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Little explorers

Children's Books

Little explorers

Four recent picture books reviewed


Sam Usher

A boy with a lively imagination wakes up and sees that it’s a lovely day for an adventure with patient Grandad. They pack a picnic and head out, stopping frequently for Grandad to rest. One illustration shows the two slight figures against an enormous hot sky. Another shows the two trudging through a desert, the sky red behind them. Grandad carries a map, and the little boy carries a camera and spyglass: “So Grandad navigated and I looked out.” They find the perfect place for a picnic—and a motley crew with whom to share it. The picnic has a Where’s Waldo zaniness. (Ages 3-7)

Ella & Monkey at Sea

Emilie Boon

Ella, her stuffed monkey, and her mother are traveling by ship to meet Ella’s father in America. She doesn’t want to leave her grandmother, Oma. Boon tells this simple story about change and homesickness through Monkey’s feelings: Monkey wants his own bed at home; Monkey doesn’t want to play in the ship’s playroom; Monkey misses Oma and hates fish. When a hurricane comes, Ella draws ferocious gray pictures of it. Then she draws pictures of the sun and gives them away. When the ship arrives, the sea is calm, and her father is waiting for them. (Ages 3-5)


Irene Dickson

In this book about creativity and friendship, a boy with a dog and a stick discovers countless ways to amuse himself. Writer and illustrator Irene Dickson uses the second person, so the book reads like a set of instructions: “Find a stick, a very useful stick. Walk with it … throw it.” The large-format book has bold illustrations that depict changing scenery. Until the last page, the boy and his dog are the only living creatures. That changes at the end when they find a little girl who is also playing with sticks: She’s building a teepee. (Ages 3-6)

The Squirrels’ Busy Year

Martin Jenkins

This early science picture book introduces the four seasons, weather, and natural history through simple text and illustrations. The book shows where the squirrel sleeps in winter, what he eats, and how the other animals survive the cold. The book moves through the seasons, showing animals adapting—in fall, frogs head to the bottom of the pond. And the book offers a bit of narrative: An owl watches from a tree on many pages—and once almost catches the squirrel. The muted palette may not be attractive for some kids. Notes explain why we have seasons and offer ideas for further exploration. (Ages 4-6)

Frann Preston-Gannon

Frann Preston-Gannon


Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year (Nosy Crow, 2018) offers 366 poems selected by Fiona Waters—including one for Feb. 29. Some are familiar (Jan. 25 features “Star light, star bright, / First star I see tonight …”). Some are riddles, others tongue teasers, and some will inspire children’s imaginations. Lovely illustrations by Frann Preston-Gannon accompany the poems in this coffee-table book.

Matthew Mehan’s Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals (TAN Books, 2018) offers an ABC of poems featuring a stable of fabulous creatures. Those who like Edward Lear or Ogden Nash will find much to admire about this collection. John Folley’s painterly illustrations complement the humorous rhymes, and a glossary at the end provides additional material for older or more curious readers. —S.O.