February is a good month for good reads. It’s a good month to share a book with a good friend, who maybe doesn’t yet read.
You don’t need to read to be moved by Henry Cole’s new picture book, “Unspoken” (Scholastic, $16.95; 2012). It is a wordless story about a young Virginia farm girl who discovers a runaway slave in the barn. As she is gathering potatoes from a storage shed, the girl sees an eye staring at her from behind a stack of cornstalks. Startled, she runs toward the house, but later goes back to the shed with a biscuit. A double page spread shows other food gifts she carries to the shed — pie, cornbread, potato, a chicken leg — and gives us a sense of time passing. Eventually, we see a gift left for her.
The illustrations, done on charcoal paper with pencil, often include the big dipper in the night sky, an important marker for the North Star, a guide for slaves escaping north. Henry Cole says in an author’s note that he grew up in Virginia listening to Civil War stories. Here he has created a story of bravery and fellowship that will reward readers of all ages.
Also rewarding, but not as serious, are a couple of moose books. The first, “This Moose Belongs to Me” by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, $16.99; 2012) features young Wilfred who is sure he has a pet moose. He names it Marcel.
Marcel occasionally follows Wilfred’s myriad rules, such as Rule 7, “going whichever way Wilfred wants to go,” or Rule 11, “providing shelter from the rain.” A problem develops when Wilfred realizes that someone else believes she owns the moose and calls it Roderigo. Wilfred gets into a scrape that is best fixed by a moose. Eventually Wilfred and his moose reach a satisfying understanding. The whimsical art “was made from a mishmash of oil painting onto old linotype and painted landscapes and a bit of technical wizardry thrown in the mix here and there.”
The second — “Z is for Moose” by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Caldecott-Award winner Paul O. Zelinsky (Greenwillow, 2012; $16.99) — is a hilarious alphabet book. It starts out with a wordless two-page spread in which we see Zebra rounding up the cast: apple, ball, cat, duck, elephant, fox and so on.
The book begins like a typical alphabet book, A is for apple. Ball is for ball. C is for cat. But moose shows up on the “D” page and tries to insert himself in the following pages. When it’s mouse, not moose on the “M” page, moose is bereft, but Zebra figures out a way to include his gregarious friend by the end. Even readers who already know the alphabet will enjoy this book.
We can’t have too many friends stories in February. At first “Neville” by Norton Juster, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Schwartz& Wade, 2011; $19.99), seems like a “no friends” story. We can tell from the moving van disappearing down the street that a boy has just moved to a new home. He imagines his first day at the new school: “Now, class, here is the new boy I told you about. … He comes from the South Pole, and you can all make fun of him as much as you want.”
His mother suggests he take a walk. “Yeah, sure,” (the boy) mumbled, “like you can make new friends just by walking down the block.” He walks a ways, “Then he turned around slowly, put his head back, took a deep breath, and called out, ‘NEVILLE … NEVILLE’.” Pretty soon a boy comes by to help him shout louder. Then a girl joins them with her own ideas about yelling for Neville. Soon there are a crowd of kids and plans to get together tomorrow.
Four wonderful new picture books for an afternoon’s worth of fun.
Jacqueline Briggs Martin lives and writes in Mount Vernon. She has published 17 books for children, the most recent of which is “The Chiru of High Tibet.”