2021 Gift Guide: A Seek-and-Find Trifecta

November 4, 2021 § 1 Comment

Last week, I launched the Gift Guide with My Favorite Picture Book of the Year. Next week, before moving onto other ages, I’ll do a round-up of a dozen more picture books perfect for gifting. But today, I want to call attention to three 2021 picture books that would make terrific gifts on their own or together. You know I can’t resist a bundling, and each of these treasure troves gives new meaning to the seek-and-find trope, a genre in need of updating before this year came along.

Every parent knows kids love nothing more than treasure hunts. But raise your hand if you’ve ever hidden a Where’s Waldo? book. Or a Richard Scarry book. Or any of those with dizzying pictures that have your child hunched over the page in your lap, scrunching up their eyes to look for a red-striped shirt or a tiny gold bug or any number of things, until it seems possible you’ve missed bedtime all together and it’s now morning again.

What if a child could get their seek-and-find fix in books that were cleverly crafted and delightfully fun to read aloud? What if these books featured art that was easy on our (tired) eyes? Wouldn’t that alone be worth welcoming the Holiday Season with open arms?

If You Go Down to the Woods Today
poems by Rachel Piercey; illus. Freya Hartas
Ages 3-6

An oversized book that follows a magical woodland through the different seasons, with pictures so inviting we actually welcome losing ourselves in them? Yes, please. Each of the sixteen sumptuous spreads in If You Go Down to the Woods Today juxtaposes a whimsical poem and a list of things to find. Included in these lists are things like, “a woodpecker’s beak in an unusual place,” “two baby weasels wriggling into rainboots,” or “yellow-striped pajamas.”

The poems are sweet and lend a narrative flow to the book, but the art is the main attraction here. Freya Hartas has outdone herself, with the cutest bunch of bears, bunnies, and birds I’ve ever seen, joyfully partaking in the unique wonders of the four seasons.

Springtime picnics in the flowers, birthday parties in underground burrows, autumnal art classes, and rowdy campfires on chilly nights are just a few of my favorite spreads. The book ends with a cozy array of animals hunkered beneath snowy banks for their long winter’s nap, and the Afterward shares ways young readers can stage their own celebrations in the natural world.

Have You Seen Gordon?
by Adam Jay Epstein & Ruth Chan
Ages 4-8

If the previous book was a pretty traditional seek-and-find format (albeit with enchanting pictures), Have You Seen Gordon? is a hilarious riff on the “Where’s Waldo” genre, where the narrator struggles to get the characters to play along.

The books opens with spreads nudging us to find Gordon—a purple, furry, Hawaiian-shirt-sporting animal of sorts—at a packed beach, a busy city intersection, and a bustling amusement park. Only, it’s oddly easy to spot him on every page. Gordon, it turns out, prefers to stand out—as he himself informs the narrator, after the latter begins to chastise him for not hiding well.

The narrator then changes tactics, asking us to start looking for a “construction worker” across different scenes. But said construction worker—“I’m going to stop you right there. I have a name. It’s Jane.”—isn’t interested in being the center of attention. She’s pretty resentful, actually. Still, the narrator continues to push and push…until the best kind of picture book chaos ensues, and the divisions between narrator and characters completely break down. Behind the visual gags and endless giggles, this brilliant book raises important questions about authority, autonomy, allyship, and consent.

Mr. Watson’s Chickens
by Jarrett Dapier; illus. Andrea Tsurumi
Ages 3-6

It might be reaching to call Mr. Watson’s Chickens a seek-and-find book, but there are 456 chickens, and Andrea Tusurumi’s fabulously frenetic line drawings have a richness of detail that demands repeat readings. Plus, the chickens do go missing, and one could lose an entire afternoon pouring over the spread where we’re meant to find each one. (Just imagine illustrating that many unique chickens!)

“Mr. Watson lived with Mr. Nelson in a big, honking house with a teeny-tiny yard in a big, honking city.” (Bonus points for incidental queer representation!) He has three chickens, a reasonable number if you aim to make pancakes for them and encourage their dancing in the living room. Only, the chickens begin multiplying…and multiplying…until the house is “teeming with birds,” not to mention the noise from their favorite made-up song, “Shooby-doo/ wonky-pow,/ bawka-bawka/ in da chow-chow.” (I promise: this is going to be the most fun thing you read aloud all year.)

Mr. Nelson is cool with the egg surplus, but he draws the line when the chickens start roosting in his brand-new boots, not to mention his hair gel. He issues an ultimatum to Mr. Watson: it’s the chickens or him. Fortunately, Mr. Watson knows what’s good for him: “without Mr. Nelson, his heart would be a broken egg.” And so, the two launch a plan to find their chickens a new home at the county fair, only just as they reach their destination, the chickens escape, and the two men have to round up…yup, you guessed it, 456 chickens. If your seek-and-find skills are sharpened, you might even find them before they do.

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Books gifted by Abrams, Simon & Schuster, & Chronicle Books, respectively. All opinions are my own. If you’re in the Alexandria area, please consider shopping at the beautiful Old Town Books, where I assist with the kids’ buying! Even if you aren’t local, you can still support this fantastic indie by shopping my Gift Guide online here.

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