Strange new adventures, lessons to help survive and thrive in the new world, incredible artwork, and destined-to-become-classic characters fill 2012’s additions to the children’s books universe. Before we get too caught up in 2013, let’s take a look a back at, and appreciate, some of the wonderful stories this past year has offered up to us and our families.
hello! hello!: Disconnect to re-connect.
“hello! hello!” is a lovely little book by Matthew Cordell that has an important message to share with us- the younger generations in particular-as technology overflows into every aspect of our lives. Its message emphasizes how the key to future happiness and well-being may not lie in how high-tech of a device you can get and how much it can do (shocking, right?) But rather learning how and when to put said device down, and re-connect yourself with real life.
and then it’s spring: Just when it seems like the warm weather will never arrive…
The four seasons are full of things to wonder about, but perhaps one of the most fascinating things about them is how they transition from one to the other. “and then it’s spring,” written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead focuses on just that-the wonder that fills our world when it goes from a colorless winter slumber to the vivid awakening of spring-and is shown as seen through the eyes of a bespectacled boy and his faithful dog.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore: And life goes on.
Mr. Morris Lessmore loves books. He loves them so much that he turns his life day-by-day into a book, and fills it with ‘his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything he hoped for.’ As it always seems to happen in life though, whether recorded in a book or not, there is always an upset-and Mr. Morris Lessmore is no exception. When a storm scatters the pages and words that make up his past, present, and future, Mr. Lessmore embarks upon a fantastical journey that inspires readers to do some soul searching on just what it means to live, and what it means to end.
Wumbers: El8te in a new kind of story.
Words and numbers always seem to come in somewhat separate packages, but in “Wumbers,” they get melded together in such a way that it doesn’t matter if your kid is a math fanatic, or a word worm. By replacing parts of the words with numbers, it provides an interesting read both out loud and to yourself. Can you and your child make it through without pausing to think about what you’re reading? It’s an enrapturing challenge, especially for little ones, and quite delightful for adults as well.
Extra Yarn: Be the one to add color to a black and white word.
Annabelle lives in a cold little town. This town lacks any color save grey, white, black, and maybe a little brown- right up until the moment Annabelle discovers a box filled with yarn. It’s not just any yarn though, it’s yarn of every color of the rainbow, and it’s just what the bleak town needs. Wandering through her home town, Annabelle knits colorful garments. With each one she gives, people’s hearts begin to lighten. In the strange workings of the world, rarely does a bright beacon of joy go unnoticed by those we don’t want finding it, and the yarn is no exception. When a greedy archduke with an appetite for clothes discovers the yarn he must have it for himself-and he doesn’t intend to give it back.
This Is Not My Hat: Just wanted to let you know…
A small goldfish has done something he shouldn’t have, and he has no qualms about announcing it to the reader. You see, this bitsy goldfish has stolen the hat right off of a very large fish, but he is confident the big fish has no idea. As the goldfish narrates how he managed to pull off his hat trick (pun could not be resisted), and how he knows the big fish can’t possibly know he did it, the illustrations tell quite another side of the story.
The Amazing Hamweenie: What is the cat really thinking?
Hamweenie is a feline destined for greatness, he knows it. The trouble is he’s confined in a terrible prison of sorts. A prison where he’s poisoned regularly, and even starved! All his attempts to escape are thwarted by his captor (a sweet little girl with pigtails) and he is forced to suffer through days of endless torture with only his dreams of becoming famous to keep him pushing forward. That’s what the story is in Hamweenie’s eyes, anyways. The illustrations on the other hand tell a slightly more objective (and much more realistic) story.
Hippopposites: Hippos can go up, down, be short, or round.
There’s a plethora of opposite books out there, but Janik Coat has created one that stands out from the crowd. Featuring large, blocky hippos to represent the concept of opposites, and a few pages that may surprise you in spite of the apparent simplicity of the book, “Hippopposites” is worthy of any child’s bookshelf.
The Huey’s in The New Sweater: Be a lime in a world full of lemons.
Technically it should be “be the one wearing clothes in a world full of naked Huey’s,” but that didn’t flow quite as well. Lime, lemon, clothes, or no clothes, “The Huey’s in The New Sweater” comes down to one vital message: be yourself. Don’t be afraid to don that bright orange sweater, even if it makes you stick out from the crowd, even though the crowd might not approve.
Chloe: Nothing can replace smashing boxes with your family.
“Chloe” is about a little rabbit-named Chloe-who is smack dab in the middle of a pack of 10 brothers and sisters. It may be some sibling’s worst nightmare, but Chloe loves it. She cherishes her family time more than anything else in the world. Then one night her dad brings home an unexpected surprise, and it’s up to her to remind everybody what really counts in life.
Jack And The Baked Beanstalk: Beans always seem to get us in trouble, one way or another…
Fractured fairy tales can be quite delightful. They sprout from a story you most likely already know, and that you very well may already enjoy. This would be the case with “Jack And The Baked Beanstalk” by Colin Simpson. Instead of placing Jack and his mother in their usual far-flung country setting, he decides to set them up in a burger truck in an urban area. Of course, with that change comes many others…especially, it seems, when it comes to the kind of giants you run into!
The Insomniacs: Your child’s bedtime is now 6:00 AM.
Isn’t it every child’s dream to pull an all-nighter? The nighttime is so mysterious and, when we’re younger, almost like a forbidden area. A perfect bedtime or daytime book, “The Insomniacs” is a story that will indulge your child with their fascination of staying up past their bedtime. You may even find yourself wanting to give the night life a shot after you read it. You might find your family enjoys moon bathing, and the quiet streets…even the different animal life. It’s hard to beat being the first ones to the bakery in the morning.
Too Tall Houses: Even the best of friends fight.
Navigating the paths of the social world is an ongoing struggle for all of us, no matter what age we are, but when we’re young these paths can get particularly twisty and winding. In “Too Tall Houses” Owl and Rabbit are close friends and (literally) close neighbors. Through them, young readers can follow a seed of a problem planting itself between the friends, and an all-out competition that follows that perfectly highlights how things escalate in a fight between friends-and how we can repair the situation.
Boot & Shoe: Life is just plain ironic.
Boot and Shoe-two of possibly the most adorably illustrated dogs I have yet to see- are inseparable. They were born together, live together, eat together, they even pee on the same tree. There is only one thing they do apart, and that is that Boot is a sit on the back porch kind of dog, and Shoe is a sit on the front porch kind of dog.
They sit on their respective porches every day, and always know exactly where the other is-until a trouble-making squirrel sets them off on a chase that gets them all turned around. Shoe winds up on the back porch, and Boot winds up on the front porch, and pure irony prevents them from figuring out where the other is.
Dragons Love Tacos: And so do ferrets.
This book has nothing to do with ferrets, but it’s so random I figured why not run with it? Anyways, in “Dragons Love Tacos,” the story revolves quite literally around dragons eating tacos-and loving every scrumptious bite. They love them so much, in fact, that no dragon in their right state of mind can resist going to a taco party. If a herd of giant fire breathing lizards crashes your taco party, just remember one thing: don’t let them eat the jalapeno hot sauce.
The Monster’s Monster: Small and scary.
Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom ‘n’ Doom are three tiny monsters who fancy themselves to be quite terrifying. They do everything scary monsters should do-including living on top of a hill in a creepy castle and huffing and puffing over…nothing, really. When they cannot solve the argument of who the scariest of the three is, they decide to take drastic measures, and create one giant monster of a monster. With this monster, they plan to frighten the village people until they take them seriously…but they learn that in the end, there’s more to life than trying to be scary.
Black Dog: Teach your imagination to “heel!”
The Hope family lives in a tall house nestled amidst a snowy wood. For the most part life seems to be pleasant and fairly uneventful, until one morning Mr. Hope spots a large black dog outside of the window. Before long, Mrs. Hope is yelling that there is a dog the size of an elephant outside. Her shouts are drowned out by Adeline Hope, who upstairs sees a dog the size of a T-Rex. The mayhem continues with Maurice Hope, until it is up to the smallest Hope child to prove that there’s really nothing to be afraid of.
Abe Lincoln’s Dream: We’ve come a long way since 1865…
Author/illustrator Lane Smith has produced a wonderful book at just the right time. With the election this year, kids will have been hearing a lot of talk about politics and certain issues of debate. In this light-hearted story a young girl takes the ghost of Abe Lincoln on a tour of present-day America, and in doing so, provides young readers some optimistic insight into the past, present, and future of the U.S.A.
Oh, No!: What goes around, comes around.
“Oh, No!” takes place in a lush jungle, and begins with a Frog as he accidentally falls into a hole. As each one of his friends tries to help him out, they find themselves falling in as well, and with Tiger around, the situation could go from bad to worse quite quickly. With its unique style of writing, it makes a fabulous read-aloud book to enjoy with young or pre-readers.
Lovabye Dragon: An unexpected duo makes for a delightful story.
Up until now, we rarely see girls keeping company with the likes of dragons-unless they’re helplessly being held captive and waiting to be rescue by a knight in shining armor. In “Loveabye Dragon” this stereotype gets tossed out the tower window (hooray!) when a young, lonely, girl decides she want’s nothing more than a dragon for a friend, and sets out to find one.
Up Above & Down Below: You’re the upside down ones.
We’re hardwired with the tendency to think we’re right and others are wrong, or weird. We don’t like the unknown. Embracing the differences between everybody is author Paloma Valdivia with her children’s book, “Up Above and Down Below.” Its message maintains that while people may seem quite the opposite of us, deep down we’re really not that different at all-it just depends on which way you look at it.
Bear Has a Story to Tell: If only everybody would just slow down and listen.
With winter on its way, Bear must be getting ready to hibernate, but first, he has a story to tell. He seeks out each of his friends in turn, but all of them are busy getting ready to face the chilly weather. Kind and generous he helps them out affably with their preparations, but by the time he’s finished, will anyone be around to hear what he has to say?
“Bear Has a Story to Tell” features the fabulous illustrations of Erin E. Stead and the gentle, warm, storytelling of Phillip C. Stead. It offers a lesson in friendship and patience that holds its value regardless of the reader’s age.
When Blue Met Egg: How did you get here?
Blue wakes up one chilly winter morning to find that an egg has landed mysteriously in her nest. Puzzled, she decides it would only be appropriate to search for Egg’s mother, who must surely be frantic that her future child has gone missing. Blue packs Egg in a bucket and searches New York City high and low, but to no avail. So Egg stays with Blue until spring, when something unexpectedly miraculous happens…
green: The color of growing up.
Green signals the growth of new things-little plants popping up through the soil, and new buds on trees. It is also sometimes the color of the sea, and even lends itself to many foods that nourish us. Often times too, despite how green enriches our world, it is an underappreciated color. In ‘green’ author Laura Vaccaro Seeger crafts a book that pays homage to this one color, and you may be surprised at all the ways in which it surrounds us.
Red Knit Cap Girl: How do you talk to the moon?
“Red Knit Cap Girl” is written and illustrated by Naoko Stoop, and features endearing illustrations with a story that’s as enchanting as the magical forest it takes place in. Its main character is a small girl-Red Knit Cap Girl-who wants more than anything to talk to the moon. Although she has plenty of time to wonder about how she could possibly get close enough to speak with Moon, Red Knit Cap Girl can’t figure out just how to do it. In times like this there’s but one thing to do-set out on an adventure and seek the advice of the wisest denizen of the forest.
The Cloud Spinner: Take only what you need and not a bit more.
“The Cloud Spinner” is a delight to read, and equally as delightful to simply look at. It tells the story of a young boy who lives alone on a hilltop in the countryside. That in and of itself may not sound spectacular, but this particular boy can spin clouds into the softest and warmest of cloths. When the greedy king finds out about his talents, he requests (essentially forces) the boy to use clouds too quickly, resulting in a drought that teaches readers to take only what we need from our environment, and not a bit more.
Pete the Cat and His four Groovy Buttons: My buttons, my buttons…
Pete the Cat is back and he’s wearing his favorite shirt-the one with four groovy buttons. These buttons are so groovy that, even when one pops off, Pete isn’t upset. He still has 3 left, and he’s happy enough with them that he sings a little jingle (a very catchy little jingle.) This particular Pete the Cat book is full of subtle humor, great sing-a-long moments, and even manages to toss in some basic counting lessons along the way.
A Home for Bird: A good friend is one who listens.
Vernon the toad likes foraging for interesting things almost as much as the items themselves. On a day not particularly unlike any other, Vernon stumbles upon a curious blue bird-very different from any he has ever seen. He welcomes the silent bird along on his travels, and deduces he is so quiet because he misses home. Thus begins a beautifully illustrated story by author Phillip C. Stead about dedication, the journey to find a place to call your own, and the fact that sometimes there are simply no words to describe the joys of companionship.
More: When to say “enough”.
“More” by I.C. Springman is a story about a magpie, a type of bird truly notorious for hoarding items, and a few, well-meaning, mice friends. It focuses on “Less is more” and “There’s too much of a good thing”, which are ideas that seem quite counterintuitive to youngsters. After all, how can you really have too much of a good thing? How can you have more when you don’t have as much? It’s not easy to teach these concepts (indeed, us adults need reminding sometimes too) but through beautiful illustrations, and only a few words, “More” is there to remind readers of all ages there comes a point when we must be happy with what we have-or risk happiness itself.
Boy + Bot: Unlikely friendships = some unlikely situations.
Friendship knows no boundaries, particularly when we’re young. Thanks to this beautiful open-mindedness, when Boy meets a robot (Bot) in the forest, they see no reason why they can’t play together and have fun. You can’t have a boy and a robot playing in the woods together for long though before something interesting takes place, and take place they do. Young readers are almost certain to find heaps of humor in this story of the close friendship between two beings whose lives couldn’t be more opposite.
The End…Or Is It The Beginning?
The end can be looked at as a new beginning, a new chapter in the book of life that carries on our stories and memories, and signals the start of new ones as well. Looking back at this year, there have been some truly wonderful books that have been created, and each one of these books holds the potential to unlock and inspire children’s imaginations in wonderful new ways. Each one offers up just one more excellent adventure outside the boundaries of the real world. Children’s books are a means of creating adventures that teach and entertain young minds like nothing else can, and I would say we have many new ones to be happy with this year, and many more great ones to come.
We Want to Know: Which book did you think was the best children’s book of 2012?