ten that are true and tremendous

finding winnie cover imageFinding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company

This picture book is a dream, pure and simple.

It’s the true story of how a young Canadian veterinarian adopted a bear cub as he was on his way to active duty in World War I, and of how that bear, named Winnipeg, or Winnie for short, became the dear friend of a little English boy named Christopher Robin and the inspiration for that lovable Bear of Little Brain, Winnie-the-Pooh.

finding winnie interior by mattick and blackall

The author is a descendant of that Canadian vet and she reels off this sweet story with exquisite, storyteller’s ease.

And then! Sophie Blackall picks up her art tools and delivers perfect illustrations — tender, clean, utterly captivating watercolors that pull us irresistibly into this world and into friendly companionship with one frowsy bear. Every page is as delicious as a cream puff.

finding winnie interior2 mattick and blackall

A miniature album of historic photos and documents is included. It’s one of the loveliest books of the year. Don’t miss it, for ages 3 through Adult.

counting lions cover imageCounting Lions:Portraits from the Wild, by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Stunningly beautiful portraits of wildlife by illustrator Stephen Walton will stop you in your tracks from your first glimpse at this book’s cover, right through to the end. That’s not a photograph, friends. It’s a charcoal drawing.

Walton treats us to exquisite portraits of ten different animals who counting lions illustration by stephen waltonare threatened to some degree. His painstaking drawings convey strength, majesty, tenderness, and such beauty. Textures — the wrinkly hide of an elephant, a luxurious mane, the heavy velvet of a tiger’s paw, prickly grasses and downy feathers — are intensely realistic, yet there is a lovely quietness to every page.

Short snatches of poetic text draw our attention to some uniqueness of each creature, but mainly leave us to wonder over their loveliness. End pages contain further notes on each species, what their protected status is, and of course, in this book about counting, an estimate of just how many of these glories we have left.

A gorgeous piece of work that spans the age ranges — 2 to 100.

beatrix potter and her paint box cover imageBeatrix Potter and Her Paint Box, written and illustrated by David McPhail
published in 2015 by Henry Holt and Company

This charming biography of Beatrix Potter focuses on her love of painting, beginning when she was a child.

Sketching and painting the menagerie of animals that made their way to her nursery, and the idyllic countrysides she saw on their summer holidays in Scotland, Beatrix became an accomplished artist. Her sympathy for a sick child became the impetus for the writing of her first little tale of Peter Rabbit.

beatrix potter and her paint box illustration david mcphail

Brief and eminently accessible, this will absorb the attention of children as young as 2. McPhail’s characteristically warm, soft paintings envelop us in a world of color and beauty.

It’s Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday next year. She is one of those authors that I so dearly wish today’s parents would introduce to their children. I have a funny feeling that far too many know a vague-something about Peter Rabbit…and that’s about it. It’s worth your while to make your way through her entire bookshelf — many of them are surprisingly lengthy.

how to swallow a pig cover imageHow to Swallow  a Pig: Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Steve Jenkins is a genius at presenting information about the natural world in uncommonly clever, enticing ways, and here he’s done it again.

Get tips from the masters — from humpback whales to ant lions — on how to accomplish tasks such as repelling insects, building nests, or getting some dinner. (Please note that said dinner may be a wildebeest or a mouthful of live fish.)

how to swallow a pig interior steve jenkins

Step by step instructions make it oh-so-easy to achieve success! Jenkins’ beautiful paper collages are there to help walk us through these feats. End pages contain more information on each one of the highlighted animals. It’s an invitation to wonder at the amazing capacities of the wildlife in our world. Ages 5 and up.

emmanuel's dream cover imageEmmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, written by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Journey to Ghana, West Africa, where a little boy named Emmanuel is born. With just one leg. And a father who abandoned him and his mother.

Watch his mother, fittingly named Comfort, raise her boy to believe he could live an active, purposeful life, and watch Emmanuel take up the challenge and go, go, go.

emmanuel's dream interior thompson and qualls

As a young man, Emmanuel decides to work for the equal treatment of all disabled persons in his nation, to improve their opportunities and remove some of the stinging obstacles he faced. Watch him do this…with a bicycle.

It’s an inspiring story of hard work and success, illustrated in strong, stylish mixed media by Sean Qualls. An Author’s Note tells more about Emmanuel’s activism. Ages 4 and up.

the 50 states cover imageThe 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 Fact-Filled Maps, written and researched by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Sol Linero
published in 2015 by Wide Eyed Editions

Here’s another brilliant book of maps from Wide Eyed press. This time, we’re touring the U.S.

Browse your way through fifty, extraordinarily well-designed, eyeball-pleasing, two-page spreads and learn a bunch of interesting this-and-that about each of our states.

the 50 states interior balkan and linero

Tidbits about famous places and people, animals that make their homes here, foods that originated there, pepper the pages with so much engaging info, you could spend hours and hours lingering and learning.

There’s a definite, contemporary leaning to what’s included here which makes it more exciting for young people. Where were emoticons invented? What state is home for Tomie DePaola? Where can you buy a Voodoo  Doughnut? And never fear, you can also spot our national parks, get a glimpse of every state capitol building, learn the state capitals and all that other, regular, jazz.

the 50 states interior2 balkan and linero

Another example of the stunning design coming from Wide Eyed. This is brilliant for ages 5 to Adult.

daylight starlight wildlife cover imageDaylight Starlight Wildlife, written and illustrated by Wendell Minor
published in 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books

In this engaging book for very young children, master-illustrator Wendell Minor draws our attention to animals that like to be out and about in daytime, and those who prefer the dark of night.

Such a simple concept, brilliantly executed. Written beautifully, daylight starlight wildlife detail2 by wendell minorwithout talking down, Minor communicates interesting bits of information accessible to the Under-Two set, then illustrates the pages in a flood of gorgeous color, setting each animal in its stunning environment.

daylight starlight wildlife detail by wendell minorHis author blurb says, “Wendell Minor’s mission is to inspire children to go out into the fields, woods, and mountains to see wildlife in its natural habitat and gain a positive perspective on the world’s beauty.” Well. Don’t we love him?! This is a fantastic book for doing just that.

elephant man cover imageElephant Man, by Mariangela Di Fiore, illustrated by Hilde Hodnefjeld, translated by Rosie Hedger
published originally in Norwegian in 2013; first English edition 2015 by Annick Press

I can feel emotion welling up just thinking about this title. What a brave subject to tackle in a picture book.

Most of you will have heard of the Elephant Man, a young British man afflicted with severe deformities, who lived in the late 1800s.

elephant man interior di fiore and hodnefjeld

Here is his story, written in such honesty and forthrightness: his completely normal body at birth, and his gradual, inexplicable disfigurements and losses; the devastating early death of his mother, and cruelty of nearly everyone else he encountered; his stint on display in a freak show, and the desperation that finally drove him to wear a bag over his head in public to avoid the screams of horror.

There are a couple of kind people in this story as well, and one incredible hero — the Elephant Man himself. Illustrated in striking collage and mixed media, this book will deeply impact your heart. Includes an Afterword and historic photographs. Ages 7 and up.

flutter and hum cover imageFlutter & Hum: Animal Poems/Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales, written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis
published in 2015 by Henry Holt and Company

Julie Paschkis is one of my favorite artists, and just look at the stunning cover of her new book!

Dancing, poetic thoughts about more than a dozen familiar animals, written in both Spanish and English, tickle our imaginations. Such tasty words!

flutter and hum interior julie paschkis

And of course, every page is a glory! Thrumming with beauty and life. So much movement, sometimes whispery-graceful, sometimes bounding with joy.

flutter and hum detail by julie paschkis

She’s also incorporated piquant words in her illustrations, intriguingly meshing the visual and textual forms of art. An Author’s Note describes how Paschkis fell in love with the Spanish language and went about creating this book. A delight for ages Under-Two through Adult.

an inuksuk means welcome cover imageAn Inuksuk Means Welcome, words and art by Mary Wallace
published in 2015 by Owlkids Books

Coming to us from Canada is this beautiful look at the Arctic world and the unique stone markers there called inuksuit. 

For thousands of years these tremendous towers have been built to guide travelers in a landmark-less region of unrelenting snow and ice. Mary Wallace guides us through a short survey of the different shapes and messages an inuksuk can have, as she also introduces us to life as it’s lived in this truly awesome zone.

an inuksuk means welcome illustration by mary wallace

Bold paintings, pulsating with color and strength, dominate the pages, welcoming us into a tremendously appealing world. There is very little text, but it includes Inuktitut words, their pronunciations, and the way they are written in the Inuktitut alphabet.  It’s a handsome, captivating glimpse of another culture, for ages 2 and up.