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Just imagine

Pretend play can be a quiet and contemplative activity for one or a boisterous group effort. Four new picture books successfully capture the fluid boundary between real and imaginary in the minds of young children.

Nino Wrestles the WorldPint-sized Niño, fearless luchador, Popsicle enthusiast, and reluctantly attentive big brother, dons his red mask and blue-banded tighty-whities, ready to take on all comers. He battles a series of formidable (imagined) foes from Mexican historical and popular culture before facing the trickiest of opponents, his baby sisters, las hermanitas, who obviously love him to bits. Working in a digital collage that includes watercolor and block print, Yuyi Morales packs every polychromatic page in Niño Wrestles the World with action. (Roaring Brook, 3–6 years)

If You Want to See a WhaleJulie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead (And Then It’s Spring) return with If You Want to See a Whale, a book that takes on the possibility of imagination. “If you want to see a whale / you will need a window,” it begins. A window? Well, of course, if you’re a kid in a landlocked house with an armchair for a ship. Fogliano’s text cleverly tells us all the things we should ignore—a pirate ship, a pelican, a caterpillar—as we focus our vision on the longed-for whale. The genius of Stead’s art is that it leaves space for the viewer’s imagination to interpret the pictures. (Porter/Roaring Brook, 3–6 years)

I Wish I Had...The narrator in Giovanna Zoboli’s I Wish I Had… wishes for superhuman qualities—specifically, those of various animals. Some wishes are easily understood: the sharp eyes of a blackbird or the tail of a lemur, for instance. Others will require time to process: “I wish I had the forest of thoughts of a deer listening in the woods” or “the huge ears of an elephant to hear what the heavens say.” The poetic text’s mysterious qualities are accentuated by Simona Mulazzani’s intricate, deeply hued art. The overall effect is mind-opening and calming. (Eerdmans, 4–7 years)

Anton and the BattleIn author-illustrator Ole Könnecke’s Anton and the Battle, a tense game of one-upmanship begins when Anton declares he’s stronger than Luke. Anton says he can lift a stone “this big,” so Luke hoists a boulder over his head. Luke carries “a whole piano” and plays it loudly. Anton pounds on a big bass drum: “Louder! Louder! Louder!” Things escalate to (cartoonish) bombs; thanks to Könnecke’s clean minimalist illustrations, it’s clear that these displays of strength are imaginary. And for the two winsome combatants, they’re a whole lot of fun. (Gecko, 4–7 years)

From the June 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

About Kitty Flynn

Kitty Flynn is consulting editor for The Horn Book, Inc.



  1. Virginia Rinkel says:

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful imaginative books. So nice to know imagination can be tapped through ‘thinking it through’ and not being fed by technology (ipads, iphones, kindles, etc). Not that these things don’t have a place in our world, but it’s wonderful to let those electronics go and let the reading (listening) mind soar.

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