Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Culture Children's Books
All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah
Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky
Based on the middle-grade novels by Sydney Taylor, this picture book offers a sweet story of a Jewish family living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the early 20th century. Mama keeps telling Gertie, the youngest of five sisters, that she is too young to help prepare the latkes for Hanukkah. The peeler, grater, and knife are all too sharp. Angry about missing the fun, Gertie stomps off to her room and hides under the bed. That’s where Papa finds her—and soothes her hurt feelings and lets her help light the first candle on the menorah. (Ages 3-7)
I Really Want to See You, Grandma
This charming story has two characters, Yumi and her grandmother. One lives on a hill in a house with a pink roof. The other lives on a mountain in a house with an orange roof. They really want to see each other, so each sets out to visit the other, Yumi by bus and Grandma by train. But when they arrive, they’re surprised to find the other missing. The mix-ups continue with less conventional forms of transportation, depicted with simple illustrations that express their determination to see each other. As a grandma, I love this book. (Ages 3-6)
As Cycle City gathers for its annual Starlight Parade, the organizing committee realizes it has failed to deliver eight invitations. The mayor agrees to deliver them, but first he needs to find the people and their wacky cycles. Young readers will have to search for critters like Chickadee and Frog. On every page, Farrell delivers quirky characters on unique bikes. There’s the armadillo on a unicycle and a polar bear riding a gelato bike. The pages aren’t as cluttered as the ones in Where’s Waldo?, but fans of Richard Scarry’s Busytown books will feel right at home. (Ages 4-7)
There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor
Readers whose taste runs to the silly will enjoy this story about one tired man’s adventure at the Sharemore Hotel. Mr. Snore checks in and is very sleepy, but when he turns out the light, “about to lay his head upon the pillow, he heard a squeaking sound.” And thus his troubles begin. First it’s a mouse in his bed, then a pig, then a leak from the ocean room. None of these troubles surprises the bellhop, who gladly moves Mr. Snore from room to room. Kevin Hawkes’ bright acrylic and pen illustrations offer hilarious detail. (Ages 3-8)
Publishers are putting out gorgeous nonfiction books for early elementary children. In Gecko by Raymond Huber (Candlewick, 2019), a blue gecko with orange spots tries to avoid danger. The narrative (told in a large font) unfolds on alternating pages. In smaller type, the book presents additional facts. Vivid watercolor, ink, and colored pencil illustrations complement the text and decorate the pages. Interesting facts flow throughout: Did you know geckos sometimes feast on their own tails or skin?
Carol Murray’s Cricket in the Thicket (Henry Holt & Co., 2017) is a poetry book about bugs. Each short poem captures memorable facts. “Three Cheers for Jewelwing” goes like this: “I feast on mosquitoes. I eat ’em, I do. I feed on mosquitoes, and they feed on you!” Melissa Sweet’s mixed media/collage illustrations provide bright, impressionistic backdrops for more detailed drawings of bees, ticks, butterflies, spiders, and beetles. Lots of additional facts make this a feast for young nature lovers. —S.O.