Among the thundering herd of new or recent picture books for children come three very different adventure stories to excite the imagination and inspire empathy.
"Finding Fire" by Logan S. Kline (Candlewick Press, Sept. 13), ages 4-8, 40 pages $18.99 hardcover.
Wordless books are great solo entertainment for kids who can't yet read (see for instance "Stormy" by Guojing and David Wiesner's "Mr. Wuffles").
Here, gorgeous, lovingly detailed and naturalistic cartoon drawings wordlessly convey an epic of young heroism. The only text is a prologue: "Long before the secrets of fire had been discovered, people had to find fire. And if they lost it ... if it went out ... someone would need to search for more."
We see a shaggy prehistoric family standing dumbfounded around their flooded campfire. Then we see the loud family argument. Outside the cave, a scrawny redheaded child volunteers to search for fire.
He sets out bravely on what becomes an arduous parade of vivid perils. Along the way he rescues an adorable baby mastodon from a tar pit, and they partner up.
This is Kline's debut children's book, although his illustrations have appeared in magazines like Highlights and Cricket. He teaches high school art in upstate New York. He says his two sons inspired his wiry, wild-haired, likable hero.
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"Gold!" by David Shannon (Viking, Sept. 6), ages 3-7, 40 pages, $18.99 hardcover.
The latest work by a prolific author of award-winning children's stories recasts King Midas as a bug-eyed, big-headed and very selfish boy.
Vividly painted in bold colors, Maximilian Midas is born with a fixation on acquiring gold that defeats his parents' earnest attempts to socialize him. He's bored by hugs and books; he cheats on tests; but he makes a bundle selling lemonade.
Soon he has more money than his parents. He charges them rent.
He ruins a competing lemonade seller using dirty tricks and then piles up more and more money. He's only 7 but his golden mansion teeters atop a glittering mountain.
He's just awful, until he decides to eat his gold. It has an unexpected, awkwardly magical effect that will not surprise adults familiar with the ancient Greek tale.
The rest of the story resolves in the usual way with redemption and a boy's education that feelings matter.
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"Everywhere With You," written by Carlie Sorosiak, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth (Walker Books, May 24), ages 4-8, 40 pages, $18.99 hardcover.
In Carlie Sorosiak's small, domestic adventure for animal lovers, a neighbor girl takes an interest in the neglected dog next door. Reaching through the fence that separates their yards, every day she offers treats and reads storybooks aloud. Boldly colored, dreamy adventure tales unfold.
But one fall day, the girl doesn't show up. There's no explanation. The dog looks for her in vain. When night falls, he looks through the hole in his fence and sees her family illuminated in their window, playing together, and he starts to cry. She hears him and rushes out, and they share the most joyful storytime ever, about a fence falling down.
Days later, in a fierce storm, the dog makes his way to her door, where he is welcomed in, adopted and loved.
Devon Holzwarth's paintings sweep and sway with floral texture, and there's something delightfully nostalgic about her spotted dog's pointed nose and curled body.
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