By Emily Raabe, Contributor
My house is a bookworm house. I’m a writer, my partner is an editor and a reader, and our four-year-old daughter is a connoisseur of the picture book. We read A Lot. These past nine months or so, even more. The wonderful thing about this is, more books! The challenging thing about this is, we need more books!
If, like us, you have charged through most of the “best of” lists by now, and the holidays are HERE, and you need MORE BOOKS, I have compiled a completely subjective holiday shopping list for you of new and wonderful releases, two holiday books and a bonus.These all came out in 2020 (with one exception), are all picture books (with one exception), and all knocked my socks off (no exceptions). And as a welcome aside, every single book offers diverse characters as a matter of course.
All of these books are available at our beloved Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, either through their website, over the phone or via email. So, without further ado, here you are:
If You Come to Earth. Written & illustrated by two-time Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall, this book, is, quite simply, dazzling. It opens with a letter from a young child: “Dear Visitor from Outer Space, if you come to Earth, here’s what you need to know,” and from there it explodes with delicately detailed images that swim, crawl, leap, stand, sit and fly across the pages. Teeming with information, this book is a celebration of what makes every creature both unique, and one with this amazing planet. I love, love, love this gorgeous book. It is poetic, inclusive, celebratory and original and should captivate anyone from age three on up.
Pirate Stew. Neil Gaiman has written a picture book! And it’s as clever, and silly, and chock full of sly and outlandish details as you would expect from the master of narrative. The lavish illustrations by Chris Riddell rise to the riotous text, as a young boy and girl are left home with an unusual babysitter and his crew of dastardly women and men…and because this is Neil Gaiman, there is a wonderfully subversive twist at the end involving the parents. Like If you Come to Earth, this is a big, wonderful, busy book, super-worthy of gifting. Ages 4-6.
Saturday. Oge Mora’s 2019 Caldecott-winning Thank You Omu! was, hands down, my favorite picture book of that year. Saturday is her excellent follow-up. Employing Mora’s gorgeous collage art, this book tells the story of a girl and her mom and their special day, but it’s really about dealing with change and disappointment and finding joy in the moment. So 2020! This book is the cheat on my list, because Saturday actually came out in Fall 2019. And I’m going to cheat again—if you have not yet read Thank You Omu, I must admit, I like it just a bit better. The story of a Grandmother whose pot of stew ends up feeding a neighborhood of strangers who all become friends through her generosity is just so captivating, and those illustrations! So—you decide. Get one or get both. Either way I’m cheating, but I just love this author/illustrator. Ages 4-6.
Once Upon a Winter Day written and illustrated by Charlotte’s own Liza Woodruff. This book is a knockout—lovely illustrations and a captivating mix of looking, exploring and finding make for the perfect read-aloud. The book opens with Milo asking his Mom (who I’m pretty sure is Working from Home) for a story. She’s too busy, so she sends the reluctant child out to play in the snow. What happens next is an absolutely magical mix of text and image, story and imagining, as Milo follows clues, from tiny mouse prints, to fallen branches, to signs of digging, grazing and sliding in the snow. Each clue holds a question, and each question opens out into a gorgeously rendered answer. This is a book about wonder, attention, storytelling and the power of imagination. Most important, it highlights children’s ability to create their own narrative, as Milo comes home with his gathered objects to tell his stories to his waiting parent. Beautiful, wintery and perfect from age 2 on up to 6.
Now a couple of Holiday Books:
Mistletoe: A Christmas Story. Tad Hills’ Rocket and Duck and Goose are beloved characters in our house, so I was delighted to see that he had written a Christmas book. Hills’ specialty is friendship. This book highlights the giving spirit of the holidays through the friendship between Mouse, who loves winter, and Elephant, who loves to stay inside, that is, until Mouse comes up with the perfect gift for his friend. Simple text, colorful pictures and a charming (and funny) story make this one a lovely gift for ages 2 and up.
Eight Knights of Hanukkah. Written by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Galia Bernstein. A wonderfully entertaining book about the Eight Knights of Hanukkah, tasked by their mom with overcoming a roaming dragon by doing Mitzvoth, or “awesome deeds of kindness.” The roving dragon threatens the last night of Hanukkah, but the brave knights ride out to save the day in a book that is both heroic and hilarious and ends in a rollicking feast at which the dragon herself fires up the candles to light “the darkness of the world with the bright light of kindness.” Silly details (Sir Rugelach!) make this one fun to read. Ages 4-6.
And now, the bonus:
Skunk and Badger, by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Oh my, I LOVE this beautiful new addition to the “Frog and Toad” odd-couple genre. Badger, a solitary geologist, lives happily alone, until an unwelcome new roommate moves in—the gregarious, outgoing, infuriating Skunk. They have nothing in common, or do they? “Skunk and Badger” is another cheat on my list, because at 122 pages, it’s is not exactly a picture book. But it has pictures, and gorgeous ones at that, a mix of full-color illustrations and delicate pencil drawings by the imitable Jon Klassan. This book is drawing comparisons to classics like Wind in the Willows, and I think the praise is warranted. It is gentle, wordy in the best way, and very funny—an absolute treat. While it is listed as 6-8, I can’t wait to read it out loud to my resident four-year old.
That’s my list. As I look over it, I realize that aside from my usual criteria—gorgeous art, dazzling use of language, and a great story—these books have something else in common. They are all about kindness, inclusivity, friendship and joy.
It’s been a rough year. Hopefully these books can help to light up the darkness a bit for you and your littlest loved ones. Happy Holidays, everyone!