For 30 years Susie Wilde has been reviewing children’s books for various media (including her monthly column in this section), hosting workshops for teachers and would-be writers of children’s books, working with students in classrooms, libraries and community centers. For the past 20 years, she has presented her Wilde Awards, which recognizes the diversity of voice, characters and plots in 2016’s best picture books and novels. The list is a good place to start when you’re considering books as gifts this holiday season. Here is a sample of her suggestions.
Picture books, young readers
“123 Dream,” Kim Krans (Random House, ages 1-3): Plants and animals weave in and out of numbers from 1-20.
“5 Little Ducks,” Denise Fleming (Simon and Schuster, ages 0-2): Large clear illustrations, animals to name, and embedded days of the week renew the classic song.
“Goodnight Everyone,” Chris Haughton (Candlewick, ages 0-3): A wakeful little bear settles into sleep amid yawning friends, soft colors and a lulling text.
“We Found a Hat,” Jon Klassen (Candlewick, ages 2-4): The satisfying end a picture book trilogy as two turtles come upon a hat they can’t share. The text is simple, but complex feelings leave lots of room for discussion.
“When Spring Comes,” Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, ages 2-5): Laura Dronzek’s rich vibrant colors pair perfectly with her husband’s thoughtful, lyrical picture of spring.
Most intriguing illustrations
“They All Saw a Cat,” Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle, ages 3-6): Creatively imagined artistic renderings show creatures’ differing perspectives of a cat – from a blurry fish’s view to the forest of hair seen by a flea.
“Look Up!” Jung Jin-Ho (Holiday House, ages 3-6): A young girl in a wheelchair lives high above the street and longs for relationship. Few words and minimal colors accent the stunning perspectives.
“A Child of Books,” Oliver Jeffers (Candlewick, ages 5-8): Intriguing images and a poetic text accent the magic of invention as the heroine floats “across a sea of words” over “mountains of make-believe” into the “forests of fairy tales” where “imagination is free.”
Best new characters
“Thunderboy Jr”, Sherman Alexie (Little Brown, ages 3-6): The author blends his lyrical words, strong rhythms, Native American sensibilities, humor, and warmth in the story of a young boy who wishes his name were different.
“The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog,” Sue deGennaro (Simon and Schuster, ages 4-6): Unusual illustrations and curious conflicts express the relationship of two quirky friends – one who loves costumes and the other adores numbers.
“Swatch, The Girl Who Loved Color,” Julia Denos (Balzer and Bray, ages 5-8): This fable stars a young color captor who learns how inspiring freedom can be. Energetic hues and vibrant words dance across pages.
“The Quickest Kid in Clarksville,” Pat Zietlow Miller (Chronicle, ages 5-8): Sassy Alta prides herself on running like hometown champion Wilma Rudolph. Especially competing with Charmaine who struts “hard enough to shame a rooster.” The strong voice reflects the power of young heroines whose pride yields to collaboration.
Best Read Alouds
“Henry Wants More”, Linda Ashman (Random House ages 2-5): Toddler Henry is endlessly busy. His father lifts him overhead, grandmother plays songs, big sister teaches finger plays and big brother pulls Henry in a wagon. At the end of each activity, Henry utters the universal toddler words, “MORE!” or “AGAIN!” These appear in large red letters, complete with exclamation points, measuring his ebullience.
“Nanette’s Baguette,” Mo Willems (Hyperion, ages 3-6): Nanette’s is off to fetch the family baguette for the first time…can she resists its warm, wonderful smell? Willems shows his perfect pacing, mastery of rhythm and rhyme, wordplay and emotions of children.
“A Hat for Mrs. Goldman,” Michelle Edwards (Schwartz and Wade, ages 4-8): Generous Mrs. Goldman has always kept Sophie’s keppie (head) covered with knitted hats. She’s taught Sophia about knitting and good deeds and Sophie puts those into action to return the favor. Her awkward path is ultimately warming.
“A Small Thing … But Big,” Tony Johnston (Roaring Brook, ages 4-7): The calming dialogue between an anxious young girl and an elderly man at the park is quiet in tone, but peals with emotional strength. Every brave act from the girl draws stranger’s lovely refrain, “a small thing, but big.”
Two collections of illustrated collections serve children’s core knowledge: “The Land of Stories: A Treasure of Classic Fairy tales Chris Colfer (Little Brown, ages 3-7) has 24 early nursery tales and 13 rhymes.
“Gris Grimly’s Tales from the Brothers Grimm,” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Balzer and Bray, ages 6 and up) illustrates retellings of 40 tales.
Picture books, older children
“Ida, Always,” Caron Levis (Atheneum, ages 6 and up): A tenderly-told story about two loving polar bear friends, inspired by real bears who lived in New York’s Central Park Zoo. Death is handled with grace and gentleness.
“Cry, Heart, But Never Break,” Glenn Ringtved (Enchanted Lion, ages 7 and up): When Death figure visits four sorrowing children whose grandmother is dying, he is wise and his heart is beautiful as a sunset and “beats with a great love of life.” Emotional art and tender words explain how death is necessary for new life.