Picture Books: New Takes on Old Topics

Filed under: Books for Kids, Activities: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Activities: Big Kids

There are certain subjects -- friendship, numbers, big cities, the alphabet -- that get plenty of love from the children's book publishing industry. They're old standards, and we see new titles on these topics all the time. So, writers need to work extra hard to come up with fresh takes on these kid-lit staples. Luckily for us, they do.


"Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad" by David Somar and Jacky Davis (Dial, $17)
The "Ladybug Girl" books have all been sweetly earnest, with nice bits of humor, and truly lovely illustrations. They've also done an exemplary job of depicting the joys of pretend play. You'd think that by the fourth installment, the series would start to flounder a bit. But, no. This newest ode to childhood imagination is just as endearing as its predecessors. This time around, we get to see little Lulu (a.k.a. Ladybug Girl) at play with four of her fellow insect-lovers. The ideas for play that they come up with ("We can't touch the ground because it's hot lava") will ring true for readers young and old. Plus we get to learn a little lesson about group dynamics.


"Ten Birds" by Cybéle Young (Kids Can Press, $17)
To call "Ten Birds" a counting book really feels like selling it short. This book is one of the most imaginative mash-ups and stunningly gorgeous pieces of art I've seen in a long time. It definitely is a counting book, as its subtraction-centric plot is about 10 birds crossing a river one by one. But it's also a bit of a book about engineering and invention. Each bird crafts its own unique mode of transport in order to cross the water, including a pulley system, a motorized raft and -- in homage to "Angry Birds," perhaps? -- a catapult. The black-and-white art, only a few steps removed from, say, Da Vinci's sketchpad, is the perfect illustration style for these ingenious and whimsical gadgets.


"A is for Zebra" by Mark Shulman, illustrated by Tamara Petrosino (Beach Ball Books, $6)
Authors keep dreaming up creative new ways to present the alphabet to kids (see recent classics such as "Alpha Oops" and "The Sleepy Little Alphabet"), but Shulman's brainchild takes an approach we've never seen before. As the subtitle says, it's the first alphabet book about last letters. So U is for gnu and P is for hip-hop. But this is no "one word and we're moving on" ABC book. Most pages have clever snippets of dialogue, which showcase words ending with that page's letter, like a wolf saying, "I'll huff and puff" on the F page. It's pretty ingenious.


"A Walk in London" by Salvatore Rubbino (Candlewick, $17)
If you've seen Rubbino's "A Walk in New York," then you'll have an idea what to expect from his vivid and evocative trip to London. With a mom-and-daughter-go-sightseeing plot to frame the whole adventure, you get all sorts of wonderful trivia and historical bits about England's capital. Everything you'd expect from a London travelogue is there -- Big Ben, double-decker buses, the Thames -- but there is a whole slew of less-expected gems, as well. For instance, did you know Norway sends London a giant Christmas tree to set up in Trafalgar Square every year? And Rubbino's delightfully retro-ish artwork makes this trip all the more pleasurable.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.