I mean, seriously.
This holiday has started off with a bang, not a whimper. And not even a bang. More like a building collapsing, orchestra of cymbals clashing, largest thunderstorm in the history of the world CLANG! I honestly believe this is the first time I’ve sat down since Thanksgiving.
And no matter your denomination, the end of the year is fun for booklovers for one, nerdy, very specific reason.
End of the year lists.
Whether you love them or hate them, admit that you most definitely read them. I mean, how could we not? For one sweet month, the entire world is a book lover interested in ranking the year’s greatest reads point by point.
Well, we here at RoscoeBooks had some major problems with the New York Times’ list of notable books for 2015. Their list of 100 adult titles left something to be desired. But their kids selections were, pardon my condescension, but pretty darn laughable.
Part of this could be because, as the NYT stipulates, these books are “judged purely on artistic merit.” But isn’t that an impossible measure of a great picture book? These books can hardly be judged like something in a museum. Picture books convey something far more intimate and organic. These books represent our homes, our families, our loves, our fears, and in the best cases, ourselves. When you read a children’s book as a child, you are in the process of becoming the your self. When you reread a children’s book as an adult, you remember what it felt like to be in that invaluable act of creating.
Now, obviously we’re not the merit police (but if someone would like to nominate us, we’ll gladly accept the honor). Still, the titles selected by the NYT left us cold… many of the titles we had actually passed over because we didn’t think they would reach kids. And the ones that we do have in store might be fine, but not the best of the year.*
We’ve worked pretty hard to familiarize ourselves with what your kids want to read, so we thought we’d throw our hat into this ring. Now this is not a condemnation of the books chosen; rather, we feel very strongly that the fiercest, most vibrant picture books of 2015 were notably absent from the list.
This is going to be the first of a two part “Best of 2015” post, with fiction to follow. But first! Put on your propeller Beanie and let’s dive right in. These are the picture books that we thought were REALLY the best of 2015 (listed in no particular order).
Wonder by Faye Hanson
This spectacular picture book shows a young boy with his head, quite literally, up in the clouds. That enough would make us ooo and ahh, but three quarters of the way through, this picture book dissolves into full paged, silent spreads of fantastical imagination. A great illustrator depicting a great message in a powerful way.
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
Princess Pinecone is a warrior. And like a warrior, she wants a REAL War Horse for her birthday. When her parents buy her an adorably plump, flatulent pony, Princess Pinecone has no idea how she’s ever going to win in the Battle Royale… until she realizes that Vikings and tough guys like cute, farting ponies just as much as everyone else. A cozy take on gender norms with Beaton’s traditional wry humor for parents. We read this at story time and I think it did better with parents than it did with kids…but just barely!
Home by Carson Ellis
I’ve written about this gorgeous book before, so I won’t go into too much detail about just why this book was so awesome and unique. What I truly love about this book is that it presents home as something constantly in flux, different to everyone. Even if you don’t go home to a mother and father with a plate of warm cookies every day, that makes no difference. What matters is the feeling of home, not the place.
The Baseball Player and the Walrus by Ben Loory, illustrated by Alex Latimer
Another book that I’ve written about before, but a seriously overlooked gem of 2015. Like I tell customers when I describe the book, “it’s ostensibly a book about a baseball player who wants a walrus, but it’s really about discovering what you love in life, and following your passions.” I love Latimer’s intricate, map-like illustrations which complement the at times absurdist narrative. This is the sweetest baseball player and walrus combo we’ve ever met, and a great read aloud!
The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin
An excellent addition to the Nancy Tillman-Deb Frasier genre of books bought for newborns that work just as well for new parents. Martin’s dreamy illustrations sparkle. Her kids are both courageous and cute. This book is all about inspiring bravery, wildness, and, most of all, kindness in your new member of the family.
Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett
We love books about looking fear in the eyes and saying “you don’t scare me!” Well, this is one of those books. Orion is afraid of the dark, but the dark is a big, blubbering friendly dude who just wants a friend. This book has gorgeous illustrations, a clever concept, and a fun paper cut out element.
Swan: the Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, Illustrated by Julie Morstad
A beautiful next step for devotees of Angelina Ballerina (ahem…not that I would know…), Snyder and Morstad do a wonderful job of depicting a fascinating woman’s life. Pavlova is portrayed not just as a dancer, but as a hard-working, passionate artist devoted to making her dreams a reality for both her, and lovers of arts everywhere. The artwork is to die for, but the poetic, haunting text is the real show stealer.
We Forgot Brock! By Carter Goodrich
This book is one of my nominations for most hilarious children’s book of the year, thanks largely to Goodrich’s brilliant illustrations of Brock, the imaginary friend with the mostest (if by mostest, you mean machetes and a great tiny top hat). Imaginary friends were hot this year, but Goodrich made a real attempt to communicate that into the beauty of all types of friendship, be it with your parents, the girl next door, or a large, mustachioed man named… Brock.
Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) by Josh Schneider
Who doesn’t love a bedtime book? Schneider has created a fun, fanciful, and gorgeous addition to the canon. Fred’s jungle companions are all getting ready for bed, while Fred is doing pretty much the EXACT opposite. I love this book because it will get your kid’s imagination racing, before gently putting them to sleep with the exhaustive efforts of Fred. In terms of bedtime stories, it’s WAY less creepy than that Swedish book FORCING your kids to visit the sandman…
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
How can this book NOT have been on the NYT list? Not only is Daywalt one of the funniest children’s book writers today, but Jeffers’ illustrations are just as innovative the second time around. This is the type of book that is at the top of every list: best selling, best story, best sequel, best read aloud… Just the best. Really. When I started asking RoscoeBookers which books should be on the list, someone responded, “You mean, besides the Day the Crayons Came Home?” Exactly.
ONE QUICK NOTE:
*We love Mac Barnett and Emily Jenkins. However, I have to say that both of these picture books are not their most exciting offering. Plus, there are so many great, great, GREAT undersung picture books out this year! But that’s just our opinion! Let us know what you think!