Stories about storytelling

Here are five recent picture books that creatively introduce (in different ways) the concept of storytelling. The Guide/Reviews Database also includes the subject Storytelling; when browsing that extensive list you’ll find other picture books in the same vein, such as Nahid Kazemi’s Shahrzad & the Angry King (rev. 1/22) and The Story of a Story (rev. 1/22) by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper. See also our Five Questions interview with Anthony Perry and Alexis Bunten about Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story.

The Flamingo
by Guojing; illus. by the author
Primary    Random House Studio/Random    144 pp.    g
9/22    978-0-593-12731-5    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-12732-2    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-12733-9    $10.99

In this moving, mostly wordless graphic novel, a young girl of Chinese descent visits her grandmother on her own; the bond between the two deepens through their shared joy in storytelling and in observing nature. Central to the story is a flamingo, a wild rescue bird that Lao Lao (the grandmother) had saved and raised years ago when she was little. Guojing’s expressive digital, watercolor, and colored-pencil illustrations have a timeless, cinematic quality, switching back and forth between the grandmother’s bright, tropical childhood awash in shades of yellow, pink, and blue and the gray-hued present. This contrast becomes even greater when the granddaughter flies home (via a flamingo-pink airplane) to her family’s lonely apartment in an imposing skyscraper-filled metropolis. A fantastical appearance by the titular character toward the end brings this gentle tale of family love — spanning time, distance, and generations — to a satisfying, heartwarming close. With its unfussy art and few words, the story leaves room for viewers’ interpretation; what’s never in question is the love between Lao Lao and her granddaughter. MICHELLE LEE

The Book That Kibo Wrote
by Mariana Ruiz Johnson; illus. by the author; trans. from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel
Primary    Eerdmans    32 pp.    g
4/22    978-0-8028-5589-3    $17.99

A typical day on the savanna inspires Kibo, a rhinoceros, to write a book. “He wrote about the red sky of the savanna, the silhouettes of the birds, the buzz of the bugs.” Naki the crane reads over Kibo’s shoulder and is so moved that she sews up his pages between yellow covers and then flies the bound copy over the sea and drops it in a faraway city. The book then travels from a lion to a rabbit to a hen, ultimately winding up with Nanuk, a North Pole polar bear. Johnson’s folk-art style, in warm shades of blue, yellow, and orange, gives the illustrations a retro vibe that suits the DIY ethos of Kibo’s creation and the way it moves through the world. The flora and fauna that surround Kibo when he’s writing recur whenever his story finds a new reader, giving a visual sense of how books allow thoughts and ideas to travel from one mind to another. Satisfying in itself, this book will also find a happy home in classrooms and serve as a springboard for young bookmakers’ creative endeavors. ADRIENNE L. PETTINELLI

Tell Me a Lion Story
by Kara Kramer; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-5362-1801-5    $17.99

“Dad…? Tell me a story!” Part parent-child bonding tale, part collaborative storytelling exercise, part interactive Mad Libs–esque game, this picture book stars an enthusiastic, if particular, story-loving child and a flexibly imaginative father. When Dad begins with “Once upon a time,” the child calls him out on it; that’s been done. Instead, the kid wants “a NEW story,” and one starring a lion. The father gamely starts again, but he doesn’t get far. First his big cat is too big (“‘His foot is bigger than this couch.’ ‘The lion doesn’t have to be sooo big’”), then too small, then its name (Fred) is deemed unworthy. Dad’s solution is for them to make up the story together, at which point Kramer incorporates fill-in-the-blank lines into the cleverly designed pages: “Right now, at this exact moment in time, there is a not-so-big, not-so-little lion named [blank].” Details of the creature’s subsequent adventures are determined by readers, with imagery in the sunny-hued, mixed-media illustrations depicting an outer-space voyage, but with room for narrative variety. On the last page, father, child, and a now-pj-clad lion crowd onto the couch, with the promise of more tales to come — or slightly different versions of this one. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

My Hands Tell a Story
by Kelly Starling Lyons; illus. by Tonya Engel
Primary    Reycraft    32 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-4788-7061-6    $17.95

Zoe loves baking cinnamon-swirl bread with her grandmother. As Grandma kneads the dough with a “push and pull,” she recalls how her own mother taught her to make bread. When Zoe tries kneading, however, the dough bunches up and sticks to her hands; Zoe wonders “if they will ever move” like her grandmother’s. Standing behind her, Grandma places her hands on top of Zoe’s and guides the kneading “until it’s just right.” Engel’s (Your Legacy, rev. 1/22) highly textured illustrations, with deep, rich colors, capture the closeness of the intergenerational bond described by Lyons (Dream Builder, rev. 3/20). While the dough rises, grandmother and granddaughter “sit and talk. [Grandma’s] hands tell a story if you listen.” The following double-page spread shows Grandma’s lined palms and fingers up-close, labeled with different identities, including “teacher,” “planter,” and, most prominently, “mother.” As Grandma talks about her own life, Zoe wonders where her own hands will go and what stories they will tell. Baking and reminiscing with Grandma help Zoe see the power and potential she holds in her own hands. A fine companion to Bingham’s Soul Food Sunday (rev. 11/21), this story spreads joy like a dusting of flour on a freshly baked loaf. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

Telling Stories Wrong
by Gianni Rodari; illus. by Beatrice Alemagna; trans. from Italian by Antony Shugaar
Primary    Enchanted Lion    40 pp.    g
6/22    978-1-59270-360-9    $17.95

“Once upon a time, there was a girl who was called Little Yellow Riding Hood.” “No, red!” “…Her mother said: Now go to Aunt Hildegard’s house and take her this potato peel.” “No, it’s: Go to your grandmother’s house and bring her this warm loaf of bread.” Here is a humorous story of a grandfather retelling “Little Red Riding Hood” to his granddaughter, and telling it hilariously wrong. The child keeps correcting him, but it doesn’t seem to get him back on track. And why bother? Anyone who reads this book will see that the heart of storytelling with children is not the accurate retelling of plot but rather the connection and creative interaction between adult and child. Alemagna’s (Never, Not Ever!, rev. 9/21) well-composed and multilayered mixed-media illustrations cleverly support the transition between the two speakers, as the narrative is related solely through dialogue; thought bubbles amusingly show the very different stories unfolding in each of the character’s heads. Young readers already familiar with “Little Red Riding Hood” may enjoy this story most, but it will be great fun for all, nonetheless. WEILEEN WANG

From the November 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
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