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Try, try again

Sometimes persistence is the key to success, as demonstrated by the following picture book characters who try, try again.

In Molly Bang’s latest Sophie book, When Sophie Thinks She Can’t… (written with Ann Stern), our blonde-pigtailed heroine is working on a tangram puzzle when her older sister comes by and casually solves it (“Too bad you’re not smart”). Happily, Sophie’s teacher helps the whole class understand that the brain is like a muscle, which gets stronger by thinking, and her supportive teaching technique helps Sophie and her classmates learn to persist. Bang uses her vibrant colors to portray Sophie in a class of racially diverse and variously abled students. The book’s math exercises and tangram endpapers may make children eager to tackle a puzzle themselves. (Scholastic/Blue Sky, 3–5 years)

Chengdu the panda — star of Barney Saltzberg’s Chengdu Can Do — wakes up “feeling very hungry.” He climbs down from his tree, determined to find breakfast “all by himself.” Gentle visual humor provides the big picture as Chengdu struggles (and fails) to reach bamboo leaves at the top of another tree. The text names each thing capable Chengdu can do, but these actions get him no closer to his goal. Chengdu’s solemn expression keeps the story from getting too cutesy, and children can enjoy both his determination and a happy resolution when he finally gets some much-needed help. (Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years)

In the front endpapers and first few pages of After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again, Dan Santat matter-of-factly summarizes the familiar nursery rhyme. Problem is, now Humpty is afraid of heights. When his paper airplane gets stuck on top of that wall, he must summon all his courage and overcome his fears; over the course of several thrilling page-turns, Humpty reveals his true, triumphant self. Bold horizontal, vertical, and diagonal compositions dominate most spreads, reinforcing the wall’s extraordinary height and, therefore, the challenge that Humpty must scale. (Roaring Brook, 4–7 years)

At the start of Little i by Michael Hall, Little i boards a boat (cleverly shaped like a question mark) and sets off to find its dot, which has fallen into the sea. Our protagonist lands on an island full of wonders (and punctuation), including a waterfall shaped from exclamation points (“It was exciting! Spectacular! Magnificent!”). As with any good quest, the main character grows and changes, leading to a satisfying, and typographically appropriate, conclusion. Bright digitally compiled collages composed of painted and cut paper create dramatic backgrounds, and the expressions of Little i and its friends give them energy and personality. (Greenwillow, 4–7 years)

From the January 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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