Best Picture Books of 2010

The Best 25 Picture Books of 2010!

I must be paying more attention to what I am reading and writing about.  In the past two years when I have compiled lists of the best picture books of the year I felt like I was scrambling to include all the wonderful titles I had yet to mention on my blog. This year, as I went through my mental list of the greats I had read at story time, at home and to myself, it seemed as though I had written posts on almost all of them! So, I started poring over everyone else's lists to see if I was forgetting something. I'll start with the New York Times Best Illustrated Books of 2010 list, which is usually interesting because they select authors, illustrators, designers and librarians as judges.

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan with picutres by a favorite of mine, Sophie Blackall (Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges and Jumpy Jack & Googily by Meg Rosoff are two of my favorites Blackall has illustrated.)

In Big Red Lollipop, Khan tells the story of three sisters new to America and birthday parties. When Rubina is invited to her first birthday party, her mother insists that she take her younger sister Sana with her. Rubina obeys her mother even though she knows that she will be shunned by her classmates for bringing her. Not only does Sana insist on winning all the party games and crying when she doesn't, in the dark of night she eats almost all of the big red lollipop that was in Rubina's goodie bag, despite the fact that she has already devoured her own green lollipop. Rubina is understandably angry and heartbroken. Rubina is not invited to any more parties after that and, a year or so later when Sans gets her first invitation, their mother again insists that the sisters join her. This time, the baby is even big enough to attend. Rubina says there is no way she is going to the party and tells her mother not to make Sana take Maryam either. Ami concedes and Sana happily heads off on her own. She returns home from the party with something for Rubina - a lollipop.  

I love the story in this book and how brilliantly Khan presents life among siblings. Blackall's illustrations capture the simplicity and depth of the story magnificently. This has been a big hit at story time at the bookstore where I work. The kids and the parents are riveted by the story, waiting to see how it all turns out. This is the kind of story with a message that I can wholeheartedly embrace because it is both subtle and kind and no fingers are pointed, no medals given. The beauty of Sana recognizing what Rubina has done for her is embodied in the lollipop and that is enough.

Shadow by Suzy Lee: Book Cover

Suzy Lee is an author/illustrator who's books I have overlooked for too long now. Korean born, Lee has three picture books (that I know of) in print in the US. She has other books to her name but, as best I can tell, they have not been translated yet.  WaveMirror and Shadow are all books without words and not always easy to read at story time, or even at home if you find this intimidating (if you do, check out an article I wrote on the subject, How to Read a Book Without Words (Out Loud).) Lee's illustrations are full of movement and playfulness, black sketches with bursts of color, a young girl always at the center of the action.  In Wave, she spends an afternoon playing on the beach. In Mirror, a Rorschach of a book, a young girl plays with her image in a a mirror, with a few twists and turns. In Shadow, a jumble of odds and ends in the attic provides the shadowy backdrop for an afternoon of play.

Lee's imagination is as boundless as her artistic and illustrative skills. While these do work as read-out-louds, they are much better as books to be discovered alone.  Books you can dive into and swim around in for a while...

Oliver Jeffers is another author/illustrator I have overlooked for too long now.  With Up and Down, we revisit the boy from The Way Back Home, Lost and Found , and How to Catch a Star and his penguin friend.  Penguins in kid's books are just so dang cute, but Jeffers does a fine job not being too cute.  In Lost and Found they have a funny dance of back and forth as they work out the details of their friendship.  In Up and Down the boy stands by his friend as the penguin tries to learn to, or just plain fly, no matter how.  Quirky, slightly subversive and wonderfully illustrated.  Don't miss Jeffers' other superb picture book, Incredible Book Eating Boy.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead and his wife, illustrator Erin Stead has made many top ten lists of librarians and kid's book bloggers, besides making the NYTimes Top Ten list of 2010.  Amos McGee is a thoughtful, kind zoo keeper who knows how to tend to all the unique needs of his wards. But, when Amos is home sick and the animals miss him, they board a bus and travel to his house to give him a dose of the same TLC that Amos always has for them.  Stead's story is simple and sweet, as are the illustrations.  Definitely a story time hit where I work, the book has the feel and look  of one written some 25+ years ago.

Peter Brown made my Best Picture Books of 2010 list last year with his magical tale based on a real life event, The Curious Garden. With Children Make Terrible Pets, Brown jumps from whimsy to wacky with the story of Lucy, a bear who likes to bring home strays.  This one happens to be a little boy she names Squeaker and insists on keeping despite her mother's insistence that children make terrible pets.  Brown's book is so funny and has the feel of a Hannah-Barbera cartoon, almost.  An excellent read out loud that never gets old, definitely worth buying.

I have loved everything that Emily Gravett has done since her first book published in America, Orange Pear Apple Bear, hit the shelves in 2007.  Simple, playful and magnificently illustrated, her books have become more complex and interactive since then. Her book, The Odd Egg, made the 2009 NY Times Top Ten List.

Meerkat Mail by Emily Gravett: Book Cover  The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett: Book CoverOrange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett: Book Cover
Dogs by Emily Gravett: Book CoverMonkey and Me by Emily Gravett: Book CoverSpells by Emily Gravett: Book Cover
Wolves by Emily Gravett: Book CoverLittle Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett: Book Cover

With The Rabbit Problem, Gravett takes medieval mathematician Fibonacci's "rabbit problem" in which rabbits breed at a specified rate and imagines it come to life in her newest book that takes the format of a wall calendar - it even has a hole in the cover!  A lonely rabbit finds a friend in January and they soon multiply, then their offspring multiply and multiply as the problems increase in the small field where they are living, each month presenting a different problem, such as the "Soggy Rabbit Problem" and the "Too Many Carrots Problem." Pages include flaps and fold-outs and even a carrot cookbook, all brought to life by Gravett's rich pencil drawings enhanced by lush watercolors.  The last page of the calendar is a gigantic pop-out explosion of rabbits.

Tao Nyeu made my Best Picture Books of 2008 list with her gorgeous book that was also her final project at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, Wonder Bear, a wordless book.  With Bunny Days, there are words and three wonderful little stories about some playful, precocious bunnies.  Don't miss this great interview filled with wonderful artwork at 7 Impossible Things.

Komako Sakai made the 2009 NY Times Top Ten List with her  book Snow Day. With Mad at Mommy, she captures perfectly the emotions and reasoning of a toddler who has to spend all day with Mommy, doing things her way. As with all great picture books, the illustrations and text sometimes tell a different story, and this is the case with the little bunny who narrates the story.  Mommy sleeps late when bunny wants to play, she always tells bunny to hurry up and then she goes slowly, and she yells for no reason (see the picture of the mess at the bathroom sink.)  I think that this is a Very Important Book to have on the shelves at home, as there are so few picture books that deal honestly and wonderfully with the genuine feelings that small children, for whom the world is black and white, experience.

city dog, country frog written by Mo Willems (YES, Mo!) and gorgeously illustrated by Jon J Muth is a revelation.  A marvelous book that, I think, will ultimately be lost on the littlest listeners, is poignant nonetheless.  A city dog spends spring and summer and some of fall with a new friend, a frog, but is bereft when his friend does not meet him on their rock in the midst of winter snows. However, dog does find a new friend to play with in the country.  So simple and so moving, both texturally and visually.  No doubt, another award winner.

SHARK vs TRAIN by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld has to be one of the funniest books published this year - right up there with Children Make Terrible Pets.  Before the story begins, two boys meet at the toy box, one grabbing a shark, the other a train, and the story takes off.  Leaving the boys behind, we watch the two mismatched opponents go head to head at various challenges such as basketball, high diving, burping, trick-or-treating, video games and more.  Brilliantly conceived and wonderfully illustrated, this is a big hit every time I read it at story time.

Even though cupcakes are HOT HOT HOT right now, in books and on napkins, Charise Mericle Harper takes a sweet story and gives it a twist in her book Cupcake.  The plain vanilla cupcake watches as all his fancier brothers and sisters are purchased then commiserates with a plain, straight candle, who tries to find the perfect, attractive topping for Cupcake.  Just when you think he's found the perfect topper (himself) he suggests broccoli!

Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer: Book Cover
Mostly Monsterly written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Scott Magoon made it onto my updated Halloween Picture Book List this year and was just so cute in a freaky, funky way that I could not stop thinking about it.  The story of a little monster who is sometimes nice (she likes cupcakes and flowers) and has a hard time fitting in at school is kind of typical,  but still full of great moments that shouldn't be missed.

I'm Not by Pam Smallcomb, illustrated by Robert Weinstock is a bit like Mostly Monsterly in that the plot seems typical at first but he author manages to make it her own.  What I loved most about this book right from the start are the illustrations - that narrating gator and her friend Evelyn are very evocative of James Marshall's classic and classy hippos, George and Martha.  As with all couples, opposites attract and this is true for the little gator and Evelyn, who lives large, VERY large.  Evelyn gets up to some pretty entertaining activities and, just when you think the little gator narrator is going to suffer a huge crisis of confidence, she begins to notice the things that she is good at that Evelyn isn't - important, valuable things like spelling, karate and baking cookies.  I'm Not in feels like an instant classic, one that is sure to be on the shelves next to Frog & Toad and George & Martha and maybe even Elephant & Piggie in the years to come.

I discovered the book A Dignity of Dragons:  Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts written by Jaqueline K Ogburn and illustrated by Italian artist Nicoletta Ceccoli while perusing the pages of the Strand Books an incredible new and used bookstore in NYC with an AMAZING subject browse for kid's books that includes among many categories such as food, folklore, mythology, immigration and theater. Living close to the San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park, my kids and I have long been intrigued by the collective nouns for real animals (a crash of rhinos, a flamboyance of flamingoes) so this book, with its GORGEOUS illustrations is a treat for me.I think that little ones who love magical creatures and word play will enjoy it too. You'll find a "vengeance of harpies," a "tangle of gorgons," a "flurry of yetis" and a "cleverness of were-foxes."  Ogburn also includes an excellent glossary of all the magical creatures in the book that includes their county/culture of origin.

Below are picture books that I reviewed over the course of the last year, all of which I read at story time to great applause.  Click on the title of the book for a link to my review which also has links to author and illustrator websites!  

The Eraserheads by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Interrupting Chicken written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein

April and Esme:  Tooth Fairies written and illustrated by Bob Graham

April and Esme Tooth Fairies by Bob Graham: Book Cover

Pete the Cat, written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean

Mr Elephanter written and illustrated by Lark Pein

There's Going to be a Baby written by John Burningham and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Once Upon a Time Map Book written by BG Hennessey and illustrated by Peter Joyce

The Dollhouse Fairy written and illustrated by Jane Ray

The Dollhouse Fairy by Jane Ray: Book Cover

OH NO! written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat

The Quiet Book written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska

Mathilda and the Orange Balloon written by Randal de Sève and illustrated by Jen Croace

Here are the 2010 Finalist for the CYBILS Fiction Picture Books award.  For descriptions of the books that I have not reviewed, click the link.

A Beach Tail written by karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Chalk by Bill Thomson: Book Cover

CHALK written and illustrated by Bill Thompson

Flora's Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall: Book Cover

Flora's Very Windy Day written by Jeanne Birdsall, of The Penderwicks renown and illustrated by the excellent Matt Phelan

The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson: Book Cover

Cow Loves Cookies written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Marcellus Hall

Interrupting Chicken written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein

SHARK vs TRAIN by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead and his wife, illustrator Erin Stead

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