Friday, December 16, 2016

My Top Children’s Picture Books Reviewed in 2016

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

It is truly torture for me to have to choose the top ten picture books I’ve reviewed this or any year. I start out strongly, typing my list with enthusiasm and the joy of sharing what I love. But then….I realise I quickly have ten books. Maybe I could add one more, no two, no ten, no thirty more? How can I stop at ten? Is the list balanced? Have I included a more factual book, a hilarious book, a tug-at-your-heartstrings book, a picture book for older kids? In the end, after much scribbling out, re-reading, and re-writing, I force myself to draw a line in the sand and add my usual caveat: these are my ten top picture books for 2016 TODAY! Things may change tomorrow, and of course, many other children’s book lovers will have different viewpoints. But if you are looking for a starting list of top recently published children’s picture books, then these come highly recommended. I have also embedded the list far below.

From my review:

This is a wonderful book for children 7+ . Of course, any age child can get lots from a picture book but this particular picture book is intriguing for independent readers. It is in a graphic novel or comic style, mostly with lots of panels to a page but with some larger and/or very detailed panels. The drawings are lovely, softly coloured cartoon-style pencil sketches I think, and occasional panels also introduce the fauna and flora encountered. There’s a mud map of Uncle Egg and Clance’s journey and so much detail and fascinating stuff for children to pore over.

Molly and Mae
From my review:

Molly and Mae are friends who are going on a long train journey. We are caught up in the joy of being a child about to start an exciting journey - running around, playing hide-and-seek, exploring all the vending machines, and other giggly, giddy fun. Once the journey starts, we see Molly and Mae’s antics begin to pall on other passengers, until finally, like over-wrought kids everywhere, they get annoyed with each other and slump into boredom. The sullen sky and rain make the outside world echo their inner world. At last, they find a way back to each other and their friendship becomes strong again. The train journey’s stages become a metaphor for the children’s fluctuating friendship, and I know both kids and adults will recognise moments in their own lives when words can harm or heal.

From my review:

Such a deceptively simple yet profound story! There is nothing there to tell children explicitly of the benefits of sharing, or of collaboration. Nonetheless, children may well think about the power of imagination, playing together, and acceptance of each other after reading it. Hathorn has gifted us with a picture book that children will delight in listening to, and poring over each page as they read it to themselves.

From my review:

Twig really tugged at my heart strings. Anyone who has known an invisible child whom people tend to ignore will rejoice in the eventual positive outcomes for Heidi, the stick insect who goes to Bug School. The illustrations are simply gorgeous, and kids are encouraged to find various creatures in the end papers. Highly recommended!

The Storm Whale in Winter
From my review:

In The Storm Whale in Winter, we meet Noi again, only this time the Storm Whale and his family come to help Noi. With a few carefully chosen words Davies’ helps us see the world through Noi’s eyes and feel his worry, fear and relief. Kids will put themselves in the young hero’s shoes, and enjoy the different perspectives in each scene. A truly beautiful story and illustrations that stay with us long after the book is closed.

Bear Make Den
From my review:

The partnership of Godwin, Wagner and Joyner is inspired. The story is deceptively simple, but Bear’s enthusiasm and can-do attitude come through clearly. Joyner’s illustrations zing with cartoon-style humour and show us the details of all Bear’s projects. Lots to discuss with kids!

From my review:

It’s amazing that something as devastating as a cyclone can be so beautifully and clearly depicted by both writer and illustrator. French’s lyrical language brings the reality of Cyclone Tracy’s effect on Darwin to life for children. We read of wind that snarls but is pretty much ignored as the kids dream of Santa’s arrival and Christmas day. Snarls turn to groans and growls, shrieks and howls, then when their house is destroyed and the small family tries to flee, they are “Slashed and bitten by debris” while the world around them is only storm. Whatley chose a toned-down palette to reflect the old photographs he used while researching Cyclone Tracy - graphite pencil and acrylic wash set the mood perfectly for both the cyclone and its aftermath.

Penguin Problems
From my review:

Penguins must be one of the most loved animals on Earth, so penguins are not rare in children’s books. But choosing a penguin with attitude as the main character is brilliant - this little guy is determined to let us know how difficult his life is. Kids will not only love the penguin but ruefully recognise his complaints and determination to be miserable. And they’ll laugh! First at the penguin, but perhaps at themselves too. The art work is superb. Smith cleverly uses a range of page presentations, each of them perfect for that page’s contents, plus lots of variety in texture and colour despite what is mainly a symphony in black and white.

This and That
From my review:

What a charming gift this would make for a baby and its young parents! Fox’s picture books are always special. This one has a rhythm perfect for gentle bouncing on a lap, but slows down and ends with love and a kiss goodnight. Horacek gifts us with cartoon-style illustrations against a simple background, but then we come to a colourful and more detailed market and two giraffes in a tangle, and later a hospitable king welcoming an array of characters to his castle. The whole is just a little piece of perfection and one I think is destined to become a classic.

My First Day at School
From my review:

The combination of genuinely funny illustrations and very simple text will appeal to kids 2+. Apart from showing us a range of cute animals participating in everyday school and home-related activities, it provides an opportunity for kids to celebrate their achievements - like being able to dress themselves, finger paint, count to ten and handle their lunch. There’s also a lovely understated reassurance at the end when home time comes and we see a duckling and Mother Duck re-united.

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