What a concept!

ONE newsletter section, EIGHT books…all about concepts from letters and numbers to sizes and shapes, recommended for preschool and primary readers. See also Guide/Reviews Database: Subject: Concept Books.

You Rule!
by Rilla Alexander; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Chronicle    32 pp.
4/23    9781797211794    $17.99

In this deceptively simple book, a (mostly offstage) grownup poses a series of questions to a child; each query has a surprising range of suggested answers. The illustration accompanying the first question — “How ready are you?” — shows the child clutching a ruler signaling that measuring is to come (and rulers are incorporated in other spreads), but these aren’t your typical growth charts. The eleven replies run the gamut from “not at all” to “on my way” to “rarin’ to go,” and the font size of each answer indicates the level of enthusiasm of the response. In the beginning, the questions are straightforward: “How big are you?” (“microscopic,” “growing like a mushroom”); “How fast are you?” (“as slow as a tired turtle,” “meteoric”). As the book progresses, the questions turn more contemplative and less quantifiable: “How happy are you?” (“out of sorts,” “walking on air”); “How much do you have?” (“zilch,” “more than I need”). The eye-catching, geometric illustrations feature a limited palette of bold colors, simple shapes, and graphically pleasing compositions, in which the energetic child (with brown skin and a mass of black hair), a blue dog, a caterpillar, and a tiger play out their own story. The questions lead to a sweet final one: “How much do I love you?” The child and pals (the caterpillar has gone from chrysalis to butterfly) dash to the light-skinned grownup, shown on the final spread with arms open wide, answering the question with an enthusiastic “Immeasurably!” This book cleverly expands young listeners’ and readers’ emotional vocabulary and offers many opportunities for cross-curricular activities. KITTY FLYNN

Friends Beyond Measure
by Lalena Fisher; illus. by the author
Primary    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.
2/23    9780063210523    $18.99

Clever, whimsical, and jam-packed with details, Fisher’s visual graphics chart the friendship of two young girls. First up, a Venn diagram, drawn by the story’s narrator, Ana, captures what she and brand-new pal Harwin do — and don’t — have in common. Both, for example, enjoy cheese and graphic novels, but Ana loves turtles, while Harwin adores horses. Later infographics include a schematic diagram of the girls’ recipe for fairy tea, a coordinate chart of their differing tree-climbing abilities, and a timeline of their “so cooool!” Halloween adventures. But Ana’s declaration — “I thought the fun would last forever” — hints that a big bump looms ahead. Sure enough, readers soon learn that Harwin is moving away. A bar graph ranks Ana’s many feelings: shock, sadness, fear, envy, and also a bit of excitement for her friend. Dialogue and narration are at a minimum here, with just enough of each to introduce the various charts and propel the plot along. Humorously drawn with marker, pencil, and image editing software, Fisher’s infographics will have readers lingering over the pages of this heartwarming celebration of a friendship that will last “this year, next year…and the years after that.” An annotated list of “Some Useful Kinds of Charts” is appended. TANYA D. AUGER

10 Dogs
by Emily Gravett; illus. by the author
Preschool    Boxer Books    32 pp.
9/23    9781914912597    $16.99

Readers can expect much more than just a counting book in Gravett’s (10 Cats, rev. 5/23) latest: it’s also a delightful mathematical puzzler for preschoolers. In the opening spread (one of only two moments of peace), ten sausages sit on a table, and ten dogs, licking their lips, stand around it. The book does, indeed, count down; with the exception of the first spread, the recto of each goes from nine dogs to one (with the finale hinting at zero). But how readers get to zero is where the engaging adventure with math comes into play. For instance, on the second spread, in which chaos immediately ensues, one dog grabs all the sausages, leaving “9 dogs with none.” Next, “2 dogs each with half of them, 8 dogs wanting some.” And so it goes, Gravett prompting viewers to look carefully at her detailed illustrations to see the deductions in action. Her fine-lined, brightly colored images of ten distinctive canines convey much humor as the pups try to snatch sausages and keep the others away; in the “3” spread, for example, “7 dogs hide sausages” and “3 dogs hunt around.” Expect big laughs from preschoolers, particularly those who are dog fans. The dogs topple furniture and put the chairs and the polka-dotted tablecloth to creative use — but, in the end, decide to share. A doggone good adventure. JULIE DANIELSON

The World and Everything in It
by Kevin Henkes; illus. by the author
Preschool    Greenwillow    32 pp.
3/23    9780063245648    $19.99

“There are big things and little things in the world.” Here Henkes meditates on the world and our place in it. There are tiny things (kittens, ladybugs, flowers), and there are enormous things (the sea, the sun, the moon). “Most of the things are in-between. Like you. And me.” At heart, this is a concept book about size, but also perspective. Short declarative sentences sit alongside spare ink and watercolor illustrations contained in panels on spreads with ample white space. Encased in the square trim size that has become Henkes’s trademark, the complexity of existence becomes something even a three- or four-year-old can consider. One image shows huge ocean waves, but a few pages later we see that a child can hold some of the ocean water in their hands. A kitten sits in a small child’s lap on one page; a few pages later, the same kitten basks in the light of the sun, one of the largest objects a child can see. Henkes’s strength is in the poetry of the everyday and finding the profound in ordinary moments, and that strength is on full display in a book that is simultaneously soothing and mind-blowing. “Everything is in the world.” Shelve this somewhere between concept and philosophy — and get it into kids’ hands. ADRIENNE L. PETTINELLI

Some of These Are Snails
by Carter Higgins; illus. by the author
Preschool    Chronicle    48 pp.
5/23    9781797220185    $15.99

Higgins’s companion to Circle Under Berry (rev. 11/21) invites an encore exploration of shapes, colors, counting, and creatures with a healthy dose of rhythmic fun and conceptual play. Two circles inhabit the first double-page spread: “turtle is a circle / circle is a snail.” The pages are soon populated by circles, squares, and animals of many sizes and colors (“owl is a square”). The book first focuses attention on sorting shape, size, and color before moving on to quantitative terms (some, none, all, etc.): “all of these are ovals / three of them are bees / some of these are octagons / two of those are green.” Comparative adjectives (“wiggly wigglier wiggliest”) add to this concept book’s complexity. Higgins’s simple but effective collaged and digitally assembled illustrations focus attention on the objects at hand. Subsequent rereadings will reinforce the message that there’s never simply one way to look at things. GRACE MCKINNEY BEERMANN

A Is for Australian Reefs
by Frané Lessac; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    48 pp.
6/23    9781536228304    $18.99

The multitude of species found in and around Australian coral reefs are showcased creatively in this vibrant alphabet book. Lessac (illustrator of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, rev. 11/18) uses the A, B, and C pages to introduce big concepts about reef habitats: the types of reefs in the oceans near Australia, the concept of biodiversity, and the biology of corals. The focus then shifts to the animals that live in the reefs, with double-page spreads featuring Lessac’s recognizable brightly colored illustrations of an array of animal groups and species in their shallow-water environments. Basic descriptions of familiar creatures such as fish, octopuses, and turtles as well as less-familiar species such as Queensland groupers, kanga nudibranchs, and violet sea apples are presented in larger text, with additional facts in smaller type incorporated throughout the illustrations. None of the letter matches (­including X for xanthid crabs) are forced — and many more could have been selected — underscoring the diversity of life in the reef habitats. An appended “spot the fish” challenge encourages readers to revisit the pages, this time on the hunt for specific fish species. DANIELLE J. FORD

The Power of Snow
by Bob Raczka; illus. by Bryony Clarkson
Primary    Millbrook    32 pp.
10/23    9781728450919    $20.99
e-book ed.  979-8-7656-0208-9    $34.65

A simple rhyming verse remarks on a pattern among some snowflakes: “Two flakes play / Four flakes sashay / Eight flakes twirl / Sixteen flakes swirl.” Sidebars on each spread explain the pattern, e.g.: “24= 2 to the fourth power / 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16.” Painted paper collages of a fenced-in wintry backyard featuring birch trees, a swing set, and various birds and animals, are overlaid with the exact number of snowflakes mentioned in the text — which quickly rises to a dizzying multitude (the text stops at 214= 16,384). The beautifully textured illustrations create visual interest, while the snowflakes, a combination of smudge-style dots and the delicately articulated, folded papercut versions familiar from grade-school arts and crafts, offer a counting opportunity for budding numerophiles. The story progression works on more than one level: not only does the math demonstrate the power of exponential growth (a postscript explains “What Is an Exponent?” and gives the example of a one-celled fertilized egg that divides repeatedly until it turns into a baby and then an adult with trillions of cells), but the increasing number of flakes also mimics the feeling of a storm that begins slowly and soon becomes a dazzling onslaught of snow. The book ends on a more human scale: “One snow day. Two friends play. 21= 2 to the first power / 2 = 2.” ANITA L. BURKAM

Día de Muertos: Números: A Day of the Dead Counting Book
by Duncan Tonatiuh; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Abrams/Abrams Appleseed    24 pp.
5/23    9781419764462    $15.99
e-book ed.  9781647008246    $14.39

Starting with “una foto / one photo” of their deceased loved one, a group of “diez familiares y amigos / ten family members and friends” count their way through constructing an altar for Día de Muertos. The bilingual text highlights common offerings and decorations for Day of the Dead altars, further explained in an author’s note, including traditional foods, candles, and flowers. Tonatiuh’s stylized mixed-media illustrations, inspired by the same pre-Columbian art traditions as his cultural and historical retellings (Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns, rev. 11/20; A Land of Books, rev. 1/23), will draw readers in. The photo-collage elements give texture to the bold illustrations: “cuatro tamales” are wrapped with images of real corn husks; “cinco panes de muerto” get their depth from actual golden-baked crust. This clever counting book introduces this important part of Día de Muertos celebrations in an ­accessible and eye-catching format. MONICA DE LOS REYES

From the October 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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