If babies could talk, many would utter the sentiments expressed in Please Don’t Change My Diaper, a debut picture book written by Toronto’s Sarabeth Holden. A tot is eager to get outside to play, but when his mother catches a whiff of something stinky, his fun is thwarted. The little guy balks at the necessity of changing his plans, and this unwelcome interruption takes on catastrophic proportions in his mind: “The world is falling apart! It’s crumbling all around! My life is over. The sky is falling to the ground!”
The cartoon-like illustrations from Vancouver’s Emma Pedersen drolly capture the cherubic child’s wide-eyed, histrionic view of his world. Parents appear as long legs in stocking feet and bedroom slippers or as outstretched arms swooping down. While the babe cowers, peeking from under a blanket, a gigantic blue nappy (complete with a smiling teddy-bear pattern) casts an ominous shadow.
Girding himself for the imminent diaper trial, the child’s inner dialogue turns fatalistic – “I will miss my fluffy puppy. I will miss the sparkling snow” – before he emotes one last scrunched-face plea. The melodramatic, rhyming text offers over-the-top comic relief while keenly bringing the stressors in an infant’s life into sharp, magnified focus. After a soothing cuddle, the child is able to reframe his experience as a “fresh, delightful feeling” of warmth and connection.
Children will also see themselves reflected in My Family, Your Family! by veteran Toronto publisher and author Kathryn Cole. This concept board book effectively uses simple, declarative two-word phrases to matter-of-factly introduce a diverse array of households, including multi-generational (“Grand family”), non-binary (“Their family”), and co-parent (“Shared family”).
Toronto artist Cornelia Li’s winsome narrative vignettes have a welcoming, photograph-album style, with families engaged in relatable activities like sharing a meal, saying goodnight, and squabbling with siblings. “His family” shows a little boy standing in front of two moms, proudly displaying a crayon self-portrait. In “There family,” an elder and a child stay in close contact via a computer screen. The final slice-of-life scene brings a diverse array of families together in a city park. With rhythmic read-aloud text and an inclusive message, My Family, Your Family! is a much-needed, open-hearted addition to board-book collections.
Compassionate ties that bind are sweetly explored in What Do You Want, Little Friend?, the first board book by Governor General’s Literary Award–winning author and illustrator Marianne Dubuc. While flying a kite, a cute striped kitten in a sunny yellow T-shirt and red pants accidentally steps on a fly. Showing great concern, the feline is determined to revive the failing bug, imploring, “MOVE! Move like me.” But the wee insect lies in the bottom corner of the page, all four legs jutting into the air.
The Quebec author’s minimal text offers a child-like stream of consciousness. Emanating hopeful innocence, the kitten repeatedly crouches down, whisker to wing, and offers suggestions from “Courage little fly, WALK! Walk like ants do” to “FLY, little fly! Fly like the birds.” When nothing helps, the exasperated kitten finally asks the fly directly what it needs, and the problem is remedied by lending an empathetic ear and showing some loving encouragement.
This pleasing board book has all the essential elements: an uncomplicated plot with surprising emotional depth, well-crafted page turns, spare yet evocative patterned language, illustrations that pop, and clean design. What Do You Want, Little Friend? joins the upper echelon of board books that invite repeated, interactive readings.