One of the things I love best about compiling my list of the Best Picture Books of the year is examining picture books by international creators. The strength of these international visions and their world-expanding value to U.S. readers are the biggest reasons I ask for “extra” picture books each year—this year I have 75, and these are just a few of my favorites.
Argentine Isol subtitles her Daytime Visions “An Alphabet Book,” but this sophisticated abecedary goes way beyond a simple ABC, offering readers nuanced, sometimes-surreal narratives for each letter.
Austrian author/illustrator Helga Bansch makes At Night, her playful, dos-à-dos exploration of the imagined bedtime habits of various creatures, both luminously beautiful and appropriately dreamlike.
Chilean illustrator Francisco Javier Olea lends his talents to compatriot Andrea Maturana’s empathetic Life Without Nico, about the hole (represented with a void in the artwork) left in Maia’s life when her best friend, Nico, moves away.
French author/illustrator Bérengère Delaporte teams up with author and countryman Jean Leroy for the playful Stripes the Tiger, about a little tabby (the word “Cat” in the title has been excised with a vigorous claw-swipe) who roars.
German author/illustrator Sebastian Meschenmoser gives readers Pug Man’s 3 Wishes, about an anthropomorphic dog who is “a wrinkled sack of grump”—a lovable one, who will have readers laughing out loud.
Israeli illustrator Orit Bergman places a multiethnic family at the center of countrywoman Yael Molchadsky’s The Chameleon That Saved Noah’s Ark, in which Noah and Na’ama find that the little lizards’ preferred diet of worms poses the solution to the ark’s apple-storage problem.
Italian author/illustrator Francesca Sanna depicts one refugee family’s flight from their war-torn homeland to a place of safety in The Journey, offering a series of convincingly childlike impressions of fear, uncertainty, and the love of family.
Japanese illustrator Kaori Takahashi joins Indian author Gita Wolf for Knock!Knock!, a little bonbon of a book that will have readers turning pages left, right, and up, as its protagonist climbs the stairs of her apartment building looking for her lost bear.
Korean author/illustrator Jung Jin-Ho will have readers testing their senses of perspective as they join a little girl on a balcony to peer down at the tops of heads moving along the busy street below and hope that someone will Look Up!
Spanish illustrator Alfonso Ruano contributes remarkable paintings, some realistic and some surreal, to accompany Salvadoran-American Jorge Argueta’s Somos como las nubes / We Are like the Clouds, a cycle of poems presented in Spanish (alongside Elisa Amado’s English translations) about Mexican and Central American children fleeing violence and poverty.
Syrian sculptor Nizar Ali Badr’s intricately expressive stone tableaux illustrate Stepping Stones, Dutch-Canadian Margriet Ruurs’ verse chronicle (with Arabic translations by Falah Raheem) of the journey of a refugee family from their war-torn homeland to a place of safety.
From the funny to the serious, from the universal to the particular, from experiences every child has to those no child should have—but therefore every child should know about—these illustrators bring the world to North American readers, erasing boundaries and, one can devoutly hope, nurturing empathy. It’s not the UN, but it’s a start.
Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor