The featured picture books at a certain big box bookstore between State College and Bellefonte are much better than usual. In fact, even after I eliminated from contention books about zombies, books with sparkles on the cover, books with titles so sentimental I wanted to rolf, and books by people so successful they don’t need my endorsement — I still found more than the three-book limit allowed by Family Pages.
Don’t tell, but I’m going to sneak in a couple of extra.
“The Day the Crayons Quit,” written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, is getting a ton of well-deserved attention. When Duncan goes to his crayon box, he finds only letters of resignation! The pink crayon feels neglected, the blue crayon is so over-used it’s now a mere stub, the purple crayon wishes Duncan would for once color within the lines.
Only the green crayon is happy: “… I like my workload of crocodiles, trees, dinosaurs and frogs and … wish to congratulate you on a very successful ‘coloring things green’ career so far.”
At the same time, green crayon does have a request. Could Duncan please resolve the dispute between orange and yellow over which one gets to color the sun? Currently, the two won’t even speak to each other!
It’s probably a stretch to say this is a book about seeing things from different perspectives and learning to get along. Mostly it’s just super clever, a pleasure both to read and see. In the end, Duncan, budding human resources professional, comes up with a creative way to assuage the crayons’ grievances.
Equally clever is “Exclamation Mark,” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. This is a book about being different and finding your true purpose. But — like “Crayons” — it’s mostly a great idea perfectly executed.
Hanging out with a bunch of periods, the exclamation mark is lost and confused until he meets the question mark, who — unsurprisingly — has a zillion questions: “Do you like frogs? What’s your favorite ice cream?”
Exasperated, the exclamation mark responds, “Stop!” thus discovering his place and his potency. As the narrator wryly (if ungrammatically) comments, “It was like he broke free from a life sentence.”
“Exclamation Mark” is illustrated mostly with bold, brash punctuation marks. A surefire market for the book is teachers who will use it to emphasize the importance of punctuation, but don’t let that keep you from buying it as a bedtime book for a child on the cusp of reading. It is enough fun to bear re-reading.
“Stuck,” written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, is a cumulative tale that consistently defies expectations. When Floyd, an abstract figure with red hair and a tattersall shirt, gets his kite stuck in a tree, he throws one of his shoes up to dislodge it, and we’re off.
Soon it’s not only the kitchen sink up a tree, it’s an orangutan, the milkman and “a curious whale in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Just when you think you know where this is going, Jeffers goes in a different direction. I loved it when the neighbor, whose house has also been marooned in the tree, calls out: “Wait till I tell your mother!”
Two more picture books also stand out. Perfect for budding engineers is “Awesome Dawson” by Chris Gall, about a boy who recycles toilet seats, jet engines and even cat food into world-saving creations. “Ball,” word (the lack of an s is deliberate) and pictures by Mary Sullivan, is a hilarious story about a dog, his loyal owner, and what the dog dreams of all day.
Pennsylvania author Martha Freeman’s Chickadee Court mysteries for children are set in a town not unlike State College. Her most recent book is “The Case of the Missing Dinosaur Egg.”