Picture Book Wit and Wisdom
by Frank Lipsius
Books can surprise and they can teach. When they do both, you either have more information or more knowledge, which are not the same.
Information comes from books such as Hoaxed! Fakes & Mistakes in the World of Science (Kids Can, $16.95, for ages 9-12), in which the editors of Yes! Magazine investigate phenomena like the crop circles in England perpetrated by two hoax promoters, in a long line of deceptions that go back through history. Their message and farewell comment tell how not to get hoaxed, a lesson that runs through the stories and their many surprises.
I Wonder Why Records are Broken (Kingfisher, $12.95, for ages 5- 8) is author Simon Adams’s random collection of interesting facts, from the world of geography (Monaco is the densest country on earth) to the animal kingdom. Adams offers weird asides in between, such as a world championship cell phone-throwing contest that is held annually in Finland.
As for wisdom, it can be fiction and it can be fact. Nicola Davies’s Just the Right Size: Why Big Animals Are Big and Little Animals Are Little, (Candlewick, $14.99, for ages 9-12) with curiosity-arousing amusing illustrations by Neal Layton, makes facts into wisdom through the characteristics of large and small animals. The surface, weight and dimensions of all animals have ratios that shape their living habits and size. Even a size difference undetectable to humans, such as the male swallow’s tail length, can determine the female’s interest and make a profound difference.
Jonah Winter imparts wisdom in You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, for ages 9-12) through a Brooklyn accent you can hear in the written words and the career of the great southpaw pitcher whose personal ups and downs contrasted with his singularly outstanding career. Illustrator Andre Carrilho’s elongated but evocative figures of old time players strike home, starting with the hologram cover of a fastball headed across the page.
The message of the song “Universal Soldier” is conveyed in simple but moving illustrations and prose in Davide Cali and Serge Bloch’s The Enemy: A Book About Peace (Schwartz & Wade, $15.99, for ages 4-8) in which war gets personal and then leads to peace between the two combatants.
On the theory that parents can always use a little wisdom, Josh Lerman wrote and Greg Clarke illustrated How To Raise Mom & Dad: Instructions from Someone Who Figured It Out (Dutton, $16.99, for ages 4 to 8) in the guise of an older sister’s lessons to her toddler brother “to tire out Mom and Dad so they’ll get a good night’s rest” and other sage advice.
Kate Feiffer is on the same trail in My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, for ages 4 to 8) with Diane Goode’s illustrations of a mom’s loud voice and embarrassing appearance at school that can ruin a girl’s social standing. A word to the wise….
Frank Lipsius is a contributing writer to MetroKids.