Sunday, January 5, 2014

BEST OF 2013: Picture Books and Early Chapter Books

Over the last couple of months, I read nearly 200 picture books in my attempt to narrow down our picks for the Best of 2013. Children's Programmer Allison and Lebanon Junction Asst. Supervisor Pam also helped in the selection. It was tough to narrow our choices down to these final selections (hence the Honorable Mentions listed below!), but I eventually reached a final list I am satisfied with.

Anyway, without further ado, BCPL's favorite 2013 books for young children are:

Picture Books (Fiction)

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Burnett, Illustrated by Matthew Myers
What if a creative, action-thriller-loving kid took a saccharine old book about a bunny's birthday party and turned it into a good-and-evil caper about a supervillain plotting to blow up the world? You'd probably get something like this subversive tale, where you can read the sweet "original" story and the newly created, over-the-top warrior-tale side by side. The doodles and redesigned illustrations are fabulous and might inspire younger readers to revamp their own discarded books.

Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Kevin Cornell*
Tongue-in-cheek humor and delightfully exaggerated animals make this delightful picture book far more fun than your average counting book—though it's educational as well! This makes a great read aloud, with plenty of opportunities for audience participation.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, Illustrated by Jon Klassen
This artfully illustrated book about a boy who lives in fear of the dark until—one night—the dark speaks to him is an eerie and original take on nighttime fears.
Read Tracy's Review

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Duncan’s crayons are fed up. Whether worked down to a nub or ignored in favor of other colors, each crayon states its grievances  in this hilarious picture book. Oliver Jeffers's (author/illustrator of Lost and Found, Stuck, and This Moose Belongs to Me) illustrations are comprised of the crayons' handwritten letters and childlike artwork designed for Duncan's consideration. Allison and I read this one together in my office  few months back, and by the end we were both laughing so hard we cried.

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenfeld*
Who would have thought that punctuation could be both funny and heartwarming? Apparently Amy Krouse Rosenthal  and Tom Lichtenfeld, the author/illustrator team behind the fabulous Duck! Rabbit!

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
Whimsical and gently humorous, this wordless lift-the-flap gem creates the feeling of an animated short. Think of the ostriches and hippos dancing in Fantasia.
Read Tracy's Review

How To by Julie Morstad
This breezy, inventive picture book features whimsical drawings and text that will inspire children to explore the world around them from a new perspective. The artwork is timeless and engaging, paired with "how tos" ranging from "How to wash your socks" (splash in puddles of course!) to the more profound "How to be happy."

I Am Blop! by Hervé Tullet
In this fantastic concept book from the author of Press Here, readers are urged to let their imaginations soar simply by following the adventures of a nebulous shape, or "blop."  This inventive book will help children explore shapes, counting, color, nature, art, and more.

If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Poetic text and soft pencil illustrations punctuate this quiet meditation on watching and waiting as a young boy hoping to see a whale discovers the many other wonders around him. Another wonderful book about patience and dreaming from the team behind  And Then Its Spring.

Journey by Aaron Becker*
Bold, magisterial artwork and a strong narrative perfectly mesh in this wordless picture book about a bored, resourceful young girl who creates a doorway into a magical land where she fearlessly faces danger and adventure.
Read Tracy's Review

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
In this inventive and funny meta picture book, a little red pencil armed with a basket of words must make her way through a collage forest, where storytelling challenges and the Wolf 3000 pencil sharpener lie in wait. Younger children will simply enjoy the journey of this fractured fairy tale, while older kids will appreciate the abundant grammar and punctuation puns. (Really.)

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
In this poignant tale about immigration and nostalgia, a young girl examines her grandfather's collection of matchboxes and their contents, each of which represents an important moment in his past. This is a powerful and inspiring tale for curious and sensitive children interested in the stories behind personal treasures.

The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan, Illustrated by Sophie Blackwell
At the turn of the last century, a thin, delicate Paris mail carrier loses the job he adores. Then, using his quick reflexes and uncanny speed, he becomes an unlikely success boxing against much bigger opponents. Pen-and-ink illustrations featuring three-dimensional cut outs create a bold, colorful, collage-like style that is both charming and reminiscent of a silent film after color is added in. A marvelous fable that manages to be both funny and quietly captivating.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
A suited-up tiger living in a drab, cookie-cutter world decides to break from convention and indulge his deepest desires, to the astonishment and disapproval of his neighbors. A wonderful ode to freedom and self expression.

Mr. Wuffles by David Weisner*
Subtly humorous and through-provoking for little animal-lovers, this boldly illustrated wordless picture book provides a unique perspective on beloved pets' secret adventures.
Read Tracy's Review

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf
This charming, offbeat tale of a girl who picks up a squash at the market and adopts it as her new best friend turns into a lovely lesson in life, love, and gardening. The quirky story and cheerful, wonderfully expressive artwork work to create one of the most lovable children's book characters of the year in the imaginative, irrepressible Sophie.

The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman
In yet another metabook in which books are presented as worlds in and of themselves, best friends Fish and Snail consider jumping from their own story into another book, where they can explore mysteries unknown. A lovely and surprising tale of adventure, friendship, and finding the courage to try new things. From the author/illustrator of Blue Chicken.

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson
In this fabulous interactive picture book reminiscent of HervĂ© Tullet's Press Here, readers are encouraged to tap, blow, rub, shake, etc., in order to make an apple tree bloom, produce fruit, and more. With its simple, colorful illustrations and gentle instructions, it is a wonderful exercise in imagination and wonder, with the added benefit of exploring the seasons and cycles of nature. Magic indeed.

This Little Piggy by Tim Harrington*
The classic nursery rhyme is expanded into a fun, off-kilter escapade when readers are encouraged to imagine the adventures of all the little piggies not represented in the original. An amusing tale that encourages children to explore individuality and possibility. Perfect for lapsits, there is also a free song download available.

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea
This delightfully silly and energetic story about jealousy features a goat who feels pretty good about himself until he is suddenly upstaged by a sparkly, rainbow-spewing, cupcake-making unicorn. Goat's complaining perfectly captures the  tone of a pouting child, but of course everything works out perfectly in the end when  both Goat and Unicorn appreciate the other's abilities and join forces. A laugh-out-loud parable with expressive cartoon-style artwork layered with simple humorous embellishments (at one point, Goat sports a plunger on his head in mockery of Unicorn's horn) and memorable dialog.

Wait! Wait! by Hatsume Nakawaki, Illustrated by Komako Sakai
Delicate oil and pencil drawings and simple, lyrical text perfectly capture the wonder and unsteady movements of an emerging walker just beginning to explore the natural world.
Read Tracy's Review

Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins, Illustrated by James Proimos
Yes, that Suzanne Collins. Inspired by her own experience as a second grader when her father fought in Vietnam for a year, this picture book perfectly reimagines the sense of loss and increasingly wild imaginings of any child missing a parent, coupled with a slow, childlike realization of the dangers of war. 

Honorable Mentions:
The Bear's Song by Benjamin Chaud*
Ben Rides On by Matt Davies
The Bicklebys' Birdbath by Andrea Perry
Bluebird by Bob Staake
Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg by Lori Mortenson and Michale Allen Austin (Illustrator)*
Crankee Doodle by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell (Illustrator)
The Deep, Deep Puddle by Mary Jessie Parker and Deborah Zemke (Illustrator)
Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin*
Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird and Brandon Dorman (Illustrator)
Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon
Inside Outside by Liz Boyd
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty*
Lazy Daisy, Cranky Frankie: Bedtime on the Farm by Mary Ellen Jordan
My Father's Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde and Oyvind Torseter (Illustrator)
Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales*
No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OHora*
Off We Go by Will Hillenbrand
Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid
Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier and Suzy Lee (Illustrator)
Papa's Mechanical Fish by Candance Fleming and Boris Kulikov (Illustrator)
Red Hat by Lita Judge
Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueira and Polly Bernatene (Illustrator)
Saturday Is Dadurday by Robin Pulver
Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld (Illustrator)
This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson*
Tiger in My Soup by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler*
A Vacation for Pooch by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

Picture Books (Nonfiction)

The Boy Who Loved Math Deborah Heiligman, Illustrated by Pahm LeUyen*
Explores the childhood of the unconventional, brilliant mathematician, his interests (largely, math, math, and more math), and his impact on the field with energetic language and images that a child can relate to. An inspiring and educational true story about individuality and following your interests.

A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke*
A real-life animal book with heart and candid, adorable photos that will appeal to all ages. Younger children will enjoy the photos and personalized stories of the featured sloths while older kids will enjoy each detail of the full, lighthearted narrative.

Locomotive by Brian Floca
With rhythmic prose and gorgeously realistic illustrations, this is a moving tribute to the role of railroads in American's westward expansion. Perfectly evoking the sounds, sights, and even feel of 1869 train travel through onomatopoeia, expressive typography, and fabulous paintings that convey movement and wonder, this is a masterpiece that manages to be both epic and intimate.

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson*
In this latest artistic triumph from Kadir Nelson (I Have a Dream), he traces the amazing journey of Mandela from his rural childhood to protest rallies to prison to the presidency of South Africa. While the narrative is a powerful one indeed, the star here is Nelson's stunningly detailed, expressive oil paintings.

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne, Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
Approachable yet highly informative, this child's picture autobiography of Albert Einstein uses story and complimenting layered illustrations to convey Einstein's insatiably curious personality and big ideas.  Perfect and inspiring for the child who questions everything and wonders about the world around him, it would pair well with The Boy Who Loved Math, which actually shows how Edros and Einstein are connected (sort of).

A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This heartfelt picture book biography explores the art, determination, and obstacles of African-American artist Horace Pippin, and the folksy illustrations perfectly compliment the style of Pippin himself.

Early Chapter Books

Odd Duck by Cecil Castelluci, Illustrated by Sara Varon
This fun and whimsical ode to eccentricity and friendship is a crowd pleaser for ages 6 and up. Humor-laced, detailed drawings presented in graphic novel format; careful prose; and subtle irony keep this story feeling freshly original rather than trite or predictable.

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes
The Penny early reader series is better than ever with this story of  acquisitiveness and secret guilt. When Penny discovers a marble on the sidewalk outside of her neighbor's house, she furtively claims it for her own. But, before long, she is riddled with guilt. Henkes's soft, pastel-hued illustrations of the winsome Penny are simple, but her expressions and movements perfectly capture her inner turmoil. 

*BONUS* Longer Chapter Books for Newly Independent Readers (Grades 1–3)

Gone Fishing by Tamera Will Wissinger
This novel in verse for young readers tells the story of sibling relationships and family outings through a series of poems about a fishing trip with a boy, his father, and his annoying little sister. It also gives a subtle and tidy lesson on different poetry forms. It's fresh and original, with plenty of appeal for kids—particularly budding young fishermen (or fisherwomen).

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
While the page count may appear intimidating for some new independent  readers, ambitious young readers will relate to this "ordinary" tale of a second grader who worries that he isn't smart enough, gets annoyed with his little sister, and  concocts a plan to secretly stay up until midnight just because. The story is divided into four bite-sized chunks, each of which focuses on Billy's interaction with an important person in his life—his teacher, his sister, and each of his parents.

*Please note that some titles are still on order and are not yet available for checkout at BCPL.


danielle @ this picture book life said...

Love your picture book picks! Found myself cheering for some and taking note to read others. :)

Resh said...

An excellent list and great reading for last year! Congratulations! I think the books listed are excellent choices and am sure many are award worthy :)

Tracy said...

@danielle @ this picture book life: Thanks! Which books did you cheer for? :)

@Resh: Some of them are definitely award material! Personally, Journey, Locomotive, Wait! Wait!, and The Mighty Lalouche are the ones I can't quit thinking about. And I can see The Day the Crayons Quit, Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great and Count the Monkeys as Geisel contenders.

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