It sounds terribly cliché, but it feels to me like 2013 flew by. For the most part, at either my own blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, or here at Kirkus, I have written about what I consider the year’s most outstanding picture books. However, other 2013 titles I like got past me for one reason or another.
Today’s column is an attempt to fix that, since 2013 is about to turn the corner, never to be seen again—that is, unless I can find Hermione’s Time-Turner. Here, I round up for your consideration several Picture Books That Got Away.
Before I do, I’m going to momentarily stray from picture books and mention a new reference title. World Almanac Books very recently released the 2014 World Almanac and Book of Facts, edited by Sarah Janssen (Senior Editor). Nothing new here: They do this annually, and they do it up well. They arrange the book logically and sort the information in a way that makes it manageable for those browsing or researching, and they provide extensive and updated facts ranging from sociology to history to entertainment with everything in between. Sure, we have Web browsers today, but the World Almanac doesn’t ever need charging.
The reason I’m singling it out here, however, is because the book opens with, amongst other things, a brand-new feature, called “Marriage in the U.S.: A Changing Picture.” This is partly the result of a monumental year in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional and the federal government extended some marriage benefits to same-sex couples. Yep, the tide is turning. The map titled “Legal Status of Same-Sex Marriage, by State” shows only a small handful of light gray states, this color signifying those places where Bob can marry Larry or Susan can marry Simone. Let’s hope that in 2015’s almanac we see a lot more of the light gray.
Alrighty. I really wanted to mention that before the year closes up shop. Now back to picture books.
Two picture books which escaped attention at my own blog this year were Gus Gordon’s Herman and Rosie and Betsy Bird’s Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. These are two books I very much like, and I had planned interviews with both illustrators. We all get busy, though, and Gordon and Dorman (not to mention Yours Truly) were swamped with 2013 book deadlines, so perhaps we’ll see those interviews in the new year. But I stubbornly include them here so that I know I did my part to encourage someone to read them.
I want to say—if memory serves me right—that I’ve had my copy of Herman and Rosie, straight from Australia (where it was released last year), all year long, though it was released here in the States by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press in October. Lucky me: I’ve had 12 months to enjoy it. It’s a swingin’ tribute to New York City (created by an Australian, no less) and tells the story of two animals in the Big Apple who love jazz and manage to find each other. This tiny summary does it no justice, however, so I can’t recommend highly enough that you find a copy of your own to take in the affectionate details, Gordon’s creative collage work and the utterly-charming-in-every-possible way story. (And look for Gordon to visit my own site in the coming year, where I hope he will share tons of art.)
In the interest of full disclosure, Betsy Bird is my co-author on a book we wrote with the late Peter D. Sieruta, which will be released next year. But believe me when I say that Giant Dance Party is good—and that I’m not just saying that because I call her a friend and colleague. In a warm and chummy style and with a snappy pace, Bird tells the story of a young girl who loves to dance but doesn’t love to dance in front of others. When she decides to teach (hey, teachers don’t have to perform after all), several giants—so blue, so superbly fuzzy—appear. They are eager to learn. In the end, they all, humans and giant furry creatures alike, bust a move or two in front of a live audience, all in the name of camaraderie and friendship, but how they get to that point is for you to find out when you read a copy to your favorite kid. Dorman’s vivid illustrations brim with personality.
Last, but far from least, especially for you devoted illustration fans, there’s the elegant cut-paper artwork of Agnese Baruzzi, who lives in Italy. Tango Books of Great Britain has published many of her intricately-illustrated board books, most recently Opposites (following on the heels of last year’s Count!) and Pinocchio. These are delicate die-cut illustrations, which can best be described as lacelike, so they’re not for very young hands, which will immediately rip them. But they are for those who love to see picture books from overseas, as well as exquisite handiwork.
Now back to my eggnog and utter denial that 2013 zoomed by as rapidly as it did.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.