From our own children's book buyer comes a stellar list of the best children's books of 2011. Consider one (or more!) as a holiday gift for the child(ren) in your life.
A hilarious twist on a classic fairy-tale formula. That's all I'll say. Ages 2-6.
Oliver Jeffers returns with another whimsical tale, this one about a boy whose kite gets stuck in a tree and throws a series of successively larger and more absurd objects (a whale! The neighbors' house!) up in attempt to liberate it. Unlike some of his earlier books, Stuck appears to have no set moral, but instead leaves room for the reader to draw their own conclusions. The quirky but classic-feeling story paired with Jeffers' distinctly wonderful visual style makes this a perfect gift for a 2-5 old.
A series of visually juxtaposed stereotypes that hinge on deep and superficial connections, which, when not entirely cute and benign, fluctuate remarkably from uncomfortably serious to uncomfortably trivial. So, for instance, the chef and the DJ are both mixing! The sleepwalker and the cave explorer are both walking in the dark! This book is beautiful and odd enough to suit the beautiful, odd minds of children. All ages.
New in board book format! This sweet little bit of visual word-play is my new favorite baby gift. The imaginative recombination of just a few elements creates something that's much more than just a sight gag. Ages 1-5.
One of the Toon Books series, comics format beginning readers. Benjamin Bear faces a series of minorly metaphysical quandaries and takes logic to its implausible extremes. Sure to entertain 4-7 year olds while developing their reading skills, but I don't know too many adults who wouldn't get a laugh out of at least a few of the gags.
My pick for the Newbery this year. When Doug is forced to move to "stupid Marysville" on account of his father's new job, he expects to be one-hundred-percent miserable. But despite the whole town's suspicion of him for a crime he didn't commit and a bully of a father and an older brother, Doug finds friends in a spunky girl named Lil, a science teacher with a with a mini rocking horse named Clarence, and a kind librarian who teaches him to draw Audubon's birds. This eccentric and vibrant cast of characters comes together brilliantly in a hilarious and heartwarming story about a boy trying to figure out just who he is, and bringing together a community in the process. Ages 9-13.
A cupcake who runs a bakery becomes infatuated with a turkish delight from afar -- how much sweeter can a graphic novel get? But on top of the sugary premise, Varon's latest deals deftly in the emotional turns (from anxiety and self-deprecation to eagerness to disappointment to satisfaction) of her characters. Her hallmark drawing style is as cute as ever, and you'll find yourself wishing you too had Eggplant for your best friend. Perfect for 7-10 but with enough sophistication that it could appeal to older readers as well. Oh, and it includes recipes!
Few middle-grade authors are such veterans as Ann M Martin, so it's no surprise that Pearl's voice is pitch-perfect and absolutely hilarious. When Pearl's grandfather moves in, because Pearl's parents deem him no longer able to live alone, Pearl is forced to move into her older sister Lexie's room. Adventures, embarrassment, and bickering ensue, of course. And though the tone of the book is light, Pearl learns some serious growing-up lessons along the way. Ages 8-11.
A collection of three illustrated surreal and melancholy parables are that take place in a dark and vividly imagined semi-future, using an almost steam-punk palette. In my favorite story (the adapted film of which won an Oscar!), a boy finds an unusual lost creature-type thing and attempts to find it a home. Tan's paintings are astoundingly haunting and beautiful. Ages 9+
Olivene Love has spent her life traveling from town to town with her father, a traveling preacher, but when she befriends a boy who's been suspected of committing a crime, her search to find out what really happened lets her find a place that really feels like home. With a Name Like Love is a mystery with wonderful characters, family, and a sense of place at its roots. Ages 8-12.
My favorite YA book of the year. It has an unusually elegant and complex structure , with two stories that don't quite intertwine until the very end (though there are hints all along). There's a lot of thematic re-iteration of disappearance and return, rebirth and second chances, written cleverly through zombie fantasies, disappearing children, and reappearing woodpeckers. A unique and engaging story about faith and community, told by a delightful narrator -- Where Things Come Back is a stellar debut. Ages 13+
I loved this book. It was about a boy living a disadvantaged life, but one of the things I liked was how the author didn't make a big deal of the fact- it was just there. It is told switching between a 3rd person narrative about the focus of our story, Travis, and a girl, Velveeta, who moves the story along through letters to someone named Calvin. It's written in a clear, true, down-to-earth manner that makes it more believable and more relatable, and the premise is simple but pure- a boy with a secret is befriended by a girl with even more of them. It's about swamps and dogs and reading and colorful scarves but mostly it's about learning, Travis' friendship with Velveeta, and how they help and complement one another.
Reviewed by: DD Klionsky. Ages 13+
Extremely well-written realistic fiction. Told in alternating narration by teenagers in two very different places – Mandy is 18 and pregnant, running away from home to the home that will adopt her baby, Jill is grieving her father and resenting her mother's plan to adopt Mandy's baby. Despite Mandy's naivete and Jill's cynicism, the two are able to learn from each other. Ages 13+
In 1941, 15 year old Lina's family is deported from their home in Lithuania and sent to a Siberian work camp. Their story is harrowing, but Lina faces their fate with a clear voice and with persistent creativity. This is an important and beautifully written debut novel about an infrequently considered period in history.