These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things . . .
(Oh, and The Best Picture Book Line of the Year Contest)

h1 November 5th, 2006 by jules

Mwahahahahaha. Eisha says I’m a Temptress/Bad Influence. She has a paper due very soon, but I convinced her to co-post with me on some of our favorite picture books of the year. What are friends for, if not to help you procrastinate?

In the many years we’ve been friends, there have actually been some books upon which Eisha and I have not agreed; in other words, she’s recommended one to me that I didn’t care for, and vice versa. But it doesn’t happen often. We have quite similar taste in books. So, it’s not a surprise to me that our favorite-picture-books-of-the-year-thus-far lists are similar. We’re going to say a bit about each one here. And I’d like to add that we are not superhuman librarians (well, I’ll speak for myself; Eisha did meet Jarrett J. Krosockza and told him he rocks!) who have read each and every picture book published in ’06, and the Paradigm of All Picture Books could be published right as we’re ringin’ in the new year, for all we know. But, for what it’s worth, we are huge picture book fans and pretty much read them like there’s no tomorrow.

Wolves by Emily Gravett —

Jules: Some wonderful things have been said about this book (published in ’05 but not until ’06 here in the U.S.) on some wonderful blogs that we often frequent (read Fuse #8’s thorough review here, and you can read The Children’s Literature Book Club’s review here. And, for a summary of the book, you can read either review or click on the book’s title above to go to Amazon) . . . Someone on Fuse’s blog commented that the book brought Chris Raschka’s Arlene Sardine to mind (in terms of ironic humor). What came to my mind — and what I think this hugely imaginative, little book would be best paired with — is David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs in all its postmodern brilliance and visual screwing-around-with-the-reader (what Publishers Weekly called the “meta-landscape,” with characters leaping out of books and all). Ooh, ooh — especially with teens. I’m a big fan of using these kinds of sophisticated picture books with teens — those, that is, who can get past the “kiddie book” sneer, which I’m always determined to eradicate. Anyway, what a clever book! I feel like I can’t praise it enough, that it’s already been done, as it seems to be turning into a hit — or at least, for now, an underground, cult fave of sorts. And, for your reading pleasure, I found this online and was intrigued to read “The Genesis of Wolves” there (scroll down the page a bit). Gravett says it was originally a college project that she had six weeks to complete. Interesting stuff.

eisha: Well, I don’t have much to add to what you, Fuse #8, and Stephanie at Children’s Literature Book Club have already said, so I’ll just agree. It is a:> an extremely clever concept, with a b:> perfectly executed design, and employs a c:> wicked, spot-on sense of humor that kids (esp. older ones, as you pointed out) will love. Oh, well I can add that, if this had come out when I was a kid, I would have FREAKED OUT! Confession: I was actually one of those scaredy-pants – I mean, sensitive – kids that was easily upset by fictional things. (I remember actually crying in my 4th grade class when for Halloween our teacher played a record of Poe’s story “The Tell-tale Heart,” complete with sound effects. I also had to keep my alarm clock in my closet for several weeks after, because of the ticking. Oh, and that movie The Watcher in the Woods – “NAREK,” remember? – eegahh!) So, yeah, the first time I read/heard it, I might have cried my eyes out for that poor bunny. But then, (like I did with Watcher, which became one of my favorites) I would have read it again, and again, and again, marveling at the incorporation of real objects (the fabric of the book cover) into the illustrations, and eventually cracking up at the inside-joke of an ending.

Thanks, Jules, for finding that excellent interview. I CANNOT WAIT for those other books to make it across the pond.

For You Are a Kenyan Child by Kelly Cunnane and art by Ana Juan

Jules: I have Eisha to thank for steering me towards this beautiful thing. It just exudes joy. Transcending all cultures and places and times while at the same time zooming in on one specific place — and in great vividness — this one’s about an easily-distracted Kenyan boy whose assigned errand is to take his Grandfather’s cows to pasture but who stops to do just about everything else instead, slacking a bit on his duties. But when Bashir offers you a pancake, a great black monkey is spotted, the village chief and a former African warrior speaks to you, and Grandmother offers up some maziwa lala, or sleeping milk . . . well, it’s easy to stray from your task. I love how Cunnane uses the very engaging present tense (“Roosters crow, and you wake one morning in the green hills of Africa . . .”), and I love the tone — so jubilant, lighthearted. But it’s the illustrations that stand out. How much does Ana Juan rock? Very hard. But I’ll let Eisha take over with that, as I know Juan is one of her favorites.

eisha: Can do, J. Ana Juan (Frida, Elena’s Serenade, The Night Eater) has to be one of the most amazing illustrators working today, and I think it’s only because she’s Spanish that she doesn’t have a shelf-full of Caldecotts. I hope she’s winning whatever book awards they give out in Spain. Her art just doesn’t look like anyone else’s. And it manages to be both artful AND kid-friendly, which is not always the case with some of the more elaborately-illustrated, award-winning-type picture books. Her illustrations are a perfect match for this sweetly simple, gently humorous, poetically-told story. She immerses you in a world that fairly glows with love for that little boy. I really could go on and on about Ms. Juan. But I’ll stop. You can click here, though, if you want to read what I thought about Frida.

Waiting for Gregory by Kimberly Willis Holt and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska —

Jules: I already covered this book on an earlier post here on our site. Here’s what I had to say:

“Last, but far from least, is Kimberly Willis Holt’s Waiting for Gregory, with dreamy and sophisticated mixed-media illustrations by the gifted Gabi Swiatkowska. A young girl, curious about her soon-to-be-born cousin, imagines how and when the baby will be born, only to be given some pretty peculiar answers from her family. Swiatkowska gives us theatre/circus scenes in her whimsical, surreal illustrations. Eisha and I both love this one (and Swiatkowska’s work). May it receive lots of accolades this year. Oh, and lucky for us all, Holt’s site says she’s got a new picture book coming out next year.”

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Swiatkowska’s illustrations are just sublime in this outstanding book. It makes my top-three list for sure.

eisha: And I have Julie to thank for telling me about this one. I had already fallen in love with Swiatkowska over My Name is Yoon and Summertime Waltz, so I was thrilled to find out she had another picture book out, and paired with no less an author than Kimberly Willis Holt. I love this one for it’s all-pervading whimsy – the hilariously familiar expressions that the adults use to evade the girl’s questions are paired with surrealist, carnivalian illustrations of rosy-cheeked, wide-eyed Mary Cassatt-looking characters, peppered with blueprint-sketches of fanciful machinery (okay, that’s a crappy description, just scroll back up to Julie’s review to get a real idea of what it looks like). It’s a great visual metaphor for the magical, mysterious view of the world enjoyed by the young. Love it, love it, love it.

Jules: I’d also add Sendak’s Mommy? to the list (see my review of it here), though I’m not sure if a) Eisha’s read this one and b) if she’d add it to her list. Here’s a question for you, Eisha: If you had to add one more, which would you add? I finally just experienced Flotsam, which you reviewed earlier. I was speechless. It’s a beaut, too.

eisha: Well, I have read Mommy?, and thought it was very clever, esp. the mummy-unraveling trick. But actually (here it comes, folks – we’re about to disagree) I found myself wishing it was just a regular picture book rather than a pop-up. The mechanisms were so complicated (and the copy I saw had already been played with mulitple times, so it was looking rough) that I thought the busyness detracted from the illustrations and the jokes. You aren’t mad, are you J? Still BFF?

If I had to add one more, just ONE MORE, to my faves of 2006… ooh. That’s a toughie. You’re right, I did enjoy Flotsam – it’s an impressive visual feat, and it was great to see Wiesner return to what he does best. But my real, true, underdog-choice would be:

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. Okay, technically, this was published in the US in very-late December, 2005. But it’s been nominated for the Picture Book category at the Cybils, and so far no one’s said anything. I think it should count as 2006, at least to those of us who don’t live in England or get ARCs from publishers, don’t you? This is another deceptively-simple, sweet-but-not-saccharine story: A boy (the same striped-shirted hero of How to Catch a Star) finds a penguin on his doorstep, and assumes that it’s lost. He tries unsuccessfully to find its home, then takes it back to the South Pole himself. Only then does he realize that the penguin wasn’t lost at all – just looking for a friend. The watercolor illustrations are perfectly understated, frequently droll (there’s something hilarious to me about that penguin’s expression, or lack thereof – kind of like Feathers McGraw), and occasionally quite lovely. There’s one spread at the end that shows the boy and penguin rowing their little boat back home from the South Pole, seen from above, with the silhouette of a huge whale visible beneath the ocean – honestly, it is breathtaking. But the really great thing about this book, is that kids like it too – I’ve roadtested it in preschool storytimes twice so far, and they loved it!

Jules: Eisha, I’m never speaking to you again. You’re on your own for blogging anymore, dude. Okay, I jest. Sure, I like disagreement. I say that the pop-up format is perfectomongo for the house-of-horrors type scenario Yorinks thought up; I mean, when you have things like a bag of hands and skeletons and snakes coming up out of baskets and ghouls popping up in windows, it’s more effective and ba-dum-ching-funny with the moving, engineered book parts. I mean, my favorite part (and my toddler’s favorite part), in which the boy pulls down the werewolf’s pants, wouldn’t be as funny without that movement, I think. The actually pantsing that occurs; therein lies the humor. (Pantsing. Heh heh). And the boy popping in the pacifier in Dracula’s mouth — well, it’d be less effective if all two-dimensional. Or, more to the point, it’s almost wet-your-pants funny to a kid to see the oh-so-brave boy actually cork Dracula’s cryhole in the pages of the book.

As for Lost and Found . . . man o man, I just haven’t read it yet but have heard great things. It’s on my list. This brings me full circle to my disclaimer that I haven’t read everything, and my favorites-list could change faster than Eddy Tulane changes from overalls to a dress to a smock to . . . uh, forget it. Too many Eddy Tulane references in one week.

One more thing, and I’m signing off. IF ANYONE HAS EVEN MADE IT THIS FAR IN OUR POST and wants to start a fun discussion of sorts, I pose this question (not really a contest as the title of this post declares, but, hey, I had to get your attention): What is your favorite picture book line of the year? I decided, while writing my most recent post, that Cynthia DeFelice’s words in One Potato, Two Potato constitute my favorite picture book line of the year: Mrs. O’Grady, happy in her marriage though extremely poor, wants for just one thing —

“it was the wish of her heart to have a friend, someone with whom she could share recipes for boiled potatoes and sweet memories of how it felt to touch her newborn babies’ downy heads.”

As I said in that post, call me old-fashioned, but, damn, that’s a good one. Hmmm . . . wait. There’s always “whooshee gaga” (or some such spelling), as uttered by Olivia’s youngest sibling in Olivia Forms a Band, reviewed here by Eisha. Nah, I think I’ll go with DeFelice. (But “whooshee gaga” is fun to use in every day conversation, as well as saying “AGGLE FLAGGLE KLABBLE!” when you’re really mad. And, according to Mo’s site, “{n}ow your mobile phone can ring with an ‘AGGLE FLAGGLE KLABBLE'”
. . . that almost makes me wanna get an annoying cell phone).

If you’ve made it this far, come play. Share your favorite line! And thanks for reading (and thanks for letting me help you procrastinate, Eisha. Wanna come organize my CDs?).

8 comments to “These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things . . .
(Oh, and The Best Picture Book Line of the Year Contest)”

  1. AW CRAP I forgot ‘The Sound of Colors’ by Jimmy Liao (which I reviewed here on the blog). See how hard this is?! One of my top-five just slipped my mind altogether. Double d’oh! There’s not another book quite like this one in the world. (Also full of great one-line wonders, too).

  2. I think LOST AND FOUND is one of the best picture books, too. And as far as I’m concerned– MY NAME IS YOON is one of the best illustrated picture books of the last few years. At least Gabi received the Ezra Jack Keats Award for her art in that book.

    Go visit the Robert’s Snow website:

    Find the snowflakes Gabi made for the 2004 and 2005 Robert’s Snow auctions. Guess who got them both?

    Jules, regarding the Olivier Dunrea poster: Most of the Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival posters can be purchased through the fesival website.

    Dunrea’s 2006 poster isn’t listed for sale at this time–but they may not have updated the “shop” page yet.

  3. This is fun. My favorite line is from WHEN GIANTS COME TO PLAY by Andrea Beaty and Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Love that Kevin Hawkes!

    “When giants come to play, they dangle their toes in the cool, shady pond and whisper secrets until their shadows grow long and sleepy.”

    The first line of the book is really great, too:

    “Sometimes on a summer morning, when the sun shines just so and the wind blows like this and like that on its way to somewhere else, giants come to play.”

    Makes me want the wind to start blowing! Hope it’s okay to post 2!


  4. Ooh, and I forgot to add: Moon Plane by Peter McCarty. Another lovely gentle perfect wonder of a book.

    My fave line… since everyone else went with pretty, I’m doing funny. From Lost and Found:

    “He asked some birds if they knew where the penguin came from. But they ignored him. Some birds are like that.”

    And heck, if Callie wants to do two, so do I. From Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems:

    “First of all, I’m not even tired.”

  5. thanks to everyone who’s playing — good choices, callie and eisha. callie, ‘when giants come to play’ is sitting here with me in my big stack ‘o picture books, and i haven’t read it yet but will soon. and thanks, elaine, for the info.

    ooh, ooh, i just got my hands on ‘lost and found’ and know what you all mean now. i wasn’t prepared for how very funny it is, too. love it!

  6. […] quirky picture books before (including last year’s Lost and Found, which Eisha and I love so dearly), and this one is just as entertaining. Children will get a huge kick out of Henry’s bizarre […]

  7. […] Holt), with the beautiful and eye-popping illustrations of Gabi Swiatkowska. We raved about it here last year in early November. It was one of our top-five favorite picture books of ‘06. And […]

  8. […] (which also uses the word “F-A-T,” which is, apparently, a Bad Word now in some circles) and Wolves by Emily Gravett. Animals eat other animals: it’s a fact of life. A lot of people are […]

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