Updated: Feb 10
Crocodile hungry. What can crocodile eat? Canned ham? Too hard to open. Beef jerky? Gets stuck in teeth. Eggs? Bite shell, get toothache. Crocodile must find food. But where? Though crocodile is surrounded by food, he doesn't know it.
Pick by Daniel Miyares, Hope at Sea:
Written by Eija Sumner
Illustrated by John Martz
Publisher: Tundra Books (February 15, 2022)
Can you tell me how Crocodile Hungry came about?
ES: "My family was at the Oregon Zoo and my then-toddler asked my husband, 'what do crocodiles eat?' The flamingo pond was conveniently the next feature at the zoo. The two of them spent the next few months yelling, 'Crocodiles Eat Flamingos!' followed by all the laughter and imaginative play of a little toy crocodile that would eat all the other toys in our house. The two of them being silly was the beginning of a crocodile character who didn’t know what he could eat in his natural habitat, and who was so surprised to learn that he could maybe possibly eat flamingos."
For those who love Crocodile Hungry, can you recommend a few other picture books that you think they might also enjoy? "For more books about being eaten or eating other characters, I love I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon, and I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, along with Lucy Ruth Cummins’ A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals.
The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, because it’s so hilarious and plays with some of those predator-food-chain dangers and fears in unexpected ways. It’s so fun and brilliant.
John Martz included so many hilarious details in Crocodile Hungry, and I think fans of his illustrations would love any picture book by Tomi Ungerer."
Are there any other picture books you love where the reader is in on the joke? "Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann is a classic. Life on Mars by Jon Agee. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen."
What did you love reading to your children at age 3? At age 5? "Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton is hilarious and brilliant. Oops! There was a time when one of my kids would count, '1, 2, 3, PEEEEE!' instead of to '4' because we read Time to Pee by Mo Willems so often. The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night by Peter Spier is a house favorite that my youngest at 10 still asks me to sing-read to her. It’s a beautifully illustrated folk song about a fox that sneaks into a New England town and steals a duck and a goose and then takes them home to eat with his fox family. They have a wonderful dinner, and the little foxes chew on the bones and everything— it’s a bedtime staple at my house."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe. I had a paperback Reading Rainbow edition as a kid, and I loved it. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr. Animals Brag About Their Bottoms by Maki Saito, translated by Brian Bergstrom, is hilarious, informative, and celebratory. It is so much fun. How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake is so silly and perfect. More fooling around! Little Witch Hazel by Phoebe Wahl is such a beautiful and wonderful book and feels like something that will be around for decades if not longer."
Do you have a favorite library/bookstore? "I love the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District in SW Washington because that’s where I rediscovered my love for children’s literature. It’s where I worked when I began writing, and I had such a great crew of supportive, funny, and smart co-workers that taught me so much about books and sharing them with kids.
BookPeople of Moscow (Idaho) is my local indie and I remember going there as a kid and I feel really lucky that it’s still a place I can go as an adult. It’s lovely.
What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I am really excited about A Spoonful of Frogs by Casey Lyall and Vera Brosgol, I feel like it has everything in it that I love. It is going to delight so many readers. Blue by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond and Daniel Minter looks absolutely gorgeous, and I can’t wait to read it. I’m a self-professed art nerd and I love this type of informational book. Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle by Nina LaCour and Kaylani Juanita is so sweet and beautiful. Nina is such a thoughtful and incredible writer, and I hope this is the first of many picture books from her."
Tiny Cedric, King ME the First has banished anyone taller than him from his palace. Which is everyone, basically. The only ones left are the babies. And now they’re in charge of the Royal Duties! How will Cedric cope—especially now that he must kiss boo-boos and read bedtime stories? Will he become a kinder, gentler, BIGGER king?
Max's Boat Pick:
Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins
Publisher: Anne Schwartz Books (February 8, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Tiny Cedric? SLJ: "Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. I found Tiny Cedric on the shortest street with the longest name. It’s a bit of a funny name. It is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate Street. It’s in York and apparently it is the shortest street in England.
And I started wondering—who would live on the shortest street with the longest name? Immediately the answer came—the shortest king on the biggest throne of course. And then, as most stories go, I just had to follow the clues. And get out of the way and let the story through.
Rowboat Watkins’ illustrations for Tiny Cedric are comic masterpieces. Laugh out loud funny. Each page gives the child so much detail to pore over and notice. In a picture book the words aren’t supposed to do all the work. The illustrations carry at least half of the story. And it’s what you see Rowboat do so masterfully. I can’t get enough of Rowboat’s Tiny Cedric! For more detailed things about how Tiny Cedric came to be, including how Rowboat found Tiny Cedric, more here.
For those who love TINY CEDRIC, can you recommend one or two other titles you think they might also enjoy, and why?
"Goldfish on Vacation Because of Leo Espinosa’s illustration. Because it’s a true story of what actually happened one summer in a little corner of NYC. Because it’s filled with light and hope. Because it’s about how one man brought laughter and joy to lots of children and their goldfish.
Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!) Because I love the illustrator (Neal Layton). Because it’s hysterical what he does. And at the same time as making you laugh, it actually does give you a true story-telling anatomy lesson.
Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale Because Poor Doreen (her full name is Miss Doreen Randolph-Potts) will make you Laugh. She is on a journey upstream to visit her second cousin twice removed who’s just had 157 babies. And all the dire situations she meets but is completely clueless about. When she is lifted out of the water on the fishing pole, for instance, she thinks she can suddenly fly. The reader/kids get to be in on the joke—shouting out panicky warnings to Doreen."
What do you think the best picture books do? "The best picture books are such a sophisticated art form that are often under appreciated. A picture book is a story told in two languages: word and image. The two complement each other. In a good picture book they amplify each other. As a favourite editor of mine says: one plus one equals more than two. Together they create something greater than either one could do alone.
The other thing about picture books is that the writer never dreams of telling the illustrator what to draw. Any more than the illustrator tells the writer what to write. I love picture books for that—it’s a beautiful collaboration. And it’s a great exercise in constantly making sure the story is the thing, and the reader.
Not your ego or your words. It’s a good reminder of the good things that come of checking your ego at the door.
Sorry is it alright if I share one of my own? I share only because the visual storytelling of the illustrator, David Roberts, in this book is masterful. The book is His Royal Highness, King Baby: A Terrible True Story.
The text tells the story from the big sister’s point of view of what happens when a new baby is born into the family. (Speaking as a big sister I know how traumatic it can be for the older sibling!) So on one level you have the narrator (the big sister) telling you the story—the tragic Cinderella type tale of a beautiful kind hearted girl who is kicked off the throne by the new ruler (baby) and treated like a poor orphan child who has to get her own breakfast, etc.
But the illustrations are right there telling you quite another story (for example, you spot the hand of the mother coming into the picture, handing a plate of eggs to her). It makes for a counterpoint that leaves the child so much to notice and giggle over and talk about.
Which is another hallmark of a good story—it leaves room for the reader.
One that isn’t mine—
Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak. Any of their books. A Hole is to Dig. Open House for Butterflies. They hurt my heart they are so beautiful. The simplicity of the text and the illustrations. The unique voice. The heart. They are a perfect match."
If you have children, do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? "I read picture books to my nieces and nephews and my own self. I never grew out of them. So does that count? Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey is a favourite."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "The Frances Books by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban. I love the voice. And the illustrator I love best for the Frances books is Russell Hoban’s wife, Lillian. Those are the first ones! Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey. Ditto above. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. Ditto above. George and Martha by James Marshall. Ditto above.
Too hard to choose only 2 or 3! It’s the voice that draws me in always."
Updated: Jan 31
When a weary stranger arrives one day, with only a suitcase, everyone is full of questions: Why is he here? Where has he come from? And just what is in that suitcase?
Max's Boat Pick:
By Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Publisher: Clarion Books (September 29, 2020)
The Suitcase just really gets to the heart of the matter so beautifully and succinctly. Can you tell me its origin story?
CNB: "I was trying to think up story ideas for a new book and this was at the time of Trump’s election bid and the Brexit referendum. I started off with an idea about a wall that divided communities or countries and the misconceptions of what went on on the other side, but it felt a bit clichéd and didn’t really work. Doodling on this idea I drew a little character standing at the bottom of the wall and I thought this was more interesting. I wondered who they were, and what was in their bag. I felt I couldn’t credibly write a refugee’s story but I did think about how us humans could have such varied reactions to the arrival of immigrants and that’s what the story was about. We all have an instinctive fear of the unknown, but the important thing is what we do with these fears - either embrace them or reject them."
What are some other picture books you love for their exploration of empathy and/or kindness?
"The Day War Came by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb is a wonderful book inspired by the refusal of the British government to allow a group of child refugees to enter the country. Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini and Dan Williams is a very beautiful and moving poem about seeking refuge and the dangers it brings."
What do you think the best picture books do? "When you’re a child I think they take you off into their world. I think the first time this happened to me when I was little was with Roger Hargreaves’ Mr. Sneeze! Everything in Coldland where he lives is covered in snow and I totally loved this magical blank white world. Then a wizard melts the snow and everything is normal and it was such a massive disappointment to be back to reality. And of course, all kids love snow, so why did the wizard ruin everything? I really didn’t like the story because of this!
It’s harder to have that happen when you’re a grown-up but some of my favourite books can still do that - for example, Sean Tan’s The Arrival is such a perfectly realised world that you can’t help but be absorbed by it. David Almond and Levi Pinfold’s The Dam has a very evocative sense of place and time too - it’s gorgeous."
What did you love reading to your children at age 3? At age 5? "We had a really random selection of books when they were little. Reading picture books to them is what inspired me to start writing books myself. Some favourites that got read a lot were Jon Klassen’s Hat books, Carter Goodrich’s Say Hello To Zorro!, Quentin Blake’s Cockatoos, Oliver Jeffers’ The Way Back Home, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Stick Man, One Special Day by M. Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton, and Ten Tiny Tadpoles by Debbie Tarbett. I know some of the texts almost off by heart!"
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "That’s really hard to predict. Maybe the really simple, beautifully executed books have the best chance of becoming ‘classics’? Like the aforementioned I Want My Hat Back or Chris Haughton’s books, like Shh! We Have A Plan.
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Well I have to go for my personal favourite book of all time which I’ve owned and loved since I was about seven years old - Amos & Boris by William Steig. It’s the story of an adventurous mouse who is lost at sea and rescued by a whale. They become best friends and it’s just a fantastic story of friendship and love. It’s one of those that certainly captivated me and took me away to its world. I read it a lot to my children, too, so I hope it’s going to go on through the generations!"