"Barry's Best Buddy" by Renee French (Toon Books)
Sometimes friendship can be an antagonistic relationship, despite the best of intentions by at least one of the parties. Renee French introduces young readers to the outgoing and spontaneous Polarhog and his best friend, Barry the Bird.
Polarhog, bemoaning the dull gray house that Barry hides in, takes his friend on a little jaunt of the unexpected. Barry, a squat and uncomfortable looking bird, generally pushes back on any delight Polarhog embraces -- not quite Oscar and Felix, but certainly reminiscent of other class odd couples like Frog and Toad or Ernie and Bert.
French is a renowned alternative cartoonist, and her work is often in the realms of absurdist and experimental. With "Barry's Best Buddy," she makes perfect use of these qualities within a stripped-down format, offering a entry point for children into a wider world of fiction with these sensibilities that await their attention as they grow up to appreciate the unusual and clever.
"Mr. Flux" by Kyo Maclear and Matte Stephens (Kids Can Press)
Inspired the 1960s art movement that stressed anti-commercialism and even anti-art sentiments as a way of testing and celebrating the done-it-yourself and other everyday material, Maclear's takes the concept of security as safety and contrasts it to flux, that is change, as a formula for everyday adventure.
Following the bored life of Martin in his rather dull town, Maclears's story has the goofy Mr. Flux arrive in town. He just oozes change out of his pores, and by just existing in city limits with his pajamas and bowler hat, the effects can be felt.
Obviously, this is a lesson in being flexible and embracing the new, and Mr. Flux's influence on leads to baby steps that work like a virus through town. A good virus. The very best virus.
Soon enough, house are no longer just gray and breakfast is not just confined to one reliable dish, and Mr. Flux seems to have done his job.
Mclear's cautionary tale is wonderfully realized through Matte Stephen's retro art style, reminiscent of Miroslav Sasek, renowned for his "This Is" series of children's travel books and showing that your own hometown can be just as exotic as London or Paris if you want it to be.
"Rosie's Magic Horse" by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake (Candlewick Books)
Illustrator Quentin Blake is a much acknowledged legend in children's books, and rightfully so, but his creative partner in many endeavors, author Russell Hoban, elicits fewer looks of recognition when you mention his name.
In this release of Hoban's final picture, his flair for the outrageous is well-matched by a gentle heart and warm sense of humor. The story follows a group of popsicle sticks following their use to careless discard to being added to the collection box of Rosie. Collectively, the popsicle sticks want more to their existence post-popsicle, and require some purpose again.
Meanwhile, Rosie realizes her family's financial stress, and has her own wishes that she needs to come true.
What happens is that both their desires collide, leading to a silly adventure that solves everyone's problems. Hoban takes his simple premise further and further, before letting it come back down to earth with a heartwarming denouement. Blake, meanwhile, rises to the occasion as he always does, injecting the whimsy with a dynamic scrappy energy.
As his last work, "Rosie's Magic Horse" is a marvelous tribute to Hoban and the originality that flowed from his pen, and will hopefully lead to a much-deserved revival of his masterful work.