My Favorite Picture Books of 2016

It’s that time of year again.  The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) will be announcing their Book and Media Awards on Monday, January 23 at 8am EST (5am, my time, unfortunately).

I’m very excited this year because my friend and former coworker, Ashley Waring is on the Caldecott Committee, although she doesn’t know who the winner is yet, and has been sworn to secrecy anyway.  So until the 23rd, I just have to look at my own favorite picture books published in 2016, and try to guess which one might win.

Admittedly, I have a different criteria for picture books than the Caldecott Committee.  As a children’s librarian, I tend to prefer books that lend themselves well to being read aloud to a large group of kids, so many of the beautiful wordless books or very wordy picture books don’t work as well for me.  There are also a few books on some of the Mock Caldecott lists that I haven’t been able to get hold of yet. But these are my personal favorites so far:

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Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat

This is one of the most unusual picture books I’ve seen this year, and one that works well both as a read-aloud and a book for kids to pore over on their own.  The text is fairly simple, but describe a feeling that most kids can identify with: the endless tedium of a long car trip.  As the trip progresses though, the book flips upside down and backwards, and the scenery outside the car shifts, travelling back in time to the age of pirates, ancient Egypt and all the way back to the dinosaurs.  It then jumps forward into the far future, and the boy wonders if they missed Grandma’s birthday party altogether.  Santat already won the 2014 Caldecott for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, so it would be surprising if he won one again so soon, but between the two books, this one is my favorite.

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King Baby by Kate Beaton

This one is fairly simple, and unlikely to win the Caldecott, but it’s been one of my favorite books to read aloud this year, because the kids love it.  Cartoony illustrations capture the pride and frustration of a baby who is King of all he surveys.  His parents are his loyal subjects, waiting on his every need and whim, although they don’t always understand what he is asking for.  So King Baby has to learn to do things for himself by growing into a Big Kid.  Whenever I read this one, the kids laugh out loud at the diaper change, the burping, and especially the last page, when King Baby is replaced by a new ruler, Queen Baby.

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Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Compoy and Theresa Howell; illustrated by Rafael Lopez.

I can think of several picture books about kids who have transformed a bleak city landscape into something beautiful that brings the community together (including City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan and The Curious Garden by Peter Brown), but this is notable for being based on a true story.  A little girl who lives in a gray city hands out colorful pictures to her friends and neighbors.  Her drawings make people smile, and inspire a muralist, who picks up a paintbrush and begins to transform the walls into bright, beautiful paintings bursting with color.  The story is based on the Urban Art Trail Project in the East Village of San Diego.  The illustrations are truly vibrant and joyful, and the book as a whole is a wonderful testament to the power of art.

schoolSchool’s First Day of School by Adam Rex; illustrated by Christian Robinson

Adam Rex is one of my favorite children’s author/illustrators, and, although I haven’t had a chance to share this one at storytime yet, I am looking forward to it.  There are hundreds of books about kids facing the anxiety of the first of school, and even books about teachers being nervous, but this is the first book I’ve seen that personifies the feelings of the school building itself.  Embarrassed by the fire drill that empties the building, hurt by the kid who says, “I hate school!” and seeking reassurance from the school janitor, the school becomes a character that you immediately like.  Christian Robinson’s whimsical, colorful illustrations add to the humor and endearing nature of the story.  I expect to be reading this one a lot in the future.

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They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

This is the picture book that has gotten the most buzz this year.  As a cat walked through the world, he is seen by different people and animals in wildly different ways.  Each page is vivid and thought-provoking.  The dog sees the cat as a skinny creature with a giant bell.  The bees sees it as a collection of multicolored dots.  This is one I would have spent a long time looking at as a child, and one I could see having lots of uses for art lessons or themes about different points of view.  Mostly though, it’s a fun and beautiful, unusual book, and I can see why it’s at the top of most of the Mock Caldecott lists this year.

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Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie; illustrated by Yuyi Morales

As someone who hated her name as a kid (growing up with the name “Ashley” in Gone With the Wind country was no picnic), I identified with this book’s main character, a boy who hates being named Thunder Boy, Jr., after his dad.  Thunder Boy proposes several names he would rather have, including Mud in His Ears, Can’t Run Fast While Laughing, and Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth.  Finally, he and his dad come up with a name that works for both of them.  This is a great, funny read-aloud with large, striking illustrations by Yuyi Morales.

 

Any other picture books I should have included?  Please share your favorites in the comments.

 

Kid Picks

Since I’m always trying to find new books for storytime, I often test out new titles on my own kids.  My son, at 11, mostly wants to read books on his own now, although my husband and I still read aloud to him at bedtime when he’s not caught up in a novel (right now, my husband is reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy with him. I am anxious for them to finish, because then I will get to share The Restaurant at the End of the Universe).

My six year-old daughter has a love/hate relationship with having a librarian mom.  On the one hand, she loves books, so she likes when I bring them home.  On the other hand, she’s always been dismayed that she can’t keep them all.  With both of my kids, I have been guilty of returning books to the library before they were ready to part with them, so I understand why she gets upset.  Occasionally she’ll become so attached to a particular book that  I’ll buy her a copy of her own.  That was the case with her latest favorite, Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson.

gaston

My daughter loves everything about this book: the illustrations (which she talks about at length), the story, the whole package.  She asks for it at bedtime every night.  She brings it in the car to read for herself.  She lies on her bed and pores over every page.  Rarely has she fallen so hard for a book.

And I get it.  It’s a great book.  I think I picked it up originally because it was on a list of the best picture books of 2014.   It’s about a family of puppies: Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La, and Gaston.  They are all adorable, except Gaston does not look like his poodle siblings.  He also struggles to sip (never slobber!), and yip (never yap!), and all the other proper things their mother encourages them to do, although he always tries the hardest.

Then one day the poodles meet a family of bulldog pups at the park.  Or at least three of the pups (Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno) look like bulldogs (and a lot like Gaston).  The fourth, Antoinette, looks like a little white poodle.   Gaston and Antoinette realize there’s been a mix-up.  The two families reluctantly arrange a swap.  Now everyone looks alike, but no one is happy.  Gaston finds the bulldog family too “brutish and brawny.”  Antoinette can’t stand being proper.  The next morning they all race back to the park, where the two mothers announce that they have made a terrible mistake.  Antoinette and Gaston return to the families they love, and later, when they grow up and have puppies of their own, they teach them be whatever they want to be.

All in all, it’s a wonderful story about the true meaning of family.  The illustrations are adorable (there’s a reason my daughter loves them), and the writing is perfect for reading aloud. I always wonder which of the current picture books will become classics, like Corduroy or Harry, the Dirty Dog–books that my kids will remember fondly enough to want to read to their own kids.  I’m sure this one will be on my daughter’s list.

As for my son, his current book obsession is the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children books by Ransom Riggs.  He tore through them in less than a week, pleading with me to check them all out because he didn’t want to wait even a day between books.  I haven’t read them yet myself, although he’s told me enough of the plot that I know it’s a fantasy/sci-fi series about a group of kids with bizarre talents and attributes.  The author based the book and the characters on creepy antique photographs of children (I love that idea).  I’ve promised my son that I will read them soon.

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So those are my kids’ current book recommendations.  What current books do you think will stand the test of time?