8 Picture Books That Let Young Minds Wonder and Wander on Their Own

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I DREAM OF A JOURNEY

Written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi.

A plaque, next to rows of glimmering keys, reads “Solitude Hotel.” It is late in the grainy black-and-white night, and the eyes of the anthropomorphic innkeeper, who stands still behind the desk, are soulful. Later, as he closes them, he yearns to go “far, far away.” The pages turn to muted color. We see him with a “big suitcase,” riding a bicycle, crossing a bridge. Scenes that hover between fantasy and reality resemble saturated negatives. When he wakes, back in his “little town,” the postcards tacked to his wall radiate vibrant hues, and Miyakoshi’s poetic ending offers young minds ample space to wonder and wander on their own.

32 pp. Kids Can. $16.99. (Ages 4 and up.)

WHEN YOU LOOK UP

Written and illustrated by Decur.

Children will pore over this moody watercolor-soaked story of an introvert’s creative awakening, which contains within it a bright collage of weirdly wonderful dreams and nightmares, while adults will covet it as a work of art that speaks to their inner child. A picture book-graphic novel hybrid by the self-taught Argentine artist Guillermo Decurgez (known as Decur), translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts and also available in a Spanish-language edition, it begins on “moving day,” as a boy who believes the world exists only inside his cellphone finds a mysterious notebook in the secret compartment of a desk in his new room.

184 pp. Enchanted Lion. $29.95. (Ages 7 and up.)

LIFT

Written by Minh Lê. Illustrated by Dan Santat.

A girl who loves to push buttons loses it when her baby brother finally succeeds in reaching one inside their apartment building’s elevator. After the elevator’s repair, she secretly snatches the old “up” button from the lobby trash, tapes it outside her closet door and embarks on nightly “out of this world” all-on-her-own adventures. Until she hears a call from her brother’s crib: “Up?” This second collaboration by the award-winning team of Lê and Santat touches that sweet spot between children’s “anywhere but here” longings and the everyday joys and heartaches of sibling rivalry.

56 pp. Little, Brown. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8.)

A STORY ABOUT AFIYA

Written by James Berry. Illustrated by Anna Cunha.

This joyous celebration of childhood, culture and place by the late Jamaican poet follows a young girl named Afiya (“health” in Swahili) whose summer frock “collects” what she sees as she dances across an island in motion: One day butterflies adhere to it, imprinting their vivid patterns, another day flocks of birds or fish in the waves. For its Brazilian illustrator each airy panoramic spread is a fresh canvas, like Afiya’s newly washed dress each morning. Her color palette, mixing earth tones and pastels, is the perfect complement to Berry’s wondrous words.

32 pp. Lantana. $17.99. (Ages 5 and up.)

LALI’S FEATHER

Written by Farhana Zia. Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman.

When local birds disown the “lost” feather Lali finds, she scoffs, imagining it can do “100 things!” — tickle, twirl, whirl — until a gust of wind lifts it high above the tamarind trees and it becomes everyone’s prize. Then she finds a button, and the pattern repeats. This circular story has the ring of an Indian folk tale. Its art strikingly contrasts the warm bright colors of silks and spices with the lush turquoise of peacock feathers.

32 pp. Peach Tree. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8.)

IF I COULDN’T BE ANNE

Written by Kallie George. Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout.

That’s “Anne with an e,” as you know if you grew up reading L.M. Montgomery’s beloved “Anne of Green Gables,” which inspired this and three other books by Kallie George (two early-readers and a bedtime picture book for which Godbout also did the illustrations). Anne’s strong sense of self, attachment to the close friends and found family whom she calls “kindred spirits” and love of nature ground these lively musings about alternative identities, which include a dryad, a wood elf, an echo and the wind “tickling the lake to make it laugh.”

40 pp. Tundra. $17.99. (Ages 3 to 7.)

A WAVE OF STARS

Written by Dolores Brown. Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer. Also available in Spanish.

Two sea creature friends accidentally look at a moonbow and become human in this book that reads like a Scandinavian fairy tale. Mimbi the seal, clutching a mer-king doll, becomes a girl and Kipo the turtle, bereft of his shell, a boy. Though a kind fisherman sees them crying and helps them swim under a restorative wave of stars, they retain fond memories of “the day they were children.” Likewise, Wimmer’s drenched-blue art trails into wispy black-and-white pencil sketches.

44 pp. NubeOcho. $16.95. (Ages 4 to 7.)

SANDCASTLE

Written and illustrated by Einat Tsarfati.

The fun of this treasure trove begins with its tactile cover: a sandpapery castle against the glossy blue-sky antics of the girl who built it. Inside, the things royal guests love about it (“It’s 100 percent sand”; “You can hear the ocean!”) presage its cathartic end. Along the way, Tsarfati sneaks in sublimely ridiculous details: Look, there’s an igloo on the beach, wisely in partial shade. She even hides a tiny swimsuit-wearing mouse throughout, à la Richard Scarry’s gold bug.

48 pp. Candlewick. $17.99. (Ages 4 and up.)


Jennifer Krauss is the children’s books editor of the Book Review.

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