Today’s round of picture books comes from the land of out there… a land of whimsy and silliness, where bears look to “find themselves” in enchanted forests; where goons in tombs fish in black lagoons; where gnomes compete for the best beard style; babies rule households with their little iron fists; and wild animals take in humans as their pets.
Come with me…
Kate Beaton. King Baby. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2006.
Can we just agree that Kate Beaton is the funniest? And that everyone has to buy this book for the next baby shower they’re invited to? Yes? Good! But srsly, Kate Beaton can make any subject hilarious — history, literature, that one guy in the first five minutes of that Janet Jackson video, and now babies! Babies really are just adorable little tyrants, aren’t they? They may be generous with their smiles and giggles and picture poses, but they have many demands, and if you fail to fulfill their demands, they will take things into their own little hands.
You may have seen King Baby on Beaton’s Twitter and Tumblr in years past, but whether you have or whether you’re meeting him for the first time, you’re in for a treat! Now he’s in color! With arms and legs! And developmental milestones! All hail King Baby!
Kirsten Mayer. Go Big or Go Gnome. New York: Imprint, 2017.
Poor Al. Al is a gnome, and most gnomes have beards. Not just any beards, but “imperial” beards, and “illustrious” mustaches. But not Al. His face is as smooth as a baby gnome’s bottom. And that wouldn’t be so bad, except every year there’s an awesome contest called the Beards International Gnome-athlon (B.I.G.), and Al would really love to participate. But, well, no beard.
But then, Al’s totally thoughtful best friend Gnorm is like, “Hey Al, I know you’re all bummed ‘cuz you can’t be in the B.I.G. like me, but ZOMG you’ve got to help me with my beard!” And Al, being the totally not bitter type, and having a penchant for the pruning shears, helps his buddy out. Which leads Al to realize he does have an award-winning talent after all!
So, that’s all sweet and wholesome messages and all, but in all seriousness…
ZOMG LOOK AT THESE BEARDS.
THESE ARE THE MOST AMAZING BEARDS. AL IS THE MOST TALENTED, IS HE NOT?
Oren Lavie. The Bear Who Wasn’t There and the Fabulous Forest. Brooklyn, Ny: Akashic, 2016.
It starts with an itch. And then the itch begins to scratch. And then the itch becomes a bear. Because, while “everybody knows that bears scratch when they itch … not many people know that itches scratch when they’re bears!” And this is an optimistic bear who starts his existence with an “Absolutely yes!” and proceeds to wander through a Fabulous Forest (also pretty new in existence — kind of like the new Fantastica in The Neverending Story…the book, not the movie), meeting surreal characters like the Penultimate Penguin and the Convenience Cow.
It is, indeed, a surreal and whimsical story — as dream-like as Alice in Wonderland — that teaches lessons such as: “Flowers are more Beautiful than they are thirty-eight.” And it’s all so matter-of-fact (except at the very beginning, but you can’t really fault the narrator for being surprised that the itch turns into a BEAR) as it pulls you into this dream world.
And matching the matter-of-fact tone are the earthy illustrations by Wolf Erlbruch, with their down-to-earth forest greens and tree-bark browns against a parchment-yellow background. Everything seems so natural in this environment, even the upright-walking bear with the saucer-round eyes and goofy red smile.
Peter Brown. Children Make Terrible Pets. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.
Time to meet another upright-walking bear, the tutu-wearing Lucy, who I totally imagine talks like Grenda, from Gravity Falls. Now you’ll have that voice stuck in your head, too, bwahahaha!
Anyway, Grenda Lucy is out dancing in the forest one day, when she finds THE CUTEST CRITTER EVER — a human boy! He’s so cute and little, and he squeaks! Lucy’s mom says children are the worst pets, but Lucy promises she’ll totally take care of Squeaker all by herself. How much trouble can one kid be, right?
Brown got the idea for this story from his childhood, when he brought home a frog and his mother asked him, “Would you like it if a wild animal made YOU its pet?” Well, little Peter thought that was an awesome idea! And to make it even more awesome, he tells the story like a comic book, with all the characters talking into big color-coded speech bubbles, and the narration happening in big blue text boxes. So, the next time your kid or your kid sibling tells you they want a pet polar bear, just distract them with this book!
Michael Rex. Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008.
So, y’all know Goodnight Moon, a timeless part of American bedtime rituals since 1947. Well, Michael Rex wants to turn that cozy green room upside down, switching out the sweet little bunny with a sweet monkey-like monster, trading the “three little bears sitting on chairs” with “three little mummies rubbing their tummies,” and swapping the kittens and mittens for “two hairy claws / And a set of jaws.” And so on with the creepy and ooky and spooky rhyming imagery.
If your children are familiar with Goodnight Moon, this is the perfect counterpoint for post-Trick-or-Treating bedtime. If you’re not as familiar with the original, this is still an awesomely out-there Halloween season story. Tell the martians I said hi!