Spring brings a new crop of picture books for young children, many by Minnesota writers and artists. From the swirling dances of the powwow to a little boy's favorite purple tights to a child's nervousness about a wedding dance, these stories are steeped in love, community and diversity — with a great dollop of humor.
"Josie Dances," by Denise Lajimodiere, illustrated by Angela Erdrich. (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $17.95, ages 3-7.)
Josie wants to dance in her first powwow. But will her new beaded moccasins, shawl and cape be ready in time? More important, will tribal elder Grandma Greatwalker's dreams finally reveal Josie's spirit name? Lajimodiere and Erdrich, both members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, tell a warm story of family, community and tradition, sprinkled with Ojibwe words (easily understood in context, but there's also a glossary in back) and inspired by Lajimodiere's own daughter. Erdrich's watercolors are alive with details — beadwork, flowers, birds, berries and the swirling, pulsating northern lights. A vibrant, glorious book.
Virtual book launch: 7 p.m. May 20, via the Minnesota Historical Society Facebook page and YouTube channel.
"Hello, Mandarin Duck!" by Bao Phi, illustrated by Dion MBD. (Capstone, $17.99, ages 4-7.)
On their way to the May Day parade, children come across a strange and colorful duck. What is it? Where did it come from? Hoa and Hue enlist the help of friends as they try to get the duck to the pond, its new home. But suddenly they are surrounded by people — they're in the middle of the parade! In his third children's book, Minneapolis poet Bao Phi writes about teamwork, collaboration and acceptance as neighbors welcome and protect the new and strange duck. Illustrations by MBD (an abbreviation for a name, the artist notes, that "does not even fit on the first page of his passport") show joy, diversity and — as a police car rolls through — apprehension. A glossary translates the many languages quoted in this wise book.
"How to Apologize," by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. (Candlewick, $16.99, ages 3-7.)
The prizewinning Minnesota duo of LaRochelle and Wohnoutka is back, this time tackling the topic of repentance with their trademark wit and humor. If you sky-dive into someone's bathroom — if you play "pin the tail on the rhinoceros" using an actual pin stuck into an actual rhinoceros — if your kite plummets toward the ground and knocks over someone's lemonade — what do you say? This book is never preachy, even as it offers sample apologies (both sincere and otherwise). It's good-natured and funny and probably something all of us should heed.
"Patrick's Polka-Dot Tights," by Kristen McCurry, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley. (Capstone, $17.99, ages 5-7.)
Patrick has a lot of reasons for loving his purple polka-dotted tights. They aren't bulky under his snowpants. They keep his toes warm at night. They can double as a dog leash, or a headband. They look great with a big hat and a skirt. But the tights belong to his sister, and when she takes them back, she accidentally ruins them. Minnesota writer McCurry keeps this story simple and fun, without preaching or labeling. Haley's primary color digital illustrations are expressive and lively.
"Dear Treefrog," by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Diana Sudyka. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, ages 4-7.)
New to the neighborhood, the little girl notices a tiny frog in her garden. "Are you new here, too?" she wonders. As the year unfurls, she learns patience as she waits to see the frog each day. She worries about him when it rains; she imagines his life as a tadpole. And finally, she is able to share him with her first real friend. Told in blank verse by Minnesota poet and nature writer Joyce Sidman, this is a tender, big-hearted story that seamlessly blends science, poetry and storytelling in that way that Sidman does so well. Sudyka's gouache watercolors are steeped in the verdant deep green of nature, with occasional pops of yellow and red. Nature notes at the back of the book tell you more about the tree frog and how to find them and protect them.
"Kiyoshi's Walk," by Mark Karlins, illustrated by Nicole Wong. (Lee & Low, $18.95, ages 5-6.)
Kiyoshi wants to know where his grandfather, "the wise poet Eto," finds his poems. "Let's go for a walk," Eto says. They walk down the busy city street, and Eto finds poems in the fruit stands, the clouds, the ducks in the pond. At the end of the day, Kiyoshi writes his own haiku, and on the long walk home he, too, sees poems everywhere — in "the sound of the river, the moon breaking from the clouds." Karlins' gentle tale of love and observation is beautifully rendered. There is much to study in Wong's pastel-and-earthtone digital illustrations — the muted hues match the quiet tone of the story, but there are enough unexpected details and bits of whimsy to delight any observant child.
"The Electric Slide and Kai," by Kelly J. Baptist, illustrated by Darnell Johnson. (Lee & Low, $19.95, ages 5-8.)
Kai is dreading his aunt's wedding because he's terrible at the dance known as the electric slide. The last time he tried it, he knocked his cousin over. But it's his family's favorite dance. So to prepare, he first asks his sister for lessons, and then his brother. He practices like mad. But when the wedding rolls around, he tiptoes out of the hall, afraid he'll mess up. Baptist, a former Minnesotan, tells a story of perseverance and familial love in this cheerful tale, and Johnson's digital illustrations capture the ebullience of the wedding reception.
"The Rock From the Sky," by Jon Klassen. (Candlewick Press, $18.99, ages 5-8)
Turtle stands in a field. This is his favorite place to stand. "I don't ever want to stand anywhere else," he says. He is all stubbornness and self-satisfaction. Directly above him, a boulder plummets toward the Earth. The five brief stories in this book are deadpan. The illustration colors are muted. The dialogue is brief. Fedoras, berets and unblinking eyes reveal more emotion, action and character than you might think possible. In these 96 pages Klassen writes about hubris, despair, existential angst, envy, inflexibility and friendship. But it's funny! Children will adore these stories. And adults, I suspect, will adore them, too.