The Baby Tree, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Blackall's distinct, gorgeous illustrations please the eye in this story of a boy wanting to know where babies come from, and receiving a bunch of bizarre answers that puzzle him more than enlighten. After his parents tell him a "new baby is coming," the young protagonist first asks for more cereal, but then after a second helping of cocopops searches for an answer to his baby-related query. His sister says they come from a Baby Tree, and we see him imagine a tree with babies instead of leaves (the cover image). Grandpa says there's a stork involved, the mailman says they pop out of eggs (causing the boy to see a baby hatching out of an egg in a nest). Finally his parents give him a proper scientific explanation, one that gives him confidence to set Grandpa straight. Lovely and whimsical.
A Bed for Kitty, written and illustrated by Yasmine Surovec. This uproarious follow-up to I See Kitty tickles the funny bone as it captures a young girl named Chloe's attempts to convince her pet kitten to sleep in a newly purchased customized cat bed. The bold striking graphics amuse as they show the cat sleeping everywhere but on the bed: on the TV, Mom's favorite sweater, in the sink, and even in Chloe's sock drawer! I love the little humorous touches throughout (the rejected bed at one point is covered with cobwebs). What is the solution? Chloe comes up with a cozy one. The story is simple, but the comical illustrations contain many details that invite re-visits.
Blizzard, written and illustrated by John Rocco. This triumphant look at a little boy who helps his family and neighborhood out during a huge snowstorm proves to be a worthy follow-up to Rocco's lovely Caldecott Honor title Blackout. I remember the very blizzard Rocco talks about here, and the book transports me back to 1978 when the hills of snow towered over us kids. After the titular event occurs, leaving everyone snowed in (and with dwindling food and supplies) the resilient boy (who would be great friends with Brave Irene) takes it on himself to travel by foot to help everybody. I love how uses snow to spell out the changing days of the week (accumulated snow, tracks in the snow). Touches of humor are a bonus, and despite the fact that the beautifully rendered scenes evoke an icy cold feel, the warmth of the story shines through. Perfect for a wintry story time.
The Book with No Pictures, by B.J. Novak. Oh my word this is silly fun! As promised, no illustrations appear in Novak's meta romp that ends up playing a wicked little trick on the grown-ups reading it to their little ones. The book starts off on a modest note, employing a simple black font and several blank pages, as Novak questions the whole notion of a book with no pictures. But then we find out: there are benefits. Silly benefits! The book can make the grown-up reading it out loud say ridiculous things. The font gets bigger and colorful as goofy words start taking over the book. It all leads to an amazing spread where the hilarious words such as OOOOOmph! EEEEEmph! and AHEE! AHEE! AHEE! fill the pages. This would make a good double feature with Antoinette Portis' celebration of goofy words, Froodle.
Construction, written by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock. This follow-up to Roadwork and Demolition invites audience participation as construction workers and machines noisily team up to create something very cool. It's fun to periodically ask the children "what are they making?" and hear the answers they offer. This follows the same formula as the first two books: each spread shows a machine at work (Lovelock's vibrant illustrations fill the page) and a staccato rhyme captures the sound of the process: "Hoist the wood. Hoist the wood. Chain and hook and strap. Swing it round, then lower it down. THONK! CLONK! CLAP!" The rhymes invite clapping and movement, and kids love shouting the sound effects with you. I won't spoil the ending's surprise: but it's one that brings big smiles from all.
Dangerous!, written and illustrated by Tim Warnes. There are many words to describe this vocabulary-building romp, a British import: lively, funny, touching, suspenseful. A word-loving mole enjoys creating labels and sticking them on everything he sees: mushrooms, flint, ladybug, even poop! (Kids go ewwww on the latter and then guffaw.) One day he comes across a bizarre green object that has him churning out label after label: lumpy, chunky, muddy, ribbed, peculiar, whopping, and many others. Turns out to be a crocodile and this terrifies the mole. Instead of snacking on our hero, the croc starts munching all the labels and this ticks off the mole, leading to a confrontation that results in a delightful, satisfying twist. A charmer.
Digger Dog, written by William Bee, illustrated by Cecilia Johansson. Wow, do Johansson's illustrations, with their mix of polka-dots and construction vehicles, pop off the page. This book practically begs to be read to large groups of kids bound to find Digger Dog's quest for a ginormous bone enormously entertaining. The canine hero loves to sniff for and uncover bones. One day he smells something good under the ground. An ordinary shovel cannot reach what is bound to be a tasty treat ("the ground is too hard/and the bone is too deep"). So Digger Dog has to employ a digger to help him, but the construction vehicle is too small, so he needs to use a bigger one and so on and so on. Cleverly rendered flaps capture the enormity of the situation, leading to a surprise ending that will have young readers shouting with joy: Keep Digging Digger Dog!!!!
Draw!, illustrated by Raúl Colón. This visually striking and playful wordless book begins with a boy sitting in his room, drawing a picture of himself walking, easel, pencils, and sketchbook in hand, across an African landscape. He then befriends a realistically rendered elephant who befriends him, poses for him, and then serves as a guide through this wondrous natural world. A lovely image shows the elephant appreciating the boy's impressive work, and then giving him a piggyback ride to meet and draw the other animals. What I love about the book is the illustrator's charming use of perspective--we are looking over the boy's shoulder at his pencil drawings, and we can also enjoy the zebras catching the child's artistic eye. Another spread shows the budding artist trying to capture the motion of running giraffes, and outrunning a charging rhino (so far my favorite cover image this year). Another spread shows the boy far away sitting in a tree while we are up close to lions, or sitting on the elephant's back while drawing another creature. The book ends with a charming coda: he hugs the elephant goodbye (such a moving image), and then we find out what the drawings are for on the final spread. This highly personal work from Colón, who says in an afterword that he used to spend hours drawing in his room. It's a great work from one of the best illustrators working today.
Duck in the Fridge, written and illustrated by Jeff Mack. Mack continues his winning streak with this delightful and silly bedtime story. A son asks his father why he always reads Mother Goose to him at bedtime, and the bespectacled pa responds "it all started when I found a duck in the fridge." Say what? What follows is an outlandishly goofy account of an incident from the father's childhood, perfectly captured in Mack's charming cartoon illustrations. Ducks overtake the house, and calls to 1-800-DUCK-B-GONE prove fruitless: they keep sending more animals who end up partying with rather than scaring the pun-spewing fowl, causing more chaos to ensue. The resourceful lad comes up with the perfect solution to calm down these mischievous critters, and thus the son learns how Mother Goose comes to the bedtime rescue. A blast!
Gorgeous, one of her best!
Hank Has a Dream, written and illustrated by Rebecca Dudley. In this wonderful follow-up to Hank Finds an Egg, Dudley's furry hero dreams that he can fly, and then reenacts this flight of fancy for his hummingbird pal (from the egg he saved in the first book). Dudley's painstakingly detailed miniature dioramas create a delightful atmosphere--Hank and his feathery pal burst with adorable cuteness but do so without feeling cloying. I love the layout and design of this story: each spread shows reality on the left side and the dream on the right (for example, we see Hank and the bird sitting on a bridge over a stream on one side of the page, and flying in a zeppelin over the ocean on the other). The first book is wordless; here Dudley uses spare language describing the journey to good effect. Another winner from a talented artist.
This Is a Moose, written by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. This sly delight employs a truly inventive approach to telling its story about smashing stereotypes and expectations. Presented as the making of a documentary about the Mighty Moose (the title appears on a clapboard on the title page), the book introduces the titular character, standing on two feet in all his majestic glory. However, when we learn that the moose wants to be an astronaut, an unseen director yells "Cut" and scolds the beast saying that moose "cannot be astronauts" and orders someone to remove the creature from his space suit. And the inspired goofiness continues. During Take Two we learn that the moose's grandmother used to rock at lacrosse, and a later take has a regal giraffe, who also happens to be a doctor, interrupting the story. As the story grows out of control, with characters trying to help launch the Moose into outer space, the director becomes increasingly agitated, leading to a hilarious reveal and punchline and a pitch perfect ending. The great Lichtenheld's illustrations are filled with rib-splitting comical touches, and Morris' prose, with its excellent comic timing, tickles the funny bone. Each reread brings about new surprises.
Other fictional picture books I loved this year (alphabetical by author): My Grandfather's Coat (Jim Aylesworth; illustrated by Barbara McClintock); Flashlight (Lizi Boyd); Lion Lion (Miriam Busch, illustrated by Larry Day); The Troublemaker (Lauren Castillo); Hello Airplane! (Bill Cotter); A Dance Like Starlight (Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper); Weasels (Elys Dolan); Vanilla Ice Cream (Bob Graham); Shh! We Have a Plan (Chris Haughton); Flight School (Lita Judge); Swim Duck Swim! (Susan Lurie, photographs by Murray Head); Hi, Koo! (Jon J. Muth); Number One Sam (Greg Pizzoli); Froodle (Antoinette Portis); Sebastian and the Balloon (Philip C. Stead); Sugar Hill (Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie); Blue on Blue (Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes)and The Pigeon Needs a Bath (Mo Willems).