Science fiction–it’s not just for chapter books! They may only make up a sliver of picture book titles, but there are still a fair number of them. A great way to share this genre with the younger audiences. I’ve done lists of these before, but just for fun I want to revisit the topic.
Alistair’s Time Machine by Marilyn Sadler (Simon and Schuster, 1986)
Marilyn Sadler’s Alistair series is sadly out of print, but these wild stories of a very ordered “boy of science” are charming and remembered fondly by many readers. Two of the stories were featured on Reading Rainbow episodes. Alistair is a very intelligent and pragmatic sort of boy to send on adventures. He’s also a rare protagonist in glasses!
June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner (Clarion 1992)
This author/illustrator is well known for the strange, the bizarre and the surreal. But this particular story features a science project that may–or may not–have gone awry! Our young scientist has sent vegetable plants up in balloons to study the affect of higher atmosphere. But are the giant plants that land back down on her town results of her experiment gone horribly wrong or something more extraterrestrial?
Company’s Coming by Arthur Yorinks (Knopf, 1988)
An utterly charming read about a suburban couple expecting company . . . who wind up with some outer space visitors they didn’t anticipate. But kindness and spaghetti will win the day. A great story for kids whether or not they love science fiction! Don’t miss the author’s other SF books: Tomatoes from Mars, and Company’s Going .
Robot Zot! by John Sciezka, illustrated by David Shannon (Simon & Schuster, 2009)
Alien invades earth kitchen! There’s adventure, danger, romance–all the things Zot is looking for. The illustrations magnify the hilarity of this over-the-top alien’s invasion. A great read aloud for youngsters just beginning to learn about science fiction.
Mars Needs Moms by Berkeley Breathed (Philomel, 2007)
A funny picture book that inspired a not so great movie. Breathed’s vocabulary rich story about a boy who has to rescue his mom from aliens who have kidnapped her is pretty fantastical–but still qualifies as science fiction. And it’s rare enough we feature moms in SF at all!
The Everything Machine by Matt Novak (Roaring Brook Press, 2009)
An apt fable of a planet where a machine does everything for the people of the community . . . until the day it breaks down and people learn how to do for themselves. Even when the repairman comes to fix the machine, the residents have learned a pointed lesson. A great book to inspire discussion and debate.
Jack and the Night Visitors by Pat Schories (Front Street, 2006)
A wordless story of a young boy and his dog (Jack) and an alien encounter. The boy tries to capture the aliens to keep them, but the aliens are not interested in staying. Nicely told through images, and a genuinely charming little book.
Girl builds giant robot for science project. Robot promptly goes on a rampage! This is a classic sort of science runs amok plot, with lots of action adventure styling for kids. Great to see a girl scientist in this plot line. There’s a second book featuring our science adventuress on another adventure: Oh No! Not Again! (Or How I Built a Time Machine To Save History) (Or at Least My History Grade).
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner (Clarion, 2013)
Yes, there are two Wiesner books on this list. I won’t apologize for that. This Newbery Honor is another wordless story by the author. Aliens have come to earth–bug sized aliens. And their spaceship has been damaged by a terrifying cat–the so titled Mr. Wuffles. The aliens find friendship and forge alliances with the bugs of the household who help them repair their ship. A charming case of close encounters that is classic Wiesner.
What Faust Saw by Matt Ottley (Dutton Juvenile, 1995)
There sure are a lot of pets encountering aliens! This poor dog witnesses aliens landing and skulking about everywhere, but his barking only angers the family into being annoyed with their pet. The aliens play an elaborate game of hide and seek with Faust causing the beleaguered hound no end of trouble!
I’ve two other Tuesday Ten lists of SF picture books you can find here:
You’re a princess who’s going to marry a prince. Until a dragon comes along and ruins everything you own and steals him away. Well you’re not going to let things stand, that’s for sure!
Do you remember:
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (Annick Press, c1980)
Princess Elizabeth starts off this hilarious picture book as a traditional princess . . . at least for the first page. She’s beautiful and has a wonderful castle and a Prince Ronald who’s going to marry her. But author Robert Munsch isn’t about to leave her there. On the second page a dragon burns down her castle, burns all her clothes and steals away Prince Ronald. Elizabeth is left with nothing to wear but a paper bag. However, this does not stop her from heading out on a quest to rescue Prince Ronald from the dragon.
One proactive princess meets one very vain dragon . . . and she cleverly defeats the dragon using his own vanity against him. It’s brilliantly done. And then Elizabeth goes to rescue Ronald who has just witnessed her victory. But is Ronald grateful? Hardly! He’s outraged that she’d come to rescue him in a paper bag and covered in soot. He demands she come back when she’s dressed “like a real princess.” At which point Elizabeth decides Ronald may be pretty, but he isn’t much else. So she decides not to marry him after all.
Robert Munsch is a master of bizarre picture books. Even if you love his work, I bet there’s at least one or two books that will leave you scratching your head. Among his most popular works, however, is this one–The Paper Bag Princess. A fractured feminist fairy tale that tends to make my read aloud groups giggle with glee. As a kid, I was equally delighted with this story –especially with Elizabeth’s ingenuity. But the kicker is the end–because Elizabeth doesn’t get mad about Ronald’s derision. She doesn’t see her whole adventure as pointless! Instead she declares him a bum and joyfully skips off into the sunset without him. I’d like to think the ungrateful wretch Ronald winds up stuck in his dragon prison when the dragon awakens and finds him still there. But it doesn’t matter, because this is Elizabeth’s story–and she is victorious.
Michael Martchenko illustrates plenty of Munsch’s books–and for good reason! The pair go together like peas and carrots. Martchenko strikes just the right note with Elizabeth’s paper attire. (the bent and sooty crown is a nice touch).
If you’ve never encountered Robert Munsch and his picture books, I highly suggest you go out and find them! Plenty of fantastic tales: one about a vicious mud puddle that lurks on roofs and in shadows waiting to attack a little girl in her clean clothes (Mud Puddle), and one about a subway stop inside an apartment (Blackberry Subway Jam). They like to find the absurd in things, but I tend to find that just about right.
The Paper Bag princess is the first book that rang home the message that happily ever afters didn’t have to come with marrying a prince–and that marrying somebody because they were pretty certainly wasn’t a good idea. I’ve read about many excellent princesses since then, but Elizabeth remains a favorite, and a clever young woman I’d like to introduce every young reader to!
Upon surfing images on the web, this story has apparently caught the imaginations of many readers! Great artistic interpretations, hilarious costumes and some really clever projects. (Plus a number of tattoos, believe it or not!)
So who’s your favorite princess? Comments Welcome!
Cracks knuckles. Puts on glasses. Okay let’s do this. I’m back! It’s been a bit of a haul these last few months with everything but I’m back on with the blog! Sorry to all my readers it took so long to get back in gear!
So this week’s Tuesday Ten is foxes in the fantastic. From the first time I saw Disney’s Robin Hood and read Redwall, foxes have been part of my fantasy experience. Here are some fantastical books that feature them.
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl (Puffin, c1970)
Seriously who wouldn’t put this book at the top? Roald Dahl’s tricky tale of a rather civilized fox who figures out how to get the best of a couple of fox-hating nasty farmers is a favorite among young readers. Slightly subversive and hilarious as all of his books tend to be. It’s a slightly different experience than the movie that was made based on the book a few years ago.
Foxcraft: The Taken by Inbali Iserles (Scholastic, 2015)
Isla, a young fox comes home to find her den burning, her family nowhere in sight and strange and vicious foxes hunting her. Now she’s on the run in the city, running from those who pursue her–desperate to stay alive. The answer to her survival, and destiny may lie in the ancient fox magic she’s only just beginning to learn–can she master her skills in time? The second book in this new animal urban fantasy, The Elders is due out in September 2016.
The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin, 2015)
A lonely fox befriends a star. The star makes life bearable in the dark, dark forest, giving fox light to hunt by, run by and dance by. But when the star’s light suddenly goes out, the fox must go on a search for his friend. Now fox must journey from the world he knows to an unknown, wondrous world discovering much about himself and the world in the process. A sweet fairy-tale like story with gorgeous illustrations.
Pax by Sarah Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer & Bray, February 2016)
One of the talked about books this year is this newest from Sarah Pennypacker. This makes the list on the fact that the story is told from Pax’s POV at times, so technically can be fantasy, though it really is in a grey area. This is the story of Pax, a fox rescued and raised by a boy named Peter. But when war comes and their family must flee, his father convinces Peter to abandon Pax. Both boy and fox set out on a journey to reunite, and grow into their own in the process.
Mattimeo by Brian Jacques (Ace Books, c1990)
Foxes of course can also be the villains of a story. The Redwall chronicles routinely feature foxes, along with other predators, in the role of antagonists and villains. I picked this one since it’s the first where the fox, Slagar the Cruel is the main villain. This crafty fox captures Mattimeo the son of the Redwall Abbey hero. Now he’s being held as hostage so that his parents and the abbey will agree to Slagar’s demands. But in Mattimeo beats the heart of a hero, and he’s about to prove it.
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery (Harcourt, c1943)
If you want to talk about foxes and friendship, this might be the place to start. I’ll just put this quote in from the fox speaking to the Little Prince : “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”
The Gathering Storm by H. K. Varian (Simon Spotlight, June 2016)
A new mystical fantasy series featuring four middle schoolers who discover they have the power to transform into mystical animals. Mack, the cover character here can transform into a spirit fox I believe. Since shape shifting so often involves wolves it’s nice to have some variety in the animal types and cultural backgrounds from which they spring. Part of an ongoing series for younger chapter book readers.
Love and Roast Chicken by Barbara Knutson (Carolrhoda Books , 2004)
If I get a chance at reading aloud to an older group, this picture book folktale that recounts some trickster stories from the Andes is one of my most usual picks. Cuy the guinea pig is our resident trickster, always out for food. His adversary is Tio Antonio, the fox who would like nothing better than to have Cuy for a meal. Unfortunately, Tio Antonio only winds up falling for all guinea pig’s lies and tricks with hilarious results.
Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles DeLint, illustrated by Charles Vess (Little, Brown Books, 2013)
In this story, Lillian is a girl bitten by a snake. In order to save her, the cats transform her into a kitten. Unable to be content with her new kittenish existence, Lillian searches for a way back to being human. Along the way she encounters many different animals including a friendly fox , T. H. Fox, who may, or may not be entirely trustworthy.
Fox’s Dream by Keizaburo Teijima (Philomel, c1987)
I added this obscure picture book to the list, because I just feel it’s one of the more lovely books I’ve encountered. Stunning woodcut art tells the story of a fox hunting a rabbit through a snow covered landscape. When the rabbit escapes, the fox dreams of fantastical creatures romping, formed out of the snow covered trees. He sees his own days of playing with his brothers. Finally he wakes to find a vixen watching them, and the two head off together with the promise of Spring not far off.
So there you go! My first Tuesday list back in form. I know I must be missing quite a few fox fantasy stories so please feel free to fill in more titles in the comments!