3 New Picture Books That Make Great Read Alouds: “The Grasshopper & the Ants,” “Wolfie the Bunny,” and “Elephant in the Dark”

Jerry Pinkney‘s new book, The Grasshopper & the Ants, is the latest in his award-winning series of books based on Aesop’s Fables. Although this is the weakest of the three titles in his series, it is still a visual delight and the classic story opens a gateway to great discussions.

The strength in Pinkney’s story-telling is his ability to choose simple, yet descriptive words in a sing-song grasshoppermanner that look as beautiful on paper as they sound when read aloud. The classic story is that of a grasshopper who lives to enjoy life. He relaxes, plays music, and tries to encourage the hard-working ants around him to do the same. The ants stay steadfast, and continue working, and when winter comes the grasshopper is left in the cold. At this point, the book shifts into a wordless format that is a wonderful tool to teach children how to read illustrations.

The weakness in the book comes in the ending. The point of the Fables is the moralistic conclusion. This book doesn’t really have one. The grasshopper is welcomed into the ant’s home, and there is no sign of the grasshopper learning from his experience, or changing his ways. That said, this is a gloriously beautiful book to look at. In the Author’s Notes Pinkney says, “I was motivated by the challenge of rendering the changing seasons in watercolor, forcing me to explore the full range of color in my palette.”

grasshopper layout

My rating: 4 stars
Written & Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Publication date: April 2015
ISBN: 9780316400817
Page Count: 40 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Reader

wolfieAme Dyckman uses humor and compassion to tell the story of Wolfie the Bunny. The bunny family find an unexpected package on their doorstep, a baby wolf! Mama and Papa fall instantly in love with the baby, and decide to raise it. Dot, the spunky child of the family, doesn’t trust the wolf. Her friends are also suspicious of the family welcoming in a species that is historically a bunny’s mortal enemy. Wolfie has a surprise in store for Dot and it isn’t what she had feared.

With a mix of hand lettered and traditional type, the words leap off of the page, and the expressive text begs to be read aloud. The illustrations are bold with brisk lines, and a limited, yet appealing color palette. The end papers mimic wallpaper with cameo-style drawings of each of the members of the bunny family, and a cluster of their beloved carrots.

The story sends some great messages in a subtle way. It reminds kids that family’s are made up of all kinds of combinations. It teaches that it’s valuable to protect yourself, but to attempt to stay open-minded, and it emphasizes to trust love when it presents itself.

wolfieinterior

My rating: 5 stars
Written by: Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by: Zachariah OHora
Publication date: February 2015
ISBN: 0316226149
Page Count: 40 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Elephant in the Dark is a re-telling of the classic Persian story, The Blind Men and the Elephant. When a huge beast arrives in the village, rumors circulate. The merchant, who owns the mysterious beast ,implores the villagers to let him sleep. elephantInsistent on discovering the creature before the merchant is willing to share it, the villagers sneak into his dark barn. One touches the trunk and believe the creature to be a snake. Another touches a leg and believes that there is no creature, that what is inside the barn is a tree. The folly continues and ultimately leaves the villagers fighting and shouting that their ideas are the correct ones. When the creature is finally revealed they are all surprised to see an elephant.

The themes and messages of the book are timeless. Each of us only knows a portion of the truth and that defines our opinion. The message could be used to teach that if members of the community took time to listen to each other, instead of fighting, they could have discovered what was actually hiding.

The illustrations in the book are influenced by ancient Persian styles, and miniature paintings, with a distinctly modern sensibility mixed in. The Iranian citizens are drawn with accentuated noses and facial hair that is still, unfortunately rarely seen in children’s literature.

elephant inside

My rating: 3 stars
Based on a poem by Rumi Retold by: Mina Javaherbin
Illustrated by: Eugene Yelchin
Publication date: August 2015
ISBN: 0545636701
Page count: 40 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press

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