Quick takes: where did 2018 go? Catching up with a bunch of 2018 highlights

Wow, 2018 zipped by quickly. I thought I had all the time in the world to praise the many fine picture books of 2018. Then I looked at the calendar and saw the date November 20 and whoa! my brain went into slight panic mode. So this post will be a bit whirlwind as I mention a bunch of titles that impressed and delighted me throughout a very strong picture book year.

Do Not Lick This Book (Roaring Press, 9781250175366). Okay, raise your hands if you think someone just might defy the book’s title and lick the book? Or do you think it will have many reaching for the hand sanitizer after reading the wildly engaging facts about microbes? This funny and creative non-fiction picture book introduces readers to a microbe named Min, presented as a rather adorable animated blue blob with friendly round eyes. Creators Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost excel at presenting Min’s minuscule size. First they ask readers to look at a tiny dot and then blow their minds by saying that 3,422, 167 (“give or take a few million”) microbes could fit on that dot. The book deftly mixes illustrations with photographs of such objects as paper really, really, really, really close up. It’s a terrific science book that puts the miniature world in perspective.

The Honeybee (Atheneum, 978-1481469975). Speaking directly to the reader, writer Kristen Hall builds a buzzing excitement on the very first page of this fast-paced, rhythmically satisfying examination of what makes a honeybee supercool. Artist Isabelle Arsenault’s stylized, fanciful drawings catch the lively winged creatures in motion: clapping, flapping, tapping, searching, perching, and then practically spinning with joy when they see a majestic, colorful flower inviting them to take a sip. The book goes to a whole new higher level when they dance a most enjoyable waggly, wiggly dance. The book emerges as one of the livelier reads of the year. So much happens and yet nothing feels rushed. It’s sublime.

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles (Knopf, 978-0399557255) works beautifully as a picture book biography that transports young readers back to the “days of long skirts and afternoon teas.” A time when a young girl named Joan defied societal conventions by enjoying the company of real live reptiles, not dolls. She grows up to be one of the foremost experts of all things scaly, a person dedicated to shattering myths and fears about the reptile world. She becomes the first woman to run the London Zoo’s Reptile House. Author Patricia Valdez’s language zips and sings, and Felicita Sala’s witty illustrations do a great, playful job capturing Joan’s excitement about the creatures (I love the drawing that shows her walking her crocodile on a leash while a startled boy looks with awe out a window). Picture book biography writing and illustration at their strongest.

Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth (Balzer + Bray, 978-0062741615). This handsomely designed title asks readers to look at a supposedly fearsome creatures in a new way, to go beyond first impressions and see the gentleness and vulnerability within. Author Kate Gardner’s approach is effective and straightforward, introducing each animal with an adjective meant to startle or make the reader feel unease about the creature. Then a flip of the page and we see the animal in a more tender manner with child-friendly facts that soothe and shatter misconceptions. For example, we see a “fierce” gorilla looking tough on one page, and then being a loving papa on the next. Heidi Smith’s evocative art does a great job showing both the “mean” and “reassuring” side of each lovely beast.

A Storytelling of Ravens (Groundwood, 978-1554989126) plays around with animal collective names, with each witty double page spread making a quick jokey observation about the humorous, outlandish animal behavior depicted. Writer Kyle Lukoff doesn’t waste a single word here; succinct yet rich lines like “the memory of elephants knew the peanut field had to be around here somewhere” make the reader chuckle with ease. And illustrator Natalie Nelson takes each comical riff and runs with it, creating captivating illustrations with gouache paint, ink drawings, found photographs and digital collage. Her animal creations are a wonder to behold, popping with joy off the page. It’s hard to pick what’s funniest: the sloth of green and pink bears, the increasingly impatient business of ferrets waiting for their pal held up at the watercooler (a pond), or the parliament of owls cringing when one bird gives a “lone hoot of dissent.” Or perhaps another one of the creative spreads. It’s a joy.




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