I became a mom in 2016. This has changed my relationship with coffee and hand sanitizer, but also with children’s books. Now I see them through my daughter’s eyes - I cherish the moments that make her smile and laugh and learn. Her relationship with books is beautifully simple; I try to emulate it in my own relationship with them.
I wanted to showcase some of the books that my family has loved over the past year. They are not all new, and they are mainly picture books - one of my goals for the next year is to start reading more middle grade and YA books so that I have a more well-rounded list of recommendations for adults who want to share the joy of reading with a little one they love.
Sadie is a girl who loves stories. While her friends are mentioned, Sara O’Leary’s book features an independent Sadie, spending her days reading books, making up her own stories, and communing with the world around her. She plays roles that are traditionally cast as “boy parts” - a fairytale hero, a boy raised by wolves - all while wearing her favorite dress. Her imagination runs wild throughout, and Julie Morstad’s illustrations perfectly depict the simple magic of her world.
In this special book, a little girl is encouraged to put down her video game and go outside into the rain. She drops her game into a puddle and is awakened to the magic of nature. She notices the world around her in a way that she never has before - examining mushrooms and slugs and the way the light comes through the trees as the rain clears. Alemagna’s illustrations are stunning and very deserving of their inclusion on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2017 list. The best part of the story, though, is when the girl goes back inside. She realizes that her new discoveries now shape the way she sees her everyday surroundings - even her mother.
Daniel Finds a Poem introduces children to poetry in a way that feels both accessible and exciting. Throughout Micha Archer’s stunningly illustrated book, Daniel asks the animals at his local park what poetry is and each has a different answer. Their diverse takes on the art form give Daniel the courage to write his own poem and share it at a poetry night in the park. Daniel’s inquisitive nature and his willingness to learn from those around him are beautiful examples of collaboration and creativity.
After a busy day of toddler chasing and unpleasant national news, the thing I most look for in a bedtime story is peace. Sleep Tight Farm is one of the most peaceful children’s books I have encountered this year (honorable mentions go to The Littlest Family’s Big Day by Emily Winfield Martin and The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear - just in case you’re looking for some peace). The family in the book works together to get their farm ready for winter, chopping wood to heat their home and boil the sap for maple syrup, covering fields of raspberries with straw, and collecting all of the winter vegetables to sell at farmers’ markets. Becca Stadtlander’s illustrations beautifully depict each task and give children a glimpse into the way their food is grown.
I can’t say enough good things about this book. Eugene Yelchin’s illustrations are bright and exciting and the story features a principled rooster (a real favorite in our house) who refuses to be silenced in the face of dictatorial laws that restrict basic freedoms. It is heartwarming, empowering, and fun to read. And it’s bilingual!
Visually stunning, Forsythe’s illustrations expertly shift from peaceful stirrings of spring to vibrant colors of summer, all while Hall’s narrative has animals fighting over a rare gold leaf. This book beautifully demonstrates the danger of taking for yourself something that should be enjoyed by all, and the kindness of second chances.
The beauty of curiosity is on display in this wonderful book by Taro Gomi. With simple words and serenely minimalist illustrations, a little girl stares out at the ocean and wonders what is on the other side. She imagines fantastic fairs with rides and animals; farms and houses and skyscrapers full of people; and a beach similar to the one on which she stands, with a child very similar to her also looking across the ocean and wondering. Over the Ocean teaches kids that we are all connected, no matter the distance.
Warning: Tiger nudity ahead! Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is just plain fun. Peter Brown casts animals in a Victorian-esque world, all browns and grays and top hats and petticoats. Mr. Tiger is sick of it, so he decides to be himself instead of fitting into his buttoned-up society. This book teaches kids that sometimes it’s okay to break the rules and be yourself.
Another great book about all the things that make diverse people alike, This Is How We Do It features the daily routines of seven kids from around the world. What does breakfast look like in Russia? What does a school uniform look like in Uganda? What kind of games do kids play in Japan? Lamothe’s illustrations will please those who enjoy the Wes Anderson aesthetic - each detail carefully chosen to build character and craft a narrative. The best part is that Lamothe includes the actual pictures of the seven kids featured in his book, and explains that these kids are not meant to be representative of an entire culture, but just seven individuals from all over the world. Caveat: good luck getting Montell Jordan out of your head after reading the book’s title a couple times.
The only YA title included on this list, Jane, The Fox, & Me is a graphic novel about a young girl who is bullied. The harmony of the text and the illustrations create an authentic experience of surviving middle and high school politics, while gently introducing the topics of mental health and depression. Helene has been suddenly outcast from her group of friends; her only solace is found in reading Jane Eyre. She connects to the character of Jane in a way that she cannot connect in real life. It takes a magical meeting with a fox and another girl to convince her that true friends can be found in all kinds of places.
Westerners are largely disconnected from the sources of our clothing. A Pattern for Pepper shows kids that real people make clothes. This book traces the rich history of different kinds of patterns, from ikat to toile to houndstooth, and the cultures from which they originate. It’s easy to forget that clothes are an artform, and Julie Kraulis aims to educate children with this enchanting story of a little girl going to a tailor to help design her own dress.
Extra Yarn and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon KlassenThis duo’s wonderful books are simple enough for young children to
engage with, yet slyly funny in a way that older children will appreciate. Extra Yarn tells the story of a girl who never runs out of yarn, no matter how many sweaters she knits. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole tells the story of two boys who dig a hole looking for something spectacular. Both titles are magical and amusing and I want to frame the pages and hang them on my wall.