Round about November everyone and his uncle starts compiling those year-end, best-of, lists. Best new album. Best new restaurant. And dozens of best book awards. Today I’ve got five of the ten books which the New York Times reviewers consider the best illustrated books of 2014. To see the whole list, click here. A couple of titles I wanted to include today, including Haiti, My Country, aren’t at my library. Alas. Draw, by Raul Colon, will be coming up in another blog post at some point. Happy hunting, as you search out these titles yourselves!
Here is the Baby, by Polly Kanevsky, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo published in 2014 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Walk through a day in the life of a dearly-loved baby. Frowsy morning cuddles with mama and breakfast toast with cherry jam. Outings with daddy to the library and the park. Then, as snowflakes dance, home to a yummy supper, playtime with Sister, a warm bath, cozy jammies, a story, a song, and sweet slumber.
Taeeun Yoo’s award-winning illustrations incorporate linoleum block prints, pencil drawings and photoshop. Smudgy, curving line; textured, speckly swatches of color; and a warm palette of toasty pumpkin, homely olive, and hot-chocolate browns all communicate familial warmth, security, commonplace joy. Her final bedtime pages are magically tranquil in hushed blues with a wash of moonlight gleaming through the windows. A truly lovely book to read again and again with under-Twos and up. Great baby shower purchase, by the way.
Time for Bed, Fred! written and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail published in the U.S. in 2014 by Walker Books for Young Readers (first published in Great Britain, 2013)
While the baby in our previous story goes to bed gently, with a soothing lullaby and a friendly pat-pat-pat, Fred, the dog in this rambunctious tale, is his polar opposite!
Fred is a fur-flying frenzy, a lunging lunatic, a muddy whorl of mayhem!
When the clock strikes the hour for bed, Fred leaps into high gear, sprinting, hiding, splooshing, fleeing, leaving behind a wake of destruction. His own bed is the last place he wants to be. Yes, he does finally get there, but only after a mind-bending blur of commotion.
Yasmeen Ismail’s watercolor illustrations are fabulously vigorous. They careen. They dash. They lie there wagging at you with a silly grin on their faces. Funny and endearing, loose-as-a-goose, this exhausting dog, fountain of flowers, cacaphony of mud, turmoil of water burst from the pages in a riot of colors and childlike line. The serene-at-last final page is in such contrast to the roaring speed of the others, that you can even use it for a happy, giggly, bedtime story! Super choice for under-Twos and up.
Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio, illustrated by Barbara McClintock published in 2014 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Maria is a little girl with an unusual friend: a mouse. They are secret friends since, you know, if either of their mothers found out about the other, it wouldn’t be pretty.
One summer evening neither Maria or Mouse Mouse can find their mothers when it’s time for stories, kisses, and bed. So off they go, searching the house, then out into the rosy summer dusk to the potting shed, where they find…a major surprise!
This is the sequel to a story written in 2007, Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, which (spoiler alert!) follows the two mothers’ friendship when they were little girls. Both are charming stories full of that tingle of delight that comes from imagining tiny worlds and secret friendships with tiny persons.
Barbara McClintock is a favorite illustrator of mine. With her fine, precise line and painstaking detail, she fleshes out both the upstairs and the under-the-floorboard worlds. Enchanting us with the clever mouse house, welcoming us with artistic loveliness above, she unites these worlds through Maria’s and Mouse Mouse’s similar personalities, tastes, and routines. There’s just so much to marvel over in these warm, congenial pages. Linger over this one with children ages 4 and up.
The Promise, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin first U.S. edition published in 2014 by Candlewick Press
This is a story of transformation — the literal flowering of a city once trapped in flinty, cold, ugliness, and the revolution in one girl’s heart as she learns to nurture beauty rather than stay trapped in meanness.
Raised in a stark, depressing city, our protagonist’s parched soul becomes sharp and broken. One chance encounter, though, ushers her into a new purposeful life, a life of planting trees and flowers, bringing green life and smiles, lovely color and blessing, into the city. Her success leads her to travel to other “sad and sorry” places, bringing the transforming power of nature everywhere she goes.
This is Laura Carlin’s first picture book, and it is powerful. Her mixed media illustrations begin with blasé, half-hearted tones; sprawling, anonymous cityscapes; a huddle of shapeless residents. As leaf and bud and birdsong enter the city, the brilliance of scarlet and turquoise, tangerine and eggplant, explode in heartbreaking joy onto the scene. I absolutely love the oblique references to foreign locations she presents as we travel here and there spreading color and life.
Lovely and thought-provoking for ages 4 and up.
The Baby Tree, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall published in 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books
When a little boy’s mom and dad tell him that a new baby is coming to the family, his head is popping with questions. Chief among them is, “Where are we going to get the baby?” As he asks this question to people in his life — the teenager next door, his teacher, Grandpa, the mailman — he gets some very interesting, very different answers. Will his baby really come from a stork? Is there such a thing as a Baby Tree? If they indeed come from eggs, where does one get that kind of egg?
Finally, mom and dad explain to him where babies come from. Turns out each person was a tiny bit right…except that bit about storks from Grandpa.
If you have ever seen Sophie Blackall’s work, you know that pure charm fills every page. These illustrations were created with Chinese ink and watercolor. Blackall’s line whispers, her gentle imaginations please and enliven without any raised voices, her candy-colored compositions in frosting blue and pink lemonade, lemon and lime,with a few splashes of cherry red, play upon loads of white space. All these rosy-cheeked people exude cheery niceness as well. And oh, look! Is that Brian Floca’s Locomotive book they are reading at bedtime? And Sergio Ruzzier’s Bear and Bee? Love that!
A preschool-sized explanation of where babies come from is part of the story, with additional questions and answers included to guide parents with questions ranging from how-come-there are-twins to how-can-my-friend-have-two-moms. Ages 4 or 5 and up.
Be sure to check out the other winners on the New York Times list through the link at the top of the blogpost.