The array of talented writers and artists producing books for children – and the subgroup of gifted souls who both write AND do their own illustrations – is truly impressive. Here are just a few of the marvelous books from publishers that will enjoy a place of honor on any child’s bookshelf.
• Holiday/religious theme: “Little Santa” (Dial Books, $17.99) from author-illustrator Jon Agee concocts a delightful origin tale for Santa Claus, as the youngest of seven children born to the Claus family, miserable at the North Pole and dreaming of moving to Florida. Light, whether cast by candles of a Menorah, lights on a Christmas tree or the enlightenment from a book, is the theme of “Dusk” (Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.99), a lovely picture book of a boy and his grandfather out for a wintry walk from author-illustrator Uri Shulevitz. A moose camped out in the backyard and the vivid Alaska setting make for a charming story in “Hanukkah in Alaska” (illustrated by Stacey Schuett; Henry Holt, $16.99), the picture book debut of Alaska author Barbara Brown. Amy Ehrlich weaves the familiar stories of the Torah – of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph and his coat of many colors, Moses and the Ten Commandments – into one continuous narrative in “With a Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah” (Candlewick Press, 188 pages, $29.99), a gorgeous volume with striking full-page paintings by Daniel Nevins.
• Very young children: “Faces for Baby” (curated by Yana Peel, Templar Books, $21.99) and based on young babies’ fascination with the human face, is another stunning board book of images by contemporary and modern artists including Donald Baechler, Pablo Picasso and Chuck Close and includes a mirror at the end.
“Run Home, Little Mouse” (by German author-illustrator Britta Teckentrup, Kids Can Press, $14.95) is the simple tale of a tiny mouse braving the scary night, with cutouts in the sturdy board book pages revealing the glowing eyes of a fox, a weasel, an owl. Nicholas Blechman, art director of the New York Times Book Review, makes his debut in picture books with “Night Light” (Scholastic, $16.99), a mix of guessing game and counting book with die-cut pages revealing the lights on a train, helicopter, fire truck and more. Wee ones will enjoy Marc Brown’s “Playtime Rhymes” (Little, Brown, $18) a collection of 20 finger rhymes with charming illustrations (including small images showing the actions that accompany the rhymes) from the creator of the “Arthur” series.
• Counting books: Anthony Browne offers a marvelous parade of primates in his counting book “One Gorilla” (Candlewick Press, $16.99), with each double-page illustration more gorgeous than the next, starting with the lone gorilla as No. 1. Louise Yates offers counting book as bedtime story in “Dog Loves Counting” (Alfred A. Knopf, $17.99), the sweet story of a book-loving dog who can’t fall asleep.
• Poetry: Natural science is turned inside out and upside down in “Stardines Swim Across the Sky” (HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 4 to 8) pairing the wondrously witty creature poems by Jack Prelutsky (“panteaters,” “slobsters,” “tattlesnakes”) with the striking three-dimensional collages and shadow boxes of illustrator Carin Berger. “Poems to Learn by Heart” (edited by Caroline Kennedy, illustrated by Jon J. Muth; Disney-Hyperion, 192 pages $19.99, preschool and up) is a marvelous collection of poems, diverse in tone, length and subject matter, from the silliness of Ogden Nash and Edward Lear, to Langston Hughes’ “Personal” to Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee” to Dudley Randall’s “Ballad of Birmingham.”
• Picture books : Imaginations will run wild with graphic artist Paul Thurlby’s “Wildlife” (Templar Books, $17.99), a stunning collection of his whimsical signature-style wildlife posters with unusual true facts about each animal.
Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner offers an amusing wordless picture book of a haughty cat who spurns his toys in favor of something rather surprising in “Mr. Wuffles” (Clarion Books, $17.99). From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt comes a lovely 30th anniversary edition of Caldecott winner Chris Van Allsburg’s “The Wreck of the Zephyr 30th” ($18.99), the mysterious tale of a sailboat found wrecked in the cliffs of a seaside village. A tiger rediscovers his wild self as he sheds his starched clothes and set ways and learns to walk on all fours in author-illustrator Peter Brown’s “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild” (Little, Brown, $18), an amusing book about finding your true self.
The delightfully whimsical “If You Want to see a Whale” (by Julie Fogliano, with pictures by Erin E. Stead; Roaring Book Press, $16.99) is a sweet lesson about patience and discovering the unexpected as it gently instructs what not to do if you wish to see a whale.
The gifted writer Paul Fleischmann and gifted illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline join forces for a poetic and poignant picture book of the Italian immigrant experience in America in “The Matchbox Diary” (Candlewick Press, $16.99), in which an elderly man shares his childhood mementos including an olive pit, a bottle cap, a ticket with his great-granddaughter.
• Nonfiction: Award-winning author illustrator Brian Floca offers a soaring lyrical narrative of the American experience and the Western landscape in “Locomotive” (Richard Jackson/Atheneum, $17.99, ages 4 to 10), a gorgeously illustrated book, written as a poem, following a family traveling westward on the newly finished transcontinental railroad in the summer of 1869. (Front and back endpapers detail the building of the railroad and how a train runs; remove the book jacket to reveal a gorgeous painting of the bison grazing, a poignant reminder that railroads killed the bison and altered forever the lives of the Plains Indians.)
The stunning “The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest – and Most Surprising – Animals on Earth” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 208 pages, $21.99) from Caldecott Honor winner Steve Jenkins is a gold mine of fascinating facts about more than 300 animals adorned with Jenkins’ stunning paper collage illustrations. The sing-sing wordplay of Brenda Guiberson’s text and Gennady Spirin’s spectacular double-page paintings bring to life the diverse habits and habitat of frogs of the world in the gorgeous picture book “Frog Song” (Henry Holt, $17.99).
• Classics revisited:
From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt comes a new edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” ($30) with gorgeous pencil, ink and watercolor illustrations by Jemima Catlin. From Harper Design comes an unabridged edition of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” ($18.99) with new illustrations by skateboarding world designer Michael Sieben, whose work is a bit reminiscent of W.W. Denslow’s original color plates. Award-winning English artist David Roberts brings to new life Toad, Rat and friends with his whimsical illustrations for a stunning new edition of the Kenneth Grahame classic “The Wind in the Willows” (Candlewick Press, $24.99).
• Middle-grade readers:
From Canadian publisher Tundra books comes “Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World” (128 pages, $29) by Grammy Award-winner Robbie Robertson with music industry veterans Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson and Jared Levine, chronicling the lives and music, the tragedy and triumphs, of 27 musical legends, from Chuck Berry to Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. This oversize volume features gorgeous portraits of the artists, a timeline and two CDs of a single track by each artist “the result of the four of us … debating, laughing and arguing for hours.”
The mirrored cover opens to reveal an interactive treasury of optical illusions, wordplay games, math tricks, logic puzzles and more in “Mind Benders: Brain-boggling tricks, puzzles and illusions” (DK Books, 32 pages, $19.99).
Local references, including the Blizzard of ’77, add interest for Western New York readers in Canisius College professor Eric Gansworth’s fine coming-of-age novel, “If I Ever Get Out of Here” (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, $17.99), a beautifully written tale of friendship between a boy from the Tuscarora Reservation and the son of an Air Force officer.
Jean Westmoore is The News’ children’s book reviewer.