I love picture books and find that this list is the most difficult to make, and this year was no different. Take a look at my favorites, and if I missed one of yours, give me a comment below.
NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS
This beautiful picture book will make learning about leaves easy. Children and an adult go on a fall walk and learn to identify trees by the shapes and colors of their leaves. The artwork sets this book apart from other similarly-themed books. Each page showcases one type of tree; the background, showing the children walking through, raking, and falling in leaves, is drawn only in shades of green, with one large leaf spotlighted in full autumn color. Also included are instructions on how to press leaves and how to make a leaf rubbing.
This very personal biography of Albert Einstein does an exceptional job of explaining the how Einstein’s discovery of atoms and his theories about the speed of light began with events when he was a boy with an exceptional imagination. The illustrations are beautiful and do much to illuminate the questions that Einstein struggled with.
Thomas Jefferson was a plantation owner, a statesman, a writer, a president. But most of all, he was a reader, and this picture book biography gloriously showcases his love of books. Wherever he went, he bought books and read books. As President, Jefferson appointed the first librarian of Congress’s small library and more than tripled the number of books there. In 1814, after British troops set fire to the Capitol and destroyed the entire collection, Jefferson personally selected over 6500 books to donate to the new Library of Congress. This is my favorite biography of Thomas Jefferson, who once said, “I cannot live without books.”
FICTION PICTURE BOOKS
What does a dog do all day when its human pal is gone? After tossing the ball a few times to her dog, a young girl leaves for school in the morning, and the despondent dog is alone. Except, that is, for the mom and the baby—and even the cat. Despite the dog’s pleading looks (“Ball?”), no one will play ball with him. After hours of boredom, the girl returns home to an exuberant “BALL!” Though this delightful book uses only one word, the illustrations speak volumes.
It’s lonely at the top…at the top of the food pyramid, that is. The gazelles whisper behind the lion’s back. Everyone talks about the shark’s feeding frenzies—but hey, he’s just a fast eater. And the wolf—he’s just a very quiet walker. With vicious fangs. And that story about the girl in the red cape—well, it was just a one-time thing. So these top predators start a self-help group to share their feelings. Carnivores is a funny story about accepting yourself, and the illustrations are priceless.
Most kids (and adults!) are afraid of something, and Laszlo is no exception. He is afraid of the dark that lives at his house—in the closet, behind the shower curtain, and mostly in the basement. One night, Laszlo’s nightlight burns out, and the dark comes to visit him in his room. The dark tells Laszlo to follow—into the hall, down the stairs, into the basement. And in the far corner of the basement, the dark tells Laszlo to open the bottom drawer of an old dresser, where Laszlo finds….a new nightlight bulb. This wonderful book about facing your fears is from the powerhouse talents of Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen.
Two ballerinas, a little girl and a tall bird, are new dancing partners; neither is happy with the situation, and their body language and facial expressions show it. But as they begin to dance together, even their tumbles help them develop into graceful and gracious partners. Flora and the Flamingo is a wordless book, with large flaps on several pages. Checking to see what is underneath these good-sized flaps adds energy and movement, advancing the story in a way that a simple page turn would not. Though I usually find it hard to select one best book in a year and I have a hidden (for the most part) antipathy toward pink, this delightful story is my favorite 2013 picture book.
Most of us are content with having pet dogs or cats or gerbils—or even snakes and hermit crabs and tarantulas. But what if you’ve got your heart set on having your very own pet…TRAIN. This picture book will help you choose, track, and train your very own pet train. It even provides tips on selecting a name for your new train—standard names like Milo and Morgan and Nathan, or more exotic names like Captain Foofamaloo or Sir Chuggsalot. This is a great book for getting those creative juices flowing before a similar writing assignment.
With her red crayon, a lonely girl draws a door in her room that leads her into a forest and on an adventure. Her crayon helps her travel through a marvelous castle, where she finds and rescues a beautiful caged bird—but in the process, she drops her crayon and is captured and imprisoned herself. The story reminds me of a more intricate version of Harold and the Purple Crayon.
On Friday, January 12, 2007, Joshua Bell, an acclaimed violinist, played for 45 minutes during the morning rush hour in a Washington, D.C., subway station. As almost 1100 people dashed by, almost no one stopped to listen. Several young children slowed to listen, but their parents dragged them along. This picture book is based on that morning, told by a young boy who wanted to stop and listen. The story reminds us not only to stop and smell the flowers, but to listen to the music as well.
Anyone can read this book if they know just two words. Cow is quietly munching grass (“Moo.”) She sees the farmer putting a For Sale sign on a little red car (“Moo?”) It’s time for an adventure! (“Moo!”) Changes in font size and color and perfect punctuation make the word “Moo” say everything from “Vroom!” to “Oh-oh!” to “Oh noooooooooooo” as she speeds and crashes…then tries to explain just what happened. And like many children, Cow knows just how to get out of trouble as she points an accusing hoof at Sheep. “Baaaaa!” This lively picture book would also make a great text for teaching punctuation and reading with expression.