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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