a flurry of books to curl up with in December

Today I’ve got one last whack of any time, any day books for 2019.
If your time and reading stacks are overfull now,
be sure to check out these gems after the holidays.

saturday cover

Saturday, written and illustrated by Oge Mora
published in 2019 by Little, Brown and Company

I’ll start off with this vibrant, optimistic book about Ava and her mom and their cherished weekly tradition.

saturday Oge Mora

After a long week of work, Saturdays are reserved for happy, mom-and-Ava togetherness — library story time, a picnic in the park, even a puppet show.  This Saturday, however, bad luck dogs their heels at every step.  How can this glum day be redeemed? Glowing with love, creativity, and a penchant for contentment, it’s a winner for ages 3 and up.

it began with a page cover

It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad
published in 2019 by Harper Kids

Gyo Fujikawa has been one of my favorites since my children were wee babies, so when I saw this picture book biography of her coming out, created by an author/illustrator dream team, I was elated.

it began with a page Maclear and Morstad

And it is fabulous. Morstad’s pristine artwork breathes gentility, beauty, and warmheartedness into every page. Maclear’s velvet-smooth text unfolds the fascinating story of her life, her growth as an artist, and her groundbreaking insistence on including babies and children from multiple races in her illustration work.  Picture book perfection right here, for ages 5 to adult.

home in the woods cover

Home in the Woods, written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
published in 2019 by Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House

Inspired by her grandmother’s life, Eliza Wheeler has brought us a lovely, warmhearted, visually-stunning account of family, stalwart perseverance, and the richness of life together.

home in the woods Eliza Wheeler

Six-year-old Marvel is starting over along with her newly-widowed young mother and seven siblings. They’ve found an affordable place to move into.  It’s a shack in the woods and doesn’t seem like home at all to Marvel. Throughout that first year, however, the family doggedly works, hopes, waits, discovers, cooperates, enjoys and succeeds in making a true home out of little. It’s a story ripe for sharing with children ages 4 and up, as well as with elders who have similar stories to share of their own.

stormy cover

Stormy: A Story About Finding a Forever Home, by Guojing
published in 2019 by Schwartz & Wade Books

I’ll be honest with you, the cover of this book delayed my checking it out this past year.  It looked a bit cutesy to me. The soft-focus, pastel colors just aren’t my cup of tea. After seeing the title pop up on many best-of lists, though, I gave it a shot and they’re right —  it is a splendid book.

stormy2 by Guojing

It’s a masterful, wordless account of one stray pup and the patient efforts of a young woman to befriend him. The story reaches its climax as a storm lashes the city, sending the sopping, forlorn dog looking for shelter.

stormy by Guojing

Love that seeks and rescues is the star of this tender, generous story that’ll melt the hearts of anyone, especially dog-lovers ages 3 and up.

monument maker cover

Monument Maker: Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial, written by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Shawn Fields
published in 2019 by Tilbury House Publishers

I think the cover of this book looks a little on the dry side ( I sound a bit curmudgeonly about covers today, don’t I?!) but don’t be fooled! It’s a fascinating, meaty account of Daniel Chester French, his boyhood in New Hampshire, knack for sculpture, and crowning achievement sculpting the monumental, beloved statue of Lincoln in the Washington, D.C. memorial.

monument maker Sweeney and Fields

Handsomely illustrated in sepia drawings, well-designed, printed on nice heavy paper, it’s a total pleasure to read and I’m quite sure you will learn, as I did, many new things about this national treasure.  Louisa May Alcott even pops up in the story! Extensive back notes add to the account for adult readers. Ages 6 and up.

layla's happiness cover

Layla’s Happiness, written by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin
published in 2019 by Enchanted Lion

Like a summer breeze, like cherry tarts and ginger tea, like a favorite quilt, this ode to happiness warms us inside and out.

layla's happiness Tallie and Corrin

Seven-year-old Layla lists for us diverse and wonderful bits of the world that make her happy, from eating spaghetti without a fork, to frolicking in a garden, or listening to her mom read poetry.

Layla's happiness3 Tallie and Corrin

It’s a gladsome collection of happy things, bursting with the beauty of the ordinary-extraordinary.

layla's happiness2 Tallie and Corrin

Such an important thing to reflect on — the gifts of happiness in the world. Every page is saturated with vibrant illustrations singing with extravagant personality and the juiciness of life. This is a joy for ages 2 to adult.

anna & samia cover

Anna & Samia: The True Story of Saving a Black Rhino, written and illustrated by Paul Meisel
published in 2019 by Farrar Straus Giroux

This charming, friendly story of Anna Merz and her conservation work in Kenya saving black rhinos, focuses on just one rhino, a fella named Samia who was orphaned at birth and grew up in Anna’s household. A rhino in the family brings lots of surprises!

anna & samia Paul Meisel

Sunny, humorous anecdotes and tawny-gold savannah scenes quickly knit our hearts to Samia. Meisel wisely limits his storytelling to only the juiciest bits, making this wonderfully appealing for ages 3 and up.

most of the better natural things cover

Most of the Better Natural Things in the World, by Dave Eggers and Angel Chang
published in 2019 by Chronicle Books

Dave Eggers and unusual often go hand-in-hand.  This book features ravishing artwork, a survey of some wonders and particulars in nature, and a curiously imaginative storyline woven into the illustrations.

most of the better natural things Eggers and Chang

On the surface, it’s a small, pictorial lexicon of geographical features, with two-page spreads devoted to each entry — steppe, cloud forest, lagoon. Chang’s electric colors and abstract shapes captivate at every turn. There are no definitions as we go, but there’s a glossary in the end pages.

most of the better natural things2 Eggers and Chang

Meanwhile, what is this tiger doing, meandering through every scene, and why has he strapped a chair to his back with a long, shocking pink cord? This additional dash of whimsy perks things up mightily with mystery, charm and a sparkling surprise ending. Ages 4 and up.

wrinkles cover

Wrinkles, by JR
published in 2019 by Phaidon

It took about one second for this to become one of my favorite books this year. It’s a lovely homage to old age by the brilliant French photographer JR whose respect and appreciation for humanity shines in everything he creates.

If you haven’t met him yet, I recommend the excellent documentary Faces Places which traces JR’s endearing friendship with Agnes Varda as they jaunt about France on a portrait-making adventure.

wrinkles3 JR

wrinkles2 JR

The photos in Wrinkles are taken from JR’s recent international exhibition called, “The Wrinkles of the City.” His work elevates the lines and crinkles in elderly faces to a thing of richness and beauty.


Dozens of stunning, black-and-white photographs are accompanied by lyrical, engaging, plainspoken text. It’s truly a gem for ages 3 to 100.

(It pairs well with another lovely book I reviewed years ago, The Lines on Nana’s Face.)

an illustrated treasury of swedish folk and fairy tales

An Illustrated Treasury of Swedish Folk and Fairy Tales, illustrated by John Bauer
Centenary edition published in 2019 by Floris Books
252 pages

Huge, hairy, and smelly, dim-witted, treacherous, with bulbous and warty noses, the trolls of Nordic folk lore are some of the most delightfully-awful, imaginative creatures of literature.

John Bauer2

I love ’em, and have often recommended the D’Aulaire collection of troll stories. So I was elated to see that Floris Books has republished another hefty collection of old Swedish tales written by nine different authors and illustrated by the legendary John Bauer. It includes a nice biographical sketch of Bauer as well.

John Bauer

Bauer’s keen appreciation for Sweden’s dark, forested landscapes and his sublime rendering of them is part of the glory of his iconic illustrations.

Additionally, his imaginative take on the trolls themselves has left its mark right to the present moment.  Take a look at the unwieldy, massive creatures in his paintings, and you will notice how the DNA of troll-like creatures in today’s films and illustrations descends directly from Bauer’s figures.

treasury of swedish folk and fairy tales Joh Bauer

Twenty-two stories in groupings of Trolls and Tomtes, Brave Girls and Boys, and Kings & Queens make for dynamite read-alouds in the wintery nights ahead of us. A grand tome for ages 5 to 100.

finding narnia cover

Finding Narnia: The Story of C.S. Lewis and His Brother, written by Caroline McAlister, illustrated by Jessica Lanan
published in 2019 by Roaring Brook Press

Speaking of the fantastical, the fertile imagination of C.S. Lewis began, naturally, in his childhood as he cooked up all manner of make-believe scenarios, joined in by his older brother from time to time.

finding narnia McAlister and Lanan

This lovely book traces Lewis’s persistent childhood fantasies and his warm relationship with his brother Warnie from their earliest days to their collaborative work on the first of the Narnia stories.  Gently, minimally told, with gorgeous watercolor artwork, it’s a beautiful introduction to Lewis, accessible to children ages 4 and up.

finding narnia2 McAlister and Lanan

A lengthy Author’s Note fills in many more biographical details for grown-ups. Also included are a chronology and synopses of the Narnia tales, and fascinating Illustrator’s Notes.

overview cover

Overview: A New Way of Seeing Earth, by Benjamin Grant with Sandra Markle
published in 2019 by Crown Books for Young Readers
142 pages

Adapted for young readers from Grant’s 2016 book, Overview, this coffee-table style book holds an enormous wow factor.  For curious persons and those who gobble up facts, it’s like a free trip to the candy store.

overview Benjamin Grant

Page after page of gorgeous, full-color, satellite photos display dazzling visions of our world. The sheer size of some of the most well-known natural features, the eye-popping colors and unexpected shapes that exist on our Earth, jump out when seen from these lofty perspectives. Of course, the damage wreaked on our planet by unchecked and unwise human activity shows up as well.  142 glossy pages to amaze and spark further investigation. Ages 9 to adult.