Friday, December 24, 2010

Favourite children's books of 2010

Picture books:

Over at the castle by Boni Ashburn - I'm quite fond of the song "Over in the meadow" and so when I saw this title released, I had to check it out. Not only is it an inventive, original variation on the tune, but it is genuinely very funny and has an excellent cast of characters to diversify a child's vocabulary. For instance (sing along with me now!) "Sauté," says the chef; "Flambé," said the six...or "Plan," says the prisoner, "We plan," said the five... (rats, that is, of course!). There is the requisite dragon in the tale, too, playing a very important role (and he is, if I am correct, the dragon from Ashburn's previous Hush, little dragon). Great for early grades still willing to listen to a story but old enough to begin to understand the setting. Wonderful illustrations.

Art & Max by David Wiesner - I love me some good art books for kids. This one is brilliant, and postmodern, and just plain strange. Serious artist Arthur is plagued with "beginner student" Max: a creative idea by the latter takes both lizards, um, artists, on a topsy-turvy journey through artistic influences such as surrealism and Pointillism. Dude won three Caldecotts. Not to be messed with.

The heart and the bottle by Oliver Jeffers - 52% of all children's books published in a given year involve a dead parent. Or at least it seems that way. This book is about the love between a little girl and her father: her father shares his wonder at the secrets of the world with her.
He always answers her questions. When we observe his chair empty one day, we know that he has died; we watch the girl be so bewildered by her grief that she takes out her heart and puts it in a bottle to keep it safe from further damage. Carrying it around, she is insulated from hurt, but also from seeing any real colour in the world; besides, it's really heavy (see right)! And so she decides to take it back out, .... but can't figure out how. *Warning: just reading the reviews of this book makes me cry.

Brontorina by James Howe - .. because how could you resist a brontosaurus who wants to be a ballerina? Gravity just isn't on her side. I love how the book manages to convey Brontorina's sheer size: on only several pages is she fully shown. Most pages just have half of her, or her neck or feet, displayed, with tiny ballerinas surrounding her, perplexed. Of course, the problem, you see, is not that Brontorina is too big; it's that the dance studio is simply too small.

My Dog is As Smelly As Dirty Socks: And Other Funny Family Portraits by Hanoch Piven - Shout-out to Rideau patrons: this was "seen via patron hold." In other words, I was keepin' it real, as my uncle says, helping out shelving the holds, when I came across this title and reserved it for myself. It was a total hit with a local Grade 1 class. Using a children's drawing of his family as a starting point, the book explores what is *not* shown by the drawing: the child's mum, for instance, is "as soft as the softest FLUFF and as bright as the brightest LIGHT." The close-up of the mother is then transformed to include some fluff and a light bulb. Piven uses real household items to embellish the art in the book, and half the fun is in figuring out what he's used, and figuring out what *you* would use and what it would "say" about the person you atre illustrating. Talk about an underhanded way to introduce the concept of a simile to students! This book would also make a great starting point for a craft project... and of course an enterprising team of librarians has already beat me to it!

Middle grades:

Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo - I blogged at length about this title back in October. It's a great early reader, because the text is simple and many nuances are conveyed in the rich illustrations. When I first used it for a booktalk, [kids, don't do this at home!] I was doing my prep last-minute and needed extra copies STAT, so I called a few branches to ask them to pop their copies in the inter-office mail to me. One of my favourite children's programmers answered the phone at one of the branches answered, and she had just finished using Bink and Gollie for one of her classes... Sure sign that we have a winner! A great story about friendship, differences, and compromise.

Layla, Queen of Hearts by Glenda Millard - File under: Books that make you cry at work. Third-grader Layla wants to take someone to "Senior Citizens Day" at school (seriously, where are these schools?) but her grandmother died awhile ago. Her best friend Elliot's wise grandmother suggests her friend Miss Amelie, an elderly woman in dire need of a friend. Elliot's grandmother explains that Miss Amelie has some trouble remembering things, but that isn't something to be afraid of. Layla and Elliot befriend Miss Amelie, and Layla especially becomes quite sensitive to both Miss Amelie's sorrows and her moments of real joy. A very light treatment of the perils of Alzheimer disease, in which Layla seems to intuitively understand how certain sticky situations can be sorted out, with the wisdom that children sometimes have.

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz - Fairies are vicious, and conniving, and pointy. This book delivers (finally, world!) a realistic fairy. Wait, did I just say, "a realistic fairy?" Oh well.... This book hearkens back to the classics of children's literature, those fairy tales and folk stories with devious little people battling real dangers. I was always a sucker for The Tale of Two Bad Mice and Thumbelina - tiny things fascinated me immensely. Our fairy heroine here is Flory, a young night fairy "no taller than an acorn" who is a little bit, let's face it, cocky; out flying one night, her wings are torn and she finds herself no longer able to fly. Awake, and stranded, during the day, Flory is forced to learn about the daytime world and its dangers (new to her): People! Different animals! Flory's resourcefulness and ferocity is admirable, but she is also pushy: she befriends a (truthfully, rather dull) squirrel named Skuggle, and essentially bosses him around to get her way. A delightful adventure story.


The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger - Thanks for the recommendation, Jess! 6th grader Dwight is essentially a loser, and frankly rather odd, until he crafts a Yoda figure out of origami and perches it on his finger. Origami Yoda spouts words of real wisdom, and soon students who once mocked or ignored Dwight are seeking Yoda's wisdom. How can Yoda be Yoda when Dwight is so ... strange? How is it that Yoda can even offer sound advice about Dwight's problems, advice which Dwight then ignores? Is the paper Jedi Grand Master for real? Dwight's classmate Tommy writes down Yoda's story in this book, gathering testimony from other students, to attempt to establish whether Origami Yoda is the genuine article.
*Want to make your own? Get folding instructions from the author here.

The Dark Deeps (Book 2 in the steampunk series, "The Hunchback Assignments") by Arthur Slade - This series is just great fun: adventure, with a dash each of history, science, romance, and espionage. Fourteen-year old Modo (yes, a hunchback), a British secret agent who was adopted by his boss, Mr. Socrates, at a young age, continues to pursue the agents of the evil Clockwork Guild. This time, his mission leads him on a submarine voyage to unravel the underwater mystery of something called the Ictíneo.

Watching Jimmy by Nancy Hartry - Watching Jimmy is the job of his best friend, Carolyn, even before Jimmy had a mysterious accident that left him with brain damage. What Carolyn knows about this "accident," and the implications for both Jimmy and his family, is revealed over the course of this deeply moving historical novel set in Canada in 1958. This is a story about single mothers, about war, peace, regret, loyalty, and health care (yes, Tommy Douglas makes a brief appearance). Winner of the 2010 CLA Book of the Year for Children Award (BOYCA), for which I am a judge.

Previous lists: 2009, 2008.


  1. I'm behind on everything, so please excuse the lateness of this comment, but thanks for the great write-up! I'm so out of it when it comes to children's books, but I have quite a few kids to buy gifts for. Now that Knuffle Bunny has ended (sob!), I'm at a complete loss! I'll be referring to this list this year for sure!

  2. Glad you enjoyed the list! i am sad about the end of Knuffle Bunny, too... Hey, did you know Main Library has a giant Pigeon puppet? I want to marry him.