Inspired picture books:

Thumpy Feet | Betsy Lewin

Summary: Preschoolers will celebrate a wondrous, energetic creature in this story. The only character shown is the playful, frisky ginger tabby so named Thumpy Feet. His behavior is that of a sprightly and easily engaged pet, made fully fleshed with eager use of brushed paint upon white pages with little to distract the reader from enjoying his feline activities. There are sound-words to read aloud, gestures to mimic, and an endearing (if exaggerated) series of events that progress just like a real cat’s day. With a minimalist setting, early readers will be in stitches as Thumpy Feet leaps and sprawls over the breadth of his confines, purring with satisfaction as he rests at last… only to be distracted again on the last page.

Gush Sesh: Akin to watching the progression of a paneled comic strip, the character, plot, and setting are limited. Nothing distracts from the attraction of this adorable animal; there are no overreaching themes or conflicts to solve. The illustrations may inspire children toward understanding the fun of simply being a cat as it is obvious both visually and in the use of onomatopoeia. The pace increases or slows by the repetition of action and words, following along the cat’s day naturally. Comical and bold, Thumpy Feet is gleeful and attainable by the youngest readers.

This is Not My Hat | Jon Klassen

Summary: Not every story’s main character is a hero. Introducing the tiny fish who unapologetically admits what he’s done with a refreshing candor. He fully understands that theft is wrong, but plans to escape detection and abscond, stealing someone’s hat. Will he get away with the crime or caught and punished? Be prepared to discuss the climax with your young reader as the action takes place off-page.

Gush Sesh: Along with highly textured and interesting illustrations, the movement across the pages is easily discernible, especially through the use of bubbles and swaying plant life. Even mood is clearly defined with just a single eye (since you can’t see both eyes of a fish from the side). There is no narrative but for the tiny fish’s monologue, yet the plot is followed with high anticipation as we watch the pursuer come upon tiny fish’s hiding place. The environment is simple and stark with dark water surrounding everything. No particular culture is evinced, so it is left up to the reader what happened to tiny fish.

Millions of Cats | Wanda Gág

Summary: A little old couple laments loneliness and hope to improve their situation with the addition of a cat. Looking into improbable landscapes for a cat, the man journeys across the stark pages only to come upon ‘millions and billions and trillions’ of them at once. How to choose the right cat? As they all trail along through the hills toward home, the woman recognizes the conundrum facing them – they are about to be eaten ‘out of house and home’. The couple leave the elimination process up to the cats themselves and welcome the new addition to their lives.

Gush Sesh: This Newbery Honor book is coming up on a hundred years since publication. It may be the oldest American picture book still in print having birthed the ‘double-page spread’ technique of using two facing pages for a single image. Woodblock style illustrations in elaborate and bold black flow over white pages, creating the movement of the simple story and characters. Their placement upon the pages seems more important than the text fitted in around them. With repeated refrain, young readers can chant along, enjoying the specificity of the cats’ descriptions as the search for the perfect pet continues in this classic work.

The Tortoise & the Hare | Jerry Pinkney

Summary: This is a feel-good version of the tortoise and the hare’s race reimagined as an early American Southwest desertscape fable about perseverance. The footrace offers contest without conflict, the whole town celebrating the participants during their run and after the finish. I found Pinkney’s version particularly moving because there is no clearly defined evil vs. good implied, no pride or gloating or insults thrown. In fact, there is a great deal of cooperation allowed between the bystanders and the participants as they attempt to surmount obstacles. I loved the openness of the characters willing to enjoy every aspect of the competition while it ultimately didn’t matter who won – a highly supportive community.

Gush Sesh: Fables usually present archetypical characteristics that can be attributed to good or evil – Pinkey eliminates the need for such judgement with the application of an animal’s natural traits to his racing ability.  While full of physical action, nothing is complicated and the end is very satisfying, all participants celebrating after the climax of the race. There are extremely few words presented, so pre-readers will get nearly as much out of the visually breathtaking illustrations as the person helping them. While showing realistically drawn animals in several media, the characters are anthropomorphized in clothing appropriate for a town of farmers making this a story of shared reliance upon fellow community members. Make certain to inspect the vibrant images on the interior covers for more details about the setting.

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? | Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Summary: This nonfiction work compares body parts from some commonly-recognized (eagle, chimpanzee) and unique (platypus, scorpion) animals with attention paid to their physical specializations. A general-to-specific pattern is followed as readers start off comparing a certain body part between the five selected animals. Then, each is attached to its owner with an explanation of its individual use described, eventually offering thirty animals total. With dynamic illustrations and fun text that moves with the body part’s use, kids will enjoy learning about biology before they understand the word. Without too much information presented, it’s meant for early readers and should be considered a beginner’s discussion and research start, not an end to the study of animal differences.

Gush Sesh: Jenkins and Page produce stunning multilayer paper collages of thirty different creatures. These torn and cut paper graphics represent scales, chitin, feathers, fur, leather, teeth, exoskeletons, and shining eyes. It’s an amazing and delicate work, achieving zoom-lens detail in a non-intimidating manner. A plain white background focuses all attention on the anonymous body parts before a flip of the page brings the full animal into view. No surprise it is a Caldecott Honor Book for such glorious illustrations.

About the author

Smithton Public Library

The Smithton Public Library District is located in southern Illinois, near St. Louis, MO. The library serves nearly 5,000 residents. We hope you visit us soon!