Friday, January 10, 2014

2013 Favorites: Picture Books

2013 was a FINE year for picture books.  I only reviewed 31 picture books, but I only review the books if they really strike my fancy.  Here's what caught my attention this year:

Eeek! I ADORE Baby Bear Sees Blue. The creator of the Miss Bindergarten series has written and illustrated another winning series (hoping that we see more of Baby Bear).  As Baby Bear and his mother prepare for hibernation, Baby Bear counts the other animals getting ready for the long winter.  Counting! Hibernation! Bears! Story time winner, right here!

Deborah Hopkinson writes fine histories, historical fiction picture books, and biographies, among them Annie and Helen, Apples to Oregon, and Shutting Out the Sky.  I love learning about the homefront campaigns of World War I and World War II, so a story about a girls-vs-boys knitting competition was right up my alley.  

Kevin Henkes's Penny series is actually an easy reader series, but I don't have enough 2013 easy reader favorites to merit a separate section.  Our adorable mouse youngster faces quite a dilemma: what should she do with the lovely marble she finds in her next-door neighbor's lawn? The resolution may surprise you! 

Mac Barnett's Extra Yarn was a highlight of the 2012 publishing year (and a Caldecott Honor title to boot), so Count the Monkeys was highly anticipated.  The reader (YOU!) is invited to count the monkeys on each page--but something wacky inevitably happens. Although this is a "counting book," don't think it's a book for toddlers.  They probably won't get the humor.  Preschool, kindergarten, and even early elementary school students will get a kick out of this. 

I haven't seen Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? on many Caldecott prediction lists, which leaves me a little bummed. (Not that Caldecott prediction lists mean that much, since the committee proceedings are top secret).  I got such a kick out of this little duck's frantic efforts to find his brand new socks.  Of course, they end up being in the most obvious place.  I can relate to this little dude, which is why I love it. Of course, Eve Bunting is a legend in children's literature, and Sergio Ruzzier's illustrations are top notch. 

Yes, another cute duck story! Cute duck stories are staples in children's literature.  What makes Lucky Ducklings ahead of the pack (or flock)? Well, it's based on a true story about a community's successful efforts to rescue a flock of ducklings from a storm drain. Add in adorable illustrations of ducklings and practically perfect story telling, and you've got yourself a sublime picture book. 

David Ezra Stein's Because Amelia Smiled  was one of my 2012 favorites, so I'm pleased as punch that his 2013 offering is quite awesome.  Ol' Mama Squirrel is ferociously protective of her little babies.  Why, her "chook! chook! chook!" has been known to scare off any number of animals and humans alike. That is, until a grizzly bear is determined to stir up trouble!  Ol' Mama Squirrel's not scared, though!  Some "mama and her babies" animal stories can be a little too cutesy-sweet; not this one! Ol' Mama Squirrel is rough, tough, and ready for action.  

I really enjoy books that show life in different cultures and countries, so it's no surprise that Take Me Out to the Yakyu is one of my favorites.  Our narrator comes from both an American and Japanese background; although the two cultures are quite different, both families are baseball fanatics.  The baseball game experience is slightly different in both countries, but what remains the same is enjoying special time with grandfathers.  Awwww.  

Lucy Cousins is best known for her delightful Maisy picture book series, but she's created several other creative and off-beat picture books as well, such as Jazzy in the Jungle (also a 2013 publication), Hooray for Fish, and a decidedly unsanitized volume of fairy tales. Peck, Peck, Peck features a little woodpecker who's just mastered the art of pecking--and peck away he does, especially once he pecks his way through a human's house (including pecking at the toilet, which will delight many youngsters).  Cousins's rhyming scheme is smooth and not at all awkward, and the die cuts of holes beg for interaction.  

The Dark explores a common childhood fear--fear of the dark--in a deliciously funny and weird way, as can only be expected from the minds of Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen.  This poor little guy lives in a squeaky and creepy old house, which really doesn't help when one is afraid of the dark.  Fortunately, The Dark is here to help, in a very simple yet hilarious way. 

Xander the Panda is ready to throw a party for all the zoo pandas.  After finding out that he's the only panda (awww, but wait for the ending!), he extends the invitation to all bears.  Except that koalas aren't *really* bears, so the invitation is extended to mammals, which is further extended to birds, and so on and so on.  Classification of animals has never been so cute, or so clever!  

Duncan's crayons have had enough.  They're tired of the way he's been treating them! Can Blue get a break from being used for all those bodies of water? Orange and Yellow are fighting over who should represent the sun, and Pink has had enough of his neglect.  Each crayons writes (in crayon, natch) a complaint letter to Duncan; luckily, Duncan finds a way to make ALL crayons happy.  Another one that's not for toddlers; even elementary school children would find this funny. 

Nino is a world class lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) fighter.  Nothing can stand in his way...until he faces his biggest opponents.....his little sisters, fresh from their naps! Las Hermanitas' battle cries are "constant and loud." And they are FEROCIOUS....ticklers.  Love this. If you like this, check out Dino Wrestling, another cute-but-not-cutesy wrestling story that shows different styles of wrestling, including lucha libre.

This is the second Lottie Paris story, so I'm hoping that Angela Johnson will continue her darling stories of Lottie Paris (and her Papa Pete, whom I'm guessing is her grandfather).  Lottie Paris and Papa Pete are going to one of their favorite places--the library!  Not only does Lottie Paris find some awesome books, but she makes a new friend.  I appreciate that there's no "boys vs. girls" mentality in this story, and no "teachable moments" about their gender and ethnic differences.  Just a great story about the fun of books and friendship. 

Stories about Jewish children that aren't historical fiction (immigration or the Holocaust) or set in urban areas are not easy to find, which is why The Passover Lamb is quite special.  One of the traditions of the Passover Seder is the asking of the Five Questions by the youngest child.  Miriam is finally old enough to have memorized the questions and cannot wait for the Seder at her grandparents' house. But, when you live on a farm, especially during lambing season, you live on the animals' time. And when triplet lambs are born, and their mama needs human aid to care for the babies, the helpless babies must come first....Seder or no Seder. Miriam is devastated, but there's not much her family can do. Thankfully, Miriam finds a way to take care of the babies AND observe Passover.  This is a beautiful, tender, and funny story that many will enjoy, even if they do not observe Passover.     

This tale of self-sufficiency is on the long side, but well worth a read when you have the time to enjoy the story and scrutinize the illustrations.  This family is determined to build their new home from scratch (with help from friends and relatives), during which they experience the setbacks, confusion, tiredness, and eventually, immense satisfaction that comes from such an undertaking.  This is a heartwarming story about teamwork, family, and a job well done. 

And now to pick my favorite of 2013! Each one is absolutely fantastic, but my favorite has to be Lucky Ducklings. It's such a wonderful package of delightful illustrations and storytelling that I'm hard pressed to name anything that matches it. Second favorite is The Dark, followed by Xander's Panda Party. But really--read them all!  

Next week, I'll name my favorite children's novel of 2013.  Only 18 days until the Newbery and Caldecott winners are announced! 

I also blogged about books I read for last Wednesday's "Warm and Cozy" story time over at the ALSC blog.  

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

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