I am bursting with picture book recommendations! The last few months have been challenging, to put it mildly, but one of the things I have been able to look forward to is the steady stream of excellent picture books.
The first title is one I pre-ordered as early as I could. Award-winning illustrator (and author) Christian Robinson’s YOU MATTER was released on June 2nd alongside glowing reviews, and is the second that he has done solo. YOU MATTER tells two stories: the first is a reminder, as it states in the acknowledgements, “to anyone who isn’t sure if they matter. You do.” Each full-page spread reiterates this message to those in situations in which they may feel less than: when you’re slow, when you make a mistake, when no one listens to you, when someone you love is far away, and “even if you are really gassy.” Robinson’s trademark collage illustrations, which include a combination of handmade illustrations and papercut drawings, add levity to a message that could be saccharine if done differently.
Through these illustrations, Robinson cleverly weaves a second story in with the first. This second story begins on a grand scale, telling the history of the earth from the first living bacteria to the first living creature on land, touching on the extinction of the dinosaurs and the various phases of Earth’s evolution along the way.
Christian Robinson has been one of my favorite illustrators for a long time. His illustrations just feel special, and his attention to detail feels like a labor of love. Here, Robinson’s attention to detail is amplified. The astronaut overlooking Earth holds a picture of a young child; on the next page, that child is seen looking forlornly out of an apartment building window while holding a brightly colored rocket ship in one hand. This is just one instance where, If the reader looks closely, they can follow one character through several pages and perspectives.
Robinson has a knack for bringing to light the overlooked and underappreciated aspects of life; with YOU MATTER, he excels at doing both visually and textually. The characters in this book are diverse in ethnicity and ability, thus extending the message to those reading the book who may not often see themselves represented in the media they consume.
My favorite thing about YOU MATTER is that it is adaptable for a variety of ages. If your child is very young, you can read the words and identify the pictures. If they are a bit older, you can discuss the visual story Robinson tells, though the depth of the conversation depends on the child’s age and comprehension level.
Robinson has won many awards for his work; most notably, his 2015 picture book with author Matt de la Pena won the Newbery Medal for Excellence in Children’s Literature.
For another fun read-aloud, try Colin Meloy and Shawn Harris’ lyrical, outrageous, and hilarious un-bedtime story EVERYONE’S AWAKE. It is no surprise that Meloy’s (of the band The Decemberists) second picture book is witty and fun to read aloud. If you have listened to his music, you have likely felt the same way about his songwriting. The book reads as a litany of outrageous behaviors the largely unseen narrator’s family engages in in lieu of sleeping, and the list gets more ridiculous as it goes on. It begins mildly, with the sister locking herself in the bathroom to braid her hair and the brother reciting lines from a movie. By the book’s middle, the grandmother is playing cards “with long-dead Grandpa Paul” and the cat is giving “poke tattoos and prank calling the cops.” Each rhyming couplet ends with an emphatic, “EVERYONE’S AWAKE” that lends itself well to a mildly amped-up bedtime or an engaging storytime. Grown-ups will enjoy this book as much as younger readers, and they will likely enjoy the sometimes obscure pop culture references throughout (Prince, Frank Sinatra, and a slew of classic children’s books all make an appearance).
Shawn Harris’ illustrations are a perfect fit for Meloy’s musical and wildly enjoyable story. The bright color palette consists of mostly neon or nearly-neon greens, blues, yellows, and oranges and feels just as loud and fun as the house seems to be. The characters are diverse and whimsical and funny, and Harris’ interpretation of the chaos in the large, multistory house is humorous in its own right (see the mouse browsing the internet on a tiny laptop while reclined on the father’s back for one example). I love this book, and I look forward to reading it at storytime. In the meantime, you can borrow it from the library and add an exciting spin on your own family’s bedtime routine. But get some sleep.