When is the best time for a youngster to strike out on his or her own? Every family faces this crucial moment, whether it’s a toddler taking her first wobbly steps across the living room, a kindergartner nervously meeting the teacher or an older child biking down the street for the first time. These moments of poignancy follow weeks and years of experimenting with independence. Three new picture books can help young families encourage and celebrate the exploration that make a child truly independent.
Hop to it
David Ezra Stein returns with the delightful Pouch!, which is something of a sequel to his marvelous 2007 book, Leaves. While Leaves celebrated a bear’s first encounter with autumn, Pouch! explores the exhilaration of discovering the world. Baby kangaroo Joey has spent a long time in his mother’s pouch when one day he exclaims, “Mama, I want to hop!” Two hops away from Mama, Joey finds a bee, who surprises the little kangaroo so much that he turns back toward Mama with a wide-eyed cry: “Pouch!” Mama is always there, welcoming Joey back to the pouch. But Joey cannot be kept in, and he hops three times to see a rabbit and four times to meet a bird. Each encounter ends the same way, with Joey safe in the pouch. Still, the call to independence is strong and, after hopping five times, Joey meets another kangaroo . . . and makes his first friend. Stein’s expressive watercolor and crayon illustrations are full of movement and humor, especially the repeated “Pouch!” scenes. Youngsters who are just learning their boundaries will enjoy watching Joey and his new friends explore the inviting world beyond their mothers’ protective care.
Leaving the nest
Australians Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas team up again in Puffling, the gentle tale of a baby Puffin and his attentive, loving parents, Big Stripy Beak and Long Black Feather. These parents bring back food for Puffling because “There are scary gulls out there, watching and waiting.” Puffling wonders when he will be allowed to leave the burrow. His parents tell him exciting tales of the time when he will be “strong enough and tall enough and brave enough” not only to leave the burrow, but to sleep in the sea and find friends. Little by little, Puffling grows up and is ready to go. His parents are ready to let him go, too, comforting him (and themselves, too?) by telling him, “You’ll be our dear Puffling—even when you’re grown up and have a chick of your own.” Illustrated in the rich browns of the burrow and dark blues of the ocean, Puffling beautifully tells the universal story of growth and maturity. Modern parents might learn a thing or two about raising children to be brave and strong so they will be ready for their own scary world. Puffling is a book to read over and over—shelve it next to Stellaluna.
Amy Hest’s latest offering, When You Meet a Bear On Broadway, is a whimsical look at a little girl who—internalizing the strong, reasonable voice of her mother—helps reunite a little lost bear with his mother. Sporting orange-and-red-striped tights, a sensible blue coat and a jaunty beret, the girl is wise beyond her years and ready for anything. Told in the second person, the story reads very much like children often speak. “When you meet a bear on Broadway, this is what to do. Suck in your breath. Stick out your hand.” Our heroine might be young, but her mother and father have taught her well and she knows just what to do—ask what the mother looks like, calm down, take his hand, look around and wait for the mama to find him. Lightly outlined watercolors, sometimes in many colors and occasionally in retro greens and yellows, highlight the girl and bear as they search for the missing mother. Young readers will enjoy the short sentences, the generic city scenes and the comfort of seeing a little person take charge—just like her mama taught her.
Robin Smith encourages her second-grade students in Nashville to take risks.