2013 Best Picture Books: Part the Second

More of my favorite picture books from 2013 to add to your holiday shopping list. I hope to share additional books in the next month or so. I am amazed at the high quality of much of what was published for kids in the last nine months, as not all years are similarly blessed. Awesome stuff! 

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Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking and Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas by Philippe Coudray (Ages 5-10) 

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I'm struggling with how to describe these books, other than to say that you really need to take a look at them as soon as possible. Translated from the French, each contains single page comic strips in which Benjamin gets into problems and uses comical ways to try to solve them, often misguidedly.  Each scene comes off as across between commedia dell'arte and physical comedy, only on paper. My eight year old spent hours and hours poring over these books, enjoying the comic scenes and honing her sense of humor.

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The Benjamin Bear books are great for both beginning readers (because of the simple text) and older kids who like comic book-style humor. And by the way, these come from the Toon Books series, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It's taken some old-school types a lot of convincing that graphic novels (re cartoon strips) are an awesome way to get kids reading, but I know you modern parents realize that there's more to life than Dick and Jane. I call beginning reader graphics "next generation Dr. Seuss," and Toon Books should be right up there on the top of your reading list with Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie series. 'Nuff said and stepping off of soapbox!

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A Long Way Away by Frank Viva (ages 4-10) 

I'm always interested in titles that challenge the traditional concept of physical form and this one blew me away.  It opens horizontally and tells two stories simultaneously depending on whether you read from front to back or back to front. It is so freaking cool and all of my kids loved it, so it works across the spectrum of ages. It's one of those books your kids will want to read repeatedly to pick up new parts of the story each time they open it. And check out the über cool Frank Viva, whose work has been featured in the New Yorker and the Museum of Modern Art, here.

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Shimmer & Splash: The Sparkling World of Sea Life by Jim Arnosky (ages 8-12) 

I didn't think well-known children's non-fiction author and naturalist Jim Arnosky could top Thunder Birds: Nature's Flying Predators, but then this book was published. The acrylic and pencil depictions of underwater life are gorgeous, and Arnosky does a great job of mixing longer narrative with fold-out sections of artwork that are carefully and informatively labeled. My nature loving kids spent hours with this title. I love the way Arnosky talks to his readers, noting exciting things he's found in the world and infecting kids with his enthusiasm. I think the best way to teach kids to take care of the world is to get them excited about it, and your kids will be ready to head outside and explore after an encounter with this book. 

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Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle (ages 4-8)

When you pick this title up, it's obvious that an animation artist conceived it; Flora and the Flamingo is full of movement, joie de vivre, and expression. This story of a girl and a graceful bird learning to dance together is wordless, filled with flaps, and foldouts, and a delight to behold. It reminds me of an animated short in book form. I loved it, and so did my daughters. I'd recommend it for fans of dance, the color pink, or anyone who can relate to try-try-trying again until attaining a glorious result.

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Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cole (ages 8-11)  

I'm really impressed with the way this book uses a conversational tone and a graphic novel approach to coaxing kids into getting outside and taking a look around. The author, who also happens to be a talented artist (see her picture book The Magic Rabbit , which I own because it's just a great story), does a fantastic job of drawing kids into the world of birdwatching and keeping them interested. My 10 year old spent many hours poring over this book, which encouraged her to look at aspects of birds she's probably never thought of ... how about their feet, their songs, where they nest, and more? Think you can't be into nature if you live in the city? asks Cole, challenging kids to look around them regardless of their location. Look Up! also shows kids how to keep a nature sketchbook or diary, how to start categorizing what they see, and all while using a chatty voice that is sure to keep kids interested. This is an excellent book that certainly deserves the across the board starred reviews it garnered from each of the major review journals. It's also just plain fun.

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Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty and Thomas Gonzalez (ages 7-11)

Often, particularly well-rendered children's biographies take a piece of or event in a famous person's life and illuminate it. In this way, kids can understand the larger significance of a person's life through the microcosm of a single experience. Gandhi: A March to the Sea focuses on the turning point in India's quest for freedom from British rule, which took place over a four week period in 1930. The book features simple poetic text, which echoes the cadence of the long, determined march, along with mixed media illustrations that fill entire pages. This gracefullly-told story offers a way to open young readers' minds to the otherwise-lofty concept of non-violent resistance. And while there are many excellent children's books on Martin Luther King, Jr, little to this point has been made available on Gandhi. This is not just a needed and exceptionally well-rendered addition to children's literature, it's also a poignant read that will spark interesting conversation with your child.

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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild By Peter Brown (ages 4-9)

This one provides an excellent example of why any librarian worth her salt reserves full judgement on a book until she's seen a child interact with it. While I was really impressed with the artwork in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, a title that has been praised across the spectrum of book review journals, I felt like the story didn't really click for me the first couple of times I read it. A few days later my eight year old told me it was one of the coolest books she's ever read. When I asked her to elaborate she said, "You know, Mom, sometimes you just get tired of being the way you're supposed to be. You just want to go WILD and do something different!" So she completely connected with Mr. Tiger, who broke out of his prim and proper attire to ROAR his way to unclothed glory. And all of the sudden I got it and understood why this book has the potential to be a classic. And did I mention the artwork? Brown made pictures out of India ink, watercolor, and gouache, and then put them together digitally. He won a Caldecott Honor last year, too. Super cool. 

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The Story of Fish And Snail by Deborah Freedman (ages 4-7)

I'm absolutely smitten with this picture book, and so is my four-year-old son. I think I relate to it because I'm a whole lot like Snail, who's clearly been swimming in the shallow end for his entire existence. His friend Fish wants him to jump out of the book Snail feels comfortable in and go on an adventure in uncharted waters. Yes, that's right, this book is 3-D without the need for special glasses, making for a delightfully seamless experience in which it's hard to tell where the book ends and the reader begins. We get to watch Fish and Snail move between books that live inside the book we're reading. How's that for mind blowing? And kids totally get it. The Story of Fish And Snail is awesome on two levels: the Escheresque structure of the book as well as the poignant story it offers about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and taking risks that pay off. Deborah Freedman has a brilliant mind and a creative soul and I hope there's more from whence this one came.

In case you missed the first part of this post a couple of weeks back, read on to make sure you don't miss any of the fantastic picture books published this year. And, there are EVEN MORE fab picture books, both fiction and non-, that I can't wait to share with you in the weeks to come! Stay tuned, book addicts ...