What do picture books Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Barn Dance, and Old Devil Wind have in common? They are all by the incredibly prolific but oddly low-profile author Bill Martin, Jr. Martin has often written with partners, and has been illustrated by a wide-ranging variety of artists, meaning that his books do not have the kind of instant recognizability that a partnership like the Munsch-Martchenko pairing breeds. He has, certainly, had a few books that have turned into a series of well-known spin-offs, but many stand alone. With some 30 titles published in the last 25 years, though, it would be an unfortunate oversight not to introduce you to a few of my favourites.
Fire! Fire! Said Mrs. McGuire, ill. Vladimir Radunsky
In much the same style as the classic Drummer Hoff, a team tackles a fire, each adding their own comment. This book was first illustrated by the Caldecott-winning Richard Egielski in 1996, and was last year re-issued with new illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky. I am a fan of Egielski’s style, which is bright and populated with humourous people, while Radunsky’s features a darker palette and some rather fetching mice.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?
ill. Eric Carle
The classic Brown Bear and its series are well-known favourites, featuring Carle’s distinctive collage art. Brown Bear focuses on common animals and colours, Polar Bear takes on more exotic animals and their sounds, and finally Panda Bear introduces a number of endangered animals. I find Panda Bear has lost some of the rhythm of the original, as the animals become more specific and their names more elaborate, but children love it all the same and it is a great way to introduce these animals and talk about the danger of their disappearing.
With Michael Sampson, his sometime collaborator, Martin has also produced Adam, Adam, What Do You See? (ill. Cathie Felstead), which uses the same rhythm to introduce bible stories, giving the bible verse that tells the full story for each couplet.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Chicka Chicka ABC (board book)
Chicka Chicka 123
with John Archambault / Michael Sampson, ill. Lois Ehlert
The well-known Chicka Chicka books (are a great introduction to the alphabet, with a fun rhythm and clear images of the letters. Kids love this! I like the abbreviated board book version for younger kids. I find the counting version charming until 20, however the jump to counting by tens seems abrupt and unexplained, so ultimately this is not my favourite book for numerals.
The Maestro Plays, ill. Vladimir Radunsky
This book is another fun play with language and rhythm, full of crazy words. It could be a great way to talk about music appreciation or about adverbs! Radunsky’s illustrations elevate it into a kinetic circus of playing, and help it over a few rough spots, but overall the pacing builds to a rousing crescendo that makes the whole thing exciting.
Swish!, with Michael Sampson, ill. Michael Chesworth
This great narrative of a basketball game works like few sports poems I’ve read. It builds excitement with perfect pacing and a moment of suspense at the last second. The illustrations are perfect, adding an element of cartoon movement and personality in the players’ faces. I have read this to large groups and had them on the edge of their seats. A sports fan of any age would love this one.
A Beasty Story, ill. Steven Kellogg
This funnier, cosier take on the classic Dark, Dark Room tale is a wonderful collaboration, starring Kellogg’s mischievous mice, who make the ending funny, rather than spooky. (And, you know, anything Kellogg touches turns to gold. The man’s a genius.)
I Love Our Earth, with Michael Sampson, ill. Dan Lipow
Slightly reminiscent of "America the Beautiful," this lovely verse highlights the colours, wonders, and seasons of the earth, all elevated by Lipow’s stunning photography. I love this book.
Here Are My Hands, with John Archambault, ill. Ted Rand
This classic is a great one for introducing body parts – I use it for class visits all the time. The illustrations are fun, and the lilting rhyme works well. My only complaint is that ears are,perhaps, occasionally used for more than “washing and drying.” But not always.
Listen to the Rain, with John Archambault, ill. James Endicott
This lovely book plays with language to suggest the sounds of rain. Pitter-patting, soft rain, roaring thunderstorming rain, and the “fresh wet silent after-time of rain.” The sounds drawn out of the words are beautiful and evocative, making this a perfect book for sharing in a rainy season.
Old Devil Wind, ill. Barry Root
A cumulative tale, in which a ghost wailing sets off a chain of noises that grows until the wind blows everyone away. A great not-so-spooky tale for Hallowe’en or a child who likes a little chill.
A Beautiful Feast for Big King Cat, with John Archambault, ill. Bruce Degen
A cute rhyming tale of a little mouse who teases a cat until the cat gets the better of him. Trapped, the mouse talks his way out of a bad situation, and learns “that teasing the cat is dangerous play.” Much as I tend not to like a moral, this one is a fun read, and not too heavy-handed.
The Turning of the Year, ill. Greg Shed
A quick romp through the delights of the year, made golden by the stunning paintings that accompany each month.
Find these and other wonderful stories at your local library!
Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.