Throughout the year, I seemed to have purchased few picture books, for one reason or another. As the holidays approached and I needed to buy some gift for nieces and nephews and as the end of the year ‘best of lists’ appeared and the Caldecott Award winners approach (January 2017), I bought ten new picture books, some funny, some serious, and yes, some worthy of awards for best illustrations. I’ve included the New York Times list of best illustrated books of the past year.

THE DEAD BIRD BY Margaret Wise Brown: Illus. Christian Robinson

The book was written in 1938 by beloved author (Goodnight Moon), Margaret Wise Brown. The story has been published with colourful, yet simple, illustrations. The story about children who come upon a bird lying in a park with its eyes closed and no heartbeat inspires heartfelt emotional response and likely connections to children who have dealt with loss of pets – and others in their lives.

DU IZ TAK? by Carson Ellis

At first, this book seems to be written in a foreign language (Swedish?) but in fact Carson Ellis has invented the language of insects as they stare in wonder at the growth of a plant.  Once young readers (and adults) grasp the inventiveness of the conversation and give careful attention to the natural environment created by the author, they are sure to delight – and visit and revisit Du Iz Tak?  (perhaps: ‘What is that?’)

SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR by Julie Falatko; Illus. Tim Miller

Snappsy, is quite the assertive, and somewhat grouchy,  alligator. Snappsy likes to talk back (and contradict) the narrator of the book. He  likes to say whatever is on his mind, and does so in graphic speech bubbles to inform the narrator (and the reader) of what a clever and opinionated and snappy alligator he is.

WHAT COLOR IS THE WIND? by Anne Herbauts

How might you answer the question posed in the title of this book? How might you explain your answer to a little giant who is blind.  This book by the Brussels artist Anne Herbauts is distinct and rich in it’s design  format which includes cut out shapes and textures which are often tactile. As the boy embarks to find an answer from animals and nature he encounters, the story (“No, says the wolf, the wind is the dark smell of the forest.”), the book too that awakens our senses and helps readers consider the ways in which we sense, see and feel the world around us. The book is reminiscent of the story The Blind Man and the Elephant and the picture book, Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young.

THE TREE IN THE COURTYARD: Looking through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld; Illus. Peter McCarty

As Anne Frank writes in her diary, a horse chestnut tree outside the window of the attic in which her family is hiding, serves as a witness and innocent bystander to the history of the Frank family. The tree died the summer Anne Frank would have turned eight one (2010). In the Afterword to the book, we learn that saplings and seedpods from the tree have been planted around the world. The simple narration, the succinct overview of historical events and the sepia-like tones of McCarty’s illustrations add to the strength of this picture book.

BE WHO YOU ARE by Todd Parr

In single words and short sentences,  Todd Parr celebrates identity and diversity in this instructional book that tells readers to “Learn in your own way. / Be proud of where you’re from / Be your own family/ JUST BE WHO YOU ARE!” Hooray for Todd Parr for being who he is!


This one’s funny! I bought four copies as gifts. The narrative is told with simple text, but the animation-like illustrations and the conversation in graphic format adds to the humour. Here’s an example, sure to delight those wee folks: “HEY! What are you doing?! Didn’t you read the sign? There’s no bear in here!” exclaims a giraffe sitting on a toilet. A duck serves as the interlocutor, and he’s a funny duck indeed. Spoiler alert: the bear never shows up which is the adventure and suspense and fun of the book.

CRY, HEART, BUT NEVER BREAK by Glenn Ringtved; Illus. by Charlotte Pardi

Death appears as a character in this book, helping the children in this book saying good bye to their beloved dying grandmother, and giving readers compassionate insights and some comfort when dealing with the sadness of loss.


Caldecott winner Ed Young (The Emperor and the Kite, 1967; Lon Po Po, 1989; Seven Blind Mice, 1992) is a master at mixed media collage. Lord Cat delights in all the riches that life has afforded him, but when drought plagues the land, he is confronted with the world of loss. The book is dedicated to ‘the strange virtue in deprivation, an unwanted and the least understood gateway to humanity and life’s riches’.



The Singing Bones

Australian author Shaun Tan, (The Rabbits, The Arrival) is genius in his surrealistic, hyper-realistic style. His newest publication is not technically a picture book, but a stunning collection of 75  sculptures created by Tan, each a representation of a  fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm. Each sculpture, whether it is fanciful, strange, poetic or stark, is paired with a paragraph from the Grimm stories. Summaries of these stories appear at the end of the book. I examined the plates with awe, would love to have seen the art exhibit of the creations, and was inspired to purchase and carefully read the Grimm’s tales (The Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated and edited by Jack Zipes; Illus. Andrea Dezso). Wouldn’t it be grand to own one of these sculptures? Isn’t it great to be able to own this collection?

New York Times Ten Best Illustrated Books, 2016 (Sunday November 13, 2016)

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim; Illus. E.B. Lewis

The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart; Illus. Sydney Smith

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown; Illus. Christian Robinson

The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond

The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld: Illus. P.McCarty

A Voyage in the Clouds by Matthew Olshan; Illus. Sophie Blackall

The Princess and the Warrior: A tale of two volcanoes by Duncan Tonatiuh

Freedom in Congo Square by Carol Boston Weatherford; Illus. R. Gregory Christie

Little Red by Bethan Woolvin

The Cat from Hunger Mountain by Ed Young