"Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!" by Cori Doerrfeld, Dial Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, $17.99, ages up to 3
"The Rabbit Listened," Cori Doerrfeld's 2018 critically acclaimed children's book, opened with a crash: A flock of birds knocked over Taylor's amazing block tower, destroying everything. From there, the book performed alchemy unique to only very few children's books: It taught children - and their parents - a lesson without ever making it feel like anything other than a great story. "The Rabbit Listened" was all about the importance of listening and being present, particularly when someone is grieving.
Doerrfeld tackles a different patch of emotional terrain in "Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!" It opens with a worried Stella saying goodbye to her mom as the school bus pulls up to the curb. But as Doerrfeld writes, "Every goodbye leads to a hello," and Stella meets Charlie by their lockers on the next page. Charlie and Stella become best friends as the book moves through a series of endings and beginnings, illustrated in Doerrfeld's soft, chalky lines that simultaneously evoke empathy and playfulness. "Goodbye to snowmen is hello to puddles!"
It culminates with Charlie moving away to a new city. The book is recommended for kids up to 3 - and its message may well resonate with toddlers who have trouble transitioning from one activity to the next - but it feels far more universal. Consider these words without their pictures: "(S)ometimes, when you least expect it, a goodbye comes along that really feels like the end. Sometimes, goodbye is the last thing you want to say. Like when goodbye to holding tight is hello to letting go. But no matter what, goodbye to today is hello to tomorrow."
These are lessons we start learning around age 3; most of us spend our whole lives trying to master them.
"Ultrabot's First Playdate" by Josh Schneider, Clarion, 32 pages, $17.99, ages 4-7
And then there's the quandary of saying "hello." In Chicago author Josh Schneider's new picture book, "Ultrabot's First Playdate," it doesn't come easy - even for a giant red robot. "Ultrabot lived with its professor in a little top-secret laboratory on Primrose Lane," Schneider writes, setting the scene askew for a delightful tale about the anxiety of making new friends. Ultrabot's response when the professor sets up a playdate for Ultrabot with next-door-neighbor girl Becky Tingle? "NEGATIVE." Ultrabot is nervous: He imagines Becky is a mean monster with horns and fur held back by dozens of barrettes. He worries she'll break his trucks. It's impressive how much despair Schneider conveys in his drawings with a slightly off-kilter robot eye.
When the real Becky shows up, she shares her ball and teaches him how to draw a cat. Ultrabot realizes they have things in common and starts to relax. Schneider's illustrations carry the dynamic action of a comic book as Ultrabot lasers a cat on the moon and lets Becky zoom over the neighborhood in his airplane. By the end, the lab is littered with the remains of fun, and Schneider winks at parents as the professor hopes Becky's mom will host next time.
"When Sue Found Sue" by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Diana Sudyka, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 32 pages, $17.99, ages 4-8
Being shy didn't hurt Sue Hendrickson - in fact it helped to inspire her life calling, according to "When Sue Found Sue," a new picture book recounting Hendrickson's discovery of the Chicago Field Museum's famous Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. "Treasure hunting was the perfect job for a shy girl," Toni Buzzeo writes. "When she was young, Sue would walk alone through the alley behind her home in Munster, Indiana, with her head down. She was on a mission - to find things!" Chicago illustrator Diana Sudyka drives the story with a lovely series of paintings illustrating Hendrickson's growth from small girl in a Munster alley to dogged fossil hunter in the hills of South Dakota.
Sudyka's renderings of the finished T. rex skeleton and the exterior of the Field Museum are instantly recognizable to even the littlest Chicagoans - and that's a lot of the entertainment value here. Biographies are tricky to pull off in picture book form: It's difficult to reduce all the complexities of a life without flattening it altogether, but this one would have benefited from further paring of the text. Regardless, this book offers an excellent opportunity to connect kids with the story behind Sue the T. rex long after you've left the museum.
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