Omni Decade Crush: Best Picture Books of the Past Ten Years
In all the excitement of yesterday's announcement of the Caldecott Medal and Honor books, and the Coretta Scott King Award winners, I've found myself mulling over which children's picture books have made a lasting impression on me over the past ten years. So for this Best Books of the Decade crush I decided to pull those gloriously illustrated books out from their shelves, and sit cross-legged on the floor for hours. The only thing missing was a mug of hot chocolate. I quickly realized that most of my favorites were published in the past five years. I've also noticed that many of my recent favorites are about U.S. historical subjects. I can't account for why this is except to say that this is consistent with my love of historical fiction--the best of which employs compelling imagery to bring the past to life. Well, I guess there's a theme developing here.
Here's a shortlist of personal favorites in children's picture books published in the past ten years. These never fail to make my eyes light up with a sense of wonder and appreciation.
- Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Catherine Thimmish (2000): A totally unexpected, but essential book on inventors (who happen to be female) that should be on every kids' shelf. Featuring collage illustrations by the ingenious artist, Melissa Sweet."
- Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (2004): Amazingly textured and colored collage images of animals that are rendered to actual size by Steve Jenkins, an artist who's firmly established himself as a master of the medium in the first decade of this century.
- Mommy? by Maurice Sendak, Arthur Yorinks and Matthew Reinhart (2006): The great Maurice Sendak's illustrations of scary creatures (reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are) pop-up thanks to the paper engineering of Matthew Reinhart., and the clever storyline of Arthur Yorinks. A marvelous work of collaboration that is as irresistible as mom's hug.
- Little Hoot illustrated by Jen Corace, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2007): This smart and adorable second book in the duo's "Little Book" series takes up the cause of little ones who defy convention and expectation. A baby owl who loves to hit the nest early? You bet, and the warmth and freshness of Corace's illustrations jive perfectly with Krouse Rosenthal's original tales.
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2007): Brian Selznick (finally) won the Caldecott Medal in 2008 for this masterwork of a novel that is comprised almost entirely of fascinating images. An extraordinary treat for older kids and adults.
- Lady Liberty illustrated by Matt Tavares, written by Doreen Rappaport (2007): Wish I had read this book with my nephews before we took the ferry over to visit the most famous statue in the United States. Tavares illustrations describe--in ways that words alone cannot--how this icon came to be. This book demonstrates that picture books are not just for little kids.
- Phillis's Big Test illustated by Sean Qualls, written by Catherine Clinton (2008): I absolutely loved this story of the colonial-era poet, Phillis Wheatley. Sean Qualls's bold images and striking use of vantage point infuse this historic episode from the life of an early American prodigy with excitement and drama.
- Madam President by Lane Smith (2008): History and humor blend harmoniously in Lane Smith's stellar book. Smith uses his unmistakable visual language to great effect in this witty, clever, sophisticated, and smart story about a girl who becomes president.
- As Good As Anybody illustrated by Raul Colón, written by Richard Michelson (2008), and Child of the Civil Rights Movement illustrated by Raul Colón and Paula Young Shelton: Gee, I couldn't decide which I liked better. Colón's rich pencil and etched illustrations have a patina of age about them that perfectly captures the historical past, yet simultaneously draws the reader right into the particulars of each and every scene.
- The House in the Night illustrated by Beth Krommes, written by Susan Marie Swanson (2008): Beth Krommes black and white woodcut illustrations tap into the mysteries of the night. I love the retro feel of this handcrafted picture book. It will get as well-worn as timeless classics by Virginia Lee Burton and Robert McCloskey, and of course Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats.
- The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (2009): Pinkney just won another, richly deserved Caldecott Medal for his tour de force (and wordless) adapation of Aesop's fable. Truly a picture book worth treasuring and sharing.