for children who wonder what their futures might hold.

Picture Books Go Camping

Lynn: I know summer is drawing to a close but there is still time to get outside and camp and hike with kids! In fact, the crisp air and colorful beauty of fall may be even better for enjoying nature. Of course, books should ALWAYS be a part of whatever we do. I have two delightful picture books that will be a perfect way to lead up to an outdoor adventure. Read these and smile, and then pack up your tent and lace up your hiking boots!

In The Camping Trip (Candlewick, 2020) by Jennifer Mann, Ernestine, a young city girl, excitedly tells readers that she is going on her first camping trip with her Aunt Jackie and cousin Samantha. She and her Dad are packing up everything she needs and the trip begins. Ernestine is sure she will love camping but there are some surprises. The tent is not one bit easy to set up, swimming in the lake is not at all like swimming at the Y—there are fish in there—and maybe her backpack is a bit too full for hiking without getting really tired! But a campfire supper is really fun and s’mores are delicious. At first sleeping in a tent is a little scary. It is REALLY dark and Ernestine misses her dad. But smart Aunt Jackie takes the girls outside to see the stars and make a wish on a shooting star. The next day, Ernestine bravely tries more new things and when it is time to go she can’t wait to camp again.

Mann’s illustrations are adorable, cartoon-type stick figures with big heads and packed with wonderful small details. The book is a charming mix of graphic novel with panels and speech bubbles and picture book with large spreads. The text is delightful and there is such an authentic feel both to the dialog and to Ernestine’s thoughts and reactions. I especially love the packing scene and the hike. Anyone who has walked ANY distance with young children will laugh at the progression from energetic to exhausted. Use this book to introduce camping to kids or as a wonderful reminder of the fun to be had. Oh, and don’t miss the endpapers!

 

My second book is Hike (Candlewick, 2020) by Pete Oswald and while it shares some characteristics with The Camping Trip, it is a nearly wordless book, telling its story completely with illustrations and a few sound effects. Here a dad gently wakes his sleeping child in a bedroom showing evidence of preparations for a hike. As the story unfolds in expressive small vignettes balanced with full-page illustrations, the reader watches the pair experience a day hiking through woods, walking across a fallen log by a waterfall, climbing a rocky cliff, and planting a tree. Charming details make each scene a small story all its own as they observe animals, take pictures, and share a very special day.

Oswald uses a peaceful palette of greens and browns in this quiet but rewarding account not only of the joys of spending time in nature but also of a parent and child spending time together. Back home together at the end of the day, the pair snuggle together on the sofa looking at the drawings and photographs of their special day. This quiet book rewards paying attention to the many details and will be one to read and share over and over.

 

Flying the Nest in Picture Books

Lynn and Cindy: Where we live in West Michigan, summer is a busy time for birds. Birdhouses and nests are hopping places with busy parents zooming back and forth to hungry chicks, some on their second or third broods. Watching birds nest and raise their chicks can be a wondrous thing for a child and the subject has been explored in many picture books over the years. But there is always room for more! This season has brought us two we have especially enjoyed. They are very different in tone and style but both books are a joy to share with young readers.

Lynn: I’m leading off with Henry Cole’s beautiful and eye-catching new book, Nesting (Harper/Katherine Tegen, 2020). Cole uses thin black lines and crosshatching to create wondrous detail.  In the opening pages a tree and a male Robin fill the page. It is spring. Into the picture comes a female robin and a light blue tint eases onto the page. The busy robins build a nest and in a breathtaking illustration, a beautiful blue egg lies in the center of the nest. Cole is a master of perspective and design as well as draftsmanship. Subsequent pages show groupings of wonderfully detailed small illustrations that alternate with 2 page spreads showing the tree and countryside or nest in a storm or under attack from a snake. Each page begs for long and careful viewing. It is hard to chose a favorite but the 2 page spread with the small sketches of the azure eggs and the nesting female may be my choice.

The accompanying text use simple sentences for a very young audience. While this tells a story, the science is clearly presented and wonderfully accessible. An Author’s Note provides additional facts about robins. Masterful and enchanting.

Cindy: As nesting ends here and migration season is getting underway, many parents may be dealing with nervous children just beginning their school career or those going back face-to-face in our pandemic. Mark Teague’s Fly! (S&S/Beach Lane, 2019) is a humorous look at taking a risk to leave the nest. Mama Robin is ready for her baby to fly, but he is content to stay in the nest and have the worms delivered to him. When his begging stops working and he falls out of the tree his imagination starts working overtime as to how he might get back up into the nest. Teague’s acrylic illustrations will make everyone giggle as the baby works through his emotions and options. Parasailing, anyone? 🙂 Pogo stick migration? 🙂

Sometimes we all need some encouragement to get out of our comfort zone. Fly! offers it in a non-threatening way—unless you count the owl!

 

 

 

My Brother the Duck – Scientific Method at Work in a Picture Book

Lynn: Take one “fledgling scientist,” aka young Stella Wells, who is clearly not pleased about the impending addition to the family, and add a father’s joke. “You’re waddling,” he tells Stella’s mom, “We must be having a duck.” Stella is not amused because if a “baby was bad enough, a duck was unacceptable.” Stella decides much more research is required and sets out to gather facts to prove her hypothesis. Pat Zietlow Miller takes on the scientific method in her very funny new picture book, My Brother the Duck (Chronicle, 2020).

When the new sibling arrives and her parents name him Drake, Stella sets to work. Enlisting her best friend and fellow researcher, they tote up the accumulated proof. Drake not only sounds like a duck, he looks like a duck! Deciding the facts were not yet conclusive, the team consults an expert, their teacher who tells them:

“If it looks like a duck

and sounds like a duck,

it’s probably a duck.”

Just as Stella decides that maybe having a duck in the family wouldn’t be so bad, her ongoing observations yield a startling new discovery.

I took to this picture book like a duck takes to water! Miller’s sly text wonderfully assisted by Daniel Wiseman’s cheery digital illustrations made me laugh out loud. Young readers will have no trouble getting the jokes so delightfully presented on each page and along the way, they’ll acquire a little more understanding of the scientific method. This picture book fits the bill for both classrooms and lap-time reading.

Cindy: Fits the “bill?” Lynn does love her puns, but the book does just that. A new sibling can be a strange thing to understand for a young child but as this new baby brother “fledges,” his older sister grows comfortable with him. Wiseman has as much fun with his ducky illustrations and hidden “eggs” in the brightly colored art as Lynn does with her puns. Make note, the twist ending will have everyone laughing.

Pair this with the classic Are You My Mother? (Random House, 1960) by P.D. Eastman for added fun.

 

One Little Bag – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Lynn: I am writing this post as I start the second week of self-isolation and as I do, I am thinking about how differently I am already seeing my world. Some things matter more to me and some seem completely irrelevant. I don’t know how much we will be changed by the events of COVID-19 but I suspect that many of us will feel an even deeper commitment to caring for each other and caring for our world. I loved Henry Cole’s book, One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey (Scholastic, April 2020) the moment I read it. Now, two months later, I find I love it even more for several reasons.

This is the story of a little brown paper bag, first used to bring home a flashlight a single dad buys at a store with his young son. Keep on eye on that flashlight because it will appear almost as often as the little brown bag that gets used and re-used and used again as the wordless story continues. The bag next holds the boy’s lunch. The father has drawn a red heart on the bag and in the small vignettes that follow the bag is used in a variety of other ways, holding marshmallows for a camping trip, music for guitar practice, and tools to repair a first car. The bag goes off to college with the boy, holds a wedding ring, a bear for a new baby, and checkers for a game between a grandson and his grandfather. This cycle of life tale ends with a heart-melting scene in which the paper bag holds a new tree planted in the forest to celebrate a life.

Cole’s style and detailed illustrations have always enchanted me, offering new rewards with each reading. There is most often an underlying sweetness to Cole’s work too that never fails to please along with a welcome dash of humor. Those things are strongly at work in this new book too. Each exquisitely drawn page holds clever details, the sweetness of life’s ordinary and special moments and a lot of smiles. While the book is wordless, there is a message that comes through strongly about the importance of taking care of each other and taking care of the planet, and of re-using what we have. In a time when so much feels out of our control, this story and this message seem more important every day.

Cindy: I may have to use my stored paper bags for toilet paper if the hoarding doesn’t abate. I haven’t been able to buy a roll since this COVID-19 emergency started. I grew up with a mother who was born during the Great Depression and we reused everything. Plastic bread wrappers were rinsed out and clothespinned to the kitchen curtain rod to dry and reuse. So this book, with its creative journey of one paper bag, is dear to my heart and will be to yours, as well, once you’ve read it. Henry Cole’s work is well known, and his talented art is on full display here. Six double-page spreads show the journey from a tree in the forest through the manufacturing of a paper bag to its use at the grocery before we even get to the title page. Working in three colors, his black ink drawings feature touches of brown as the bag comes to life and small red hearts are added to the bag, one by one, through the years of use. These color choices keep the focus on that bag.

While reading this book, I suspended belief as the bag lasted through generations…that’s one tough bag. But then I read the Author’s Note and learned that Henry used a paper lunch bag for three years of school…and then willed it to a friend who used it for another year. He was moved by the events of the first Earth Day in 1970 to reuse that bag. And reuse it he did. This book will publish just a few weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of that first Earth Day. What a great book to have on hand to remind us of the importance of conserving our resources.

 

Two New Picture Books Stroll NYC’s Central Park

Cindy: A Green Place to Be: the Creation of Central Park (Candlewick, 2019), a debut picture book by Ashley Benham Yazdani, is not just for New Yorkers. Many readers will enjoy the stroll through the pages of watercolor scenes highlighting the history and the building and the enjoyment of New York City’s famous park. As the city grew, green space was quickly disappearing. A design contest was held and the winners, architect Calvert Vaux and landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted submitted a design built to scale on a scroll two feet three inches wide and ten feet two inches long! Then the hard work of clearing and shaping the land began. Ice skating on the lake began in the winter of 1858 and slowly other sections were completed and open to the public after careful attention to details, future vision, and the philosophy that the park should be for everyone, no matter their social class or status. One double-page spread shows and names the thirty-four unique bridges and archways in the park that will have park visitors looking at the structures in a new way. More details and some interactive elements are included in the backmatter. Can you find all twenty-two gray squirrels in the pages of this book?

Lynn: Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux’s extensive planning, hard work, and attention to every detail resulted in a spectacular garden. But Madelyn Rosenberg imagines a denizen of the park that never showed up in those original plans in a delightful picture book titled, Cyclops of Central Park (Penguin/Putnam, 2020). Did any of you New Yorkers realize there is a Cyclops nestled into a cave in the midst of Central Park and of course he takes care of a flock of sheep? Cyclops is content to stay safely in his cave in Central Park, protecting his sheep and he worries about the dangers of venturing out of the park. But Eugene (it would be Eugene!) goes missing out in the dangerous world and Cyclops has to be brave and go looking. But no luck! Cyclops has to call in the troops—I mean flock—to join the search.

What a fresh, imaginative, funny, gorgeous, and downright adorable book this is! As Cyclops searches New York and its attractions, he and sheep discover a whole city full of fun. He visits an art museum, the Statue of Liberty, and best of all, Coney Island! Victoria Tentler-Krylov’s brightly detailed illustrations are packed with funny details that made me laugh out loud. Bright splashes of color make each page a joy. I’d love some of these originals for my house! With the lost Eugene safely in tow, they all retire back home. “There’s no place like cave,” Cyclops says but it is clear he is now ready to have more adventures.