The year is not over yet, but let’s face it—we’re almost there. Though it sounds cliché to say, it feels like just yesterday was January, and I was eagerly watching Twitter feeds for the 2011 Caldecott Medal winner.

Read last week's Seven Impossible Things on the wonderful book A New Year's Reunion.

In thinking back on 2011, I’ve decided that it was a good year to be a fan of picture books and illustration. First off, we’ve seen some great picture books this year. (Kirkus has asked me to weigh in next week on the “best” picture books of 2011. I’ve got to narrow my precious, precious picture books down to only 10, heaven bless and have mercy on me.) We’ve also already seen some awards results in the realm of picture books and illustration, such as the Society of Illustrators’ 2011 Original Art winners (Stop Snoring, Bernard!, pictured, won the Society's Founders' Award), the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2011, and picture book winners named in the 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children’s Literature.

Best of all, if a person wanted some great crunchy, thought-provoking discussions on picture books and contemporary illustration this year, as well as simply picture-book coverage, it was a good year to find it. Here are three reasons why:

One, right off the bat in January, the talented author and journalist Pamela Paul was named the children's books editor of the New York Times Book Review. Very soon after that (February), the Book Review announced that weekly online-only reviews of a new picture book would be posted, which would supplement their regular print coverage of picture books. Yes, supplement! Not replace. This was high-fivin’ happy news for picture-book fans. “Every year,” Pamela Paul wrote, “the American Library Association awards its Caldecott medal to the best illustrated book and often, the reaction among readers is ‘I’ve never even heard of it!’ Here’s to discovering more picture books before they get their gold star.” Hear, hear!

Two, speaking of the New York Times, remember the 2010 piece by Julie Bosman, which laid out the reasons she felt the picture book is no longer popular and selling as it once did? Some noteworthy responses to that, over one year later, have made it a good year to read up on picture books and ponder how the general public responds to them. One of them, a piece earlier this month from Anita Silvey, posits that parents are more often choosing classic children’s books over contemporary ones, given the fact that the older titles have fuller and longer texts. And just prior to that, in late October, the Picture Book Manifesto was released by a group of authors and illustrators, stating that they’re “tired of hearing the picture book is in trouble, and tired of pretending it is not.” Decrying the picture book’s tidy ending, the term “kid-friendly,” and imitation and laziness, they asked for more “grown-up conversation” about the art form they hold so dear.

For those of you who step foot into the hyper-hypo cyber-world of Facebook and would like to discuss the proclamation, it has its own page here. In the name of further supporting children’s picture books, it prompted author/illustrator Matthew Cordell to create his own Children’s Book Challenge, in which folks are encouraged to pledge to buy one picture book at least once a month or check out 10 picture books, either weekly or monthly, from their local public library—as well as stop by the page to post picture-book recommendations.

And three, one of things the manifesto asked for was a “more robust criticism” to keep picture-book creators original. I think the picture-book world got that in late August with the arrival of Calling Caldecott, a Heavy Medal companion blog which lives at the Horn Book’s site and which specifically discusses 2011 Caldecott contenders. I find that this is an excellent example of the type of rich picture book analysis the proclamation posse calls for. Lolly Robinson and Robin Smith lead the discussions over there with class and professionalism—not to mention great knowledge, as they’ve collectively served on a slew of previous book committees. This is the kind of blog from which one learns a ginormous amount (to be precise) by merely reading the comments. It’s an informative and must-have site for anyone interested in picture-book analysis and contemporary children’s-book illustration.

Before closing, I must add another bright star in the 2011 picture-book landscape, the declaration of November as Picture Book Month, an international initiative founded by author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas, with lots of help from her friends and colleagues.  

May 2012 prove to be just as chatty and thought-provoking.

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.