Faraway Fox

  • Faraway Fox
  • written by Jolene Thompson
  • illustrated by Justin K. Thompson
  • published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Most picture books with an environmental message (and there are a lot of them) practically hit you over the head with the moral or takeaway. Faraway Fox takes a subtler approach, though it’s still effective and powerful.

The story is told in the first person from the perspective of a small fox, lost and alone in suburbia. As he wanders through backyards, playgrounds, and parking lots, he’s recalling what everyplace was like before it was developed. When he was younger and still with his family.

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Mighty Jack

  • Mighty Jack
  • written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
  • published by First Second Books (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Ben Hatke is a favorite in my house. His Zita the Spacegirl trilogy is pure magic, and his other books (Little Robot, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, and Nobody Likes a Goblin) are just downright enchanting.

We look forward to each new book as a major event. So it was with much excitement that we dug into his current major undertaking: Mighty Jack for First Second Books. The first book in the series came out a few months ago, and Book 2 – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – is set to release this fall.

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Big Bob, Little Bob

  • Big Bob, Little Bob
  • written by James Howe
  • illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
  • published by Candlewick Press (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

James Howe wrote my favorite series of books as a kid, which also happens to be the world’s best series about a vampire bunny and his fellow housepets: Bunnicula!

Seriously, the Bunnicula series was right up there with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby books and Choose Your Own Adventure as my reliable go-to books. The books haven’t aged at all, and they’re just as entertaining and fun in 2016 as they were in 1986.

But James Howe is so much more than Bunnicula. He’s written close to 100 books, which is simply astonishing, and his books cover a spectrum of styles and genres: picture books, children’s nonfiction, beginning reader chapter books, kids novels, YA fiction, and screenplays.

And Big Bob, LIttle Bob – his newest picture book – might be one of his most personal. And the message contained in these 30 pages is also incredibly important for kids to hear, maybe more so now than ever before.

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Kid Beowulf: The Blood-Bound Oath

I’ll admit it: the Beowulf legend has never been my jam. I read it in high school (don’t remember the translation) and read it again when that critically adored translation by Seamus Heaney came out years ago.

I just couldn’t get into it. I appreciated the story, and – yes – I understood it, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t sink my teeth into it like I could with other myths and legends. King Arthur? Sure. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Yep. Edith Wharton’s Mythology? Why not? But Beowulf? Just didn’t do it for me.

So when Kid Beowulf appeared on my radar, I’d be lying if I said it immediately rose to the top of my reading pile. I liked the twist of making the story accessible to young readers, but…well, it was still Beowulf.

But I’m here to tell you I wish I had read this a lot sooner.

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Poppy Pickle: A Little Girl with a Big Imagination

  • Poppy Pickle
  • written and illustrated by Emma Yarlett
  • published by Templar Books (Candlewick Press) (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Emma Yarlett’s previous book, Orion and the Dark, was one of the most fantastic surprises of 2015 for us, in terms of picture books. So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that her follow-up, Poppy Pickle, is near the top of the list for 2016.

Where Orion and the Dark was about a young boy who brings the darkness to life, Poppy Pickle is about a young girl with a similar power. Except instead of animating her biggest fear, she uses her imagination to conjure a bit of magic and make life just a shade more interesting.

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Ada Twist, Scientist

  • Ada Twist, Scientist
  • written by Andrea Beaty
  • illustrated by David Roberts
  • published by Abrams Books for Young Readers (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

There’s something about a good rhyming picture book that just hits the spot for me. And a rhyming picture book with a great message? All the better.

Look, I read a lot of picture books. Most of them are well written. Many of them are gorgeous. Some of them have sweet, memorable themes. But only a few of them are automatic winners right out of the gate.

If Ada Twist, Scientist were a person, I’d give her high-fives until her hand got sore. I’d bring her around to meet the extended family. I’d hug her until it became uncomfortable.

In other words, if any book deserves a full 5 out of 5, Ada Twist, Scientist is it.

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That’s Not Bunny!

  • That’s Not Bunny!
  • written by Chris Barton
  • illustrated by Colin Jack
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

There are some picture books you pick up and reread for the story. They have powerful lessons or morals, or they reach you on a personal level. There are other picture books you pick up and reread because of the art.

That’s Not Bunny! is one of the latter. The fact that it’s tons o’ fun to read aloud is also a mark in its favor.

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Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus

  • Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus
  • written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway
  • published by Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Do you have a grumpasaurus in your home? Let me rephrase…do you have a child of basically any age in your home? You do? Then you also have a grumpasaurus.

I must also come clean right here at the top that I have a soft spot for books that disguise themselves as field guides for fictional creatures. (The same is true for travel guides to fictional places. Love ’em.)

So…a field guide to a grumpy toddler who’s incognito as an adorable stegosaurus? Yeah, you had me at hello.

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Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig

In my house, we’re all about series at the moment. If a book has a sequel or is part of a multibook series, my kids will gobble it up. So it wasn’t surprising when they took to the charming Mango & Bambang right away.

The good news is that this book is the first of a trilogy that came out in the UK last year. However, Candlewick is publishing them here in the States, and so far they’ve only released the first one. We’re patient, but I’d be lying if I said we weren’t anxiously champing at the bit for Books 2 and 3.

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The King of Kazoo

kingofkazoo

  • The King of Kazoo
  • written and illustrated by Norm Feuti
  • published by Graphix/Scholastic (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

I’ll admit it: I was unfamiliar with Norm Feuti before The King of Kazoo arrived at my door. But fewer than 10 pages in and I was a fan. With this book, Feuti has created something that is both familiar and fresh.

King Cornelius (the titular king of the land of Kazoo) is a bit of an idiot. He came into his position and inherited a country at peace, and he hasn’t yet had a chance to earn an epithet (like those that came before him, such as Founder of the City, Defender of the Realm, or Simplifier of the Taxes).

Cornelius spends his days “thinking kingly thoughts” and suggesting inane solutions to non-problems. In short, he’s pretty much a joke.

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Questions from a Kid: Raina Telgemeier

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of Questions from a Kid. Today, Zoey chats with best-selling graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier.

Raina burst onto the scene with 2010’s Smile and then followed that up with Sisters, Drama, and this year’s Ghosts. All four books have dominated the best-seller lists and have won nearly every award for which they’re eligible. And in the process, Raina has become a superstar talent in the industry.

Just how big has she become? At this year’s National Book Festival, she was one of six presenters to take the main stage. The others? Stephen King, Bob Woodward, Shonda Rhimes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Salman Rushdie. Not too shabby.

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Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts

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  • Ghosts
  • written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
  • published by Graphix/Scholastic (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Raina Telgemeier is back with her fourth original graphic novel, and we’re all the richer for it. This week marks the release of Ghosts, and in it she explores the nature of family and friendship against a backdrop of self-discovery and the Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday.

It’s easy to forget that Raina’s first original book, Smile, came out as recently as 2010. That’s because the effect she’s had makes it hard to remember what graphic novels were like beforehand. Really, it’s hard to recall what the publishing industry in general was like.

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Duck on a Tractor

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  • Duck on a Tractor
  • written and illustrated by David Shannon
  • published by Blue Sky Press/Scholastic (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

David Shannon’s Duck on a Bike has long been a favorite in this house. It’s absurd, it’s fun, and it’s beautifully illustrated. It’s no surprise that a sequel has come out. The only surprise is how long it’s taken. The original came out way back in the Stone Age of 2002. That’s 14 years ago – at least two lifetimes in the publishing industry.

But thankfully, Duck on a Tractor has arrived to carry on the ridiculous barnyard fun. And it’s like revisiting an old friend.

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The Happiest Book Ever!

happiestbookever

  • The Happiest Book Ever!
  • written and illustrated by Bob Shea
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

The Happiest Book Ever is a book that promises a lot in just the title. But can it deliver? Well, right there on the cover is a dancing cake and a giraffe with two ice cream cones…and one of them is for me!

So yeah, we’re off to a good start.

But, you see, there’s this frog…

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Henry & Leo

HenryAndLeo

  • Henry & Leo
  • written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
  • published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

“I guess we can never really know what makes one particular toy more special than another.”

Henry & Leo is a beautiful ode to the love we all have for our stuffed friends and what happens when they accidentally take a wrong turn and get lost. (We read another recent book on this same topic, which is admittedly near and dear to our hearts.)

This is the story of Henry and his favorite toy in the whole world – a stuffed lion named Leo.  Henry and Leo go everywhere together and are inseparable…until the day they are separated during a walk in the woods.

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Cleonardo: The Little Inventor

Cleonardo

If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, then you know (and probably adore) Mary GrandPré’s art. She provided the cover and interior art for all of the original U.S. editions. And if we’re being honest, her cover art is a really big reason for why the first book became so popular.

But she’s so much more than her Harry Potter art. She’s written and illustrated several children’s books and received a Caldecott Honor in 2015 for The Noisy Paint Box, which is about Kandinsky’s synesthesia (a condition that has long fascinated me).

Her newest book, Cleonardo: The Little Inventor, is nothing short of gorgeous – both the art and the message. As the father of a young daughter who loves to tinker and experiment, this book resonated with me in a huge way.

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Sam and Jump

SamAndJump

  • Sam and Jump
  • written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann
  • published by Candlewick (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

When you find a book with a character who shares a name with one of your children, it’s kind of mandatory to have in the house. And as common a name as Sam is, it’s kind of surprising that there aren’t more books about Sams.

But Sam and Jump is here to fill that void. The book is a simple story about a young boy (Sam) with a favorite stuffed animal (Jump). They go everywhere together. They do everything together. They’re best friends. Sound familiar?

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When the World Is Dreaming

WhenTheWorldIsDreaming

  • When the World Is Dreaming
  • written by Rita Gray
  • illustrated by Kenard Pak
  • published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Reading this book to my kids at bedtime the other night, my daughter was immediately smitten by the protagonist. And it’s easy to see why. With her unkempt hair flying free in every direction and playing home to a stray leaf, my daughter proclaimed, “That’s me! A little outdoorsy tomboy!”

Be still my heart.

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Let Me Finish!

Let-Me-Finish

  • Let Me Finish!
  • written by Minh Lê
  • illustrated by Isabel Roxas
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Is this the first children’s book about spoilers? It might be. And if it is, why has it taken until 2016 to have a book about the perils of unwanted spoilers? Children need to know when to keep their little traps shut and not ruin stories for other people. I’m only slightly kidding.

When The Force Awakens premiered last year, I had to sit my kids down and talk to them about spoilers. Just because YOU’VE seen the movie and know what happens doesn’t mean that EVERYONE has. Don’t ruin any surprises for them by talking about it school. No one ruined it for you.

Alas, I wish every parent had this discussion. But with the help of Minh Lê’s new book, Let Me Finish!, they can!

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What Is It?

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  • What Is It?
  • written by Nicole Hoang
  • illustrated by Dustin Nguyen
  • published by Boom! Studios/KaBOOM! (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

(This post originally appeared on GeekDad.)

There is – admittedly – sometimes a fine line between what constitutes a picture book and a graphic novel. They often have a lot in common, and it’s not surprising to find that many illustrators straddle that line and work in both media.

Traditional publishers long ago embraced the graphic novel format, and companies such as Scholastic (through their Graphix imprint) led the way. Comic publishers have been a bit slower to move in the opposite direction and put out picture books or novels. It’s not unheard of, though. First Second Books recently published their first children’s picture book (Ben Hatke’s Julia’s House for Lost Creatures) to near universal acclaim.

Now BOOM! Studios is following suit. Their all-ages imprint KaBOOM!, which has been home to some absolutely amazing monthly titles, is leading the charge with Nicole Hoang and Dustin Nguyen’s What Is It?

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