You’ll see over at this Kirkus link from Children’s & YA Editor Vicky Smith that she engaged in some “considerable solitary soul-searching,” as well as some lively discussions with Kirkus children’s book reviewers, over which titles to put on their just-released list of Best Books for Children of 2011.
Kirkus also asked me to determine my “top 10” list of 2011 picture books, and “soul-searching” is one way to put what I’ve undergone. There’s also been some gnashing of the teeth, muttering maniacally to myself and pulling of the hair, all in the name of trying to narrow to 10. To be clear, though, this is a good problem to have. But it’s mighty challenging, because I think it’s been a good year for picture books.
In one little shifty-eyed way, I’m going to cheat. I noticed with Kirkus’ Picture Book List for 2011 that two titles overlapped with mine—John Rocco’s Blackout and Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Naamah and the Ark at Night, illustrated by Holly Meade. The latter title, in fact, is my very favorite of the year thus far.
But, since they already appear on Kirkus’ list, I decided to make room on mine for two others, which made my task slightly easier. And seeing the Kirkus list was also good for my soul in that there are a handful of titles on their list that I agonized over leaving off mine. (I am, for one, waving earnestly at you, Can We Save the Tiger?) But, hey, 10 is 10, and that’s the limit.
So, here I go:
Along a Long Road by Frank Viva. This one was on my midyear best-of list and remains here. Created as “a single, continuous thirty-five-foot-long piece of art using Adobe Illustrator” (which the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art then displayed from September to October), this sparsely and rhythmically worded tale chronicles one man’s bike journey along a single road, a smooth yellow line which propels the story with an almost palpable energy.
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka. This is a moving story of friendship and loss, told with a seeming simplicity, but that’s just Raschka once again making what he does look easy. With his signature minimalist, vigorously stroked artwork, he takes a wordless story of a dog and his ball and makes readers care deeply. A quiet little gem of a book.
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith. I gave this poignant book its own column this year. A young boy explores his great- grandfather’s topiary garden, as well as the high points of his great-grandfather’s life. Beautifully rendered in verdant greens and occasional reds, it includes my reigning Favorite Picture Book Spread Thus Far of 2011.
Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson. If you’ve been following Calling Caldecott this year, you know that it’s arguable whether or not this can be considered a picture book (as opposed to an “illustrated book” or series of portraits), but I include it here anyway. This book takes on nothing less than African-American history, from the founding of America to Barack Obama’s Democratic nomination for President, and is filled with the powerful and richly detailed illustrations of a master illustrator.
I Must Have Bobo! written by Eileen Rosenthal and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. I’ve been championing this under-the-radar book, another repeat from my midyear list, since its January 2011 release. This is a very funny domestic drama, featuring a showdown between a young boy and Earl, the family cat. Cue the theme song from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, please. If books could have theme songs, it’d nail this one.
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Hands down, the year’s funniest picture book (with my sincere apologies to its runner-up, Ole Könnecke’s Anton Can Do Magic, to which I also devoted a column this year). A very deadpan and remarkably unanimated bear, searching for his hat, is this close to giving up when he suddenly remembers where he last saw it. His solution to the problem—oh, the delicious, dark humor of it all—puts the “wicked” in wicked funny.
In the Meadow by Yukiko Kato and illustrated by Komako Sakai. Another holdover from my midyear list, this is the gripping story of a young girl who wanders from her parents and gets lost, figuratively and literally, in the swaying grasses of a meadow. Both author and illustrator put readers right in the center of the action, and Sakai’s lush, elegant spreads mesmerize.
Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead. This one has also flown rather under the radar this year, but it’s a keeper for me. The writing manages to be suspenseful and tender, and Stead’s multilayered collage illustrations are simply a wonder. Best of all, Stead lets the raw materials shine and seems to be telling us that imperfections in our glossy, high-tech lives are not just allowed, but they’re also celebrated.
Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes. Let it be said that Beth Krommes knows how to compose a picture on a spread. Krommes’s stunning, boldly saturated scratchboard art is the perfect complement to Sidman’s economically worded poem on the wonder of spirals in nature. Exquisite all-around.
Tweak Tweak by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. This tender, well-crafted tale is a joy to read and a delight to turn around and read aloud to a group of young children. Sergio Ruzzier treats us, as usual, to his refreshingly offbeat style, but this is by far the most truly adorable of all his protagonists.
That's it. That's my 12, er, 10 titles. Feel free to post your favorites in the comments.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.