Tuesday, December 29, 2015

More 2015 Favorites

So many good picture books came out this year!  Here are a few more favorites.

Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed. This story, based on real events about a cat who "composed" a piece of music for a competition, is utterly delightful.  I love how the illustrator captures the real composer's frustration, the cat's mischievousness, and the hustle and bustle of New York City.  By the way, ketzel means cat in Yiddish, and ketzele (pronounced KETZ-el-uh) is the diminutive.  You can even buy - separately - a CD of the piano competition at which the piece was played.

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli.  How clever to use fingerprints for the faces of the "bad guys!"  This unique book about a con man is great for older children.

In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van, illustrated by Amy Chu.  Lovely illustrations show a Vietnamese fisherman's family waiting for him to come back from the sea.  The story-within-a-story (or painting-within-a-painting) element has readers questioning what is real.

Americanine: A Haute Dog in New York. Kebbi's energetic pencil drawings capture New York's frenetic energy better than (almost?) any I've seen.  The conceit that the narrator is a French dog who is visiting New York for the first time is unnecessary (any ignorant visitor would do; e.g., an alien, or, even better for a children's book, a young child) except to create the occasional pun ("haute dog"), the art more than makes up for it.  And there's the Orthodox Jew who appears in almost every drawing... why?  Are there any other recurring characters?  I suspect spending a bit more time with this book would pay off.

Imaginary Fred.  Have you ever attended a concert where two imaginary friends were the musicians? Have you ever introduced your imaginary friend to your friend's imaginary friend? This take on imaginary friends is unique and hilarious.  The sight of the baffled audience listening to music played by the imaginary friends (or perhaps they only hear silence?) is priceless.  There are quite a few new books about imaginary friends this year (We Forgot Brock! is another, and a big hit with my students), but this is my favorite.  

Wait. This one is perfect for the toddler-preschool crowd.  Mommy's in a hurry, but look at all that she's missing out on!  A beautiful take on how children live - and force their parents to live - in the moment.  Portis's style reminds me a bit of Lauren Castillo's here, especially as this book is set in New York City like much of Castillo's work.  I wish I'd included this one in my mock Caldecott.

Leo:A Ghost Story.  Shades of blue predominate in this story about a ghost who saves the day and finds a friend.

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall.  Showing how one dessert - blackberry fool - has been made in different ways throughout time not only serves as a timeline of kitchen technology (bundle of twigs - whisk - mechanical mixer - electric mixer), but also shows societal changes throughout history.

Home, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis.  A palette of brown, blue, and red showcases all kinds of homes, from the real (apartments, wigwams, boats), to the imaginary (a home on the moon with a view of Earth, the home of a Norse god).  Pair it with A House is a House For Me for a fun discussion of houses and the completely different types of art (one stark and simple; one extremely detailed) in each book.

The Little Book of Big Fears.  A clever take on alphabet books (the missing letters spell GUTSY and BRAVE) that is perfect for your little worrier.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova.  This poetic biography of Anna Pavlova has the reader enter a winter wonderland.

See You Next Year.  The pleasures of visiting the same vacation spot year after year, thrown into greater relief by one change - the making of a new friend.

The Tea Party in the Woods.  In black-and-white-and-shades-of-gray with touches of red and yellow, this book tells the sotry of Kikko as she tries to bring a pie to Grandma through the woods. Sound familiar?  Not quite!  Betsy Bird wrote the perfect review.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

(Some of) My Favorites of 2015

Here are some of my favorite picture books of the year.  I realized that if I listed them all in one post, I wouldn't finish writing about them until January!  So here is what I hope is only the first installment.

Black Cat, White Cat. This book is just gorgeous. Borando uses the contrast and symmetry between black and white to stunning effect.  And the surprise ending (although genetically impossible), is hinted at by the one spot of orangey-red color on the cover. 
How the Sun Got to Coco's House.  Bob Graham is the master of the "small moment" story.  He takes one moment, expands on it, and makes it universal.  Or, as here, he does the opposite.  Rather than show us everything that happens in one moment, as in The Silver Button, here he takes us around the world as we follow the sun.  This is a beautiful, visually poetic take on time. A nice companion to non-fiction about time zones and the movement of the earth.

Whatever Happened to My Sister?  I think this is the only picture book which addresses the sadness - even grief - a younger child feels as her older sibling grows up and, in some ways, outgrows her.  When I asked my 7-year-old what the book was about she said, "Yeah, it's about the sister getting her period and stuff."  While the book never addresses the physical aspects of puberty, it addresses the emotional ones - for both the child going through it and her younger sibling. The resolution at the end shows that although growing up has changed the sisters' relationship, it has not severed their sororal bond.  

Bright Sky, Starry City.  A blackout allows a city girl to see the stars. Lovely.  Factual information at the end about light pollution is an added bonus.

When Dad Showed Me the Universe.  A touching, funny story about the differences in the perceptions of adults and children. I loved it, but I must admit it was lost on my 7-year-old.  

Is Mommy? This seemingly silly book, with illustrations to match by one of my favorite illustrators, Marla Frazee, is really about the enduring love children have for their mothers. Toddlers answer all the questions about their mommies in the negative - she is messy, old, ugly, mean.  But do they still love her?  Of course!  My 10-year-old loved this one and was thrilled to read it to her 2-year-old cousin.  

Mesmerized.  The true story of how Benjamin Franklin exposed Dr. Mesmer as a fraud is fascinating in itself.  This well-written, well-illustrated book goes one step further and explains the scientific method in a clear, coherent manner. Great for history buffs, budding scientists and doctors, older children, and well, pretty much everyone else, too. Now that I think of it, why hasn't this book been mentioned anywhere for an award? Perhaps the Sibert, for informational books?  

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear.  In addition to the beautiful illustrations, which have been justly heralded and talked about as deserving a Caldecott, I love this book for the way it talks about the power of stories.  The book is framed as the author telling the story of her great-grandfather to her son, who is named after him.  Her great-grandfather is the man who bought a bear he named Winnie, who eventually lived at the London Zoo, who in turn was the inspiration for A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  As the author says, "Sometimes you have to let one story end so the next can begin."  When her son asks if the story is all true, she answers, "Sometimes the best stories are."  With photos of her great-grandfather, Winnie, and the real Christopher Robin at the end, this book is a treasure. Although it is a bit long for younger children, the book separates the two stories, so that it could easily be read in two separate installments.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  The more I read this to classes at school, the more I love it. The vibrant colors, the musical free verse, the determination of the heroine.  This may be my first choice in our mock Caldecott.

Which picture books were your favorites this year?