A roundup of new picture books for children

New children's picture books, and a newly illustrated version of an older one, are rich in characters and creativity.
Published April 22 2015

Goodnight Already!

By Jory John and Benji Davies

Harper, $17.99; ages 4-8

"Hey, I'm bored. Want to hang out?" And so it begins, the push and pull between wide-awake Duck and time-to-(yawn)-hibernate Bear. It's an interspecies example of why fences make good neighbors. In Jory John's story, Duck (who looks a bit like the Aflac duck) wants to play cards, borrow a cup of sugar — anything to keep Bear from packing it in for the night. Illustrator Benji Davies renders Duck's pages in all sunny yellows and vibrant reds; Bear's are inky with bruise-colored shadows and soft blue sheets. It's all in good fun, a lively call-and-response book to read aloud to prereaders, with the most charming image of Duck sporting multiple Band-Aids: "I stubbed my beak." And in the end? Duck succumbs to the sandman while Bear is left baking insomniac cookies.

Zig and the Magic Umbrella

By Sylvie Kantorovitz

Dial, $16.99; ages 3-5

The central draw of this preschool picture book is Kantorovitz's collage and densely painterly acrylic work. The words, not so much. The story focuses on a Shrek-like Zig (well, it's got two Shrek-y antennae knobs) who is drawn out on a blustery rainy day by a bird in need. Aided by a red umbrella, the tiny ogre follows the bird, helps him to release his trapped bird brethren and then, in a strangely graphic explosion, impales the monster who has ensnared the birds, using the point of his red umbrella (an umbrella that has previously served as boat, bridge and lever). Not sure how that plays in Peoria, but it could lead to some uncomfortable bedtime discussions, even if the takeaway is "You've got to help your friends, even when the weather is inclement." Much of the text is onomatopoetic ("whoosh," "grrrrrrr"), but dialogue is so bare-bones that it feels flat.

Tell Me What to Dream About

By Giselle Potter

Schwartz & Wade Books, $17.99; ages 3-7

An unnamed big sister is endlessly patient with her little sister, who asks what to dream about. Real life is muted in nocturnal blues, but the dreamscapes imagined by the big sister are luscious Technicolor — nonetheless, the little sister isn't biting. Friends that are all furry? Too scary. Flying around in fluffy clouds? A tree house town? Too high up. Potter, who has illustrated a number of popular picture books, is an accomplished artist, shifting elegantly from the big sister's dreamy fantasies to the little sister's more fearful extrapolations. In the end, at the brink of sleep, the two girls agree that the dream should be about making waffles in the morning. An admirable compromise, and a sweet riff on the aggravations and rewards of sisterhood.

Orion and the Dark

By Emma Yarlett

Candlewick Press, $16.99; ages 3-7

When you glance at a book flap and the author looks like a young Disney princess, it's easy to get a little sniffy. But this is Emma Yarlett's second picture book and it's a stunner, too, with a mixed-media approach that includes die-cut pages, pages that look like a comic book artist's journal sketches and still others like a mesmerizing painting of the night sky. Orion is an imaginative kid. The downside, of course, is the ease of imagining all kinds of horrible things (popping balloons, haircuts). But the most horrible of all is the dark. But then the Dark comes to call, taking Orion on an adventure (or as Orion calls it in hindsight, "a super-duper, spiffadocious, incredamundo adventure"). Best page: a hilarious police lineup of monster suspects that are not the Dark, complete with height markers.

Heather Has Two Mommies

By Lesléa Newman

Candlewick Press, $16.99; ages 3-7

With 37 states making same-sex marriage legal, it bears repeating: Not all families are the same and, as Heather's teacher says, "The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other." This book was written in 1988 and had a heck of a hard time finding a publisher. Once published, it settled in at No. 9 on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books of the 1990s. In March, Candlewick debuted a newly illustrated version, the famous Laura Cornell (Jamie Lee Curtis' illustrator) bringing a joyous and exuberant multiculturalism and chaos to the elementary school classroom and family life. Nearly every character, including the picnic-marauding family dog, seems ebulliently happy, although I'm sure Heather's two mommies wonder if she'll ever grow out of the bedraggled pink tutu.