Parents often come up to me at book signings and say things like, “Thank you for making children’s books that my child and I both enjoy!” It’s one of the highest compliments a children’s book creator can receive. But I’m always a little surprised at the exasperation I hear in their voices. Is it really that difficult to find books that everyone enjoys reading?
There are a staggering number of brilliant children’s books published every year. Here are a few I think will be loved by both children and adults for many years to come.
“The Apple Pie That Papa Baked,” by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jonathan Bean
This classically told story of how an apple pie came to be reminds us of traditional rhymes like “The House That Jack Built.” Ink drawings, with simple color, bring to mind classic illustrations like those by Robert McCloskey. What’s new here, and what I love most about this book, is the connection of the apples to the tree to the soil to the rain to the clouds to the sky to the sun and the Earth. Simple pleasures, like apple pies, are even sweeter when we take the time to consider all that went into their creation. It’s a sentiment expressed beautifully by Lauren Thompson’s verse and Jonathan Bean’s illustrations.
“Moonshot,” by Brian Floca
Brian Floca masterfully depicts familiar moments of the first moon landing. We see the astronauts walking in their spacesuits, the boosters roaring against the launch pad, a family watching the events on TV. But what I love most is Floca’s use of language and his accounts of the unfamiliar moments from that mission. As the space travelers await liftoff, is that a nervous look in their eyes? As the men explore the moon’s surface, we learn why the stars have disappeared. Later, we see the astronauts in the distance, looking up from the moon toward that lonely blue dot, which holds, “Family, friends and strangers, everyone you’ve ever known, everyone you might…” In “Moonshot,” history, science and art merge into a masterpiece of children’s non-fiction.
“Wave,” by Suzy Lee
Describing any picture book with words, especially one that doesn’t have any, often seems to miss the point altogether. Some books should simply be experienced, not discussed. This is true of Suzy Lee’s “Wave.” So I’ll keep this brief: “Wave” perfectly captures the exhilaration children feel at the beach; The way they play with the waves while trying to keep dry; The way they brace themselves for that first, cold touch of the ocean water; Then the sheer excitement they feel when they finally take the plunge. Lee’s use of gesture and color is sometimes quiet, sometimes explosive and always spot on. “Wave” is an experience almost as invigorating as the ocean itself.
“Not a Box,” by Antoinette Paris
In “Not a Box,” a rabbit tries to show the narrator that, with a little creativity, a cardboard box can transform into a racecar, or a mountain, or anything imaginable. The narrator is unconvinced, but we get it, and within the first few pages we are eager to see what the rabbit will dream up next. Antoinette Portis uses simple lines and color to illustrate what’s real and imagined in each scene. The art is so spare that we must rely on our own imaginations to fill in the gaps and by doing so, we participate in the imaginative process the rabbit has been demonstrating with its box. What a brilliant pairing of concept and art! Great books often make kids want to pick up another. “Not a Box” will make kids want to put it down to create their own.
“Press Here,” by Hervé Tullet
For years, Hervé Tullet has been creating innovative books for children in France. Now his work is finally getting the attention it deserves here in the States. With “Press Here,” Tullet speaks directly to the reader, asking us to press colored dots, shake the book or turn it sideways. On each subsequent page we are delighted to see what happens. Dots change color, or scatter across the page, or jumble together. We’re even asked to clap and clap and clap. And we’re rewarded with cute results each time. “Press Here” is as interactive and entertaining as a traditional book can possibly be. I won’t be surprised if Tullet soon becomes the king of interactive digital kids’ books, but we’ll always have “Press Here” to remind us of the fun in paper and board.