The Magnificent Seven
What a great year for picture books! I've enjoyed hundreds of amazing books this year, and I read several of them to my storytime groups. I know which ones the critics liked (School Library Journal, The Horn Book, and the New York Times, to name a few). But which ones left me starry-eyed? Here are the ones that I envision re-reading for years to come.
House Held Up By Trees by Ted Kooser; Illustrated by Jon Klassen – Hands down, my favorite picture book of the year. I loved it when I first read it, and think Jon Klassen is a genius. It is gorgeous. Having lived in Nebraska, I have profound respect for Ted Kooser and for lonely houses built on the Great Plains. Kooser, Pulitzer Prize Winner, United States Poet Laureate, and longtime Nebraskan, has written a beautiful biography about a house’s abandonment and decline. It’s a meditative and sincere tribute that is reminiscent of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. The magical ending gives it a special twist that made my heart flutter.
Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen; Illustrated by Scott Magoon – This story completely cracked me up and is definitely my second favorite book of the year. Big Mean Mike is a notoriously tough, ferocious dog who drives around the neighborhood in a loud, flashy car, wears combat boots, and loves monster truck rallies. When a group of rosy-cheeked rabbits decide to make friends with Big Mean Mike, he’s not having it. But these fuzzy bunnies are persistent, and eventually Mike can’t help but admit that they’re adorable…and great company. This well-paced and hilarious book shows that no friendship is too unusual.
Mice by Rose Fyleman; Illustrated by Lois Ehlert – The surprise ending in this book made me chuckle. In simple rhyme, our narrator describes mice: their physical features (“They haven’t any chins at all.”), bad habits (“[Nibbling] things they shouldn’t touch.”), and the plain fact that, as a species, they are generally abhorred. But our wild-eyed, toothy narrator begs to differ. Ehlert’s collage illustrations are animated and instructive. This book’s perfect for young children, and is marvelous for reading aloud.
Otter and Odder: A Love Story by James Howe; Illustrated by Chris Raschka – James Howe (author of the Bunnicula series) presents a gut-wrenching premise: an otter falls in love with a fish…but, of course, otters consume fish. You can’t help who you fall in love with, right? Throughout this wistful story, Otter must contend with gossiping, concerns about his diet, and a nagging feeling of uncertainty. In the end, will true love win? Chris Rascha’s watercolor illustrations are delightfully expressive.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce – Morris Lessmore is a true bookworm. His entire life revolves around books and reading, and he even records his own life story in a journal. When a magical occurrence leads him astray, he must find a way to rebuild his life and create his own happy ending. If I had a dinner party, I would seat Morris Lessmore and Miss Rumphius next to each other because they’d make a lovely pair.
I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.; Illustrated by Kadir Nelson - Martin Luther King, Jr.'s unforgettable speech is presented alongside bright, beautifully rendered oil paintings by artist Kadir Nelson. One of today's younger illustrators, his entire body of work thus far is very impressive. This book is the perfect way to introduce young children to Mr. King and his message of equality, peace, and freedom.
Bear in Love by Daniel Pinkwater by Daniel Pinkwater; Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand – A content, but lonely bear finds surprise gifts outside his cave. He wanders the forest every day, singing upbeat and dopey made-up songs and tries to think of ways to find out who his secret admirer is. The book is illustrated with soft colors to match its gentle tone. A go-to book for times when you just want a sweet and uncomplicated story with a happy ending.
I can't help but mention the following juvenile easy reader (found in our JE collections). Its illustrations are exquisite.
The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra – This impressive graphic novel is sure to captivate beginning readers and adults alike. The entire story is presented in black and white comic panels, with incredible amounts of detail—the forest, buildings, children, and animals really come alive. The magical, dreamlike plot is fantastic, reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and the films of Hayao Miyazaki. There are giant rabbits, talking grotesque giant fish people, large pet bees, animated buildings, cobblestone alligators, and, at the center, a mysterious talking stone frog. It’s impeccable and fascinating. This is David Nytra’s debut, and I can’t wait to see what he creates next.
Inside the Minds of Picture Book Artists
If you love picture books as much as I do, you'll want to read Show Me a Story! Why Picture Books Matter: Conversations with 21 of the World's Most Celebrated Illustrators, edited by Leonard S. Marcus. Each artist presents their unique perspective on the art of illustrating for children, how they got started in the profession, influences, and the business of children's book publishing. My favorite interviews featured James Marshall, William Steig, Maurice Sendak, Chris Raschka, and Mitsumasa Anno.
Karen Choy is the Youth Services Librarian in Half Moon Bay.