Picture Books are for Everyone: A Holiday List

Picture books aren't just for kids anymore, and don't think you even have to kids to delight in their riches. Of course, they still make great gifts for the pre-literate set, but readers of all ages will find a lot to appreciate in this selection of some of the most wonderful picture books of the year. 

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Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, by Linda Bailey and Julia Sarda

About the book: How does a story begin? Sometimes it begins with a dream, and a dreamer. Mary is one such dreamer, a little girl who learns to read by tracing the letters on the tombstone of her famous feminist mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and whose only escape from her strict father and overbearing stepmother is through the stories she reads and imagines. Unhappy at home, she seeks independence, and at the age of sixteen runs away with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, another dreamer. Two years later, they travel to Switzerland where they meet a famous poet, Lord Byron. On a stormy summer evening, with five young people gathered around a fire, Byron suggests a contest to see who can create the best ghost story. Mary has a waking dream about a monster come to life. A year and a half later, Mary Shelley's terrifying tale, Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus, is published—a novel that goes on to become the most enduring monster story ever and one of the most popular legends of all time.

A riveting and atmospheric picture book about the young woman who wrote one of the greatest horror novels ever written and one of the first works of science fiction, Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is an exploration of the process of artistic inspiration that will galvanize readers and writers of all ages.

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Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

About the book: The bold story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race and was depicted in the film Hidden Figures.

You've likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do you know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home?

As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted the steps on the road, the number of dishes and spoons she washed in the kitchen sink, everything! Boundless, curious, and excited by calculations, young Katherine longed to know as much as she could about math, about the universe.

From Katherine's early beginnings as a gifted student to her heroic accomplishments as a prominent mathematician at NASA, Counting on Katherine is the story of a groundbreaking American woman who not only calculated the course of moon landings but, in turn, saved lives and made enormous contributions to history.

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Team Steve, by Kelly Collier

About the book: It's time for the annual Race-a-thon, and Steve the horse is excited! He knows he'll win. He wins every year! And no wonder, Steve's body is built for running. He's got a big chest for deep breaths, powerful hindquarters to propel him forward and the longest legs in the forest. But when he goes to sign up, Steve finds out the rules have changed, and his confidence starts to waver. Because this year, the Race-a-thon is going to be a relay race, which means all runners must compete in teams. And Steve's on a team with the slowest runners in the forest: Turtle, Duck and Snail! Is it possible that Steve could lose the Race-a-thon for the first time ever?

This delightful picture book story from Kelly Collier about the lovable—if sometimes self-absorbed—horse named Steve is laugh-out-loud funny. Every page features humorous and cleverly designed interplay between the illustrations and commentary, as well a few definitions (such as powerful hindquarters: “That means strong bum muscles”) that provide vocabulary enrichment. The humor and the edge-of-the-seat description of the race make this a fantastic read-aloud pick. It also works as a great discussion starter on the topic of sportsmanship and on the character education skill of teamwork.

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A West Coast Summer, illustrated by Carol Evans, by Caroline Woodward

About the book: Pairing two dozen of Carol Evans’s wonderful watercolours with a lilting rhyming story by Caroline Woodward, A West Coast Summer tells of a timeless, idyllic season where “Sea salt in the air floats everywhere / and cedars smell so sweet beside the shore.” Children race bikes along sand flats, search under logs and in tide pools for tiny creatures, jig at the dock for herring, dance at a totem raising ceremony, pick berries, make memories and leave footprints in the sand.

Evans’s illustrations capture the jubilation of children exploring the seashore, inspiring young readers to take their own journey to the sea to discover who or what waits for them in the Pacific Northwest—and learn that the best memories are those shared with family and friends.

Readers of all ages will enjoy this charming collaboration, sure to become a West Coast children’s classic.

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Everybody’s Different on EveryBody Street, by Sheree Fitch and Emma Fitzgerald

About the book: If ever you go travelling
On EveryBody Street
You'll see EveryBody's Different
Than EveryOne you meet

Sheree Fitch's playful words lead you into this beautiful children's book and invite you to celebrate our gifts, our weaknesses, our differences, and our sameness. Fitch displays her wit and mastery of words in quick, rollicking rhymes that are complemented by Emma Fitzgerald's lively illustrations. EveryBody's Different on EveryBody Street was originally produced in 2001 as a fundraiser to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Festival of Trees in support of the Nova Scotia Hospital and to raise awareness for mental illness and addiction.
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Mustafa, by Marie Louise Gay

About the book: Mustafa and his family traveled a long way to reach their new home. Some nights Mustafa dreams about the country he used to live in, and he wakes up not knowing where he is. Then his mother takes him out to the balcony to see the moon—the same moon as in their old country. In the park, Mustafa sees ants and caterpillars and bees—they are the same, too. He encounters a “girl-with-a-cat,” who says something in a language that he can’t understand. He watches an old lady feeding birds and other children playing, but he is always looking in from the outside and he feels that he is invisible. But one day, the girl-with-the-cat beckons to him, and Mustafa begins to become part of his new world.

Marie-Louise Gay’s remarkable ability to write and illustrate from the perspective of a young child is movingly exhibited in this gentle, thoughtful story about coming to feel at home in a new country.

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Hotel Fantastic, by Thomas Gibault

About the book: Hotel Fantastic is a destination like no other. From superheroes and dragons to monsters and aliens—everyone is welcome. Whether you're a robot needing to recharge or a giant looking for extra legroom, the suites here are designed to cater to each guest's needs. Feeling hungry? Dine at the hotel's world-famous restaurant among princesses and pirates. Need a workout? A fully equipped gym and rooftop swimming pool serve beings of all shapes and sizes. And rest assured that your safety and security are a top priority—an elite strike team is always at the ready. Pay no attention to the rumors you may have heard—there's certainly no horrible creature threatening to attack the hotel at any moment...

Thomas Gibault's wild picture book invites children into a fantastic world filled with unexpected characters. The rich, bright, one-of-a-kind illustrations are laugh-out-loud funny and encourage visual literacy—there's something different and new to discover with every perusal. And the surprising twist ending will inspire repeat readings as children search for clues sprinkled throughout the story. Based on the vivid imagination of one boy, this is a book that beautifully showcases the wonders of imaginative play and encourages play-based learning. Also, many young children will identify with the boy's antagonistic relationship with his sister.

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Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World, by James Gladstone, illustrated by Christy Lundy

About the book: 1968 was a year of unrest: many nations were at war. People marched for peace, fairness, and freedom. At the same time, the Apollo 8 crew was about to go farther into space than anyone had gone before—to the moon.

As they surveyed the moon’s surface, astronauts aboard Apollo 8 looked up just when Earth was rising out of the darkness of space. They saw the whole planet—no countries, no borders. The photograph they took, Earthrise, had a profound effect when published widely back on Earth, galvanizing the environmental movement, changing the way people saw our single, fragile home planet, and sparking hope during a year of unrest.

This important and timely picture book is publishing to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission, telling the story behind the photograph, both inside the spaceship and back on Earth. Text includes dialogue pulled from NASA’s Apollo 8 transcript, drawing readers into the iconic moment Earth was photographed from space. An author’s note at the end explains more about the photograph, the Apollo 8 mission, and how Earthrise went on to inspire Earth Day.

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Africville, by Shauntay Grant and Eva Campbell

About the book: When a young girl visits the site of Africville, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the stories she’s heard from her family come to mind. She imagines what the community was once like—the brightly painted houses nestled into the hillside, the field where boys played football, the pond where all the kids went rafting, the bountiful fishing, the huge bonfires. Coming out of her reverie, she visits the present-day park and the sundial where her great- grandmother’s name is carved in stone, and celebrates a summer day at the annual Africville Reunion/Festival.

Africville was a vibrant Black community for more than 150 years. But even though its residents paid municipal taxes, they lived without running water, sewers, paved roads and police, fire-truck and ambulance services. Over time, the city located a slaughterhouse, a hospital for infectious disease, and even the city garbage dump nearby. In the 1960s, city officials decided to demolish the community, moving people out in city dump trucks and relocating them in public housing.

Today, Africville has been replaced by a park, where former residents and their families gather each summer to remember their community.

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The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen and Sandy Nichols

About the book: Every Sunday morning, no matter the weather, Eli could count on Zaida to bring bagels from Merv's Bakery. Eli loved the time they spent together enjoying their favorite treats. “Warm. Chewy. Salty,” Eli thought. “Bagels were the best thing about Sunday.” But one Sunday, Zaida didn't come. He had fallen at Merv's and “hurt his tuches,” and the doctor said Zaida had to rest at home for two whole weeks. This meant Eli had no Sunday morning bagels. And neither did Zaida's friends, who had been receiving their own weekly deliveries from Zaida. Will they all go hungry for bagels on Sunday? Or is there something Eli can do?

Award-winning author Andrew Larsen's picture book story offers a gently humorous take on the special bond between a boy and his grandfather and the simple ritual that looms so large in their lives. It also highlights a terrific character education lesson about how a young child can take responsibility and, with a little initiative, help a family member in need. With a blend of retro and contemporary styles, Sandy Nichols's softly colored illustrations cleverly convey the story's timelessness and capture Eli's diverse neighborhood. This book will spark wonderful discussions about family traditions and community. A mini glossary and pronunciation guide for the Yiddish words that are sprinkled throughout the story (like mensch and oy) provides an opportunity to learn about the many words we use in English that come from other languages, and to explore the connections between culture and language.

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Deep Underwater, by Irene Luxbacher

About the book: Sophia bravely dives down to discover the secrets under the sea. She encounters beautiful fish and floating forests. Farther down, the dark water is full of tentacles and treasures. Deep underwater, she is never alone. Do you dare dive down after her?

The ocean is full of endless possibilities in this dreamy, imagistic story from acclaimed author / illustrator Irene Luxbacher. Her otherworldly paintings show colorful fish, rippling seawater and the secrets to be found at the bottom of the ocean. Sophia’s journey will linger with readers long after the return to shore.

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

About the book: Here is the life of iconic fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who as a little girl in Rome, was told by her own mamma that she was brutta. Ugly. So she decided to seek out beauty around her, and found it everywhere. What is beauty? Elsa wondered. She looked everywhere for beauty until something inside of Elsa blossomed, and she became an artist with an incredible imagination. Defining beauty on her own creative terms, Schiaparelli worked hard to develop her designs, and eventually bloomed into an extraordinary talent who dreamed up the most wonderful dresses, hats, shoes and jewelry. Why not a shoe for a hat? Why not a dress with drawers? And she invented a color: shocking pink! Her adventurous mind was the key to her happiness and success—and is still seen today in her legacy of wild imagination. Daring and different, Elsa Schiaparelli used art to make fashion, and it was quite marvelous.

Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad, the dynamic duo who created the critically acclaimed Julia, Child, team up again to bring to life the childhood memories and the inspiring milestones of the legendary Elsa Schiaparelli. With its warm, lyrical text and enchanting illustrations, Bloom shows readers how ingenuity, vision and self doubt all made Schiaparelli truly beautiful. A gift for her older fans and younger audiences who have yet to discover her genius, Bloom is sure to be an enthralling classic.

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Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets, by Sara O’Leary and Jacob Grant

About the book: Did you know that chipmunks love to stay up past their bedtime? Or that dragons cry at happy endings? I bet you'd never have guessed that iguanas sometimes get homesick at sleepovers.

Sara O'Leary pulls back the curtain on the animal world and gives us absolutely charming little one-line "facts" about an animal for each letter of the alphabet. Kids will love to see their own quirks reflected in these adorably-rendered creatures, and perhaps will be comforted to know that, just like them, narwhals can be perfectly happy all on their own and quail also get tired of being told to be quiet.

This is more than just an alphabet book—it is a charming, hilarious and touching look at the diversity of personalities in the world, worth many, many re-reads.

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A World of Kindness, by Pajama Press

About the book: In a series of simple yet evocative questions, this impactful book asks children how they will show kindness and consideration for others. Written by the editors of Pajama Press, and illustrated by celebrated Pajama Press artists, these stunning pages inspire meaningful discussion and storytelling about the understated yet powerful ways in which children might influence the world around them. A World of Kindess goes beyond mere rhetoric to examine, in a child-friendly way, everyday social interactions where a kind word or act could have a transformative affect on others.

Royalties from the proceeds of this book will be donated to Think Kindness. thinkkindness.org

Many of the original images in this book have been donated by the artists. The cover art was created and donated by award-winning author-illustrator Suzanne Del Rizzo.

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Book Cover Back to the Future

Back to the Future, by Kim Smith

About the book: Great Scott! The hilarious hit movie from the 1980s is now a wild and wacky picture book perfect for kids of any age!

More than 30 years after its theatrical debut, Back to the Future remains a perennial favorite in classrooms and at family movie nights across the country. This story illustrated by Kim Smith captures all the classic moments of the film through fun and kid-friendly illustrations. Follow teenage Marty McFly as he travels from 1985 to 1955, meets his parents (as teenagers), and teaches his father how to stand up to bullies. Complete with a time-traveling DeLorean, a mad scientist companion, and a lightning-fueled finale, this is the perfect book for kids, parents, and anyone looking to go back in time.

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Mi'kmaw Animals, by Alan Syliboy

About the book: Alan Syliboy, author of The Thundermaker, showcases his vibrant artwork in this new baby board book. Colourful images depicting Canadian animals like moose, whales, and caribou, and more makes this vibrant book a perfect introduction to the Mi’kmaw language. With English and Mi’kmaq translations for the animal names on every page, babies will enjoy the vivid paintings while they learn new words and discover a bit of Mi’kmaw culture in a fun way.

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They Say Blue, by Jillian Tamaki

About the book: Caldecott and Printz Honor-winning illustrator Jillian Tamaki brings us a poetic exploration of colour and nature from a young child’s point of view. They Say Blue follows a young girl as she contemplates colours in the known and the unknown, in the immediate world and the world beyond what she can see. The sea looks blue, yet water cupped in her hands is as clear as glass. Is a blue whale blue? She doesn’t know—she hasn’t seen one.

Stunningly beautiful illustrations flow from one spread to the next, as time passes and the imagination takes hold. The world is full of colour, and mystery too, in this first picture book from a highly acclaimed artist.

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Sugar and Snails, by Sarah Tsiang and Sonja Wimmer

About the book: Who says that little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice?” Or that boys are made of “frogs and snails and puppy dog tails?” What if girls were made of “boats and snails and dinosaur tails?” And little boys of “flowers and swings and bumblebee wings?”

When the traditional rhyme just doesn’t seem to fit the boy and girl visiting their grandpa, he comes up with a list of unusual alternatives. Soon the children are coming up with their own versions that challenge the old stereotypes with a whimsical list of ingredients. To add to the new quirky version are lively illustrations that beautifully capture the children’s imaginative flights of fancy. Young readers will delight in the small details of Sonja Wimmer’s vibrant art, and be inspired to think of their own silly examples of what ingredients they might be made of themselves.

December 17, 2018
Books mentioned in this post
A West Coast Summer

A West Coast Summer

edition:Hardcover
More Info
Earthrise

Earthrise

Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World
edition:Hardcover
More Info
Bloom

Bloom

A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Julie Morstad
edition:Hardcover
More Info
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