Picture book of the day: a little creature experiences an epic adventure in The Barnabus Project

The Barnabus Project, illustrated and written by The Fan Brothers with Devin Fan, published by Tundra, ISBN: 978-0735263260, ARC reviewed, to be released: September 1, 2020.

How can a story about a creature so tiny end up seeming so epic in scope? The Barnabus Project, a sci-fi laced adventure about a little half-mouse half-elephant hybrid trapped in an imposing underground lab, feels like a thrillingly devised action movie with a lovable protagonist and equally lovable friends seeking freedom, a life under beautiful stars. This is a story so big it takes not two, but three members of the Fan family (frequent collaborators Eric and Terry joined by their brother Devin) to tell it. And yet the book never loses its sense of emotional urgency; the reader never stops caring about one of the most adorable titular characters of this picture book year.

One thing I often look for in stories I experience is a sense of place. And wow, do the Fans ever transport the reader into Barnabus’ world. The lab exists beneath, way down beneath that is, a store called Perfect Pets (which sells genetically engineered animals). The authors/illustrators serve up a sweeping, highly detailed shots of a busy street and the intricate underground world where Barnabus and others live in claustrophobic bell jars. The creatures, all experiments that have “failed” according to the clueless humans (ominously called the Green Rubber Suits) running the place, are all instantly endearing. Bird-like characters with long legs. Mushroom sloths. Dust bunnies. The whole lot of them.

Barnabus defies the odds and smashes his way out of his glass cage and manages to free the others. It is breathtaking watching them all make their escape, with the Fans’ signature graphite illustrations (colored digitally) capturing every step of their perilous trek. I love how the Fans shift between spreads that have a lot of details with others that offer plenty of white space. The book never feels too busy; it’s beautifully designed. Most of all, The Barnabus Project sticks its landing, bringing the characters and readers to a lovely happy ending that feels both earned and satisfying. Another great book from the Fans.

Picture book of the day: Lift is an imaginative delight with inventive illustrations

Lift, illustrated by Dan Santat, written by Minh Lê, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1368036924.

The last time I checked, Caldecott winner Dan Santat has illustrated, oh, a kazillion books. And what’s amazing is how he manages to find new ways to visually tell a story, to shake up the picture book format. Each new book feels fresh and alive. And he excels at comedy, packing each humorous spread with amusing touches. Facial expressions that say a million words, page turns that lead to new surprises, and brilliant shifts in POV that masterfully capture the comical action. For example, examine his use of graphic novel style panels in Lift, his rather epic collaboration with Minh Lê (a follow-up to their award-winning Drawn Together). I often say that the very best picture books reminds me cinema. Well, Lift has the expert pacing of a thrilling and funny award-winning animated film.

The story stars Iris, a kid who, like most children, loves to push the elevator buttons. And does so every day. Until one fateful day when, gasp!, her younger sibling sneaks past her and PUSHES THE BUTTON! Iris flips out and then shocks her family by doing that whole “I’m now going to push every button in this elevator” trick as an act of revenge. Santat does a fabulous job depicting the family dynamics in this segment. Just look at the toddler’s jealous eyes when Iris pushes a button, matched by Iris’ stunned look when her button-pushing duty is stolen from her. I love the whole family’s deflated body language as they step off the elevator after all this drama, past an elevator repairman who has tossed an old button, meant to summon elevators, into the garbage. Intrigued, Iris retrieves the button (Santat places the reader in the trash can, looking up at a curious Iris, in one clever frame).

Things in Lift then take a magical and surreal turn. She tapes the button on her bedroom wall and dares to push it. Suddenly she finds herself transported to other worlds that magically appear: a jungle, outer space. And in these sequences, Santat serves up some of his most striking work. Just look at that tiger in the jungle scene. The way Iris and the objects in her bedroom start defying gravity just before the outer space scene starts. The spread where she floats among the stars is especially evocative.

Of course by the end Iris realizes that experiencing these adventures alone, without her little sibling brings about feelings of emptiness. She learns to enjoy the little one’s company. The ending does not feel overly sentimental.

As a picture book, Lift more than satisfies. And yet it’s so terrific, part of me wishes it could have been even longer. It’s like a great song that you don’t want to end. It’s to Lê’s and Santat’s credit that they have created a world so intriguing and fun the reader wants to push the elevator button one more time.

Favorite Picture Books of the Decade (2010-19) Poll Wrap-Up: The Complete Results

Last week I counted down the top 30 (well, 32) books appearing on this blog’s Favorite Picture Books of the Decade (2010-19) poll. And I mentioned that on the 36 ballots, a total over 180 books were represented.

Here now is the complete ranked list of these titles!

1. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

2. Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love  

3. Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

4. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead  

5. The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson  

6. Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell 

7. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

8. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen   

9. Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall  

10. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis 

11. Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe 


12. (tie) A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin 

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel 


14. Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora 

15. Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe 

16. Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith 

17. Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales 


18. (tie) A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka 

Blackout by John Rocco 


20. Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis 


21. Love by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Loren Long 


22. (tie) Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie 

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal 


24. (tie) After the Fall by Dan Santat 

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell 


26. (tie) Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier 

When Aiden Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita 

The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen 


29. Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal 


30. (tie) Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall 

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein 

We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems 


33. Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato 

34. A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith 

35. The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van Thahn Rudd 


36. (tie) Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat 

Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter


38. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall 


39. (tie) Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown 

Draw! by Raúl Colón 

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet 

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen 


43. (tie) Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen 

Journey, by Aaron Becker 

Small in the City by Sydney Smith 


46. The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee 


47. (tie) Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol 

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña 


49. (tie) Before I Leave by Jessixa Bagley 

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López 

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith 

The Great Santa Stakeout by Betsy Bird, illustrated by Dan Santat 

Perfect Square by Michael Hall 

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith, illustrated by Rachel Wada 

That Is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems 

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen 

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett 


58. The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee 


59. (tie) Another by Christian Robinson 

Big Cat, little cat by Elisha Cooper 

Blizzard by John Rocco 

Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Pamela Dalton 

Can I Be Your Dog by Troy Cummings 

Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby 

Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley 

Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes 

Press Here by Herve Tullet 

Triangle by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen 


69. (tie) Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith


71. (tie) Alfie (The Turtle That Disappeared) by Thyra Heder 

Can I Build Another Me? By Shinsuke Yoshitake 

Come with Me by Holly McGhee 

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown 

Maria the Matador by Anne Lambelet 

My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett 

Oh, No! by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann 

Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre 

Saturday by Oge Mora 

Ten Orange Pumpkins by Stephen Savage 

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac 


82. (tie) The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

Escargot by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Sydney Hanson 

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini 

Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault 

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scott, illustrated by Oliver Tallec 

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown 

My Heart by Corinna Luyken 

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel

A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes 

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld 

Stormy by Guojing 

Woke Baby by Mahogany Browne, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III


94. (tie) Building Our House by Jonathan Bean

The Day I Became a Bird by Ingrid Chabbert, illustrated by Guridi

Now by Antoinette Portis 

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

River by Elisha Cooper 

Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Why Am I Me by Paige Britt, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko 


100. (tie) Are We There Yet by Dan Santat 

Because by Mo Willems, illustrated by Amber Ren 

Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger 

Everybody Says Meow by Constance Lombardo 

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison 

Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler 

I Love My Colorful Nails by Alicia Acosta, illustrated by Luis Amavisca 

I Yam a Donkey by Cece Bell 

Imagine! by Raúl Colón 

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein 

Just Ask: Be Brave, Be Different, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael López 

Lenny and Lucy by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead 

Little Wolf’s First Howling by Laura McGee Kvasnosky, illustrated by Kate Harvey McGee

Nine Months by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin 

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis 

Waiting by Kevin Henkes 


116. (tie) All Around Us by Xelena González, illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia 

Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenburg, illustrated by Brian Floca 

Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi 

Hey Wall: a story of Art and Community, by Susan Verde, illustrated by John Parra 

I Miss My Grandpa by Jin Xiaojing 

Locomotive by Brian Floca 

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers 

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller by Kate Read 

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall 

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson 

Seeing Into Tomorrow: Haiku by Richard Wright, illustrated by Nina Crews 

Waiting Is Not Easy by Mo Willems 

Windows by Julia Denos, illustrated by E. B. Goodale 


130 (tie). Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera 

RRRalph by Lois Ehlert 

Voice of Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes 

Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers 


134 (tie). Balloons Over Broadway by Jan Greenburg, illustrated by Melissa Sweet 

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri 

Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat 

Emma and Julie Love Ballet, by Barbara McClintock 

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle 

Green Is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra

A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins 

I See Kitty by Yasmine Surovec 

The Journey by Francesca Sanna 

Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo 

Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability by Shawn Burcaw and Matt Carr

The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett 

Virginia Wolf by Kyo McLear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault 

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins 

Woodpecker Wants a Waffle by Steve Breen 

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds 


150 (tie). Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham 

The Dress and the Girl by Camille Andros, illustrated by Julie Morstad 

Full of Fall by April Pulley Sayre 

Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor 

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann 

House of Madame M by Clotilde Perrin

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier 

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson 

Moo! by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka 

Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski 

This Is Sadie by Sara O’ Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad 


161 (tie). At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorrell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre 

Be a Friend by Salina Yoon 

Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham and Charles Walters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui 

Jazz Day by Roxanne Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo 

Let’s Go for a Drive by Mo Willems 

Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby 

13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman

The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach 

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli 

You Are Home by Evan Turk


172 (tie). Big Bug by Henry Cole 

Brimsby’s Hats by Andrew Prahin  

Chirri and Chirra by Kaya Doi  

Gaston by Kelly diPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson  

Good Dog by Cori Doerrfeld 

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger  

The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper  

Life on Mars by Jon Agee 

Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn  

Plume by Isabelle Simler 

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies  

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski  

Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemie, illustrated by G. Brian Karas  

Two Tall Houses by Gianna Morino  

Favorite Picture Books of the Decade (2010-19) Part 5: Poll Results (And now presenting #1…)

Thank you for reading this series of posts. And thanks again to the 36 people who submitted their Favorite Picture Books of the Decade ballots! As I said, over 180 books were mentioned, proving that 2010-19 was quite a terrific decade for picture books. On Monday #30-#21 were revealed. Tuesday #20-#11. Wednesday #10-#6. Thursday #5-2.


And now #1…




Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, illustrated by Gordon C. James, written by Derrick Barnes, published by Denene Millner Books (an imprint of Agate Bolden), ISBN: 978-1572842243. (2018)

I put up both covers to show Before and After. Before Crown won several awards, and After. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut won a Newbery Honor, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Plus an Ezra Jack Keats Award or two. And the accolades, oh, the accolades.

Crown is personal picture book making at its very best with Barnes and James collaborating to celebrate Black boys and Denene Millner dedicating herself to release positive, powerful, life-affirming books about Black young people and their families. Crown entered the world quietly, under the radar, and then took off as more people discovered its striking illustrations and vibrant language. It has become one of the most influential and justly celebrated books ever.

Here is my original review from October 2, 2017:

Some books feel like instant classics the moment you read them. Some books offer such joy they give you a lift. Some books feel thrilling, alive, and new. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is that kind of book, a burst of energy that makes you so happy it exists. Author Derrick Barnes writes in an afterword that he wanted to capture the experience of Black and Brown boys visiting barber shops, receiving amazing haircuts, and leaving with heads held high and with elevated self-esteem. His witty, vibrant prose certainly excels at sharing what a trip to “the shop” feels like, with its second person narration and thrilling sense of urgency. Barnes writes that “you came in as a lump of clay/a blank canvas, a stab of marble” and that the barber is an artist who will treat you like royalty, draping you with a cape, turning you into a Dark Caesar. This is motivational and inspirational writing at its very best, designed to appeal to young guys by putting things in terms that they understand. Barnes avoids sappiness by throwing in funny lines about how you, after getting your fresh cut, become such a star people are “going to have to wear shades/when they look up to catch your shine.”

And I love Gordon C. James’ art in this book. It matches the exuberance, warmth and wit of Barnes’ text while (save one surreal moment of a boy’s head becoming the aforementioned cosmic star) keeping things real. The expression on the boy’s face on the very first page gets us ready for the title’s playfulness: a boy stands with his held up high, smile on his face, slyly giving the reader a sideways glance. This is followed by a more contemplative double spread as the kid walks to the barber chair where the genius barber waits with the royal cape. A flip of the page gives you two images of the boy achieving great things with his new cut, holding achievement ribbons on one side, and (mentioned before) literally becoming a superstar in the cosmos on the other. Then Barnes and James broaden the experience by giving us moments inside the shop, with other customers (grown men) getting cuts of their own. All the while, Barnes’ words compel, and James’ inventive art serves up memorable image after memorable image. The visit results in a fab fresh cut for the boy, with the shop’s other guests wanting to give his new look a standing o. At the very end, as the boy leaves the shop, more “magnificent” and “flawless” (“like royalty”) than before, we have to flip the book so it is vertical. This is extremely effective when delivering the book’s empowering message. The boy appears to be larger than life, brimming with confidence and life. “Hello, world…”


This upcoming Monday I will put up the entire list.


Thanks again everyone!