Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Best of 2010: Picture books

We meet again for another round of 2010's best books, this time for picture books. We stock so many they wrap around half of the store's walls, so I've been pulling my hair a bit trying to narrow down my list! This list by no means touches on all the many beautiful, humorous, daring books that came out this year, but they are some of the staff's favorites.

I've recently blogged about these first three serious sellers, and I wouldn't be surprised if any of these were to sport a Caldecott Medal or Honor by February.

Oliver Jeffers wows us again with the return of two friends in Up and Down. Chubby penguins, friendship tales, and gentle humor will never go out of style! Follow this link to my previous review.

David Wiesner never ceases to amaze adults and children alike with his lush paintings and intricate, imaginative scenes to pour over. The two lizard pals of Art & Max remind us just enough of overeager children to keep this story grounded as it veers in the fantastic and postmodern. I also reviewed this book last month.

You knew I was going to say it! My absolute lo-o-ove of the year is Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead. I've mentioned this book many times here, so if you haven't had the chance to befriend kindly Amos and his zoo animals, come over quickly! I've read this at least two hundred times this year, and I still giggle at the rhino and elephant taking the city bus. At my book club's Mock Caldecott meeting, this won by a veritable landslide. I hope that the folks on the committee also acknowledge how incredibly well done this book is!

Another title lauded by my book club was Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studio. While Sick Day for Amos McGee's appeal is partly nostalgia for the expressive animals of Garth Williams and Gyo Fujikawa, Garbage Barge has a wholly modern style. The inside of the dust jacket details the many steps of creating the artwork, from sketching and molding the clay characters to designing and photographing each page's scene. Since the sets were made from recycled goods, wire, or plain junk, it is an appropriate style for this account of a Long Island town's excess garbage (over 3,000 tons!) that was shipped and shunted around America's harbors.

Elisha Cooper had two gorgeous books out this year, Farm and Beaver Is Lost. I am particularly partial to Beaver is Lost because it's cityscape reminds me of Boston (even though I was told it is Chicago). The plot is a simple: a beaver on a river log gets taken to the city on a lumber truck and must find his way home, but it is the minimalist text - only the first and last page has words - lush watercolors and exceptional use of panels that propel each page turn. I love both abstract and realistic wordless picture books because they invite the child to participate in the story-telling, beyond any dreary "Sound it out" advice, they as just as capable, if not more imaginative, than adults in explaining what they see there.

Chris Haughton's Little Owl Lost puts a twist on the familiar "Are you my mother?" story, with a pink squirrel helping an owl who has fallen from his nest locate his mother. Young readers will like the exuberant thick colors, repetition, and humor (the owl describes his Mommy as "VERY BIG," in comparison to himself, leading the squirrel to conclude that a giant teal bear is his mother). There is enough excitement to warrant a satisfying reunion, with a sly hint that the owl may topple from the nest again...

One of our story time readers was very fond of reading Cats' Night Out by Caroline Stutson this spring. What child (or George staffer) doesn't dream of what animals do while we are asleep? The dancing cats here are an entertaining blend of realistic aloofness and cartoon cuteness, showcasing various fashions and types of dance in each spread. Young readers will revel in the fresh rhymes: "Ten cats line-dance, keep the beat/ in rhinestone boots on Easy Street", while older readers can follow the counting by pairs and find the numeral on each page.

Peter Brown has established himself as a producer of solid, entertainingly quirky picture books with Chowder, Fight of the Dodo, and The Curious Garden. This year shoppers of every age get a certain smirk, if not a full guffaw, from his latest, Children Make Terrible Pets. With a title as engaging as that, any reader is prepared to jump into this humorous tale of a girl bear who finds a wild squeaking child and wants to keep him as a pet. The reversal of a familiar story is carried well by cartoon speech bubbles, framed spreads, and surprisingly expressive bear faces.

We certainly love us some Marla Frazee - from as far back as Mrs Biddlebox (written by Linda Smith) through her well deserved Caldecott Honor for All the World (written by Liz Scanlon), and of course Clementine's chapter illustrations, Frazee captures children in such a way that amuse adults and respect kids. I wouldn't necessarily give The Boss Baby a Caldecott this year, but I do love to sell it to expecting mothers, soon-to-be big siblings, or anyone who appreciates tongue-in-cheek humor. Every illustration shines with loving detail, her signature fresh colors, and a good visual joke. My favorite page to show is the list of "perks" the boss of the family enjoys, especially the flight in the "private jet" (doorway bouncer) with his onesie suit's tie snapped up against his face.

My last pick of the year is not precisely a picture book, but its unique format is exactly I love it so. Bink & Gollie written Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile, has the vocabulary and miniature chapters of a transitional chapter book, with the illustration pairing of an early reader/graphic novel medley. You could read this aloud to a young child or a beginning reader could read it to you, and both parties would be satisfied - a boon for any readers bored of the standard "fat cat, mouse in the house" rhymes or plodding plots. Lanky, intellectual Gollie and short, spirited Bink are a fresh take on the odd couple friendship.

I feel I've barely brushed the surface of picture books, but I couldn't possibly fit everything we love on here. If you are curious what my book club picked, our medal went to Sick Day for Amos McGee, with honors to Here Comes the Garbage Barge and Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen (an incredible pairing of poetry, art, and non-fiction), and strong affection for Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth by Kate Klise (epitomizing the ideal story collaboration of pictures and words). We'll see on Monday what ALA chooses as the most distinguished of the year! (Here's hoping for Amos McGee...)

No comments: