Best Picture Books of 2013: Part the Last

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My paid work has been getting in the way of the much-more-important focus of providing the world with my none-too-humble opinions about books. I know you've all been on the edge of your seats waiting and wondering, and all attempts at self-deprecating humor aside, I have wanted to share these with you, more than anything. I'll have some adult books to talk about before the holidays set in, I hope, as well.

Here is the third part of the series on the picture books for kids that I've read that were published this year and thought were worth sharing. I really hope you'll consider adding a few of these to your holiday shopping list.

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Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf (ages 4-8)

My four-year-old son adored this book from the library so much, that I purchased a copy that Santa will deliver on Christmas morning. Sophie takes a trip to the farmer's market with her parents and picks out a lovely squash, but instead of eating it, names the squash Bernice and proceeds to make it her BFF, despite her parents' warnings that it will eventually rot. How Sophie ignores the advice of her well-meaning parents and the way in which she works out for herself the eventual loss of Bernice to the natural elements, makes for a touching, amusing story. If you've ever had a hard time convincing a child to do things your way (a daily occurrence at my house), you really must not miss Sophie's Squash, which garnered four starred reviews. It's simply delightful. 

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Tiger in My Soup By Kashmira Sheth and Jeffery Ebbeler (ages 4-7)

This is another book that my son asked me to read over and over this fall. A young boy is left home with his older sister, who ignores his request to read him a book. She does prepare him some alphabet soup, from which an enormous tiger rises, whom the boy battles throughout the story, while his sister, who is much more interested in her earbuds, remains oblivious. This is a fabulous story about what happens when you can't get your head outside of a story you've read, and the fact that the young boy conquers the tiger (or maybe, as it appears again to lurk nearby at the conclusion), all while his sister ignores him, adds a comic touch. A fun look at imagination and the power of a good book.

It's also worth noting that the main characters are Indian-American, a segment of the population that is seriously underrepresented in mainstream children's literature. 

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The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton (ages 4-9)

This lovely picture book is a fine example of how to introduce a difficult concept, in this case popularity and belonging, in a way that is subtle and interesting enough to entertain kids without beating them over the head with a message. While the words tell the story of Brian, a boy who feels left out of the "in crowd," the artwork is more powerful, as Brian is portrayed in black and white next to the colorful groups of children who exclude him. You see, Brian feels invisible, so he is rendered as such through a lack of color. When a new boy comes to school, Brian is able to use his own experience to welcome this classmate, and in the process begins to see himself with more confidence. As Brian's faith in himself grows, so does the color pallete with which the illustrator portrays him. This tender book deserves to be shared with your elementary-aged child, and it can evoke thoughtful conversation. Don't be turned off by the fact that it has an important message; The Invisible Boy is executed in a way that doesn't compromise its entertainment value. 

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Mr. Wuffles! By David Weisner (ages 4-adult)

There's a reason David Weisner has been honored with the Caldecott Medal more than once. His wordless picture books are stunning works of art that tell humorous, quirky, and fantastical stories exceedingly well. Mr. Wuffles!, Weisner's latest effort, is no exception. I should also note that Wiesner has clearly spent time with cats, as his portrayal of the lead character, a feline, is dead on as to the intricacies of cat personalities. Mr. Wuffles finds playing with toy mice rather a bore. He's much more interested in a tiny spaceship with a real band of miniature aliens inside. The tiny spacemen are in trouble and we get to see our foreign world through their eyers as they escape from Mr. Wuffle's paws, land under a radiator, and try to devise a means of escape. Weisner always puts enough detail into his stories to merit multiple perusals, and Mr. Wuffles! is no exception. If you like art, comedy, and a bit of magic, don't miss this picture book. I won't be surprised if it lands Wiesner on the awards lists early next year. 

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Locomotive by Brian Floca (ages 7-12)

I am a huge fan of Brian Floca's award-winning non-fiction, and I didn't think he could top his portrayal of the Apollo flight in Moonshot until I read Locomotive. You don't have to be a train aficionado to appreciate Floca's detailed artwork and his knack for introducing a factual subject with writing that grabs your attention from the first page. Floca throws you back into 1869, the golden age of railroad travel, and his poetic prose is so effective you can practically hear the steam engine roaring. If you're a fan of detailed watercolor artwork, you'll be mesmerized by the two-page spreads, and those who are looking for more information will enjoy the detailed end notes. Highly recommended quality non-fiction that you'll be entertained by as much as your children. 

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Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip C. Stead (ages 4-8)

I'm a sucker for a picture book that bridges the age gap by presenting a premise that a preschooler can enjoy with a deeper message that older kids will catch on to. Ruby is an absolutely endearing little bird who's determined to make a friend and her extroverted, but simple way of introducing herself to various candidates is charmingly captivating. There's a subtle message here about identity, reaching out, diversity, and community that I didn't fully grasp until I read the book more than once. To me, a hallmark of a quality picture book is that juxtaposition of a seemingly simple story with layer upon layer of deeper meaning. My 8-year-old daughter, a social butterfly whom I think identified with Ruby, truly enjoyed this title. I did too.

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce (ages 6-12)

It's a bit funny that this book about loving books was first an Academy-Award-winning film short, but that fortunately doesn't detract from its success in print form, and only adds to the theme that a story in any form is still a story. I recently read it to a third-grade class and I really savored how much they were taken with it, and the many details about it that they pointed out afterward, which I hadn't caught in a previous reading on my own. William Joyce is a well-known picture book author, and this paean to the fact that books are most powerful when shared, captures whimsy, fantasy, and is full of allusions. It's the perfect book to read with a child who loves stories, and really, who doesn't? Join Mr. Morris Lessmore as a he cares for a library of not-so-inanimate books throughout his life,  until he passes the stories inside on to another generation, just as they were given to him years earlier. This is a powerful and magical ode to books and stories. 

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The Tortoise and The Hare by Jerry Pinkney (ages 4-9)

Jerry Pinkney is a multiple-award-winning illustrator of children's books, and the accolades are sure to keep coming with his latest rendition of a classic Aesop fable. I was blown away by The Tortoise and the Hare, and so were my kids. Pinkney sets the story in the American Southwest and chooses to tell it cumulatively with first the simple word "slow" integrated into his detailed, unique illustrations, until the words turn into "slow and steady wins the race," upon the tortoise's triumph. This book of few words and intense action is a stunning tour-de-force that you must have in your home collection. I predict several much-deserved awards for this one. Pinkney is simply a master artist and storyteller.

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The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett (ages 4-8)

I'm not usually the first person sold on wordless picture books, but several entries in this field in 2013 are especially outstanding. Besides those I've mentioned above, The Boy and the Airplane by cartoonist Mark Pett deserves your attention. It's a thoughtful tale told in browns and reds about a boy who unwraps a gift left by an older person who is walking off the page and away from the scene, and never identified. The boy is enchanted to find a toy airplane in the box, and enjoys flying it until it lands out of reach on a roof. The way the boy solves this problem and what he does with the plane as he grows older makes for an delightful story with charm that won't be lost on young readers. An introspective story that my children very much appreciated, as did I.

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Building Our House by Jonathan Bean (ages 6-10)

This is just a lovely story based on the author/illlustrator's own childhood, in which a family builds their home over the course of a year and a half, completely by hand. You get to see not only the process by which lumber becomes a house, but how the pipes are laid, the concrete poured, the chimney built, and how each child in the family helps make the plans a reality. This is not just a book for construction fans, but is also a sweet story about a close-knit family. The entire process is fascinating, and the large-scale pages are chock full of detailed drawings depicting the action and bustle of such a huge undertaking. Beyond building, there's comfort here, solidarity, and love. 

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Thumpy Feet by Betsy Lewin (ages 3-6)

This one is up there with my most favorite picture book of 2013. Dog and cats in picture books are a dime a dozen, but every once in awhile, as in the Caldecott Award-winning Kitten's First Full Moon, an author nails this topic. Where Mr. Wuffles is the picture of feline aloofness, Thumpy Feet is his polar opposite -- a goofy, hungry, happy cat who exists to throw himself around the pages in joy only to take a break to stuff his face with kibble, or fall into a play-induced cat nap. The simple text goes something like this: "Smacky mouth, Smacky smacky, smack smacky smack" and "Snoozy snoozy snoooozy," which when read aloud with enthusiasm matching Thumpy's exploits, makes for a whole lot of fun. Thumpy's simple joi de vivre is interestingly reminiscent of many preschoolers, who really should not miss this book. This is a super- fun read aloud that left my preschool son in fits of giggles begging me to share it over and over. 

So get thee to the library and check these out, or put one or two on your holiday lists. I'm planning to rerun this entire series in December, and then let you know if any of my favorites were award winners for 2013 come January.