Just like in movie land, book publishers often wait until the second half of the year to release their strongest award contenders. That means I've been reading like crazy lately. I've chosen 25 picture books that I think are amazing and I'm going to break them up into groups over several posts, based on the age of the reader and sometimes whether the book is a fictional or factual. Then, later in the month and in early December, I'll compile a list of my absolute can't-live-without-books from 2014 (and maybe a few from the year before) for your gift-buying pleasure. Stay tuned also for recommended chapter books for kids age 8-12 -- I won't leave the older kids out!
So, without further adieu, here are picture books for younger kids that I am very excited to share with you. I put an age range of two to seven in the title, but keep in mind that appropriate age varies from child to child. These books are great for preschoolers and elementary school kids up to second or third grade. Look for even more recommendations for the same group in my next post. Enjoy!
My Teacher is A Monster (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown
Peter Brown is on my hot list as of this, his most recent picture book, which came out in July. I wrote about his previous book here, and now I'm convinced that he's an author/illustrator to watch. My five-year-old son has asked me to read him My Teacher is A Monster! no less than three thousand times. This is because it is extremely clever with a storyline that both entertains and reassures kids. The ability to identify with children's emotions while maintaining a great sense of humor is the combination by which excellent children's books are born. My Teacher is a Monster! features a young boy who gives his monstrous (literally) instructor a lot of trouble. After accidentally stumbling upon her outside the school and helping her out of a quandary, he learns that perhaps she's not so bad after all. Until, of course, he acts up at school again.
Brown conveys this realization without words; instead he portrays the teacher as gradually less monster-like and more and more human in appearance as the boy gets to know her. This story speaks to children about how varied perception can be from one human and situation to the next. It's perfect for any kid who is having trouble adjusting to a a new situation, which is just about everybody. And being cleverly delivered, My Teacher is a Monster is also just a lot of fun to read.
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson
Gaston is a lovely, fun picture book that my 5-year-old has asked for again and again. With a light tone, DiPucchio spins a story of two puppies mixed up at birth, a bulldog and poodle who accidentally end up in the wrong families. Kids always like well-done stories of identity mix-ups, but this sweet picture book is more than that. For when the pups and their mamas realize they've not been living with their birth families, they make a switch, only to discover that the true meaning of family is the place you feel most comfortable, regardless of the way you look. There's an important message here about fitting in and appreciating differences, while Robinson's earnest, simple acrylic illustrations lighten the lesson enough to make it go down very smoothly. This is a delightful picture book that many, many children (and parents) will enjoy.
The Midnight Library by Kazuna Kohara
This was my first introduction to Japanese printmaker Kohara's work. My five-year-old son and I enjoyed it so much, we went back to the library to check out her other picture books to share. The Midnight Library is another recent book that he has asked me to read over and over. I tend to be hesitant when reviewing anything about libraries or librarians, because it's easy to be biased in their favor, and I look at professional reviews with a grain of salt. That being said, The Midnight Library is delightful. It melds a real place with fantasy, making the library a destination that kids will want to check out. (Pun intended.) Unlike your neighborhood biblioteca, The Midnight Library is only open after dark, fills up with animal patrons, and is overseen by a young girl and her three owl assistants. And when water appears to be leaking through the roof, instead of panicking, like any sensible library employee would, the little librarian solves the problem with some ingenious storytelling.
The block print pictures are quite striking and lend this picture book an air of mystery and excitement. Adults will enjoy the retro feel of the illustrations, and kids will love the antics of the sweet denizens of the Midnight Library. It's just a lovely place.
Hooray for Hat by Brian Won
Yet another new title my five-year-old has asked for repeatedly, Hooray for Hat marks a cheerful debut by Brian Won. Kids love hats, especially crazy ones, and Won portrays them, along with the animal friends who wear them, in bright colors reminiscent of an enticing ice cream parlor. The hats help a series of grumpy animals feel more cheerful as they share them with each other. This story works on many levels; it features repetition and predictability, which toddlers and preschoolers enjoy, strong, but simple emotions, and enticing colors.
I'm My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein
Kids love stories in which they get to become omniscient and know something that the characters in the book aren't privy to. In I'm My Own Dog, we meet a dog who insists that rather than needing an owner, he's perfectly happy on his own. He fetches his own slippers, curls up next to his own feet, and can throw a stick for himself. But then there's that one itch the dog just can't reach to scratch, and he "reluctantly" agrees to take in a human. Before he knows it, the human is there to stay, much like the way stray animals become pets to humans. The role reversal in this story is clever and funny, and Stein (winner of a Caldecott Honor for Interrupting Chicken -- a huge hit in my house) portrays his spunky main character with watercolors that lend themselves to hilarious facial expressions. Kids will enjoy discussions of perception (who is really the boss?) in relationships. Witty and a new take on the popular pet topic in picture books.
Uni the Unicorn by Any Krouse Rosenthal and Brigette Barrager
I knew I had to check this one out as soon as I heard about it. It had three things going for it: 1) There aren't a lot of quality picture books out there on unicorns, which are a favorite topic of many young girls, just like my nine year old, who has been horse/unicorn/fairy obsessed since she could speak. 2) It's written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who is a talented, experienced children's book author. I reviewed another one of her books that is worth owning, here. 3) Uni the Unicorn introduces a new illustrator, Brigette Barrager, who is a Disney/Pixar animator. I love to hear of women in animation, and my ears pricked right up because of a book published by another animator last year, which ended up winning a serious award or two. First I had my daughter read Uni, and once she pronounced it fantabulous I took a look. I wasn't disappointed. The digital artwork is vibrant, full of emotion, and endearing. It's thoroughly modern while hearkening back to both European folk art and, of course, fairy tale animation that's seriously reminiscent of a classic 1970s Disney World ride.
Uni is the story of a unicorn that believes little girls really do exist, despite the eye rolls of her unicorn peers and the knowing smiles that belong to her unicorn parents. It's sweet, it's charming, and it encourages little girls not to lose sight of their dearest dreams, a message that I think all daughters, human and unicorn, need to hear.
One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl and Tom Lichtenheld
Despite the title, the big pair of underwear only figure occasionally in this unique story. One Big Pair of Underwear teaches a little math, as one more animal than the available/desired objects keep showing up. This is also a book about sharing -- a group of 20 pigs show all the other animals that they can utilize ten playground slides if they only double up. The book even works on a third level, as much of the text proves tongue-twisting when read aloud.
Lichtenheld is a well-known humorous illustrator, and he certainly doesn’t let kids down in this outing, in which his detailed pencil and digital drawings capture more than one hilarious animal facial expression. In this pairing with first-time author Geld, a funny, educational, and light-hearted picture book was created.
And there you have it, eight of my favorites. Come back for more later this week!
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