My favorite 30 picture books of 2019 (alphabetical by title)…with honorable mentions, too!

What a great picture book year this was. I looked at hundreds and enjoyed so many. Here are my 30 favorites in alphabetical order by title:

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, illustrated by Charlene Chua, written by Kat Zhang, published by Aladdin, ISBN: 978-1534411333.

I mentioned before that I am considering having a blog post where I give out end-of-the-year awards such as Favorite Ensemble Cast in a Picture Book, Favorite Funny Picture Book, Favorite Lead Character, and so on. In the category of Favorite Animal Sidekick I would easily choose the little white cat that co-stars in this sweet, beautifully illustrated romp. The human girl Amy Wu wants to make bao that rivals the rest of her family’s exquisitely yummy creations, but keeps failing. Soon she comes up with a way to her fix her problem and triumphs (although her bao is not-so-perfect). This book works on so many levels. Kat Zhang’s lively text begs to be read aloud. Readers learn about making the food, too. It’s an intergenerational story about family, tradition, and perseverance. Charlene Chua’s colorful digital illustrations bubble with warmth.

B Is for Baby, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank, written by Atinuke, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536201666.

The Nigerian-born author of the Anna Hibiscus early chapter book series serves up a bright, bustling baby-eye view of a bouncy trek to Baba’s bungalow. Brooksbank’s beautiful illustrations complement a buoyant storytime-friendly romp that bursts with “B” sounds. Since I wrote my too brief review a few months back this has become a storytime favorite. The groups love watching the baby hide in the oblivious older brother’s bicycle basket as he pedals to see Baba. Although the title suggests that babies and/or toddlers would be the best audience for this story, older preschoolers love this joyous, funny trek especially when the baby surprises Baba and older brother at the end.

Bear Came Along, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, written by Richard T. Morris, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316464475.

I love hearing the wows when I read Bear Came Along to preschool groups. This colorful and broadly funny romp stars a bunch of animals who end up sharing a wild trek on a log down a bendy, twisty river. Author Richard T. Morris serves up a delightful cause and effect approach when telling the tale. Illustrator LeUyen Pham gives readers thrilling POVs of their turbulent journey–look at those blue waves in the river, the animals’ expressions (some bubbling with excitement, others with extreme worry) as they struggle to control the log, the way the trees on the side seem to be bending out of control. What makes the children go “wow” is an incredible moment involving a waterfall halfway through the book. Thrilling.

Birdsong, illustrated and written by Julie Flett, published by Greystone Kids, ISBN: 978-1771644730.

Birdsong is a book of quiet beauty and humane heartbreak. A rather sensitive, introverted Cree girl moves with her mother to a new country home. This child takes in and notices the nature surrounding her. With her dog Ôhô (meaning owl in Cree) by her side, she befriends an elderly next door neighbor named Agnes. As the seasons change, the two spend quality time together. Flett’s art (rendered in pastel and pencil, and composited digitally) matches her evocative, moody text with great clarity. Each illustration conveys emotion without feeling treacly: the sadness of moving, the serene wonder of country living, the warm connection between the girl and Agnes, the tenderness of the girl’s gift, the sorrow of losing a friend. Flett knows when to employ a double page spread or white space for maximum visual impact.

The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs, illustrated and written by Fiona Robinson, published by ABRAMS, ISBN: 978-1419725517.

Fiona Robinson’s The Bluest of Blues won me over the second I held the beautifully designed book in my hand. The book’s tall dimensions, the care put into the cover showcasing Robinson’s striking art. So inviting. Whisking readers back to the early 19th century, the account introduces readers to Anna Atkins who has a loving bond with her scientist father who includes her while studying everything from botany to entomology, from chemistry to zoology. He wants her to have a great education in a time when society did not encourage girls to attend school. Robinson’s use of the present tense adds an urgency to the prose, and gives young readers a “you are there” feeling. The color blue dominates each spread, and it’s remarkable how much visual interest she brings to each illustration.

Crab Cake: Turning the Tide Together, illustrated and written by Andrea Tsurumi, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 978-0544959002.

Creating a picture book for young readers with a message can be tricky business. The very best appeal to a child’s sense of fairness. Deftly capture how a situation is unfair and unjust and the author has cleared the first hurdle. That’s the brilliance of Tsurumi’s latest, Crab Cake: Turning the Tide Together, her follow-up to the rollicking slapstick-packed delight Accident!. The gifted illustrator/author introduces the reader to a wondrous world under the sea, deep in the ocean where the creatures exist (mostly) peacefully (there is still the threat of being munched on). Suddenly a catastrophe happens with the humans above dumping disgusting garbage into their habitat. Tsurumi does a brilliant job with color here, juxtaposing the brightness of the early scenes (love the vibrant coral) with the sudden darkness after the waste invasion. The animals decide on a plan to get back at the humans, and what I love about it: it’s absolutely fair. Seriously people, you can have your garbage BACK!

Daniel’s Good Day, illustrated and written by Micha Archer, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, ISBN: 978-0399546723.

What is your idea of a good day? Daniel, the inquisitive hero of the terrific 2016 charmer Daniel Writes a Poem, asks a variety of people this very question after being wished a good day. As expected, the responses vary from individual to individual, giving Daniel (and young readers/listeners) a broader sense of the human experience in the process. Every answer Daniel hears bubbles with optimism and happiness. Archer lovingly creates a warm, colorful urban environment with her collages and innovative art. As Daniel makes an urban trek to see his grandmother, each spread creates a welcoming vibe. The illustrations show beautifully across the room for large groups, but also would work well one on one thanks to intricate details that invite investigation.

Field Trip to the Moon, illustrated and conceived by John Hare, published by Margaret Ferguson Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823442539.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 expedition to the Moon. There are a number of non-fiction books about the topic planned for 2019. And there’s also the whimsical fictional picture book Field Trip to the Moon, which makes a great companion piece to Jon Agee’s hilarious It’s Only Stanley and Life on Mars.  Field Trip is both melancholy and magical, serving up a possibly nightmare situation (a girl left behind on the moon) but then making the scenario wondrous and funny. Hare effectively employs graphic novel style panels and does wonders with the shadows and the colors black and sandy gray-–the art has a cool dusty 3D look.

Fly!, illustrated and written by Mark Teague, published by Beach Lane Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 978-1534451285.

Mark Teague’s Fly! has instantly become one of my favorite wordless books of all time. Well, okay, if you’re a bird, this book probably isn’t wordless. The baby bird and the parent do speak to each other in their own language. In each speech bubble, Teague puts in one of his masterful acrylic paintings illustrating what the characters are saying. The book depicts a charming, visually witty, and hilarious give and take between a stubborn child and an increasingly frustrated parent who feels the time has come for the little one to get out of that nest and fledge already. After the little one falls to the ground, the conversation becomes funnier and funnier with baby bird coming up with all kinds of outlandish excuses not to flap those wings.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Tradition, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, written by Kevin Noble Maillard, published by Roaring Brook, ISBN: 978-1626727465.

Fry Bread starts off as a seemingly simple and direct look at how the food is made. Writer Kevin Noble Maillard (a member of the Seminole Nation, Mekusukey band) serves up a bouncy text as each double page spread zeroes in on a specific aspect of fry bread: its ingredients, its shape, the sound it makes when cooking, its color, and so on. Then as the book progresses Maillard starts showing how fry bread unites people at “Supper or dinner/Powwows and festivals.” What takes this book to an even higher level is the extensive backmatter.  Meanwhile, illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal delights with her playful art. She is one of the most unique picture book artists working today–her round figures look like no one else’s.

The Full House and the Empty House, illustrated and written by LK James, published by Ripple Grove Press, ISBN: 978-0999024935.

As soon as I started paging through this delightful, quirky, and surprisingly poignant work I knew I wanted to write it about here on this humble blog. For this book serves up a sense of mystery as it shows the titular characters (strikingly rendered in hand-drawn ink and edited digitally) frolicking and playing together. Why is the turquoise house empty and the red house full? Who lives in them? Where did those who once lived in the turquoise house go? Or is the dweller existing inside of the turquoise house simply leading a simple life with few possessions? Is this an allegory about a friendship that defies class differences? There is so much to ponder here. But even more importantly, this title satisfies as a rather sweet friendship story about celebrating differences. James creates a unique world all her own here. It really helps that, thanks to succinct words and especially her gorgeous imagery, she makes the concept clear and easy to follow.

Going Down Home with Daddy, illustrated by Daniel Minter, written by Kelly Starling Lyons, published by Peachtree, ISBN: 978-1561459384.

Kelly Starling Lyons’ evocative, empathetic prose is a poignant delight to read, filled with details that capture the closeness and love that the relatives feel for one another. All the children will do something special for Granny: recite a poem, sing a song. The drama at the heart of the story revolves around the protagonist’s fear that he won’t have anything to offer. He can feel the stage fright weighing down on him. Yet something magical happens: after Lil Alan hears about his ancestors, about his dad’s own past nervousness during a similar occasion, everything clicks and he delivers a moving tribute. Daniel Minter’s paintings, done in an acrylic wash, add to the book’s power. Experimental and unique, his art captures the haziness of a warm summer day, of a beloved memory. Yellows, earth tones, swirls, dusty textures all take us to that farm where Granny lives, feeding her stylized chickens.

The Happy Book and other feelings, illustrated and written by Andy Rash, published by Viking (an imprint of Penguin), ISBN: 978-0451471253.

I have enjoyed Andy Rash’s previous books, but nothing prepared me for the exuberant tour de force that is his latest, The Happy Book and other feelings. With the same wit and visual inventiveness of another effective look at emotions, Pixar’s modern animated classic Inside Out, Rash examines the ever-changing landscape of feelings and moods. Don’t let the inviting, bright, jubilant cover deceive you; this book ends up being a wild roller coaster ride. The clever illustrator/author covers a lot of ground here as he serves up a book within a book within a book within a book within a book, changing up the color palette with each twist and each shift in mood. And along the way he delights with shameless (the best kind) puns and wacky whimsy.

The King of Kindergarten, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, written by Derrick Barnes, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, ISBN: 978-1524740740.

Author Derrick Barnes (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Winner and Newbery Honor Winner for Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut) delights with an inspirational and loving text that bubbles with creativity, wit, and empathy as a boy faces a milestone (the first day of kindergarten). Barnes deftly employs a second person narrator, and the “you” becomes universal, putting the reader in the boy’s shoes. The result is one of the very best “going to school” books I have read. What’s great about Barnes’ premise is although mom and dad treat the protagonist like royalty, the kid doesn’t get all ego-trippy at school. He treats his peers with respect and kindness. Meanwhile, the supremely gifted illustrated Vanessa Brantley-Newton fills each spread with color and joy.

The Little Guys, illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol, published by Roaring Brook, ISBN: 978-1626724426.

The Little Guys emerges as an idiosyncratic cautionary tale that mixes laughs in with an anti-bullying message. Wearing acorns on their heads, these multi-colored little guys with their stick legs seem endearing and adorable at first. We’re on their side, applauding the fact that they show no fear in the big, dark forest. But then Brosgol pulls the rug out from under the reader. The little guys start getting, well, downright jerky: knocking chipmunks and foxes out of their homes and joining forces to steal a berry from a bird’s beak. Brosgol’s art is remarkably fluid here (this would make an excellent animated film). I love the facial expressions on the various animals (I seriously think that Brosgol ranks with the very best in terms of giving each character she draws vivid features and characteristics). Thankfully the Little Guys learn their lesson by the end. Phew!

My Footprints, illustrated by Basia Tran, written by Bao Phi, published by Capstone Editions, ISBN: 978-1684460007.

My Footprints has so many things going on it, so many layers, that a mere capsule review cannot do it justice. Written by the celebrated poet Bao Phi (who penned the 2018 Caldecott Honor winner A Different Pond) with gorgeous empathy, the story revolves around a child picked on for being Asian, for having two moms, and for being a girl. The story then shows how this girl, along with her parents, unite and use their imagination to transcend. Basia Tran’s art sings and dances across the page throughout. I love the facial expressions of the characters. This book offers a series of memorable images, and captures the radiating warmth of a family’s love.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle, illustrated by Zeke Peña, written by Isabel Quintero, published by Kokila (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC), ISBN: 978-0525553410.

Spanish edition: Mi Papi Tiene Una Moto, ISBN: 978-0525554943.

Oh, what a joyful burst of energy this book is, a vibrant slice of life story that celebrates a daughter’s love for her carpenter father, and an author’s love for her community. The vivid prose sings, and the cinematic illustrations (created with a Wacom Cintiq with a mix of hand-painted watercolor texture) effectively convey vroomy rumbling movement. My Papi Has a Motorycle (also available in Spanish as Mi Papi Tiene Una Moto) feels alive–it’s both gentle and rollicking, tender and raucous. Author Isabel Quintero brings a sense of fun to her highly personal anecdote (discussed in an end note) of how as a child she would ride on the back of her father’s motorcycle around her town of Corona, California. This story may seem small on one level, but Quintero’s world view is epic. Wow, Zeke Peña’s illustrations serve as a perfect match for the text. At times using explosive graphic novel style panels and effects (word balloons, special lettering for sound effects), Peña does an amazing job capturing the excitement of this eventful trek. I love the palette he uses–the colors jump off the page.

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, written by Barry Wittenstein, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823443314.

A Place to Land does not cover all of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, but zeroes in one significant, unforgettable event: the night he sat down and wrote the unforgettable speech he gave to the crowd attending the 1963 March on Washington. The book takes on an epic scope as King meets with friends and trusted advisors and confidants “in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, where Abraham Lincoln once stood.” Author Barry Wittenstein brings a real energy and drive to his descriptions of this meeting, and then to the amazing morning that followed. He makes readers feel like they have been transported back in time. The legendary illustrator Jerry Pinkney creates gorgeous, heart-stirring work here. His evocative oil paintings catch the expressions of a wide variety of people in the crowd. His use of collage and hand lettering add experimental touches that surprise from spread to spread.

Pokko and the Drum, illustrated and written by Matthew Forsythe, published by Simon & Schuster (A Paula Wiseman Book), ISBN: 978-1481480399.

The froggy star of Matthew Forsythe’s irresistible Pokko and the Drum is basically a good frog who tries her best listening to her parents, but hey, when your drumming gets the party started, you can’t stop the beat. Look at how Forsythe skillfully sets up the comical scenario by detailing how the parents have a history of giving Pokko presents that don’t seem to quite work out: a slingshot and a llama (I’m loving these page turns), among others. The drum turns out to be the worst idea because she cannot stop playing it loudly, and the parents fear the noise will call attention to their humble little mushroom home. After they send Pokko outside, a wild musical rumpus starts! The book looks and feels like a rediscovered lost classic thanks to Forsythe’s watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil illustrations.

Rise!: From Caged Bird to the Poet of the People, illustrated by Tonya Engel, written by Bethany Hegedus (with a foreword by Colin Johnson), published by Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 978-1620145876.

Rise! sweeps readers through Maya Angelou’s turbulent life, handling sensitive topics (the abuse she suffered) with sensitive grace. Author Bethany Hegedus skillfully covers a lot of ground, offering readers a thorough yet easily understood look at how she went from being a quiet, grieving child to a confident person who had many jobs, lived many places, and became an entertainer and accomplished, groundbreaking author. Meanwhile, illustrator Tonya Engel creates stunning art that follows Angelou every step of the way. Just look at those radiant compositions (rendered in acrylic underpainting and oils on textured mono-printed papers) packed with often surreal imagery (love how the tall and dignified Momma Henderson has the body of a Sycamore tree to establish her strength). The art in this book is simply transcendent–with an image of Maya flying above her surroundings one of the most powerful of the year.

The Roots of Rap, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, published by little bee books (an imprint of Bonnier Publishing), ISBN: 978-1499804119.

This exuberant non-fiction title has my favorite subtitle of the year: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop. It’s amazing how much this concise gem covers while offering a personal view of the formation of an extremely vital musical art form. The book sweeps through readers through a history of those who influenced the music, and those who contributed to its artistic development. The great Carole Boston Weatherford who makes picture book writing seem effortless, easy, and breezy, serves up zesty rhymes as she chronicles the evolution of rap. All the while, the terrific illustrator Frank Morrison, always remarkable, outdoes himself. His trademark elongated figures burst off the page, grabbing the eye and capturing the excitement of Weatherford’s zippy couplets.

Saturday, illustrated and written by Oge Mora, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316431279.

The immensely gifted Oge Mora received both a well-deserved John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award from the 2019 Coretta Scott King committee and a fabulous 2019 Caldecott Honor for her lovely, charming Thank You, Omu!. I am happy to report that her follow-up, the bouncy Saturday, is just as terrific: a beautifully rendered tale that begs to be read aloud. Mora’s colorful and inventive collages, created (according to the author’s note) “with acrylic paint, china markers, patterned pattern, and old-book clippings,” shows a mother and daughter attempting to enjoy their adventures on their beloved Saturday, the only day the mother doesn’t have to work. Things go awry. What shines through in Saturday is Mora’s gift for storytelling. Every word feels carefully chosen, and the action flows gracefully from plot point to plot point. She offers a beautiful set-up and effective follow-through. It’s a celebration of love and perseverance.

 

Small in the City, illustrated and written by Sydney Smith, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823442614.

On this blog I have said many times that some of my very favorite picture books feel cinematic. In these cases, the illustrator becomes a director, a cinematographer, a film editor–shifting perspective, creating moods through thoughtfully composed imagery. I especially see this striking quality in the wow-inducing work of Canadian illustrator Sydney Smith. Small in the City feels like a compelling animated short, the kind that would be up for awards at international film festivals. The book creates a sense of moody mystery from the very first page. It soon becomes clearer and clearer what’s going on. And although summaries give away the surprise, I believe for maximum impact it’s best for readers to not know the twist when first reading the book. What’s great about the book is it grows in power on subsequent reads.

A Stone Sat Still, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-1452173184.

Writing about this outstanding picture book poses a bit of a challenge. There is such much going on, so many different layers at work here, so many intriguing spreads to point out and describe. I could compose an epic-sized essay that still wouldn’t do Brendan Wenzel’s work justice. It’s a book that throws many visual ideas (and puns) at the reader, juggles several playful notions about perspective, and delivers a powerful ecological message as well. And it’s all about a stationary rock that Wenzel says (in a recurring meditative refrain) sits still “with the water, grass, and dirt/and it was as it was/ where it was in the world.” Animal after animal encounters the stone, and the conditions surrounding the encounter change, but not in any way the reader expects.

Truman, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, written by Jean Reidy, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1534416642.

The turtle star of the delightful Truman achieves things both modest and great slowly yet effectively. This sweet (but never saccharine) tale sneaks up on you and has a quietly hilarious punchline. Essentially a warm tale about separation anxiety, what’s great about Jean Reidy’s book is it stays true to Truman’s turtle nature: he doesn’t get very far physically but oh what an amazing triumph he experiences nonetheless. Illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins does a fabulous job chronicling his trek. And yet for Truman this journey helps him emotionally. It’s an especially big day for him and readers happily share it with him.

The Undefeated, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, poem by Kwame Alexander, published by VERSIFY (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), ISBN: 978-1328780966.

First written for ESPN, Alexander’s poem is a dynamic, moving, and at times sobering look at the triumphs and struggles of black America. He not only gives shout outs to legends like “The Wilma Rudolphs/The Muhammad Alis/The Althea Gibsons/The Jesse Owenses…” (and the other “We Real Cool ones”) but also “…the underdogs/and the uncertain/the Unspoken/but no longer titled.” Nelson’s vivid oil on panel paintings match Alexander’s words beautifully. Those remarkable collage-like spreads showing famous artists, athletes, and musicians. The portrait of civil rights marchers speaking out because Black Lives Matter. They are all striking and evocative. The book’s design is effective. The font (which changes size to emphasize certain words) and art pop out of a spare white background. Some page turns punch the reader in the gut.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market!, illustrated and written by Raúl the Third, colors by Elaine Bay, published by VERSIFY, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 978-1328557261.

I love Raúl the Third’s work. His drawings for Cathy Camper’s supercool (and wonderfully weird) Lowriders in Space graphic novels pop with a retro underground comic look and sensibility, while still feeling fresh, contemporary, and new. He happily brings this aesthetic to his first picture book, the delightful ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market!, an explosion of surreal detail-packed joy that feels like a cross between Richard Scarry and R. Crumb. This blast of bilingual (Spanish-English) awesomeness crackles with strange yet never alienating illustrations (beautifully colored by Elaine Bay) that invite further investigation and revisits.

The Very Impatient Caterpillar, illustrated and written by Ross Burach, published by Scholastic, ISBN: 978-1338289411.

Burach delivers one giddy deliriously funny romp. It’s an absolute blast reading the conversation between the titular character, exasperated that the metamorphosis progress will take TWO WHOLE WEEKS!, and a far more patient peer. Burach tells the tale completely with speech bubbles. His wildly expressive cartoon characters whip fast-paced dialogue at one another. I love humor that surprises me and it’s a thrill to report that I never knew what Burach was going to do next. Burach makes it all look easy, when we all know that creating a brilliantly funny picture book with expert page turns takes skill and, well, patience.

What Miss Mitchell Saw, illustrated by Diana Sudyka, written by Hayley Barrett, published by Beach Lane Books, ISBN: 978-1481487597.

Author Hayley Barrett also takes an epic approach when writing What Miss Mitchell Saw, starting with Maria Mitchell’s childhood and then chronicling her life experiences through adulthood. Diana Sudyka’s warm, intricate illustrations, created with gouache watercolor and ink, are hypnotic throughout. They become especially cosmic when Sudyka gives readers surreal, shadowy views of starry night-time skies. Words swirl through the air as Maria as she sweeps the sky and becomes friends with the stars. We see her, her cat, and her telescope in silhouette, marvel at meteors and the Aurora Borealis. And at a comet that becomes the main focus of the book’s final section. It’s a thrilling match between text and brilliant imagery.

When Aidan Became a Brother, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, written by Kyle Lukoff, published by Lee & Low Books, ISBN: 978-1620148372.

What a sweet, joyous, loving book this is, filled with empathy and heart. This own voices story, written with sensitivity and emotional immediacy by Kyle Lukoff, tells of a boy named Aidan who, when he was born, everyone thought was a girl. In a beautiful touch, his parents respond to his coming out as transgender in the most accepting way possible, and meet up with other families with transgender kids. A lot of praise must be given to Kaylani Juanita’s warm, inviting, fluid illustrations.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

27 other 2019 books I loved:

Along the Tapajós, illustrated and written by Fernando Vilela, translated by Daniel Hahn, published by Amazon Crossing Kids, ISBN: 978-1542008686.

Another, illustrated and conceived by Christian Robinson, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 978-1534421677.

Astro Girl, illustrated and written by Ken Wilson-Max, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536209464.

A Big Bed for Little Snow, illustrated and written by Grace Lin, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0316478366.

The Boring Book, illustrated and written by Shinsuke Yoshitake, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-1452174563.

Camp Tiger, illustrated by John Rocco, written by Susan Choi, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, ISBN: 978-0399173295.

The Clever Tailor, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath, written by Srividhya Venkat, published by Karadi Tales, ISBN: 978-8193388907.

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, written by Natascha Biebow, published by HMH Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1328866844. 

Everybody Says Meow, illustrated and written by Constance Lombardo, published by Harper, ISBN: 978-0062689887.

Explorers, illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell, published by Feiwel and Friends, ISBN: 978-1250174963.

The Girl and the Wolf, illustrated by Julie Flett, written by Katherena Vermette, published by Theytus Books, ISBN: 978-1926886541.

The Great Santa Stakeout, illustrated by Dan Santat, written by Betsy Bird, published by Arthur A. Levine Books, ISBN: 978-1338169980.

How Do You Dance?, illustrated and written by Thyra Heder, published by ABRAMS, ISBN: 978-1419734182.

Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines, illustrated by Robert Neubecker, written by Sarah Aronson, published by Beach Lane (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 978-1481476683. 

Let ‘Er Buck: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion, illustrated by Gordon C. James, written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, published by Carolrhoda, ISBN: 978-1512498080.

Lion and Mouse, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, written by Jairo Buitrago, published by Groundwood, ISBN: 978-1773062242.

M Is for Melanin: A Celebration of the Black Child, illustrated and written by Tiffany Rose, published by little bee books, ISBN: 978-1499809169.

Mr. Scruff, illustrated and written by Simon James, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536209358.

My Winter City, illustrated by Gary Clement, written by James Gladstone, published by Groundwood, ISBN: 978-1773060101.

The Piano Recital, illustrated and written by Akiko Miyakoshi, published by Kids Can Press, ISBN: 978-1525302572.

The Scarecrow, illustrated by The Fan Brothers, written by Beth Ferry, published by Harper (an imprint of HarperCollins), ISBN: 978-0062475763.

The Shortest Day, illustrated by Carson Ellis, written by Susan Cooper, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763686987. 

Song of the River, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews, written by Joy Cowley, Gecko Press, ISBN: 978-1776572533.

The Thing About Bees, illustrated and written by Shabazz Larkin, published by Readers to Eaters, ISBN: 978-0998047799.

Vroom!, illustrated and written by Barbara McClintock, published by Farrar Straus Giroux, ISBN: 978-1626722170.

Why?, illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823441730.

Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies!, created by Megan and Jorge Lacera, published by Children’s Book Press (an imprint of Lee & Low Books), ISBN: 978-1620147948.

Quick takes: an eclectic mix of picture book awesomeness: Henry and Bea, Just Because, M Is for Melanin, My Winter City, Please Don’t Eat Me

On this blog I often like to pair up or group together picture books that have common themes or ideas. For this post I am praising five books that do not have much in common thematically, but are simply examples of pure picture book awesomeness.

Henry and Bea, illustrated and written by Jessixa Bagley, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House, ISBN: 9780823442843.

The title characters in this gentle story enjoy a close friendship, can easily call each their BFF. However, Bea becomes confused when Henry becomes distant, not wanting to be around her or others, avoiding conversation. As proven in her rather devastating Boats for Papa, Jessixa Bagley knows how to tackle sad topics with tender finesse. (Her Laundry Day also demonstrates her talent for comic timing.) I don’t want to spoil the plot’s major reveal, why Henry has become so despondent. Bagley does a lovely job creating a sense of mystery, ably conveying Bea’s confusion with her sensitive writing and warm art (rendered in watercolors and pencil on paper). When Henry finally does talk about what has caused him such distress, the book started reminding me of Cori Doerrfeld’s beautiful The Rabbit Listened. Being a good friend means stepping back and giving your pal some emotional space. A sweet, humane book.

Just Because, illustrated by Isabelle Aresenault, written by Mac Barnett, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763696801.

The New York Times/New York Public Library recently released their list of the Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2019. They included this visually witty and whimsical offering that has a parent providing nonsensical yet oddly soothing and philosophical answers to an inquisitive child at bedtime. The wildly prolific (and altogether fab) Mac Barnett has fun with the responses to such questions as “Why is the ocean blue?” The father’s response: “Every night, when you go to sleep, the fish take out guitars. They sing sad songs and cry blue tears.” The gifted Isabelle Aresenault takes these queries and runs with them: providing digitally assembled illustrations done in gouache, pencil, and watercolor that sing with surreal delight. The illustrations feel both retro and modern. The dialogue is presented in perfect circles, each a bold color. It all leads to the kid bombarding her grown-up with an avalanche of questions and the tired dad providing an answer that is both comical and perfect. A charming bedtime story for deep thinking children…which means, of course, all children.

M Is for Melanin: A Celebration of the Black Child, illustrated and written by Tiffany Rose, published by little bee books, ISBN: 978-1499809169.

This joyous alphabet book celebrates black children with each letter offering an upbeat and inspirational message for young readers underrepresented in children’s books. One beautiful example: “C is for creative. Paint the canvas of life with the colors of the rainbow. Sprinkle your BLACK GIRL MAGIC and BLACK BOY JOY on the world.” The vibrant art pops off the page. Each hand-drawn capital letter beautifully captures the spirit of the text accompanying it. Paris-based illustrator Tiffany Rose says in her author’s bio that as a child she did not see herself in the books she loved. Her dynamic book will be cherished and embraced.

My Winter City, illustrated by Gary Clement, written by James Gladstone, published by Groundwood, ISBN: 978-1773060101.

This cozy, loving (slush and all) ode to experiencing winter in the city offers panoramic watercolors from award-winning Toronto-based illustrator Gary Clement and evocative text from James Gladstone (also from Toronto). The book’s large dimensions suit the epic, beautifully rendered urban landscapes. Packed with memorable images of snow-covered streets, crowded sidewalks and buses, thrilling sledding hills, and sites that look absolutely perfect when surrounded by snowflakes. My favorite moment: the overhead shot accompanied by the words: “My winter city is a wilderness of footprints,/crisscrossing,/disappearing…Who walked here before?” Thoughtful and lovely, more proof that there is a truly exciting Canadian picture book new wave going on.

 

Please Don’t Eat Me, illustrated and written by Liz Climo, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316315258.

This twisted deadpan delight presents the funny cartoon bubble interactions between a hungry bear and a bunny who, well, does not want to become the predator’s next meal. I love the way Climo keeps surprising the reader from page to page. The dialogue is hilarious, especially rabbit’s reactions to the perilous situation (example, in bear’s mouth, pretending to be devoured prey: “Oh…no. I am being eaten. What a bummer. Ouch”).The best humorous picture books nail their landings, and this one certainly does. We think Climo is serving up an impossibly sweet moment enclosed in a heart-shaped bear hug, but nope, the danger remains.

Picture books of the day: felines rule in six terrific new picture books

As we all know, cats are everywhere. In memes. In viral videos. Soon a bunch of award-winning actors will sing jellicle songs while dressed as jellicle cats on the big screen. And yes, cats often star in delightful picture books that celebrate their cat nature, their cat-tidude if you will. Six new titles featuring our beloved (even when they are completely indifferent to us) furry friends recently caught my eye. Some silly, one surprisingly moving. One cat helps the book’s human heroine make the perfect bao, while another causes mischief in a bodega. They purr, nap, meow, cuddle, (or in one case haunt) and have to put up with us humans who sometimes mistake them for dogs. All of these would make perfect additions to cat-themed storytimes.

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, illustrated by Charlene Chua, written by Kat Zhang, published by Aladdin, ISBN: 978-1534411333.

I mentioned before that I am considering having a blog post where I give out end-of-the-year awards such as Favorite Ensemble Cast in a Picture Book, Favorite Funny Picture Book, Favorite Lead Character, and so on. In the category of Favorite Animal Sidekick I would easily choose the little white cat that co-stars in this sweet, beautifully illustrated romp. The human girl Amy Wu wants to make bao that rivals the rest of her family’s exquisitely yummy creations, but keeps failing. Soon she comes up with a way to her fix her problem and triumphs (although her bao is not-so-perfect). This book works on so many levels. Kat Zhang’s lively text begs to be read aloud. Readers learn about making the food, too. It’s an intergenerational story about family, tradition, and perseverance. Charlene Chua’s colorful digital illustrations bubble with warmth. I love Amy’s expressions, especially when eyeing that perfect bao on the title page, and looking panicked when her latest attempt at culinary perfection has gone wrong. Throughout Amy’s pet cat watches each attempt with looks of comical concern and apprehension. (Or hungry happiness when a piece of bao falls on the floor.) The cat’s reactions build on Amy’s emotions on most pages (the cat is missing from one spread). At the very end (before the bao recipe in the backmatter) it’s the cat who waves goodbye to us.

Bad Dog, illustrated and written by Mike Boldt, published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1984847973.

When opening this goofy gem, readers will first notice a birthday list that says “My birthday list: 1. Dog” and that’s it. There’s no second gift request listed. The little girl wants a dog. Period. So she seems to be in a state of denial about who just popped out of the birthday box. Her bad dog Rocky with her “black-and-white fur./Pointy ears./And a cute little nose” is, in actuality, a cat who behaves most definitely like a cat, never like a dog. And yet the girl keeps trying in vain to have Rocky act like a dog. But going for a walk proves fruitless (Rocky lies on her back and plays with the leash), and attempts to have her meet other dogs results in her racing and hiding up a tree. Illustrator/author Mike Boldt takes this case of mistaken identity (or just plain stubbornness on the kid’s part) and runs with it, serving up amusing illustrations that have the incredulous cat putting up with the hopeful child (love her grin with the two missing front teeth). Boldt is brilliant at comical facial expressions and body language. The story emerges as a fun exploration of what makes a cat a cat. Also it touches on adjusting expectations–about letting others be themselves.

Blue Spot, illustrated and written by Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay, published by Disney Press, ISBN: 978-1368024594.

Daisy comes home with a blue spot on her dress, and Mama asks what caused this to happen. This results in Daisy spinning a story that becomes wilder and wilder: Daisy dodges raining blueberries, walks on stilts over blueberry jam puddles, climbs a mountain of blue ice cream, comforts a crying monster who used to live in the now melted ice cream mountain, and so on. I read this to a bunch of preschool classes and the kids loved giggling at the embellishments and exaggerated nature of Daisy’s rollicking tale. I love reading the next new development and then looking at the kids with a surprised look on my face. Illustrator/writer Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay’s art has a zippy, crisp charm to it, and her text knows how to set up the next jubilant page turn. It’s a delight.

Bodega Cat, illustrated and written by Louie Chin, published by POW!, ISBN: 978-1576879320.

Chip is one cool cat. Chip rules over a bodega in New York City and explains how this is indeed the Good Life, the best life ever. Illustrator/writer Louie Chin’s dynamic celebration of these ultrarad felines bubbles with enthusiasm and visual wit. The best moments have Chip bragging about being an epic asset to the bodega while the illustrations show the cat causing trouble (knocking a toilet paper roll on a customer’s head, sitting on the scale and causing the price to go up). Chin also excels with his depictions of the humans as well. The diverse characters popping up in Chip’s bustling neighborhood all make an impression, especially Chip’s human brother Damian who likes to play superhero with the cat. Adding to the book’s hipster charm: its squarish dimensions make it feel like a vinyl record jacket. Bursting with colors and energy, this tribute to the city Chin loves and the cats who make it special has universal appeal.

Everybody Says Meow, illustrated and written by Constance Lombardo, published by Harper, ISBN: 978-0062689887.

Some books feel naturally created for interactive preschool storytimes, and illustrator/writer Constance Lombardo’s latest title certainly is one. Will children enjoy making the animal noises in this? You bet they will. And will they laugh at the silliness of it all? Definitely. And will the final two punchlines (a loud animal noise followed by the reveal of how big that seemingly fierce creature actually is) surprise them? Most likely. A gray cat starts off the action, looking directly at the action, announcing “Welcome to that magical time when everybody says ‘Meow!” Ready?” Three other multi-colored cats yell “Meow!” while a yellow kitty naps, but a dog botches up the moment by popping in to say “Woof” at an inopportune moment. The distraught gray cat argues with the pooch, begging the creature to say “meow” to no avail. And then a frog and duck come along to further complicate things. Lombardo’s pen, ink, and watercolor drawings have an innocent, child-like charm to them. She has a talent for comic timing and knows how to get young audiences involved, and makes it all seem so effortless. (And I like that one last joke on the back cover that only makes sense as a joke after you have read the story. Keep your eye on the aforementioned yellow cat.)

 

Ghost Cat, illustrated and written by Kevan Atteberry, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823442836.

And finally on a bittersweet melancholy note, there is illustrator/writer Kevan Atteberry’s story of a child haunted by the titular character. The kid tells of their experiences sensing the presence of the cat who has (recently?) passed away. What starts off as a slightly spooky tale of the child seeing glimpses of and hearing noises made by the deceased feline turns into a poignant account of loss. I love how Atteberry gives the ghost cat an otherworldly glow, an ability to zip in and out of the frame. The cat even starts acting a tad like a poltergeist, knocking over books, dishes, and plants, in an effort to lead the child from room to room and to the front door where a kitten in need of a new home awaits. Without resorting to maudlin sentimentality, Atteberry creates a moving story about the everlasting connection between humans and their beloved pets.