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#1. When Dinosaurs Came with Everything
Written by Elise Broach, illustrated by David Small
Buy a dozen doughnuts, get a triceratops. Have a haircut, get a pterosaur. A small boy’s very boring errand day is transformed by an unusual promotional campaign, in which, for no good reason, a dinosaur comes with everything. The idea is so simple, absurd and a kid’s dream come true. It’s told from a kid’s point of view, but parents have their hero here too: the increasingly beleaguered mom, who probably didn’t even want a dog.
#2. Today I Will Fly
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Kid book humor is a very unstable breed. To be funny to kids, it has to be broader than a schoolbus; to be funny to parents (who after all have to do most of the reading) it needs to be subtle, quirky and sophisticated. This tale of an overly optimistic pig and his downer elephant friend has very few words per page — and probably not more than 50 different ones in the entire book — so much of the wit is carried in the repetition and the expressions of the two creatures and their friends. This also makes it a great book for struggling readers.
#3. Motherbridge of Love
Illustrated by Josee Masse
Got a girlfriend who just adopted a kid? You’re going to want to get them this book, although the illustration is so gorgeous, you could give it to anyone. The text was submitted anonymously to the charity Mother Bridge of Love, which seeks to connect kids adopted from China with their homeland. As might be expected the sappiness meter is turned to 11, but it does explain quite lyrically how two mothers can each have a part in making one whole child.
#4. Iggy Peck, Architect
Written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
I’ve always had a weakness for children’s books that rhyme. They’re more fun to read aloud, especially by the 12th time in one sitting. This one’s the classic oddball-makes-good story about a kid whose teacher does not recognize his enormous talent — he makes buildings out of anything at hand, including diapers, fruit and chalk — until it saves her life. Illustrated in a chic urban style, it’s like a fun little playdate in magical designer-land.
#5. Great Joy
Written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
On the other end of the spectrum from Iggy Peck’s hipster tale, this tale of a child’s warm heart on a cold Christmas night could not be more old-fashioned, and we mean that as a compliment. Set in an era when there were still organ grinders and monkeys and illustrated in a similar vein, it makes none of the clumsy passes at p.c.ness or postmodernism that are jammed hamfistedly into so many children’s books. It trusts that its moral, and yes, it has one, is timeless and moving enough to be told straight.
#6. Diary of A Fly
Written Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Harry Bliss
There is a rich vein of great modern picture book franchises — Ian Falconer’s Olivia stories and Jane Yolen’s How do Dinosaursbooks and Cronin and Bliss’s Diary of series. They all had good additions this year, but Diary of a Fly is the most irresistibly funny (“Tomorrow is the first day of school. I’m so nervous. What if I’m the only one who eats regurgitated food?”). And of course it does manage that most cunning of witty children’s book tricks, teaching kids science — in this case fly biology — without them even realizing it.
#7. The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County
Written by Janice N. Harrington; illustrated by Shelley Jackson
Our protagonist here loves to chase chickens, particularly Miss Hen who’s “plump as a Sunday purse,” but, as all farming folks know, this is not conducive to happy productive chickens. What will make her change her ways? The author is a librarian and professional storyteller and this book just begs to be read aloud, with long pauses to take in the complexity of the gorgeous half painted, half collage illustrations.
#8. Smelly Bill
Written and Illustrated by Daniel Postgate
Bill is a very naughty, smelly dog. Right there you have every single little boy’s rapt attention. One day he goes to stay with his nemesis, the fanatical great Aunt Bleach and it’s on. It’s a joyride to the finish — Bleach is forced to use the washing line as a flying fox. Who will prevail? Never mind. Just sit back and enjoy.
#9. City Lullaby
Written by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Carll Cneut
There are as many ways to do a counting book as there are numbers. This one is all about the noises of the city: nine annoying cell phones ringing, eight dogs barking, four b-ball players thump-thump-thumping. And on each opposing page you and your reading buddy can find and count the noisy city sights. A good time for all, especially those under 4.
#10. Cherry and Olive
Written and Illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe
With their one-two punch of art and text, children’s books can quickly transport little readers into new world — the big city, 1930s Georgia, outer space. Without ever saying so, this book feels like a little trip to a European capital. The story is not surprising: Because Cherry is rotund and likes books, she has few friends until she meets a stray Shar-Pei puppy she calls Olive. But the pictures are enchanting; her cable sweater and his skin seem to match. And through him she finds confidence and friends. What will happen when his owner returns? Relax people, these are kids books not Tolstoy’s. It ends well.