Favorites of 2016: Or, Ten Picture Books That Got Me Through This Topsy-Turvy Year

It has been a YEAR. Our country and world seem infinitely more fractured and fraught than it did at the beginning of 2016. But more often than not, books have been the bright lights in the dark for me. I remember reading Frog & Toad as a kindergartener while my classmates and I huddled in the hallway for a tornado warning–it is one of the first reading memories I have, and it was the first time I realized that reading could bring comfort and carry me away from the abyss of anxiety.
The following are ten of my favorite picture books of 2016 for countering the abyss and empowering young readers with imagination, attention, kindness, empathy, and humor.

bearwhowasntthere_final.jpegThe Bear Who Wasn’t There: And the Fabulous Forest by Oren Lavie, illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch

A book to encourage readers to question everything–even who they are–and to expand their imagination. Plus, who wouldn’t want a friend like Turtle Taxi to help us find our way home? (Ages 6+)

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thejourney_final.jpegThe Journey by Francesca Sanna

A book to help some readers see a world that isn’t always so safe and sound, a world that many people they know or have yet to meet have experienced. Other readers might find their own story in these pages. My review is here. (Ages 4+)

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bestfrints_finalBest Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis

A book to show readers that though “best frints” might sometimes “use their teef and not their words” to solve problems (like a shmackled sposship), a little taypo and  twire and a spewdriver and more than a little camaraderie can go a long way. Also, laughter always helps. (Ages 3+)

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whengreenbecomestomatoes_finalWhen Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, pictures by Julie Morstad

A book to guide readers gently and beautifully through the seasons, from tasting the sunshine in summer berries to appreciating the magical stillness of a snowy day. (Ages 6+)

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archiesnufflekins_final.jpegArchie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat by Katie Harnett

A book to help readers appreciate good, old-fashioned human-to-human interaction and how it builds a community, one person at a time. We all belong here. My full review is here. (Ages 4+)

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whatcoloristhewind_finalWhat Color is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts

A book to give readers a sensory experience unlike any other they can get from a book (except The Black Book of Colors). This gloriously meditative and inventive book is meant to be touched as much as it is meant to be read, from cover to cover. (Ages 5+)

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samsoninthesnow_finalSamson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

A book to improve any reader’s bad days. I’ve lauded this book over and over, and though it was hard to choose between the two books Stead published this year (I still love you, Ideas Are All Around), this one was a clear winner for me. It’s great for reading aloud and reading alone, in tough times and good times. My review is here. (Ages 4+)

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deadbird_finalThe Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Christian Robinson

A book to show readers that beauty can be found in unexpected places, even in death. This one is the perfect combination of frank and gentle, and is a perfect introduction to understanding the circle of life. (Ages 4+)

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soundofsilence_finalThe Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo

A book to help readers learn how to listen around the sounds to find the silence. In world filled with so much noise, it is essential to have the skills to listen carefully. (Ages 5+)

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storyteller_finalThe Storyteller by Evan Turk

And finally, a book to celebrate the power of stories to bring people together and stop destructive forces. We need those truth-filled stories more than ever right now. (Ages 6+)

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Of Flowers and Friendship

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Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

“A common flower, a weed that no one sees… But for us, a noble thing, the dandelion.” Thus is the humble dandelion beatified in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. In Philip C. Stead’s Samson in the Snow, Samson, a lone wooly mammoth, tends his dandelion patch with a level of care and attention that suggests he feels a similar way about these tiny bursts of sunshine. He is waiting for a friend, you see. But for now, the flowers are his sole company.

Then, a little red bird visits him (is that you, friend of Ruby?) and asks to take some flowers for her friend who “is having a bad day,” and whose “favorite color is yellow.” Samson tenderly gathers a few flowers for her to take, sees her on her way, then falls asleep, dreaming of “the color yellow.”

He wakes to white all over, as a blizzard has befallen the previously summery landscape. Samson is worried about the little red bird being caught in the storm–so worried, in fact, that he goes in search of her. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say Samson ends up with two more friends than he had before.

Philip Stead creates stories of friendship that gently nudge open your heart, filling it with warmth, magic, and inspiration. Each book of his is transformative to its readers. Dedicated to “anyone who is having a bad day,” Samson is a picture book that will definitely transform readers (and probably their days, too). Stead’s consistently innovative and expressive art (a combination of monoprint, pastels, etc.) is on display here, rendered in a limited palette of blues, greys, and browns with bright splashes of yellow (of course) and red. That final spread, showing Samson and his new friends after the storm has passed? Pure happiness, put on the page. Stead’s pacing here is also particularly poignant, as wordless spreads inform readers about the little red bird’s distress as Samson searches for her.

Reading this book is like receiving a lovingly-gathered bunch of flowers from a dear friend. It is brimming with kindness, heart, and comfort. It should be read over and over and over. For those children who understand what it is to be lonely, to yearn for friendship, this book will be exactly what they need–a gentle, touching reminder that friends can be found where you least expect them.

Ages 4-8.

On shelves today!

Published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

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Diverse Book Night at Avid Bookshop

A group of parents approached us at Avid Bookshop, wanting suggestions for books that featured children of color that weren’t “issue” books–essentially, they wanted books for their children to read and enjoy and get lost in that just happened to star a kid who looks like them.  We ended up planning a little event at Avid, and it went so well, I can’t wait to do more! Below are a few of my favorites that I shared.


Little You

by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

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This one’s a tiny board book, but it packs a big, beautiful, poignant punch. I actually just shared this one with a customer today, who began tearing up as she read it. (She bought it immediately). Van Camp’s loving lullaby is a celebration of joy and wonder babies inspire in their parents, and it remains well outside of the mawkish territory these paean-type books can venture into. Flett is one of my favorite illustrators working today–her art is stunningly spare yet sophisticated here, and allows the unique affection found in the parent-child bond to shine through with warmth and serenity. Both Van Camp and Flett are of Native/First Nations heritage–Van Camp is a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation, and Flett is Cree-Métis.

Ages 0-3.

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One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree

by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

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This is one of my new favorite books to read aloud–I used it for storytime, and it was a HIT. A hilarious take on There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, this book features an upbeat, resourceful little boy who is swallowed by a snake (gasp!), and while inside the snake, convinces it to eat more and more creatures until, well, you know–out they go. The rhythm of Bernstrom’s text is infectious, and Wenzel’s illustrations are vibrant, playful, and spectacularly expressive.

Ages 4-8.

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Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle

by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

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This remains one of my favorite informational picture books. I love Paul’s lyrical poem and how it streams seamlessly throughout the book and how the page turns are oh so perfectly timed. I love how Chin’s fine attention to detail creates a world and characters that seem so real they could jump out of the book. His watercolor illustrations hint at a deeper story about childhood and family and friendship that flows underneath the information about the water cycle. And the back matter is superb: clear, concise, and seriously engaging.

Ages 5 & up.

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BookPair: The Refugee’s Journey

It might be easy for us in the United States to ignore the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, but according to the UNHCR, there are almost 20 million refugees worldwide, with a total of almost 60 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. From Syria alone, there are nearly 5 million registered refugees–more than half of whom are children. And even right here in the United States, thousands of refugees (most of whom are women and children) are fleeing extreme violence in the “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Honduras.

What does it feel like to have to leave everything behind? To know that you might never see the land or people you know and love again? It’s hard for most of us to imagine. The thought of anyone, especially children, being uprooted by the violence of war and unrest, is a harrowing one. But it is happening all around the world.

There are at least two picture books coming out this fall that address the dilemmas refugees face during their journeys in the most kid-perfect way. For many kids, these books will help them begin to understand what it means to be a refugee. Those kids who have experienced forced migration might find in these books the comfort that they are not alone; that someone is listening to their story.


The Journey

by Francesca Sanna

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Oh, my. This book. What a beautiful, heartbreaking, hopeful, necessary book. A young refugee’s view of their world as it descends into the darkness and loss of war and then into a journey across unknown lands and waters to seek safety, The Journey is ultimately a superbly-done, empathic tale of the plights of too many people in our world right now. The fairy tale-like setting and touches of the fantastical makes a deeply serious story resonate at just the right tone for young readers, and Sanna’s richly detailed art is haunting and graceful, a perfect complement to her poetically moving text. Every child, every adult, should read this book, immediately.

Ages 4 & up.

Out September 13th!

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Teacup

by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley

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Teacup is a lyrical, diaphanous tale of the refugee’s journey–it evokes the loneliness, anxiety, and sadness of leaving everything you know behind to begin anew, tinged with a silver lining of hope for that “speck on the horizon.” Ottley’s textured, breathtaking oil paint illustrations are both incredibly realistic (those clouds!) and beautifully dreamlike, adding gentleness and whimsy to this subtly-told story. Young’s minimal text allows the reader’s imagination to run wild, and unfolds the drama at a perfect pace. Teacup is a book to linger over, appreciating the beauty to be found in the persistence and strength it takes to grow a new life in an unfamiliar place.

Ages 4 & up.

Out October 4th!

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More…

  • If you’re looking for more ways to explore this topic with kids, check out The Guardian’s great teaching resource here.
  • If you’d like to donate to help refugee children, consider an organization like Save the Children or the International Rescue Committee.

 

Choices, Intentions

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Sometimes you read a book, and you cannot get it out of your mind, even long after you have finished it. It stays with you. For me, it is usually a picture book that does this; all the more impressive for the punch it packs into a tiny, concise package.

On a whim, I read a copy of Choose Your Days by Paula Wallace. I paused on each page, breathing in the beauty. And then I read it again. And again. I’m still reading it. And you should, too.


My Review

“Choose your days, make them sunny or gray,” says Old Bear, “the keeper of time and keys,” to little Corky. The days fly by quickly, with Corky growing old over just a few pages. As she reaches the end of her time, she pleads for more of it, for the “work undone… play postponed… music unsung.” But like us all, Corky cannot evade death, which she meets willingly–opening the door and walking into the arms of her friend, Old Bear.

Choose Your Days is a spare yet achingly beautiful meditation on impermanence–we “hold the key[s]” to our time, and only we have the power to give it the attention and gratitude it deserves. Wallace’s illustrations have a timeless, homespun aura, lending a gentle grace to a tale that takes on serious themes. Her depiction of death as a cottage full of starry sky and old friends is one that is as comforting as it is stunning.

This is my new favorite picture book, one I will be turning to again and again for the quiet reminder it offers. Young readers will have a lot to explore and process here–but this book offers a safe space to wander and wonder about the magic in each moment.

I want to give this book every single star in the sky.

Ages 3 & up.

Out April 12th!

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