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BEST OF 2016: Our Favorite Books for Young Readers
Over the course of the last year, our Young Readers Committee read (and often reread) nearly 200 books on our longlist to identify those titles we believe to be the best 2016 had to offer for toddlers and preschool- and early-elementary-school-aged children.
Cheryl, Assistant Branch Manager, Ridgway Memorial Library
Monty, Circulation Clerk
Pam, Mt. Washington Branch Manager
Tracy (that’s me), BCPL Public Relations Coordinator & Committee Organizer
It was tough narrowing down the finalists and we had plenty of disagreements along the way. For examples, I was unanimously overruled regarding Joyce Sidman’s Before Morning, and two of us adored Cynthia Rylant and Christian Robinson’s Little Penguins while others didn’t like it at all. But in the end, we’re very happy with our final selections. So without further ado, BCPL’s favorite 2016 books for young readers are:
I say: There’s a lot to like about this book, including the bold, digitally colored illustrations; multiple humorous scenes; and perfect lead-ins for important parent-child discussions on bullying, not being afraid to be honest with others, and finding your niche. Personally, I loved the expressiveness of the various jungle animals. The big-eyed frog is a favorite.
Angel says: Love it! It’s a very cute book with great talking points about bullying.
I say: I love this one! It has a wonderful simplicity but has some stunningly effective nuances in the illustrations. The mostly red, black, and white pencil drawings with their sepia background are charming and elegant. The text and the illustrations work together perfectly to tell a story encouraging individuality, empathy, and imagination. Pre-readers could even enjoy the story through the pictures alone. One of my favorites.
Allison says: I love the seemingly opposing themes and ideas that go hand in hand! Refreshingly simple example of children who might feel different or out-of-place who follow their gut instinct to be who they are. And the illustrations are SUPERB!
Several of us were charmed by the amusing, authentic sibling relationships and the quirky illustrations and side characters. Allison is hoping for a story about the dragon with an interesting smirk, and I would love to know more about the mysterious mouse who quietly pops up in the background throughout the book. And the message is one we all love.
Monty says: This is a fun read featuring many colorful illustrations. The story can help children realize that everyone has wonderful ideas that should be shared and that no matter what others may believe about your ideas, you should believe in yourself for nothing is impossible.
I say: This is such a relatable story for anyone who comes from a large family or has overachieving siblings. Through the story of a dog named Ed who is determined to match the excellence of his loving family and enjoy the same privileges as the Ellis children (like sitting on the couch and eating at the table), readers can discover or talk about the things that make them excellent, even if they are less obvious than being a math whiz or a star athlete. The crayon and grease pencil illustrations are perfect for the story, conveying warmth, movement, and Ed’s loyalty and mischievousness. And the final page is perfection.
I say: We’re cheating a little bit picking this one since it was originally published in 2015 in the UK, but its first US printing was in 2016. This cute story of a little boy playing hide-and-seek with an elephant is sure to elicit smiles all around. Little kids familiar with the game will get a giggle at the boy’s obliviousness and be proud of finding Elephant for themselves. There are also lots of fun details for observant kiddos (seriously, keep your eye on the dog), or perhaps the book can help kids who are less sharp-eyed to become more observant. As Allison pointed out in our deliberations, this one will encourage kids to look beyond the text and pay attention to visual cues and their own observances.
Cheryl says: I really enjoyed this book, and a child will identify with the story about a favorite toy. The imagination in the book is fun and it gives a happy feeling.
Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illus. by Charles Santoso
I say: This is a beautiful, heartbreaking story with nuance that still remains relatable for children. It’s blunt in places, but still appropriately gentle. I love the scenes illustrating that it is okay to still laugh, to be angry, or to want to be alone. The text is great for vocabulary building, and the writing does a fabulous job of capturing both the energy of the city and the intimacy of the characters’ friendship.
Allison says: I like the gentle way that this story brings hope to struggle and grief. I like that Gus finds a way to move on, though he is sometimes troubled. This is a must for the list, if not for the beautiful yet simple illustrations, then for the gentle way the subject matter is handled.
I say: I really enjoyed the mixed-media style. The effect is somewhat reminiscent of Lois Elhert, though the tone and art are actually quite different. Conversational prose poetry addresses both the everyday and a few more elevated topics, like war. I particularly liked the war illustration where the bomb turns into a fish and the final image where Wednesday dreams of a blue squirrel that recalls a paint-splatter horse from earlier in the book. It’s an even, thoughtful story about imagination and creation and offers many interesting opportunities for discussion between children and their parents or educators.
Allison says: This book seems so simple at first glance, and the mixed-media made me wince. I don’t generally enjoy the style, but this time it fits the seemingly disjointed, but oh-so-connected storyline. I think this book will encourage children to notice what is around them in a way that is all their own, and encourage them to discuss their thoughts. And, it isn’t often easy to discuss abstract thoughts with young children, but this book not only gives us an example, but instruction on how to start that process. LOVED IT!
I say: I LOVE these interactive picture books, and so does my 3-year-old niece. I bought her this one for Christmas, and she had me read it to her over and over, twice in one session before she would let me leave her house to go home! It was so much fun to see her enthusiasm and wonder as her actions seemingly affected the outcome of the next page. And in addition to being a great deal of fun to read together, the book is also wonderful for helping children with following directions and learning colors, counting, and other concepts, Let’s Play joins Press Here and Tap the Magic Tree on my list of interactive favorites. Za-za-ZOOM!
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy, illus. by Theresa Howell, Rafael Lopez
I say: Brimming with exuberance and color, this visually stunning and inspirational story about creativity and community is based on a true story.
Penguin Problems by John Jory, illus. by Lane Smith I say: There were lots of great penguin books this year, and even another book about a grumpy penguin. (We liked Claire Messer’s Grumpy Pants a lot too.) But this story is so perfectly paced and busting with humor, and Lane Smith’s illustrations are so expressive without extra clutter on the page, that I’m claiming this one as my favorite penguin book of the year.
I say: This a story of the first day of school from an entirely news perspective: the school’s! It will be a great first day of school or back to school read, especially for kids who are feeling a little self conscious. Plus, there are a few truly fantastic moments, such as the water fountain incident and School’s resulting embarrassment.
Allison says: This book reads like a how-to, while keeping a story behind the words. I love the asides, the rhythmic flow of the storyline, and the call to greatness in everyday life. There’s a good lesson in how we can think of the stereotypical version of things, and realize that sometimes reality is better than fiction. I also like the comic book feel; this one’s in my top 10.
Pam says: I so enjoyed this book. The facial expressions of the sister and dog add humor to the story. Five stars, definitely! Smiles turn to laughter while reading this one.
I say: This is a cute little adventure story that also helps build vocabulary and narrative skills. It’s extremely inventive in the way it unfolds, with lots of little details to ponder and discuss. There’s great use of dramatic effect and humor, and the shifting settings, colors, and moods are wonderful. Animal and nature lovers are sure to enjoy. Also, I like that although the protagonist is established as a boy, readers can easily imagine the protagonist to be a girl if they wish. One word of caution, though: There has been a bit of controversy over this one, with some readers expressing concern over stereotypical representations of native peoples due to the use of the word “tribe.” Whether you view the book’s kids as simply a group of primitive children or something else, you might want to be mindful of possible connotations or questions,
Angel says: I love the illustrations. I love that there are several talking points and the language used in named each group of animals, I love that in the end, the main character finally finds his place.
Pam says: This book is unique. It is different from the books I have been reading, the illustrations stand out. There is a softness to the pictures and yet they are so colorful.
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
I say: This book is a wonderful, visual exploration of perspective and can do much to help children think about other’s points of view and their own perceptions. If you’re reading with a scientifically-minded kid, it can be a great jumping off point for talking to kids about how certain animals see differently (e.g., in black and white or through vibrations) than human or other animals. There’s been a lot of buzz about this one as a likely Caldecott contender.
Cheryl says: This was a good story with a good rhythm. You can do hand claps along with it to make it more interactive and exciting. The illustrations are really good, too.
This Is Not a Picture Book! by Sergio Ruzzier I say: Ruzzier’s Two Mice was one of my favorites from our Best of 2015 list, and I like this one just as much if not more. With the minimal text and quietly quirky illustrations, the book has much more to offer than one would expect at first glance. Ruzzier’s characters are always unique—much like those of the beloved Dr. Seuss, though Ruzzier’s work is more far gentle and restrained. Sweet and offbeat, This It Not a Picture Book! is a wonderful picture book, from endpaper to endpaper (just pick it up and you’ll see what I mean).
Monty says: This is a cute story perfect for teaching about reading and how it helps you learn new things.
Allison says: The illustrations are superb! And even though the author is better known for wriiting for older readers, the book isn’t overly texty, instead focusing on the clues in the text and illustrations to make the points. I love the spirit of the character, and his yearning to be himself. The sky is the limit!
We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen
I say: I love the deadpan humor and visual cues Klassen uses in his hat books. This one shares many similarities with the other two wonderful books in the trilogy, but with a fun Western feel and a new moral. The result is a surprisingly sweet story about friendship and resisting temptation.
Pam says: So much is expressed in so few words. There is only one hat, but two turtles. Klassen is able to resolve the issue in such a way that it brings out the true meaning of friendship.
I say: This is a quiet tale about easy companionship, working toward a goal, and subtle similarities. The white cat and his pursuit of knowledge helped the monk to find joy and purpose in his plain, dark room. The typography and illustrations are perfectly suited to the story, and the watercolor spread at the end is lovely. Younger children may not make all of the connections without adult guidance, but they will likely enjoy the cat’s adventures (unless—SPOILER ALERT!— they’re traumatized by the mouse’s capture).
I say: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. This story has a great message and the text and illustrations work together to create drama and excitement. I love the colors and 3D paper-doll effect in the illustrations. Older readers will appreciate the back matter info.
I say: This nonfiction/fiction hybrid does a great job of portraying the diversity and controlled chaos of a large airport without overwhelming. There’s a Where’s Waldo aspect in following the progress of Monkey as well as hunting down funny additions to the scene, like the woman in the heavy parka and scarf and the characters dressed like the Wright Brothers. There’s lots of opportunity to talk about where they might be traveling to or from, or why they’re going. I liked how the calm recitation of info contrasted with the little sister’s moments of panic about Monkey (which might mirror a child’s anxiety about the airport).
Cheryl says: I really liked this book. At first it can seem very busy, but then you begin to enjoy the details. I like that the pictures are telling several stories along with the informational aspects about an airport.
Pam says: The illustrations are beautiful. Each page is a beautiful work of art. They tell an emotional story. The rhyme scheme adds to the story. This was the life of a slave. It was a life that was repeated week after week. This was the rhythm of their life.
Giant Squid by Candace Fleming, illus, by Eric Rohmann
I say: Marvelous artwork creates an eerie, haunting picture that is echoed in the poetic text. Haunting, exciting, mysterious. Brilliant. *BCPL copies are on order*
The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes retold by Duncan Tonatiuh
I say: Tonatiuh’s stylized art is even more gorgeous and dynamic here than usual, probably because the flattened, Aztec-influenced illustrations are so perfectly suited to the story, a retelling of a Mesoamerican legend. The story itself is bittersweet—as so many legends are—but also very compelling and ultimately triumphant.
I say: This is a wonderful true story to encourage children’s artistic aspirations and to promote understanding of less traditionally “pretty” art styles. The book also does a fantastic job of dealing with sensitive issues with relatable language and expressions. And the illustrations are dynamic, bold, and perfectly reflective of the subject.
I say: This book is light on actual fact/detail except for the appendix-like end, but that is perfect for the short attention spans of toddlers. Yet the appendix helpfully provides the info older readers might be looking for or that parents may need to answer curious kiddos’ barrage of questions. I also like the illustration style and the rhythm of the text. Great for animal lovers.
Angel says: This is a good book for learning about animals that live on the African Savanna. There are just enough facts that children can learn about the animals but not be overwhelmed with information.
Pam says: The question at the end—”What will we do with THEIR GREAT GIFT?”—really makes a person stop and think. What a wonderful conversation that could evolve from this book. Not only does it make you think about the cultural differences we see in each other, but it also reminds us that we have ancestors that went through the same sort of things.
I say: This is a classic never-give-up story, only it’s true and about the inventor of a toy every kid is familiar with. That’s awesome right there, but the digital illustrations are also fantastic. Budding inventors will soak it up, from Lonnie’s childhood tinkering to his triumph with the Super Soaker. But the best part is the joy Lonnie consistently finds in creating and inventing, whether he’s commercially successful or not.
I say: Adorable. This book introduces new vocabulary through the context of synonyms so that kids can easily decipher the meanings, and it also teaches about math and sharing. There’s a great use of humor, with engaging text and standout illustrations. I’m loving this new Elephant & Piggie spin-off series!
Monty says: I enjoyed this beginning reader book and believe children will also. The story is cute and teaches the importance of listening and following directions. The illustrations are colorful and fun and add much to the story.
Allison says: This reminds me of Frog and Toad and their adventures. I like the illustrations, which will keep kids busy, as well as the way the text appears for beginning readers. There is a little vocabulary here as well, and concepts old and new to entice children.
I say: What a fantastic way to teach kids a little history while holding their interest and helping them strengthen reading skills. Slightly more advanced beginning readers who prefer nonfiction over fiction will get a kick out of this one!
Monty says: The personification of the grass with each blade having its own personality adds to the humor and will keep children’s attention along with the large repetitive words. This is a great beginning reader book!
I say: I just love Dory and her big imagination. In her latest escapades, Dory struggles with the idea of reading since she’s always so busy making up her own stories. Her reluctance may be familiar to many kids, but her journey will have kids proud of using their own reading super power. I hope there will be many, many more in this series so I can buy them all for my niece when she’s ready for chapter books (assuming I can wait that long!).
I say: This is a fantastic early chapter book for boys who pride themselves in being tough, though girls might enjoy too. The story makes good use of repetition and irony to keep the kids feeling confident and engaged. The book is especially strong in its realistic depiction of a sibling relationship—even if the characters are “hood” rats—and the author does a fabulous job of including hints of more serious family issues without making it the focus of the story. The illustrations compliment the text perfectly without distracting from it.
I say: This is a really, really good easy chapter book. It’s longer than some, but it’s broken down into easily digestible sections and chapters. There’s a great overarching theme about Max becoming accustomed to the new living situation, but each “weekend” section can stand on its own as well. Although the reality of divorce or separation lurks in the background, the story stays very upbeat and never feels issue driven. Laced with humor and the adventure to be found in everyday situations, this is a wonderful portrait of a loving and deepening relationship between a father and son.