Lower Grades, Higher Concepts: These Picture Books Are Packed with Classroom Potential

BookendsLynn and Cindy: Concept picture books are practically their own genre as a seemingly endless number of them appear each year—so many that sometimes it’s hard to get excited when a new one arrives at our doors. Fortunately, there are oodles of creative people who continue to see and think in different ways. (Take THAT, blasé assumptions!) Here are two wonderful new books that are definitely “out of the box” in several ways.

“Without the A, the Beast is Best”

Take Away

Lynn: If you’re looking for an unusual alphabet book, look no further than Michael Escoffier’s Take Away the A (2014). The title clearly gives you the main idea behind this imaginative book. At first glance, that idea and the illustrations may seem simple, but the execution is actually quite sophisticated and snarkily funny. “Without the A, the Beast is Best,” sets the tone, and each letter has its own two-page mini-story that rewards careful observation. Kris Di Giacomo has laced her illustrations with fairy-tale references that are a delight. The fiddle-playing cat announces that “Without the N, the Moon says Moo,” as a caped and booted cow soars over a smiling moon.

This is packed with potential for use in a classroom and just as wonderful for repeated reads on laps. Have children summarize what has happened in one of the scenarios, have them create and illustrate their own alphabet take-aways, or use it for writing prompts for either primary or older students. This is a concept book with a difference!

Before AfterCindy: My addition to this fun concept play is a French collaboration called Before After (2014) by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Arégui. Nature transformations abound: there’s a caterpillar that becomes a butterfly and an acorn that becomes the mighty oak. But there is also a page of fireworks with fuses arranged in rows on the page while the facing page shows them exploding in the night sky. An ice cube melts into a puddle of water and there’s a six-page spread that shows the three little pigs’ houses before and after, although you won’t see a pig on those pages. The digital art is a curious and delightful blend of contemporary graphic design and vintage primer. Before After is an intriguing collection of images that will spark new ways of observing change.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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