Ten Favorite Picture Books of 2011

Eliza Clark
December 19, 2011

The writers, illustrators, and publishers of the world have been hard at work in 2011, and have given us many wonderful and worthy new reads.  What a pleasure to share these favorites with you, and, most of all, our kids.  We hope you and your children will enjoy them as much as we have.

Every Thing On It by Shel Silverstein

There's no way we could pass up a new collection of Shel Silverstein's zany, grotesque, hilarious, naughty yet poignant poems and pictures. At the time of his death in 1999, Silverstein apparently left behind 1,500 unpublished poems and illustrations. Amazing! From these, his family and publishers chose 145 to include in this volume, and they are entirely worth the twelve-year wait. The title piece refers, of course, to a hotdog with "everything on it" - what does that look like, exactly? Silverstein tells us in so many words and in vivid pictorial detail... perfect kid-food for thought indeed!

E-mergency by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer

Little letter lovers will have great fun with this new take on the genius of the alphabet. Our favorite picture may be the very first of all the letters living together in a big house (with five floors and an inflatable pool). All's well in alphabet-land until letter E takes a tumble down a flight of stairs and requires an extended hospital stay. Bed rest for the hardest working letter of all?  Who will take up the slack?  O is chosen for his "well-rounded" nature, and from thoro, woll, a lot of spolling probloms onsuo. Tho kids lovo it!! 

Me... Jane by Patrick McDonnell


The Watcher: Jane Goodall Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

This pair of biographical picture books make a perfect gift for any child who loves animals and stories about "true life," as my preschooler puts it. Me... Jane gives us the childhood of the great primatologist, as she rambles around her English country home with her stuffed chimpanzee Jubilee at her side. She was a focused observer of animal life at an early age, and dreamed big dreams of Africa even then. The Watcher takes us to the forests of Gombe, Tanzania with Jane where she learns all about chimps and fights to safeguard the species and their habitat. We are thrilled to share with our kids two such appealing books about an extraordinary scientist.

Blackout by John Rocco

It's a funny thing about city kids: they don't really know what the dark is.  Even when all of the lamps in the house are out, and the blinds are shut, light from the street or apartments close by, not to mention the blink of various electronic devices creates an ambient glow at all times.  Except during a black-out.  John Rocco's Blackout makes the parallel point that many children don't really know what calm, unhurried togetherness feels like.  Until there's a blackout.  The Brooklyn family in this story are busy, busy all the time, until a blackout turns off the TV and the computer, the lights and the AC and all there is to do is to go up to the roof and look at the stars along with their neighbors.  Rocco uses lovely blue-black tones to tell an apt fable for contemporary times. 

Everything I Need to Know Before I'm Five by Valorie Fisher

If you are looking for a perfect present for a toddler or early-preschooler, look no further than this: one-stop shopping at its best.  Colors, letters, numbers, shapes, opposites, and seasons - it is all here in a bright, witty format that kids will love and parents won't tire of... for quite a while at least (we anticipate this as a daily read).  Fisher has put together very fun photo-montages using retro toys to amuse the parents while teaching young children basic concepts.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klasson

Life with little kids is lived at a high emotional pitch.  Enthusiasm, disappointment, desire and rejection are all expressed with a fervor that sometimes just knocks our parental socks off.  Then little by little we get used to it.  This maniacal intensity about the smallest matters is just how our kids live life.  They'll calm down eventually... right?  Which may be why Jon Klasson's new book comes as such a relief.  A bear has lost his hat and wants it back.  Does he whine and carry on and ask his mother to find it for him?  No, no.  He calmly and methodically asks all the animals in the forest whether they've seen the hat.  It's only when he finds said hat that the true depth of his feelings is revealed.  A welcome lesson in deadpan and an ending with a twist that all will enjoy.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

Everyone knows how much kids love stories—in books, in movies, and most of all true tales straight from the mouth of the teller.  Family stories are prized above all.  When grandparents get going, young children hang on their every word.  And yet, older generations and even parents are not always as forthcoming as they might be.  Perhaps they don't realize how much kids want to hear their stories.  Perhaps the very telling is painfully nostalgic, or perhaps memories escape and drift away.  Lane Smith's beautiful new book captures this theme in an unusual way.  A little boy learns his great-grandfather's story not through words, but through his garden.  And so we see that a story's a story, no matter its shape.

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas Yezerski

Is it possible that the story of a small eco-system over the course several centuries could the topic of a riveting children's book? It seems unlikely, but in fact Thomas Yezerski has done it with his story of the New Jersey Meadowlands from the time of the Lenape people to the present. Once the wetland home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, the Meadowlands were drained, dammed, built over and massively polluted in the past 400 years.  If that were the ending, it would be sad tale indeed. Instead, the heroes of the story, activists and government interests as well as some very resilient wildlife are staging a comeback for the area. Read this along with The Lorax for a sobering yet hopeful story from real life.

Samantha on a Roll by Linda Ashman and Christine Davenier

Our tour of the best books of 2011 is not complete without a rollicking ride on Samantha's new roller skates. What's a girl with brand new roller skates to do when her mother's too busy to take her out just this minute? As any daring heroine would, she straps on the skates herself and goes out for a whirl... and quite a whirl it turns out to be! It's a white knuckle finish for both kids and parents - and that's all we'll say about that.

From the Parents

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