(published December 2nd, 2018)
It’s time for my annual Wilde Awards, when I name the best books for children and young readers of the year.
As I put together this list for the 22nd year and I reflect on the books I’ve read, I find myself examining them in the context of the year’s current events.
Children’s books, like most literature, reflect the impact of the #MeToo movement. Several books were removed from publication, and artists and authors were cited for sexual misconduct with colleagues.
When bestowing the Wilde Awards for picture books and novels, which I reveal here and at local book stores, my criteria remains consistent from year to year. I consider questions like:
▪ Will the book lead to meaningful discussion, or understanding?
▪ Will it engage children?
▪ Is it evocative?
▪ Is it unique?
▪ Is it made to be shared?
▪ Does it have the rhythms, rhymes, word play and a thoughtfulness that make it successful when read aloud?
▪ Does it have the “read-it-again” quality that makes children want to hear it again and parents pleased to have them ask for it?
▪ And finally, does it have strong characters, compelling tension and a satisfying resolution?
Here is my list of my favorite children’s books. Soon, I’ll reveal my winners for young readers.
The Wilde Awards Live will be presented at Quail Ridge Books at 7 p.m. on Dec. 4. There will be an in-store book fair as a fundraiser for Douglas Elementary School.
For Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers (Ages 0-5)
▪ “A Busy Creature’s Day Eating!” Mo Willems (Hyperion): The adventure begins as a comic creature eats apples and cereals. Quickly he moves to a “huge hot-sauce halibut hoagie.” His eating reaches misery in the latter part the alphabet with “Ooooohhh” and “potty.” Mo Willems proves again he can make anything original.
▪ “Contrary Dogs” and “Birds of a Color,” Elodie Jarret (Candlewick): Two small pop-up books focus on concepts of color and size with big-time inventive fun and pop-ups sure to please parent and child.
▪ “Hello Hello,” Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle):A visually playful examination of how animals are alike and different. Humor and concepts are strengthened by the unique illustrations. The backmatter labels all the animals and notes the many that are endangered.
▪ “A Hippy-Hoppy Toad,” Peggy Archer (Random House): This rhythmic, rhyming read-aloud follows a “teeny-tiny toad” who leaves his “teeter-totter twig” when it snaps. Landing on a “raggy-shaggy tree” is only a temporary site and his every adventure gives an opportunity for word play.
▪ “A Parade of Elephants,” Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins): The genius of simplicity creates a book that embeds counting and graphing in a lyrically-described elephant adventure.
▪ “Peek-a-Who?” Elsa Mroziewicz (Minieditions): Questions about which animal makes which sound find new expression in this brilliantly-designed board book. Sturdy pages unfold to add an element of surprise.
▪ “The Rabbit Listened,” Cori Doerrfeld (Dial): Taylor is devastated when a flock of birds destroys his block structure. Animals appear to offer advice. The chicken suggests talking, the ostrich ignores the situation by burying her head under blocks. Only the rabbit listens. A simple story with psychology and imagery that open discussions.
For Ages 5-8
▪ “All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah,” Emily Jenkins (Schwartz & Wade): The classic series comes to picture books as the five girls prepare for the holiday. Full of the warmth, traditions, and caring that made this series endure.
▪ “Alma and How She Got Her Name,” Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick, ages 3-7): There’s a reason for Alma Sofia Espernza José Pura Candea’s long name and her father has a lyrical way of explaining the familial significance.
▪ “Baby Monkey, Private Eye,” Brian Selznick (Scholastic): A 200 page I-Can-Read, a mystery, a comic view of procedure? All of the above.
▪ “The Day You Begin,” Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen): “There will be times you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” Economic, cultural and language difference are poignant threads in this powerful story of children finding confidence.
▪ “Dear Substitute,” Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick (Hyperion): Short witty letters express the unnamed narrator’s shifting emotions when a substitute arrives. Complaints gradually change to appreciation.
▪ “Drawn Together,” Minh Le (Hyperion): How can you communicate with a grandfather when you have neither language, culture, or shared experiences? Through sharing fantastical drawing and vivid world building, a young Asian boy and his grandfather find a splendid commonality.
▪ “Dreamers/Sonadores,” Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter Books): English and Spanish languages blend beautifully in this autobiographical mixed-media picture book of Morales’ journey of hope, love and dreams upon entering the United States with her small son. Specific to her Latinx experience, it speaks universally to and about those who have faced the confusion and discrimination of immigration.