Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe
By Megumi Iwasa, Illustrations by Jun Takabatake

A bored giraffe hanging out in Africa convinces an equally bored pelican to deliver a letter to “you, whoever you are, who lives on the other side of the horizon”. A pen pal relationship unfolds in an unpredictable way between (on the Africa side) the giraffe and pelican and (on the Antarctica side) a penguin, his whale professor, and a seal.

I really love how much Penguin and Giraffe are trying to understand each other. They do their best to create pictures for each other using only words. And the giraffe really puts his body on the line trying to recreate the characteristics of a penguin. A heart-warming cross-cultural relationship.

These animals are so philosophical! What is the nature of looking? How can a bucket help us explore the persistence of color? What is a neck, and what does it look like to not have one? A short tale that can spur children to deep thinking.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type
By Doreen Cronin; Pictures by Betsy Lewin

Farmer Brown’s cows have discovered a typewriter in the barn, and they are using it to write letters demanding improved conditions. Understandably, Farmer Brown wants things to be the way they’ve always been. In the end, the cows, the hens, and the devious duck get the upper hand.

Who knew? Cows and hens have leverage to change their one-sided relationship with the farmer. The story unfolds quickly and is hilarious, while providing a fantastic case study in negotiation and collective action.

I think it’s very funny that the animals are able to communicate among themselves, but when the cows have a secret emergency meeting, the other animals can’t eavesdrop because they don’t “understand Moo”.

The Gigantic Turnip

The Gigantic Turnip
By Aleksei Tolstoy, Niamh Sharkey, & Imelda Staunton

This Russian folktale unfolds with a rhythm and repetition that unfailingly delights small children. The illustrations are quirky and engaging, with a soothing autumnal color palette that matches the couple’s stage of life as well as the turnip’s harvest season.

Much like Little Blue Truck, it is “all hands on deck” to accomplish a big task, requiring at last the smallest team member to achieve the goal.

Despite knowing the enormity of the turnip, the old man attempts to harvest it himself at first. With much pulling, heaving, tugging, and yanking, it is not until the old woman applies her wisdom and creativity that the community finally enjoys its delicious turnip stew.

The Second Sky

The Second Sky
Written by Patrick Guest, Illustrated by Jonathan Bentley

Gilbert the penguin emerges from his shell inspired by the birds he sees flying in the sky. Alas, all his attempts to glide gracefully through the air meet with failure. Just when it seems Gilbert has pushed too far past his limitations, he discovers where he is meant to gracefully dive and soar.

I love Gilbert’s vision combined with his hard work and stick-to-it-iveness. He tries, he fails; he grows up a bit and tries again—and fails; he rethinks his approach, and tries again.

This is a great book for the very smallest children. Gilbert’s clumsiness is very similar to the trials and tribulations of toddlerhood and early childhood.

On the Night of the Shooting Star

On the Night of the Shooting Star
By Amy Hest; Illustrated by Jenni Desmond

Bunny and Dog are neighbors who never talk to each other. One night, it occurs to each of them that the other needs a friend. Then, they both see a shooting star. This special event is just what is needed to spark their friendship.

Few kids’ stories illustrate this truth: It can be very awkward to start a conversation with a person you have “known” for a long time but never talked to. It just takes one moment, and a willingness to overcome the awkwardness, to begin again.

The details of the illustrations are just darling, particularly Bunny’s and Dog’s homes – filled with biscuits and cocoa, carrots and knitting.

Miss Maple’s Seeds

Miss Maple’s Seeds
by Eliza Wheeler

Each autumn, Miss Maple gathers up the little lost seeds that did not get planted. She spends fall, winter, and spring teaching them how to be seeds. Then she releases them to the wide world.

Miss Maple is paralleled in the real world by all the wonderful teachers who see the potential in their students, nurture their little seeds, then release them to the next steps on their journey. It seems to me a kind of graduation tale, told from the teacher’s perspective.

The art in this book manages to be both fanciful and earth-bound.The motion in each drawing leaps off the page and carries the reader along.

The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare

The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare
By Sam McBratney

Little Nutbrown Hare explores his surroundings and learns some lessons about himself, about nature, about safety, and about the comforts of home.

I love the relationship Little Nutbrown Hare has with his daddy. Big Nutbrown Hare always strikes the right tone. He encourages Little Nutbrown Hare to explore and enjoy new experiences; however, he is stern yet gentle when Little Nutbrown Hare needs to be steered away from danger. As with the bestseller, “Guess How Much I Love You”, the book ends on a sweet parent-child note.

The characters in the original book are so lovable, it was a pleasure to find this follow-on work. These stories have less of a competitive element to them, and also allow fans of the original story to explore the world of Little Nutbrown Hare a bit more broadly.

Bramble and Maggie

Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl
By Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Alison Friend

Bramble is a horse planning her exit from a life giving riding lessons. Maggie is a girl actively seeking a horse to call her own. When the two meet, Maggie’s parents consent surprisingly quickly. To get Bramble to feel comfortable in her new home, Maggie has some work to do.

Maggie is such a lovely character: humble, empathetic, respectful, kind, and curious. Her patience and delight with Bramble is a good model for anyone who takes an animal into their home.

I’m not a horse person, but this story seems to have captured quite well the relationship between a child and her horse. This is the first book in a short series of early reader chapter books, and the high quality holds throughout.

The Very Last Castle

The Very Last Castle
Words by Travis Jonker, Pictures by Mark Pett

In the middle of an unremarkable small town stands the very last castle. No one ever comes out, and the townspeople have never been inside. Rumors abound as to what might be inside. Only young Ibb seeks to find out the truth.

Visually, Ibb is portrayed in eclectic modern princess attire. Her actions speak as someone who takes all viewpoints into account and then seeks to learn her own truth. As a result, our heroine rescues the knight in shining armor and gives a lasting gift to the townspeople.

This book is exceptionally well structured and written. The art and words mesh seamlessly. The first time we read it, my little one said, “Now that is a good story.”

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