What I Read in 2016: Picture Books

I value my picture book collection the way that Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler values her files: deeply, though you wouldn’t know it by my lack of an ordered cataloging or shelving system. Here are some of the books published in 2016 that made it onto my shelves this year.

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Panda Pants  is a dialogue between a young panda and his father. The little Panda is set on a pair of pants. The father is unconvinced. The silliness is tempered by a dead-pan delivery and a touch of philosophy. Like Zen Shorts, if conceived by the Comedy Network.

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My Friend Maggie is another fantastic offering from Hannah E. Harrison. All of her books have the emotional realism of Kevin Henkes’ work and her illustrations GLOW. This book isn’t just kid-friendly, it strikes a deep, deep chord. I’m not a crier, but this book makes me tear up every darn time.

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Miss Moon lives in a beautiful, well-mannered world of dogs and dresses and boating parties that I would also love to live in. In Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess, Janet Hill’s collection of life lessons are accompanied by her distinctive oil-paintings and would be a great gift for dog lovers, graduates, or people with a taste for whimsy.

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Sara O’Leary is grand master of the list poem. In A Family is a Family is a Family she lists a wide range of families, accompanied by Qin Leng’s delicate illustrations of the small pleasures of domestic life.

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Jo Ellen Bogart’s quietly magnificent The White Cat and the Monk is an ode to work, peace, and stillness. Even non-cat lovers will admit that there is something delightful in a monk comparing his daily routine to that of his cat’s. Illustrator Sydney Smith does a great job getting into the head of a cat and demonstrates why his work keeps turning up on award lists.

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Lion Lessons is begging to be turned into a piece of theatre. A boy studies to be a lion with an actual lion. Simple, funny, genius. Jon Agee’s books are on my auto-buy list.

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Just when you thought there were no new ways to tell a first day of school story, Adam Rex comes along with the perspective of a new school building in School’s First Day of School. Christian Robinson’s bright, retro art helps make this brand new book feel like an old favourite.

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My favourite debut of the year is Ooko, by author-illustrator Esme Shapiro. Foxes abound in children’s books, but never has a fox been so sweetly delusional before. A quirky friendship story with a twist. Bonus human leg hair!

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Julia Sarda’s colour palette of rich jewel-tones and Goth-meets-Art Deco sensibility is an unexpected but brilliant pairing with Kyo Maclear’s fable about a list-making family. Maclear tends to be paired with airier, more whimsical illustrators, but The Liszts is proof that her canny text works just as well with a darker, earthier art style.

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In Scribble, child-whisperer Ruth Ohi imbues simple shapes (circle, square, and triangle) with matching personalities who are thrown for a loop (shape pun!) when scribble arrives. The book works on two levels, as both a story about learning to accept other’s differences and also as an ode to imagination.

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There will always be a desire for counting books and Lucy Ruth Cummin’s A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals adds an element of mystery and dark humour to this tried and true formula. In a post-Klassen/hat eat hat world you may think you know the twist…but DO you?

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Thanks to Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick I have always been drawn to topiaries (yes, even after The Shining). The Night Gardener features some pretty fantastic creations and captures a sense of wonder and possibility in a spare text accompanied by old-timey, sepia-toned illustrations.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Under-sung Series

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Nothing breaks my heart more than a truly outstanding series that for whatever reason does not achieve the success it deserves. As a busy reader and writer, I rarely get to sequels or subsequent books in a series. When I do, I know the series is a winner. And so I present to you ten series that are worth your consideration!

For the purposes of this post, the term series refers to at least two sequential books, and under-sung means that while most of these series are critically regarded, they exist just below the mainstream. Let’s see if we can change that!

Kiki Strike & The Bank Street Irregulars 

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If you’ve been reading this blog you KNOW I cannot get enough of these five delinquent girl scouts who solve international mysteries while also experiencing life, love and friendship in New York. (Proof here and here). If you have EVER enjoyed a Nancy Drew book, if you like a healthy dose of sass in your reading, or just love NYC, for GOODNESS SAKES pick up this series!

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

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Maryrose Wood lovingly pokes fun and also celebrates the “governess and her cheeky charges” trope in a delightfully old-fashioned yet never dry style. There is something a bit Snicket-ish in her tone, particularly in the way Wood plays with language, puns, and definitions. It doesn’t hurt that the books include spot illustrations by the unstoppable Jon Klassen.

The Montmaray Journals

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This sweeping, epic saga is exactly the kind of series I like to sink into on a Saturday afternoon, only to emerge when my tea is cold or gone. Witty teenage royal Sophie observes the odd lives of her family, the royals of Montmaray. Think I Capture the Castle meets Downton Abbey. If you have a female tween, teen, or adult who loves historical YA in your life, be a hero by gifting them this series.

Real Mermaids 

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With the exception of Ariel, I’ve never been a big mermaid fan. That being said, Canuck Helene Boudreau‘s series has always been more about relationships, puberty, and identity  (that middle grade trifecta) than mermaids. Her humour is light and the keystones of growing up (first period, first crush, first dance, etc) are spot on.

The Mary Quinn Mysteries

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Another wonderful Canadian author adds some spice to the Victorian era by imagining a secret society of female spies. Mary Quinn’s mixed heritage and mysterious youth adds depth to what would otherwise be a simple mystery series.  Y.S. Lee’s background ensures the historical details are rich and accurate.

Spud

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Thirteen year old boys can be tough customers when it comes to reading, but I have yet to meet a boy who didn’t howl with laughter over this boarding school series from a young South African author. A great blend of heart, gross-out comedy, and fun.

The Casson Family series

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I have a weakness for British middle grade, and no one does it better than Hilary McKay. The off-kilter Casson family get into all sorts of wacky drama. You’ll be so busy laughing you don’t see the emotional moments coming. Saffy’s Angel is widely considered the best of the series, but Permanent Rose is number one in my heart.

The Stanley Family Series

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Zilpha Keatley Snyder was one of my favourite childhood authors. What I loved best about these books is that they always had a mysterious or supernatural conflict that ends up having a perfectly rational explanation. They are not quite issue books, although divorce, blended families, and sibling rivalry all play big parts in the plots of this quartet, but Snyder is able to combine said issues with warmth, wit, and the possibility of magic.

The Ingo Chronicles

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I don’t read a ton of fantasy but when I do, I like rich writing, plausible worlds, and character development. Enter Helen Dunmore. This series about one family’s connection to the undersea world of Ingo will make you want to pack up your bags and head to Cornwall. Hmm….despite a previously stated indifference to mermaids I appear to have TWO mermaid-esque series on the list…re-evaluating my stance on merfolk now.

The Guests of War Trilogy

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This feels a little like cheating. Kit Pearson‘s classic Canadian series featuring Nora and Gavin, who are sent from England to spend the duration of the war in Canada, is multi-award winning, best-selling and beloved: not exactly under-sung. But in my opinion you can not talk about this series enough.  Like the best middle grade, Pearson uses a greater conflict (WWII) to heighten the coming-of-age moments in life. Historical, emotional, evocative and lovely, this is a study in character development at its finest.

Have you read any of these series? What are your favourite under-sung series?