Picture Book Blog 5: Extraordinary Characters

Emma Apple's Picture Book BlogI’m playing catch up, I skipped a week of my picture book blog (I won’t tell anyone if you don’t!) but it was for a good cause. I’m working on a project called Muslim Me (shameless self promotion alert), it’s only just been announced, no details yet except that it’s a line of stickers and buttons for Muslim kids, and I’m incredibly excited (and busy)!

Back to the business at hand, my beloved picture books! If you’re not familiar with my Picture Book Blog yet, check out the first post for more about what it is. Basically, I’m reading my way from A-Z through my local library’s picture book section.

My Choices This Week

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Such a charming book! Knitters will love this and anyone with crafty kids, I thought of several friends while reading it, they’ll know who they are. A little girl finds a box with endless yarn in it, she knits sweaters for everyone – and everything – in town, then a bad guy comes and steals the box, without giving too much away, she ends up getting it back and continuing her sweet knitting. The illustrations are absolutely charming, they are mostly black and white or very muted, except the yarn and sweaters are colored. The story is a gentle and easy read, it’s optimistic and great for bed time or any quiet reading time.

5/5 Charming and sweet.

Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Illustrated by Holly Meade

This is the story of Noah’s Ark, but told differently to usual, in fact we barely meet Noah at all. It’s written in poetic form, the author note in the back explains that the form is derived from an Arabic poetry style called a ghazal, which, as a half Arab family, we were pleasantly surprised by. I loved that the story is not told in a traditional way, it’s not obviously religious and would be happy on any bookshelf, whether religious (of any sort) or not. While I found the style interesting, it was a bit cumbersome to read with every stanza ending in the same word, we still enjoyed it, but even my 10-year-old commented on that aspect, we didn’t love it. The illustrations are beautiful, probably my favorite part is the authors note at the back, she goes into detail about the name Naamah (which she explains is Hebrew but it’s also an Arabic word meaning “blessings”), the story and the poetry style. While it wasn’t a stand out, we really did enjoy this and I thought it was a charming book.

3.5/5 Worth picking up.

Helen Keller’s Best Friend Belle by Holly M. Barry, Illustrated by Jennifer Thermes

We all know the story of Helen Keller, this unique retelling flows beautifully and gives us insight into a part of Helen’s life that we don’t always get. Belle is one of Helen’s pet dogs, she had many from childhood and throughout her life (something I didn’t know before reading this book) and they were instrumental in her learning and coping with her disabilities as a child and as an adult. My whole family was familiar with Helen Keller’s story, but we all enjoyed this book and learned new things from it. Definitely a must read and a wonderful woman who continues to teach us never to underestimate others.

4/5 A new angle on a well-loved and oft told biography.

Mustache! by Mac Barnett and Kevin Cornell

This book was hilarious! I didn’t mean to pick up so many books by the same author, but it is a consequence of going shelf by shelf I suppose. We all loved this book! It’s one of the ones that seem like it’s a lot of nonsense, but that actually has a genuine message hidden in it (in fact, that seems to be true of most the Mac Barnett stories we read). The king loves himself way too much, so the people deface all the pictures of him around the town by, you guessed it, adding mustaches. The consequence is that the king accidentally gives them what they want and finally discovers how lonely and bored he is at the top. You’ll have to read it to find out more, I don’t want to give it all away. Trust me – and my kids, who requested it several times – this one is a lot of fun!

5/5 Funny with a hidden moral.

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex

Another by Mac Barnett, and another one that seems like nonsense but has an actual message. I couldn’t quite decide if I loved this or hated it. It starts off with an introduction by the author “character” and goes on as a story. It ends up being an argument between illustrator and author, they are characters in the book, so we kind of get a behind the scenes look, but in a funny way. The author thinks it’s HIS book and gets a bit bossy, the illustrator ends up feeling unappreciated and they part ways, the author hires another illustrator, they part ways and then the author tries to illustrate it himself. In the end, we learn that it takes a team to make a successful book and that you have to work together. It’s charming and funny, I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but check it out next time you’re at the library and see what you think (let me know in comments if you do!).

3/5 Do I love it or do I hate it? I’m not sure.

Bonus Book: Not From The Shelf

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

I’m primarily a visual person, an artist first and foremost, but I’m also a writer, I come from a long line of writers and I have always LOVED words. This book was a real treat! It’s the story of Peter Roget, the man who wrote the first Thesaurus, it talks about how he coped with his father’s death when he was small, by writing lists, and as he grew up his love of lists stayed with him and eventually he became known and successful as a writer because of them. It’s an unusual interest, but we are never alerted to that, it’s never presented in a “he was odd” way, but in a very “this is what he enjoyed” way, so we accept and appreciate Peter’s lists, and Peter himself, and for that I absolutely adored it. The illustrations are also beautiful and unique. Just a treat in every way.

5/5 Simply loved it!

Emma Apple

Emma Apple

Author-Illustrator at Books by Emma Apple
Emma Apple is a Chicago based children’s author-illustrator and designer from New Zealand.

She is author of How Big Is Allah? and How Does Allah Look? and founder of Creative Muslim Women.

Emma converted to Islam as a teenager and currently lives in Chicago with her husband, daughter, son and Ash the parrot. She only reads books that have lots of pictures, loves to look at planets through her telescope and is a big fan of yellow and Star Trek.
Emma Apple

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *