Helping growing minds take flight is a common theme in the crop of recent picture books for preK and elementary readers. In some cases, this desire is expressed literally, as in Learning to Fly, by Sebastian Meschenmoser (Kane/Miller). A man meets a penguin, and the duo sets off on the first of many failed attempts at getting the bird airborne—until the penguin realizes something significant about itself.
In A Frog Thing (Kidwick), Frank desperately wants to fly, but eventually learns that doing so is a “bird thing.” Written by Eric Drachman with illustrations by James Muscarello, the story focuses on the amphibian’s undaunted attempts to gain altitude. Once he’s successful, though, Frank discovers he’d rather do something else. Emily’s Balloon (Chronicle), by Komako Sakai, features an eponymous object that has no trouble lifting off, as its distraught owner discovers while playing outdoors. But after night falls, the little girl finds comfort in an unexpected sight in the sky.
Richard Lewis takes a flight of fancy of a different kind in A Tree Lives (Touchstone Center). Illustrated by Noah Baen and originally written for a group of New York City schoolchildren, the book leads readers inside an ordinary tree, where its dreams and musings give birth to a separate universe. In Judith Viorst’s Just In Case (Atheneum), on the other hand, Charlie uses his imagination for more practical purposes. As illustrator Diana Cain Bluthenthal’s work demonstrates, he has a contingency plan for every possible mishap, from rainstorms to closed grocery stores to evil baby sitters.
A bedtime ritual sparks the imagination of another boy in author Dominique Demers and illustrator Nicolas Debon’s Every Single Night (Groundwood), in which Simon insists on wishing, one by one, all the world’s continents, oceans, and habitats sweet dreams before falling asleep. In The Squeaky Door (HarperCollins), Margaret Read MacDonald reinterprets a Puerto Rican folk song in which a drowsy boy who keeps getting startled by creaky hinges is joined by a menagerie of real-life animals. As illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma, the boy soon discovers that the door may be less of a problem than his grandmother’s overburdened brass bed.
Another long-beloved kids’ song is deconstructed in Thelonius Monster’s Sky-High Fly Pie (Knopf), written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Edward Koren. Gone is the old lady who swallowed a fly, replaced by a grotesque yet loving monster who seeks out thousands of insects for a special concoction to serve up to his friends. Wordsworth, the gentle soul of Roni Schotter’s The Boy Who Loved Words (Schwartz & Wade), is more interested in vocabulary than vermin. As he collects in his notebook the words’ tintinnabulating sounds and tantalizing tastes, Wordsworth’s journey is brought to life by Giselle Potter’s illustrations—and explained by a helpful glossary.