Avocado Asks

Avocado hasn’t given too much thought to their place in the world: a grocery store is a grocery store is a grocery store. But when an innocent question results in both the fruits and vegetables rejecting Avocado as one of their own, things sure get lonely.

In AVOCADO ASKS, Momoko Abe‘s delightful illustrations buoy the spunky Avocado (Avo is pleasantly spiteful when the cheese reject him) as Avocado journeys about the store, searching for belonging. In contrast to the fruits, vegetables, and other food items nestled in their containers, Avocado’s searching is a wonderful freedom.

Ultimately, Avocado finds their home not within a group but an idea: letting others label you, or claim or reject you, is about as conducive to happiness as a hill of beans.

Avocado’s got a free-spirited tomato to thank for that realization, and I love the way this simple-on-the-surface story explores big questions about human nature and the risks we can allow ourselves to take, and the payoffs we can find when we take them.

SMUG SEAGULL

I love a “voice-y” picture book, especially when that voice is bombastic and pitch-perfect silly. My own kiddo loved Maddie Frost‘s SMUG SEAGULL so much that he made me act out the french-fry stealing scene at approximately 6:10 a.m. for a week straight – for anyone who’s wondering, that’s before sunrise, folks. SMUG SEAGULL is a thief. A good one. He rules the sky and sand, and he’s pretty sure everything’s all about him. Why wouldn’t it be?

This book is such a delight because even though the eponymous seagull learns his lesson, he stays very true to his I-am-who-I-am seagull self. I wish there were more kids books like this out there.

After getting his comeuppance from a clever crab (who is their own excellent model for not being dissuaded from pursuing what you want just because someone else claims it as their territory), the seagull has an epiphany that lets him maintain his outsized self-esteem while finding a fresh take on his old designs.

To me, SMUG SEAGULL niftily balances being a person in the world with affirming a healthy dose of confidence and self-esteem to pursue the things that matter to you. Yeah, it’s funny like that.

The bear must go on

Remember how Shakespeare was known for taking someone’s meh ur-text and turning it into a canonical piece of Western literature? That’s kinda the feat that Bear pulls off in Dev Petty and Brandon Todd‘s charming THE BEAR MUST GO ON.

Rabbit, Squirrel, and Other Squirrel (brilliant) dream of putting on a big show to wow their forest friends, but Bear blissfully demurs and sticks to the sidelines, jotting notes and creating art–a little ditty he sings to himself. While his pals frenzy themselves in a quest to create all the accoutrements for a real crowd-pleasing event, they, uh, forget to create the show.

You can guess what’s coming. Dev Petty’s dialogue is so snappy, and Brandon Todd’s illustrations have such a bumptious woodland-carnival-meets-Broadway vibe that the stakes get painfully high before Bear saves the day.

Ultimately, this is a classic find-your-voice book, but I also love the way Bear has his cake and eats it, too. While everyone else is mucking around in the nuts, Bear is doing what matters–creating the thing.

Kids are too little to relate, but of course PBs are an all-ages show. And you never really know what’s sinking in. So three cheers for Bear: how nice to abstain from the planning committees, the decisions on catering, the dress-code elaboration. One voice never sounded sweeter.

FRANK THE SEVEN LEGGED SPIDER

Michaele Razi’s FRANK THE SEVEN LEGGED SPIDER is brilliant. Yes, it’s funny, it’s clever and a little gross, (which, you know, kids) but what I love most about it is the way it raises and never answers a big ole “WHY?”

cover image of Michaele Razi's Frank the Seven Legged Spider

If you don’t know this book, please don’t try to glean its secrets from a YouTube read aloud. It’s gotta be read in person. So, get thyself to your library or bookstore poste-haste.

Now, I don’t want to give away the secret (though it’s killing me not to!). But I do want to talk about that “why?”. Let’s just say something happens to Frank. Something bad and unexpected, and which we the readers can learn the origins of, although Frank never does.

So, quit talking in circles you might be thinking. What’s the big deal? And it’s just this: Razi’s book acknowledges that sometimes bad things happen and sometimes the source of that hurt is surprising. But more than that, we may never get a why – we’re not always owed one and even if we are, tough cookies, baby! Lots of times, it just never comes.

My kiddo spotted the secret on the first read. And it was delightful. Sometimes in life we’re Franks, sometimes we’re what’s on the other side of Frank’s missing leg. Accident? Maliciousness? Circumstantial evidence? No matter – Frank lets it go – the leg, that is – and finds his own mischievous way forward.

I love books like this, so please drop any of your related favorites in the comments. Or tell me what you think about Razi’s book.

RESCUING MRS. BIRDLEY

While I was working on a manuscript that you could call an “absurd romp” for aesthetic shorthand, the founder of Inked Voices, a terrific writing community, pointed me to Aaron Reynolds and Emma Reynold’s RESCUING MRS. BIRDLEY. Count me forever grateful.

TL;DR (not that you’d do that!): When Miranda sees her classroom teacher outside of her “natural habitat,” she’s delighted and determined to use the skills she’s gleaned from watching a beloved nature show to rescue her teacher and return her to school. Of course, her whole premise is wrong. Hijinks ensue.

Being true to yourself and change are not necessarily at odds. But I often feel conflicted about change in PBs. So often, it’s the moralizing piece. So often it happens so, so quickly – like, most change takes a lifetime, amiright? – and I think there is often an impetus in PBs that goes something like this – the MC needs to change to become their best selves—more resilient, more tenacious, kinder, more observant.

That’s all well and good (I think I think), but I deeply believe “don’t change, stay your truest self” is a more radical message. Maybe what I really want to say is just this: Sometimes being wrong, really wrong, is the absolute best right. It’s gleeful, self-assured, joyful, and validating. Young readers sit up and take notice and, in our limited one-house study, the books are a form of ear-candy, like a pop song on repeat. The kids are alright. And, damn it, we love them any which way.