Night Out by Daniel Miyares

Published by Schwartz and Wade

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Summary:  A boy eats and sleeps alone in some kind of all-boy institution (a boarding school? An orphanage?).  One night he finds an invitation propped up against the bowl housing his pet turtle.  He sneaks out and rides his bike to the shore, where a large turtle ferries him across the water to a cave.  There’s a party going on, and the other animals welcome him with open arms (and wings).  After a night of tea and dancing, he returns to his room.  His turtle can be seen returning to his bowl just as the boy is climbing through the window. The last page shows the boy sharing the story with his new (human) friends. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This almost wordless book (38 words) is a celebration of the power of stories to connect with others.  The dedication says it all: “Dedicated to the dreamers. May you always feel invited.”  Daniel Miyares’ evocative illustrations perfectly capture the child’s loneliness and the power of his imagination to create a happy world for himself.

Cons:  Knowing that Daniel Miyares has created beautiful wordless picture books, I felt like the words in this one were unnecessary.

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A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

Published by Candlewick Press

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Summary:  On the opening page, a family is burying their beloved dog, then leaving for summer vacation.  The girl in the family reaches into the ocean as she watches another girl play with her dog on the beach.  The action suddenly shifts to prehistoric times when a meteor hits the earth.  It lands as a golden slab of rock, which is then used in all kinds of structures and works of art throughout history.  In its final incarnation, it’s carved into a dragon which eventually ends up smashed into pieces at the bottom of the sea.  One of the pieces washes ashore, and the girl from the beginning of the story finds it.  She takes it home and lays it on her dog’s grave, bringing the story full circle.  48 pages; grades K-5.

Pros: Books from Lane Smith, Aaron Becker, and the Fan Brothers all in the same month…what an amazing world we live in.  Like Becker’s Journey trilogy, this wordless book requires multiple “readings” to begin to absorb all that is happening in the illustrations.  Imaginative kids will be fascinated with the idea of traveling back in time through geology and will look at rocks in a whole new way.

Cons:  Younger readers (and possibly older ones too) will likely need some help to understand what is going on.

Dude! word by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  Cowabunga, dude, this book only has one word, but lots of gnarly pictures!  A platypus and a beaver head out on surfboards one sunny day, disregarding a sign with a big red exclamation mark on it.  The beaver is laughing hysterically after the platypus gets pooped on by a seagull, when suddenly–DUDE!–a great white shark appears.  Thinking fast, the beaver produces an ice cream cone, and the three become friends.  Surf’s up until a big wave smashes the boards into the rocks.  The shark has a solution, and the three head out to sea again, the two smaller animals catching a wave on the back of their great white pal.  Everyone on the beach flees in terror, and the trio enjoy samples from the vacant ice cream stand.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat is a pretty brilliant pairing, and this book of summer fun that includes ice cream, a great white shark, cartoon bubbles, and a poop joke, is pretty much a guaranteed hit at any storytime.

Cons:  If you’re trying to get your offspring to practice reading this summer, this probably isn’t the book for you.  Dude.

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I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books

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Summary:  In this wordless book, Vanessa is new at school, and seems to be feeling isolated on her first day.  She sits quietly in class and watches kids playing in the gym without joining in.  As she walks home alone, a boy walks up to her and starts yelling.  Another girl witnesses the incident and is clearly bothered by it, continuing to think about it after she gets home.  The next day she wakes up with an idea.  She saw where Vanessa lives, so she stops by her house and asks to walk to school with her.  As the two girls walk, others join them, first one at a time and then in groups, until there are dozens of kids walking together, Vanessa in their midst.  The bully is shown on the edge of the crowd, his face red and angry.  The happy crowd of kids enters the school, and Vanessa has found a new friend.  The last page has a message for kids about how to help someone who is being bullied and some helpful words for adults to use when talking about the book with children.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Although there are no words, kids will get this book right away.  There’s a truly feel-good ending, and the story will lend itself easily to discussion afterward.  The cartoon kids are adorable.

Cons:  The issue of bullying is not always as simple as this book makes it out to be.

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I Got It! by David Wiesner

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  In this almost-wordless picture book, a boy convinces a slightly bigger kid to let him play baseball.  He’s sent to the outfield, and soon a ball is heading his way.  “I got it!” he calls, and immediately, a series of outcomes starts playing out in his mind.  The first is pretty straightforward: he trips over a root, falls on his face, and his teammates cringe in disbelief.  As the ball moves closer and closer to his glove, his imaginings get wilder: he pictures himself colliding with a tree; shrinking so that an enormous ball looms over him; flying with birds over the heads of his oversized teammates.  And then–”I got it!”–he catches the ball.  The other kids cheer wildly, and the boy walks off the field with them, confidently tossing the ball into the air.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Another (almost) wordless wonder from Caldecott medalist David Wiesner.  Readers will need to look closely to understand what is going on, but they will be rewarded with a happy and satisfying ending.  As always, the illustrations are gorgeous and wildly imaginative.

Cons:  I didn’t get it; I had to read reviews to figure out what was going on.  Once I understood the concept that the boy was imagining different outcomes, it all fell into place for me, but I’m guessing many kids will need some help understanding this.

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Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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Summary:  In this nearly wordless picture book, Grace is determined to help her friend Gus, the class guinea pig, get a new friend.  After school, she does her homework, eats dinner and helps her dads do the dishes, says good night, then climbs out of her bedroom window, violin in hand.  Her first stop is a subway station, where she opens the violin case and performs; from there, it’s on to Central Park to draw caricatures; finally, she returns to the subway, where she breaks into an impromptu dance routine on the train.  People cheer and give her money for all her efforts, and the next day, she is able to fill the “Gus Buddy Fund” jar in her classroom.  The final page shows Gus with his new guinea pig friend.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  There is so much to look at in this book that will be fun for children and adults.  Look for Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock, Donald Trump, Tintin and Snowy, Charlie Brown, and Calvin’s friend Hobbes in the pictures.  Grace herself looks a lot like Marcie from Peanuts.  Keep an eye peeled for other details like a “Jimmy Hoffa Found” headline and the “Tax Relief” billboard behind Trump.  Once is not enough to catch all that this book has to offer.

Cons:  Many of the allusions that adults will enjoy will go right over the heads of most kid readers.

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Red Again by Barbara Lehman

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary:  A lot has changed since 2004, but the wordless Red Again picks up right where that year’s The Red Book left off.  A boy on a bicycle finds the magical book and takes it to a cupola at the top of his house to read it.  As he studies a map of some islands, the illustrations zoom in to a girl fishing from a rowboat, a red book floating behind her.  When she opens the book, she sees the boy’s house, and eventually, the two are face to face through their books.  With the help of a loaf of bread and a pelican, she zooms through the water to meet her new friend.  In his excited rush to greet her, he drops the book.  It ends up in a snowbank, where it is picked up by…well, I can’t tell you everything.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The Red Book won a Caldecott honor, and this sequel is a worthy successor.  There is a lot to look at in the deceptively simple illustrations that celebrate books and friendship.

Cons:  Some of the connections within the book and between the two books might blow your mind a little bit.

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