Baby, Remember My Name: Picture Book Gems of Years Past
At the end of any given year you’ll see the occasional article or blog posting that talks about the forgotten gems of a given year. But what about those books that came out two, three, even ten years ago and yet remain unheralded? I’ve been reviewing books for kids for over ten years now, and when I look at the list of books I’ve reviewed I see titles that I still love and adore now, just as much as I did when they first came out.
So with this in mind I combed through my inordinately long listing of past reviewed titles and located the titles that still make me pound the table in my excitement. Problem was, there were so many I decided to just dedicate the occasional posting to this topic. Here then, are the picture books I’ve reviewed in the past and still think are the bee’s knees. This is just a smattering, but it’s a good smattering. A lot of these are out-of-print, but that doesn’t make them any less awesome.
Robert Louis Stevenson (ill. Julie Morstad). The Swing – Well, sure. I don’t often review board books, but this one still remains one of my favorites. One of the very rare board books I’d put on a Best Books of the Year list. The art elevates it, and it’s absolutely fantastic rhythmically.
Picture Books (Fiction)
Jairo Buitrago (ill. Rafael Yockteng). Jimmy the Greatest – Recently some colleagues of mine were attempting to come up with a list of great Caribbean children’s books. This one was #1 on my list. Because it originated in another country with an author and illustrator that aren’t American it wasn’t eligible for any of our major awards. Sort of fell by the wayside it did, but it remains one of my favorite books of all time. The sheer detail . . . just look at it sometime, won’t you?
Jonathan Emmett (ill. Poly Bernatene). The Princess and the Pig – We’re always looking for strong princess books, but to my mind this is the #1 most subversive princess book out there. The fact that it ends with a dopey prince being forced to marry a pig? The icing on the cake.
Janice N. Harrington (ill. Shelley Jackson). The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County – I was delighted beyond measure to find that this book appears to still be in print. This was the picture book I’d hand to those parental patrons who would reject my suggestions of certain books because they were too “urban”. Uh-huh. All right then. Try this one on for size. Can’t get much more rural than the countryside chasing chickens!
John Himmelman. Katie Loves the Kittens – Probably can’t exactly call this one a “forgotten” gem since the sequel came out just last year. Still, how many people realize what a great readaloud this is? Not just one-on-one but to large groups. Some of the most fun a person can have. I can get 40 first graders howling “Arooooooo!” in ten second flat with this book. And that’s a promise.
Rukhsana Khan (ill. Sophie Blackall). Big Red Lollipop – In this particular case I liked the book so much I helped get it on New York Public Library’s 100 Great Children’s Books list. Hopefully that’ll help its shelf life (and maybe give it a leg up in the old “canon” department). I do honestly believe that it’s the greatest picture book I’ve ever read about selfless grace in all my livelong days.
Thomas King (ill. William Kent Monkman). A Coyote Columbus Story – Occasionally I’ll stumble on a book I love so much that I become a little one-woman broken record. I think there were about three or four years there for a while where every Columbus Day I’d write a post about this book and how crucially important it was to own. It’s a combination of classic Coyote myths and the Columbus story done in a really fun, eye-popping manner. You will never find another book exactly like this one on your shelves.
Pija Lindenbaum. Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies – Speaking of books you’ll never find another title quite like, meet my favorite obscure import. I wrote about this for a Horn Book piece called Different Drummers. Basically, it’s weird, but it’s MY kind of weird. Speaking of which, I should see if that circulating copy is still available in my library system. I’d love for my kiddo to see this.
Pija Lindenbaum. Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle – Again with the Pija Lindenbaum. I wonder if she’s still making picture books? If so, she hasn’t been imported in quite a while. This title would constitute one of my favorite GLBT family stories of all time. Mia is desperately jealous of her darling uncle’s new boyfriend. It’s not a plotline I’ve seen done with a gay couple much of ever before. Maybe a little vaguely at a wedding here and there, but there’s something really realistic and raw about Mia’s emotions here. Memorable even.
Sebastian Meschenmoser. Learning to Fly – Where have you gone, Sebastian Meschenmoser? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Or maybe that’s just me, but for a while there this German (I think he’s German) illustrator could do no wrong. First we got to see this truly original and fun take on a penguin trying to learn to fly . . .
Sebastian Meschenmoser. Waiting for Winter – . . . and then we cast our peepers on this beauty. The man has TALENT! And quite a lot of other books too, if someone would just bother to bring them over Stateside. *coughs surreptitiously into hand*
Chris Monroe. Monkey With a Tool Belt – Though it spurned multiple sequels, the fact that Chico Bon Bon is not a household name rankles. It’s a monkey. It has a tool belt. What part of this isn’t fantastic?
Inga Moore. A House in the Woods – You know when you love a picture book to pieces but you’re not sure if your kids will ever dig it as much as you do? Well, I’m happy to report that my daughter is a big time fan of this gem. Gem is the only word to describe this book too, since I’ve rarely read anything with such an amazing tone. It’s cozy to its core, a really good autumnal story, and one of my favorite books of all time. It was published near the end of the publishing year, as I recall, so it never made it on to enough Best Of lists. Hopefully word of mouth will keep it alive.
Matteo Pericoli. The True Story of Stellina – One of the most heartbreaking out-of-print books on this list. A little picture book memoir of finding a baby bird on the streets of Manhattan, and of nursing it back to health. Pericoli is best known for drawing the skyline of Manhattan and then publishing it in big long books, but this foray in picture book fare should have been remembered better. Or, at the very least, kept in print.
Sergio Ruzzier. Amandina – Ruzzier’s done a lot of beautiful work over the years but my heart will always belong to Amandina, the sweet little dog with the golden eyes. We see a lot of books with “do your own thing” as the theme but this is one of the few where the message is “do your own thing even if nobody in the known universe seems to care.” I honestly think that’s an important message and this is one of the few books to acknowledge the fact.
Komako Sakai. The Snow Day – Remember this? It didn’t come out that long ago but sometimes I worry that it’s been forgotten. Wait a sec . . . just hold on . . . .
. . . . there . . .
That was me putting this book on hold with my library system. How I’ve managed to forget about it until now, I don’t know but my kiddo NEEDS to see this one. Nighttime snow scenes have never been this good.
Susan Schade (ill. Jon Buller). The Noisy Counting Book – Now and forever. Nuff said.
Laura Amy Schlitz (ill. Max Grafe). The Bearskinner: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm – You DID remember that Newbery Award winner Laura Amy Schlitz penned this fairy tale picture book, did you not? You’ve read it multiple times, yes? You’ve loved it thoroughly? Because if the answer to any of these questions is no then you need to do some quick march rethinking, my friend. Wonderfully creepy, this is the book that reminds you that Ms. Schlitz once taught Adam Gidwitz, author of the A Tale Dark and Grimm series. See how it all comes together?
Patricia Storace (ill. Raul Colon). Sugar Cane: A Carribean Rapunzel – Rather than kvetch about the fact that this is out-of-print, let me point some things out about this book.
1. It is a Caribbean take on the Rapunzel myth.
2. Common Core State Standards specifically ask for folk and fairytales from multicultural perspectives.
3. This cover was featured prominently in the Eric Carle Museum’s recent exhibit on Latino children’s book artists.
4. Amongst its many honors it was on New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list. Heck, it was the cover of the list itself.
4. And yet, it is out-of-print. You do the math.
And that’s it from my end. Obviously I love many many books, but these were the ones that jumped out at me today. Howzabout you? What are some of your long gone but well remembered (by you) favs?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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