31 Days, 31 Lists: 2019 Caldenotts
Every publisher that dares to bring into this world a book that either originated in another country or was illustrated by a person who is not a citizen of The United States of America knows, in their heart of hearts, that no matter how grand the book, it will never win the top award for picture books here in the States. The Caldecott Award was created to reward America artists, and so only they may reap its rewards. For that reason, I salute those publishers with the courage of their convictions to still put the following books out. Were they eligible, I’d say every book on this list would have a shot. As it stands, they don’t, but darned if it wouldn’t be cool if they could:
Cat & Mouse by Britta Teckentrup
We don’t think of board books generally as evocative, but what Teckentrup has done with the art on these pages creates all kinds of feelings. This is maybe the most beautiful board book I’ve seen this year. The landscapes and use of light and shadow are remarkable. I swear, if it wasn’t for the inconvenient fact that Teckentrup isn’t American, I’d be promoting this as a Caldecott contender, you can be sure.
Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
If there is one thing the publisher Enchanted Lion Books likes, it’s books that allow them to play with perception and the tactile experience of the page. If they can render something partially transparent then by gum they shall do so! This gentle fable follows a child named Gisele who is as fragile as can be. So much so that she is transparent. You can see right through her. More disturbingly, you can see into her thoughts. Interestingly, this leads to her greatest problems, because when people can see what you’re thinking, they will often judge you harshly. Gisele cracks when she feels sadness or anger, so she travels all over to find a home. In the end, though, she realizes that her real home is where she started, warts and all. It’s one of those stories that could apply to a whole range of things and ideas, or you can just take it on its surface. I do love the partially transparent pages throughout as well. Just beautifully rendered.
Good Night Wind by Linda Elovitz Marshall, ill. Maëlle Doliveux
Inspired by the Yiddish folktale “Der Vint, Vos Iz Geven In Kas” (“The Wind Who Got Angry”) this is a magnificently illustrated take on an oddly sympathetic character. Who knew you could feel so bad for a freezing wind? This cut paper medium is handled with exquisite care. Now just to throw a wrench in the works, Ms. Doliveux is possibly eligible for a Caldecott after all. Though of French/Swiss extraction, she is apparently living in NYC right now. Of course, that information on her website might be outdated. I think I just wanted an excuse to praise her art in a public forum.
Mephisto by Bernard Villiot, ill. Antoine Guilloppé, English text adaptation by Kathryn Bishop
Laser-cut paper hasn’t really made its name in the world of picture books as often as one would like. This little beauty (which may or may not be French in origin) is entirely black and white. Its story concerns a black cat, hounded from a city, who retires to the country in warmer months only to find that in his absence the rats and mice have taken over. I was rather taken with the story, but the star here is the art. Just paying attention to when Guilloppé chooses to use white instead of black, or black instead of white, is worth the price of admission alone.
My Wild Cat by Isabelle Simler
Or maybe I just like cats? Yeah yeah, okay. Fine. So I’ll be including Simler on this list a little later because of her killer work on Sweet Dreamers. But imagine, if you will, what would occur if Ms. Simler were American and if this were the first book she had produced. Wouldn’t we just be drooling all over it? Admittedly, it may stray too closely into territory held by cat lovers and cat lovers alone, but I feel as though she’s doing such subtle, fine-lined work that it’s well worth examining a little more closely.
Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe
“The biggest mistake Pokko’s parents ever made was giving her a drum.” So begins this wild, raucous, slightly twisted, but always interesting picture book infused with deep pulsating colors. That’s it. I’m officially calling a moratorium on all the good books coming out this year. We’re done. We’re through. We’re out. No more! I’ve always liked Forsythe’s art (remember his work on The Brilliant Deep last year?) but now he’s breaking out on his own with this strange, wry, mildly twisted but ultimately cheery story. I LOVE his voice. I love the art. I love the whole darn package. My soul regret is that he lives in Canada and can’t get a Caldecott for this. Oh yeah. It’s just that good.
Small in the City by Sydney Smith
It can be hard to be small when a city is so large. A deeply thoughtful consideration of urban living and what we love, brought to brilliant life by Smith’s evocative illustrations. Started out slow for me but got so much better as it went until POW! That ending! You want to know how good this book is? Look at that seemingly simple cover. Somehow, Smith has managed to paint what is clearly a kid sitting next to a window where you can see the city reflected AT THE SAME TIME. I mean, just think about how hard that is to do for a minute. One of my favorites of the year, no question.
Sweet Dreamers by Isabelle Simler
Takes the whole “bedtime book” concept and ratchets it up to eleven. Dear lord, this is a gorgeous book. Though, I’ll admit, it broke my heart a little to see that it was digital art. No matter. I want to give all the kudos to the translator because all of these poems sound like they were originally written with English in mind. It’s evocative and gorgeous and one of the best bedtime tales I’ve ever seen. I mean, just listen to this: “Toes clinging to the ceiling / kite-fingers folded like a blanket, / the bat dreams upside down…” Vibrant yet calming images showcase animals tucked in, ready for slumber, offset with soothing evocative poetry.
Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women, retold by Kate Forsyth, ill. Lorena Carrington
Seven ancient fairytales showcase strong girls and women that get themselves out of heaps of trouble using brains and bravery. Each tale is accompanied by magnificently evocative photographed silhouettes that heighten each story’s excitement and foreboding. A lot of time and love and attention went into, not only the selection of these stories, but the elements that were tweaked slightly (ever so slightly) for a contemporary audience. I’m a sucker for too little lauded fairy tales anyway, so this was already up my alley. I appreciated that it never sacrificed the macabre elements. Just add in the fact that the photographic images accompanying the book are strange and beautiful and creepy all at once, and I’m sold. We see a lot of “strong girl” book collections out right now. Let’s put a book on our list that gets right down to the source of the matter. Extra points for the story Carrington tells at one point about a gift from some friends who told her, “We brought you a present!” and then gave her a full fox skeleton they’d found.
When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee, translated by Chungyon Won and Aileen Won
There is a wilderness that grows between the border of North and South Korea, where nature flourishes. A child’s grandfather visits it, no matter the weather, no matter the season. Well now aren’t you just the sweetest little book about the no man’s land between North and South Korea that I ever did see! I have never seen a book like this, and it’s amazing! Beautiful art and a truly amazing story. I love the translation. I love the whole package. A strange, sweet consideration of home and longing.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Bilingual Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Easy Books
December 18 – Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Informational Fiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Older Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists, Best Books, Best Books of 2019, Booklists
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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