My 12 favorite picture books of 2022 (so far…)

So many terrific picture books appeared during the first half of 2022. I present now a celebration of twelve books that have emerged as personal favorites (with the caveat that I still do need to see some late June titles–so much greatness to experience!). These titles will definitely make my year-end list of picture book favorites in December. Here they are alphabetical by title:

Blue: A History of the Color As Deep As the Sea and As Wide As the Sky, illustrated by Daniel Minter, written by Ekua Brew-Hammond, published by Knopf, ISBN: 978-1984894366.

Wow. A mere capsule review like this one can barely tap into what makes Brew-Hammond’s poetic, meticulously researched picture book so special. The title whisks the reader through history, going back to ancient times, and glides across the globe, showing the impact of the color blue on people living all around the world, inspiring myths and wonder. Brew-Hammond does not sugarcoat the pain of people “working the mines/or of slavery on indigo plantations.” Such pain led to the blues. The great Daniel Minter’s evocative, always surprising illustrations match Brew-Hammond’s stirring words. Using “layers of acrylic wash on heavy watercolor paper,” Minter offers up a series of memorable images that are often surreal and experimental, beautifully building on the many moods of Brew-Hammonds’ words. In a book with a topic such as this, the colors need to grab the eye, and Minter’s colorful spreads astound.

The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky, created by Kim Jihyun, published by Floris Books, ISBN: 978-1782507420.

The first thing readers will notice about this beautifully designed title is its epic dimensions. This book stands tall, perfect for those mesmerizing double page spreads that show a child traveling to the country, heading into the woods, diving into a stream, and then staring into the sky. It becomes a sepia-toned immersive experience. A note says that the art by the immensely talented Kim Jihyun was “entirely drawn and painting using writing ink and slow-dry blending medium.” One marvels at the details in the resulting spreads, from the intricate early scenes in the city to the moments in a wooded area and then under the water. Every leaf, every branch, every detail feels meticulously crafted.

emile and the field, art by Chioma Ebinama, words by Kevin Young, published by Make Me a World, ISBN: 978-1984850423.

Some great picture books create a sensory experience, immersing the reader in the worlds they create. emile and the field emerges as one such title, thanks to Ebinama’s absolutely jaw-dropping illustrations (created with watercolors and ink) that fill the pages with natural splendor and wonder. Kevin Young’s poetic text, which feels both delicate and urgent at the same time, makes the field Emile loves sound like the most beautiful, wondrous place on Earth. So the art better deliver the visual goods, and wow, do they ever. Ebinama creates impressionistic images that practically appeal to all five senses. You can hear the whooshing wind, smell the flowers, touch the fallen leaves.

Endlessly Ever After: Pick YOUR Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings!, illustrated by Dan Santat, written by Laurel Snyder, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-1452144825.

Wow, what an exuberant and inventive book this is! Serving up a delightfully twisted fractured fairy tale spin on the Choose on Your Adventure approach to narrative, author Laurel Snyder has a ball playing with the fate of classic characters. She gives readers a choice at frequent intervals, go to this page for this option or that page for this other option. Some decisions of course lead to inevitable doom and the reader starts again. For a title like this to work you need a first-rate illustrator. And yowsah, does wildly prolific Caldecott winner Dan Santat ever deliver here. Always innovative (he’s the guy who gave us The Adventures of BeekleAre We There Yet? and After the Fall after all), Santat brings his A game to this work. He gives us thrilling POV shots capturing the high drama and tension of the action and one of the most unforgettable big bad wolves ever. He is also a comical genius.

Growing an Artist: The Story of a Landscaper and His Son, illustrated and written by John Parra, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (A Paula Wiseman Book), ISBN: 978-1534469273.

Parra’s engaging non-fiction personal memoir tells how as a young child he would accompany his landscaper papi at work. The young Parra soon became interested in the idea of blueprints and started actually creating them for his dad. And look, a young artist is born. With immediate and energetic text, Parra walks readers through the various parts of his hard-working father’s job. This would make a terrific companion to last year’s terrific Someone Builds the Dream, illustrated by Loren Long and written by Lisa Wheeler. A beautiful afterword offers a photo of an adult Parra with his beloved papi and a toast to the workers (often migrant workers) who bring the blueprints to life.

I’m Not Small, illustrated and written by Nina Crews, published by Greenwillow (an imprint of HarperCollins), ISBN: 978-0063058262.

Although shaped like a picture book, I’m Not Small, with its emotionally direct prose and crisp, uncluttered digital illustrations, emerges as one of the best easy readers of the year. A sweet and profound story of a boy’s growing awareness of the concept of big vs. small and how he fits into it all. He steps into his backyard and feels tiny compared to the enormous sky and tree. Then he compares himself to various animals smaller than him, with each critter tinier than the last. Visually Crews does an excellent job capturing this size comparison, knowing when to place the reader faraway to show the child’s relative smallness, and pulling us close to show him towering over an ant. Her many past titles demonstrate what an inventive photographer Crews is (for example, check out her amazing work in the Richard Wright haiku collection Seeing Into Tomorrow). Here, her digital illustrations also impress–just look at those textures and cool patterns. And it all leads to a touching final few spreads with our thoughtful lad finding solace in being both big AND small.

Kick Push, illustrated and written by Frank Morrison, published by Bloomsbury, ISBN: 978-1547605927, to be released: April 19, 2022.

In his fun foreword to his dynamic new Kick Push, the award-winning Frank Morrison shares why he chose an art style called “mannerism” to tell the story of a pint-sized skateboarding whiz feeling lonely after moving to a new place. Mannerism, to paraphrase Morrison, effectively captures the zipping, wicked moves pulled off by great skateboarders and the emotions of flying fast and high on the board. The resulting book features some of Morrison’s best work ever. The illustrations burst with life as the hero, nicknamed Epic for good reason, zooms and soars across the spreads. Morrison’s stylized figures with their long limbs and expressive faces charm throughout.

Knight Owl, illustrated and written by Christopher Denise, published by Christy Ottaviano Books (an imprint of Little, Brown and Company), ISBN: 978-0316310628.

Right from the start, Knight Owl instantly works as an adorable tale about the cutest of owlets wishing to fulfill a dream of becoming a medieval knight. And yet upon further inspection, the reader discovers that illustrator/writer Christopher Denise has more than mere cuteness up his sleeve. He fills this sly wish-fulfillment adventure with a sense of danger and suspense. What also becomes apparent and surprising is how absolutely beautiful the illustrations in Knight Owl are. Yes, Denise serves up laughs and giggles, along with thrills, but the dramatic art also creates a sense of wonder, especially in the climactic starlit nighttime scenes. The owl’s deadpan Buster Keaton-like expressions delight. And a huge wow to that dragon, seen in epic close-ups that fill out the book’s cinematic widescreen dimensions. The texture of those scales, those fearsome eyes.

Lizzy and the Cloud, illustrated and written by The Fan Brothers, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-1534483170.

My favorite picture books often have a dream logic to them. And Eric and Terry Fan, aka The Fan Brothers, always lace their titles with fanciful surreal imagery. Their terrific Lizzy and the Cloud follows this tradition beautifully, and the dreamy images bubble with the off-kilter coziness of The Night Gardener and the immensely moving Ocean Meets SkyLizzy takes the idea of a child obtaining a new pet and then spins it on its head.

Love in the Library, illustrated by Yas Imamura, written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-156204308.

So many great recent picture books tell personal family stories. Love in the Library, an evocative new work that offers a moving fictionalized account of how author Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s grandparents met while in a Japanese internment camp in Idaho during World War II. Tokuda-Hall’s powerful story does not sugarcoat the sadness of this situation and brings a stirring emotional immediacy to her prose. She deftly juggles the story’s mood shifts, from sorrow to joy, all in a way younger readers (grades K and up) will understand. Artist Yas Imamura, with her gouache and watercolor paintings, manages to capture all of the story’s complexities while evoking the feel of memory.

Rodney Was a Tortoise, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang, written by Nina Forler, published by Tundra, ISBN: 978-073526662.

Yes, the key word in this title is was. We know poor Rodney probably won’t make it to the end of the book. What I love about Forler’s sensitively written (but never cloying) story is how we learn why this child considers Rodney so special and how we feel the loss when Rodney passes. She walks the reader through the very real emotions of pet loss–the emptiness, the memories, the loneliness. But then she gives us a happy resolution, with a human friend listening to the grieving protagonist, sharing their memories not only about Rodney but about a pet they lost. So many pet books end with a new puppy or new kitten or new turtle being the solution. Here the reader feels moved by a very human (and humane) connection that is ultimately more universal and helpful. Yong Ling Kang’s watercolor and pencil illustrations are just right for this touching, tender book.

The World Belonged to Us, illustrated by Leo Espinosa, written by Jacqueline Woodson, published by Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House), ISBN: 978-0399545498.

Wow, what a burst of warm summery joy this playful book is. The exuberant The World Belonged to Us finds the great author Jacqueline Woodson in a nostalgic mood, dreaming of Brooklyn summer “not so long ago.” She writes of games of double dutch, stickball, bottle caps filled with tar, all the while capturing the exhilaration of communal play. And all the while, Leo Espinosa’s art, done with a “mighty pencil and Adobe Photoshop,” more than conveys the pure giddy happiness of summertime bliss. The children run, jump, and dance across the page, splashing in water from fire hydrants and dashing towards an approaching ice cream truck. Readers cannot help but smile along.

5 thoughts on “My 12 favorite picture books of 2022 (so far…)

  1. An amazing list! I love my copy of Owl Knight and am a big fan of Frank Morrison and can’t wait to get my hands on this one! Rodney was a Tortoise looks super sweet.

    Liked by 1 person

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