Best Picture Books of 2010

Eliza Clark
December 16, 2010

It's that time of year -- time for us to praise our favorite pictures books from the past twelve months. Perfect for holiday gifts and birthday presents in the next twelve. Happy holidays and happy reading!

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown

For small children who want a pet, or who have a pet (and especially for those who are still learning how to handle their pets), here is a funny, wonderful book. An excitable bear named Lucy finds a little boy in the woods, and immediately wants to keep him for a pet.  Her mother warns that "children make terrible pets," but Lucy isn't deterred for a moment.  She has the time of her life playing with her new pet "Squeaker" (because he squeaks), until the trouble begins: problems with potty training, ruining the furniture, and throwing food at tea parties.  Sound like any little boys or puppies you know?  The reversal is so clever, and the resolution feels just right.  What other switcheroos might make a great story?  Now there's a conversation the kids will enjoy.

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter

This book elicits a lot of WOWs from children and adults.  As in, wow, is this a true story?  (Pretty much true.)  And, wow, these pictures are amazing!  Let's start with the story, based on a notorious series of events in 1987 when the town of Islip, Long Island decided to ship 3,168 tons of its garbage to South Carolina.  So began the journey of the ill-fated garbage barge and its tugboat's Captain Duffy.  The incident helped bring about the recycling era, and will certainly help kids see the huge importance of reusing, recycling, and donating.  As for the artwork, it's stunning.  Red Nose Studio built and photographed clay models and sets made from found objects to create an amazingly vivid (an icky) pile of floating garbage. Once again: wow.

Shadow by Suzy Lee

Has your child discovered her shadow yet?  It's a special moment, we think, a moment that marks a new sort of awareness: the discovery not so much of the world beyond oneself, but of an image of oneself out in the world beyond oneself.  What a trick!  It's a twin, a dark replica that disappears at the flick of a light switch.  Watching your little one first notice and play with his shadow is an inexplicable delight, as is this new book from Suzy Lee.  The little girl in this nearly wordless story finds a world of shadows in an attic room lit by a single bulb.  Her play and the shadows, real and imaginary, that it casts, evolve into a wild, fantastical world that grows and grows until "Dinner's ready!"  We love the way the book can and should be turned in all directions to fully appreciate the scope of the action.  A volume to pore over time and time again.

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Sibling jealousies get a bit more complicated than usual in this tale of an immigrant family getting used to the strange American custom of celebrating children's birthdays with big parties and lots of candy.  It's actually wonderful to be reminded just how odd and arbitrary those birthday festivities are.  The hitch here is that Rubina comes home with a party invitation, her mother Ami insists that she bring along her younger sister Sana.  This leads, predictably, to disaster, and a long-standing sisterly grudge.  The story is beautifully told and paced, and the pictures offer subtle glances into an assimilating immigrant family's world.  There's one image we especially adore: an aerial mapping of the route the girls take in chasing each other around the house.  Don't we all wish we had such a view when the chase is on at our house!  The final reconciliation encompasses both the feuding sisters and American birthday parties, an ending that will please anyone with a sweet tooth.

Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

We are kind of in love with this book, over here at the Savvy editorial HQ.  Kids and adults alike feel extra snuggly and loving and gentle after reading it together.  The story concerns one Amos McGee, a kind and zen-like zoo-keeper, who makes time every day to visit his friends.  When the poor fellow comes down with a cold one day, those friends miss him terribly, and decide to pay a call.  The best cure for any cold?  Why, a visit from an elephant, a tortoise, a penguin, a rhinoceros and an owl, of course.  This touching reversal of a care-giving relationship is matched by exquisite artwork.  Delicate pencil drawings and woodblock color printing set a beautiful scene.  Written and illustrated by a husband and wife team - perhaps that's where all the love in this book comes from!

Subway by Christoph Niemann

Not everyone thinks of the New York City subway as the most child-friendly place in the world. Christoph Niemann is here to correct that misapprehension. In fact, it's immensely entertaining for small kids, and, since anyone under 44 inches rides for free, also a great bargain outing for preschool types. They can, apparently, ride the trains all day, and never tire of calling out the stations, one by one. This only applies, naturally, if you actually happen to live in New York City. For those deprived youngsters who don't have a subway stop within a five block radius of their home, this book will have to do. And, we must say, it's a pretty great alternative to climbing down those gritty steps. Niemann's graphics are brilliant, as anyone who follows his New York Times blog knows. But what makes us really like this book is that it's an unabashed ode to what the author's kids like.

Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

When Trixie is ready to give away her Knuffle Bunny without a single cry or protest, we know that something's changed, and someone's getting old.  Not us, of course, but Trixie and... our kids!  The first Knuffle Bunny book came out in 2004, and it has, indeed, been seven years since then.  For some of us, that means that our children have literally grown up alongside Trixie and her wayward bunny.  These tales of the lost and found lovey have so closely mirrored our own experiences (with a big dose of humor thrown in) that we want to give Trixie and Knuffle a resounding ovation as they depart the stage.  Mo Willems says this will be the last book in the series and we salute his restraint, and his faithfulness to the natural arc of his story.  However hard it is to believe in the moment, children don't hold passionately on to their favorite stuffed animals forever.  They will let go, but we'll have the adorable memories and also this great book.

From the Parents

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