The Best Picture Books Published in 2015
2015 was a great year for picture books, and there have been many lists devoted to the cream of the crop. This list is based on the experiences of one children’s librarian in the DC community. Below are the books I have most frequently recommended to patrons and used during story times over the last year.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
Matt de la Pena’s Last Stop on Market Street won the 2016 Newbery award, so it is an obvious pick for this list. It’s about a young boy named CJ whose nana reveals the beauty of world around them as they ride the bus in the rain. The last stop on Market Street is near the soup kitchen where CJ and his nana volunteer. CJ and his nana create a more beautiful world for these people and CJ admits to his nana, “I’m glad we came.”
Matt de la Pena’s text reads like poetry, with lines like “the outside air smelled like freedom, but it also smelled like rain.” The colorful illustrations by Christian Robinson capture the vibrancy of the city around CJ and nana and perfectly complement the story.
It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee
Jon Agee is the author and illustrator of several notable children’s books, including Milo’s Hat Trick. It’s Only Stanley is a silly tale about a beagle named Stanley who is keeping his family, the Wimbledons, up at night as he howls at the moon, fixes the oil tank, and clears the bathroom drain. Just what is Stanley up to? He is turning the house into a rocket ship, of course, because he is going to the moon to visit a certain someone.
Kids (and parents) will love the absurd and surprising ending. The entire book is in rhyme, which makes it great for reading out loud, and the illustrations are sizable and clearly drawn, with funny little asides featuring the family cat hidden on each page.
Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds
Aaron Reynolds, author of the Caldecott honor book Creepy Carrots!, has another success with Nerdy Birdy. Nerdy Birdy enjoys reading, playing video games, and reading about video games. The “cool birdies” don’t like hanging out with Nerdy Birdy and he feels lonely. One day Nerdy Birdy is introduced to a group of nerdy birdies who accept him for who he is. When a new bird, Vulture, moves into the neighborhood, none of the other birdies accept her. What will Nerdy Birdy do?
This is a great book to introduce kids to the concepts of bullying, acceptance, and the meaning of friendship. It presents deep issues in a lighthearted and approachable way, and the cartoonish and whimsical illustrations by Matt Davies effectively play off of the text.
Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer, author of the well-known Artemis Fowl series, ventures into picture books with Imaginary Fred. Fred is an imaginary friend who appears whenever a lonely child wishes for him. When the child finds a friend in the real world, Fred gradually fades away. Fred dreams about a friend who will need him forever. Then Fred meets Sam—the friend he has been dreaming of, and Fred dreads the day when Sam will no longer need him.
Imaginary Fred is a lovely story about the powers of true friendship. Oliver Jeffers, the illustrator of The Day the Crayons Quit, provides the freeform line drawings, strategically using pops of color in a mostly black-and-white composition.
Night Animals by Gianna Marino
Gianna Marino is the author and illustrator of Night Animals, an amusing tale that is reminiscent of the adage “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” The story is about four night animals—skunk, possum, wolf, and bear—who are afraid of a huge night animal in the woods. Bat descends from the sky and when the animals tell him “We’re scared of night animals!” he replies “But you ARE night animals.” Everyone relaxes until they see a sight that truly terrifies them all—two humans camping in the woods.
Gianna Marino’s book is a great one to read together as it is laugh-out-loud funny. The text is shown in the form of speech bubbles, which gives the book the feeling of a cartoon and the illustrations of the animals clearly stand out against the inky black background. Reading Night Animals could be useful for sparking a conversation about common fears—like the monsters under the bed.
The New Small Person by Lauren Child
Lauren Child, the author and illustrator of the popular Charlie and Lola series, explores the complications of a new sibling in The New Small Person. Elmore Green is happily an only child who is adored by his parents until, one day, a small new person appears. The small person follows Elmore around, knocks Elmore’s things over, and moves into his room. Elmore is on his last straw until something happens that makes him realize that it is not so bad to have a small person around after all.
The New Small Person is a heartwarming story about sibling relationships. Lauren Child’s illustrations are bright and fun, and it is refreshing to see diverse characters depicted. This book is an obvious choice for parents to read with a soon-to-be older sibling, but it also could be read to two siblings who sometimes don’t get along to emphasize that it can be nice to have someone smaller (or bigger) around.
Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins
Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins is about three toys—Lumphy the stuffed buffalo, StingRay the plush stingray, and Plastic the rubber ball—who decide to go out in the first snowfall of the year while their Little Girl is away on winter vacation. They build a snowman, make snow angels, and go sledding, until the sun goes down and they return inside to the warm and dry house.
Toys Meet Snow is a surefire crowd pleaser --children will love the idea of toys becoming animate and have a wintry adventure while their owner is gone. Caldecott award-winner Paul O. Zelinsky provides the breath-taking watercolor illustrations, which perfectly evoke a wintry wonderland.
Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds by Marianne Duboc
Marianne Duboc has a fanciful and signature illustration style that makes her picture books such a joy to read. Her latest, Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds, follows Mr. Postmouse as he makes deliveries to the animals who live along his route. Each animal’s house is full of charming clues to their different ways of life; for example, Mr. Raven has a suspicious number of expensive, shiny things in his treehouse. After Mr. Postmouse finishes delivering surprises to the other animals, he discovers a surprise waiting at home just for him.
Children will love interacting with the intricate pictures throughout this book—there are fun details to be found on each page upon further examination. Each vignette is ripe for sparking imaginative conversations about how the animals live and communicate with one another. This is a book that will be fun to revisit time and time again.
The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi
Japanese author and illustrator Akiko Miyakoshi creates a modern fairy tale with The Tea Party in the Woods. It begins with a young girl named Kikko who follows her father through the snowy woods when he forgets the pie he was supposed to bring to her grandmother. Along the way, she encounters a mysterious house where, in a scene that evokes Alice in Wonderland, Kikko joins the animals from the forest for a spot of tea.
The moral of The Tea Party in the Woods is “You never walk alone in the woods.” Under the circumstances Kikko encounters, this moral is meant to be a comforting one and differs from how it might be interpreted in other tales that portray the woods as a dark and scary place. Kikko is portrayed in yellow and red against otherwise completely black-and-white charcoal illustrations, which creates a mystical atmosphere for this quiet, understated book.
Home by Carson Ellis
Home is the debut picture book from artist Carson Ellis. Each page imagines a home—whether that home be real, imagined, from the past, or on another planet. The text consists of one simple sentence underneath each illustration, providing only a succinct description of the intricate home portrayed above. For example, the text on one page simply states “sea homes,” under a picture of a tiny castle under the sea with knights riding on seahorses leaving the front door.
This is a picture book that has appeal to both adults and children. It would make for a creative housewarming gift or a fantastic bedtime story. Further, this book, despite its scarcity of words, teaches that no matter where, when, or how someone lives, the concept of home is a personally meaningful one.