In the children’s book world—especially as books fight against toys, electronic or otherwise—the highest praise you can give a book is “Instant Classic.” The reviewer uses it with some sense of self-importance: “this is the Goodnight Moon of our time, and will be loved by our children’s children.” This seems a little oxymoronic; isn’t a classic something that has endured, and manages to feel as fresh and new and alive as it did the day it was written? If, however, I was forced to make predictions, I’d want to see these books in the hands of my grandchildren. Preferably the well loved first editions that grace my shelves right now:
The charming and imaginative The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood is getting a lot of Caldecott buzz. The illustrations, by Renata Liwska, are filled with fun little details that will keep Mama interested while reading this aloud for the fiftieth time. The surprise ending of Emily Gravett’s Dogs will delight again and again—she can do no wrong in my opinion.
There were a number of excellent new religiously themed picture books. Paper collage artist Ashley Bryan brings to life the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful. His vibrant panoramas of this beautiful hymn are filled with the exuberance of Creation. Then in October Ignatius Press and Magnificat released several English versions of French picture books. They are all worth checking out, but the best and most surprising was Jean-Francois Keiffer’s The Illustrated Gospel for Children, which is done in a comic-book style. I was afraid the comic-treatment would cheapen the stories, but the narrative is simple and lovely, and the illustrations are respectful and engaging. Best of all, illustrator Christine Ponsard puts children in every scene, so our young readers are drawn immediately into the story.
Sweet and quiet books are having their hey-day too: Mama Is It Summer Yet? by Oregonian Niki McClure teaches us to see beauty in the patient expectation of the coming season. And the sublime fable-dream of a little boy asleep in his father’s tea-house, The Boy in the Garden, by Japanese-American Allen Say would be a rich bedtime story. He is one of the most consistent story-tellers of our time.
A Sick Day for Amos Magee by husband and wife team Philip and Erin Stead, is perhaps the best book of 2010, and a likely candidate for the Caldecott. A zookeeper stays home one morning with a horrible cold, and his friends, the elephant, penguin, turtle, rhinoceros, and owl come to visit him while he’s sick. The simplest of premises—but so charming. The illustrations, a combination of woodblock and hand drawing, are filled with personality and grace.