I work as an assistant in a children’s room of a public library, which means that I read a fair number of books for younger children. I don’t often blog about them here, but I did want to feature a few of my favorites from the past year.
Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke: This early chapter series is amazing. They’re wholesome, in the best possible sense, charming and funny. They take place in Africa (the country is not specified) and have a wealth of details about Anna Hibiscus’s life there, but her mother is Canadian and white. This is clearly laid out in both text and pictures, but it does not overwhelm the heart of the story, which is focused firmly on Anna Hibiscus and her family. They’re simply lovely books and deserve to become modern classics.
Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems: I love Mo Willems, okay? He’s just so hilariously funny. And the Elephant and Piggie have all the elements of some of my favorite classic early readers, in a stripped down way. The difference between Gerald and Piggie’s personalities, and the way that the readers are invited to sympathize with both of them is also great. And I will admit that as much as I would like to be a Piggie, I am totally a Gerald. Honestly, this is my greatest accolade: when I am having a hard day at work, I go find one and read it and am happy again. (Favorites: We Are in a Book!, I am Going!, Happy Pig Day!, My Friend is Sad…and all the rest.)
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems: The newest non-Pigeon picture book, which I was lucky enough to hear read by the author. It’s worth it just for the clever way Willems plays with the Goldilocks story, but there are several special bonuses. The Norwegian dinosaur is particularly hilarious, as well as the sly posters in the dinosaur house and the pigeon hiding in one of the pictures.
I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen: It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite here. I Want My Hat Back has that MOMENT when the bear realizes what has happened. And how do you not love the narrowed eyes, the sudden suspicion? But This Is Not My Hat has an even stronger tension between the text and the pictures and, in addition, an almost-poetry to the language of the text that might just mean I have to say that it’s my favorite. Regardless, Jon Klassen is amazing and I can’t wait to see what genius thing he comes up with next.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen: I would say that this is an author/illustrator match made in heaven, except that we’re going to get Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen soon and that will be hard to beat. Regardless, we passed Extra Yarn around the department when it first came in and I think we all loved it. It’s quirky and fresh, but at the same time there’s no way to describe it other than nice. It’s a nice story with nice illustrations–the kind that has a mild humor to it that keeps it from being saccharine sweet. Definitely in my top 3 for the year.
Oh No! and Oh No! Not Again! by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat: These are just plain zany, as the subtitles indicate (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World and Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History). But they’re also smart and I think they subtly assume that a girl building giant robots and time machines is a pretty cool thing. Which I happen to think is a pretty cool message.
Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith: Lulu, a very spoiled little girl, sets off into the forest to find herself a brontosaurus when her parents refuse to buy her one. Along the way, she has various encounters with inhabitants of the forest. I loved the way Viorst plays with the fairy tale setup–the little girl in the deep dark forest, who meets three creatures and has to decide how to deal with them. It’s pretty specific, but Viorst is not simply retelling a fairy tale, which means that Lulu will always surprise you. It’s humorous, but there’s also a lot going on in this story.
Flotsam by David Wiesner: I know that this has been around forever and everyone else knows about it, but I had never read it before and it’s beautiful. I love the magic of the underwater kingdom, the way the story circles back around to the beginning. (I also love Tuesday Morning by Wiesner, for the sheer hilarity of the flying frogs.)
Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham: I wasn’t really expecting to like this one as much as I did, but I adored this subtle take-off on Angelina Ballerina. Detailing the struggles of the little vampire girl to become a ballerina (find a night class), LeUyen Pham’s illustrations and Anne Marie Pace’s text work in a perfect counterpoint that had me giggling at LEAST once a page.