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One year, I made a picture book gift guide for grownups. This year, I wanted to share recent picture books that could be read by the young, the grown, or a combination of the two. Perhaps you’ll consider them as gifts for a family that has both!
These are books that can be appreciated for their art, their history, their inspiration, their windows into human experience. Picture books with adult appeal! And several of these are among my favorites of 2016, which I’ll make a note of.
Here goes (in no particular order)! And I hope you’ll add to the list in the comments.
The Journey by Francesca Sanna (*one of my favorite books of 2016). This is a story of a family seeking refuge when displaced by violence, based on interviews the author-illustrator collected. The way Sanna uses darkness to both illuminate and shield us from the terrible things that happen is gentle and effective. And she weaves in whimsical fantasy elements in a way that feels like an offering of hope.
“Every summer we used to spend many weekends at the beach. But we never go there anymore, because last year our lives changed forever.”
A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney, pictures by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson (*a favorite from 2016). A perfect tribute to The Snowy Day (1962), to its author-illustrator, Ezra Jack Keats‘s life, and to its main character, Peter, who was based on a newspaper clipping of a little boy that Keats kept for twenty years. This is indeed a poem for Peter and for all the children who saw themselves reflected in him for the first time.
“Brown-sugar boy in a blanket of white. Bright as the day you came onto the page. From the hand of a man who saw you for you.”
Some Things I’ve Lost by Cybèle Young (2015). This is a a bit hard to describe. It’s a catalogue of lost everyday objects that, when each page folds out, we find transformed into something else, something that resembles the original object but is now magical, one of Young’s exquisite paper sculptures. An imaginative gem.
The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (*a favorite of 2016). I’ve never read a Shaun Tan book I didn’t love, and this newest project (though a departure) is no exception. Grimm’s fairy tale synopses paired with Tan’s sculptures—strange, wonderful, haunting, powerful.
Where Do We Go When We Disappear? by Isabel Minhós Martins and Madalena Matoso (2013). One of the ones I’m collecting for a post on existential picture books someday, this explores the way things disappear and reappear and reshape and shift. The artwork really shines and the book cover also works well as decor. A book ostensibly about death and change, but also about the adventures socks go on when they’re “lost.”
Women In Science by Rachel Ignotofsky (2016). Admittedly, I haven’t read this one yet, but I wanted to include it because it seems a perfect fit. Illustrations! Women! Science! Yessss!
Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh (2014). This terrific book documents the case Mendez vs. Westminster School District, ten years before Brown vs. Board of Education, that desegrated schools in California. But it does more than that. It tells the story of Sylvia Mendez and her family who struggled and fought for what was right, for their rights, for the rights of Latino-Americans to have an equal and not separate education from white Americans. This is a disturbing, enlightening, important, and inspiring book for anyone of any age (especially if, like me, they didn’t know about the case before!). I especially like Tonatiuh’s artwork, “inspired by Pre-Columbian art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex.”
Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond (2015). A boy lives at the hotel his mother runs in the woods of Canada, home to lumberjacks, trappers, and miners. That boy is the author-illustrator’s grandfather. This is his story, specifically of a day in 1914 when a fire broke out, threatening the hotel and the forest, and everyone retreated to the lake. People. Animals. The boy, Antonio. Together. This book is wow, told and illustrated in a perfect way to suit itself.
The Surprise by Sylvia Van Ommen (2007). This is such fun! It has style and humor and, you guessed it, the whole wordless book ends in a surprise to try and predict along the way.
The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill (*a favorite of 2016). A gripping true tale—of a legendary wolf and of a man who had the capacity for change. It is only through a great undertaking and mistake that Ernest Seton Thompson learned to value wolves and protect them. It is by reading this heartbreaking story of Lobo the wolf that any reader will value and want to protect them, too.
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prévot, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty (2015). This is a wonderful biography of Wangari Maathai, including her early life and struggles with opposition in creating The Green Belt Movement. The illustrations are breathtaking .
“A tree is worth more than its wood…”
The Surfer of the Century by Ellie Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep (2007). A fascinating and inspiring biography of Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic swimmer considered the father of modern surfing who introduced the Hawaiian sport to the world and demonstrated grace in the water and on land.
What Is a Child? by Beatrice Alemagna (*one of my favorites of 2016). Alemagna explores what it’s like to be a child in a way that honors children and their experiences.
“Children want to be listened to with eyes wide open…”
“You need kind eyes to console them. And a little nightlight by the bed.”
The King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam and Natalie Nelson (*a favorite of 2016). An imaginative take on Flannery O’Connor‘s life as a child and a biography of her birds. The voice, the collage art, the peacock, the pink cake, the zingers—all inventive and charming.
Toto’s Apple by Mathieu Lavoie (2016). I read this with my husband at our local indie bookstore and laughed a whole bunch. I think it’s odd, hilarious, well-designed, and clever, and that other grownups might think so too. (Also, terrific surprise ending.)
Drawing from Memory by Allen Say (2011). Say’s illustrated biography is for anyone who loves to draw, who loves comics, or who has had a teacher that mentored them and made everything possible. Like Say’s stories and fiction, his memoir brings me to tears.
Wild Berries by Julie Flett (2014). This one is beautiful—the art, the story of a grandmother and grandson picking blueberries together, the evocative details, the use of bilingual vocabulary from a dialect of the Algonquian Cree language. My favorite part is that the pair thank the clearing when they leave it (as well as the recipe for blueberry jam at the back).
The Sound of All Things by Myron Uhlberg and Ted Papoulas (2016). A memoir of a hearing child and his deaf parents on a day spent on Coney Island in the 1930s. A boy describing the way things sound to his father, and, eventually, turning to the library and literature to find the tools to do so with tenderness and precision.
“I sat on my windowsill, listening to sounds that my parents would never hear…I knew my father would ask me to describe them. I slowly turned the pages of my new book. I couldn’t wait to tell him about the sound of all things.”
Are You An Echo? by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, & Michiko Tsuboi, illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri (2016). A poignant biography of Japanese poet, Misuzu Kaneko, that gives us her poems following and weaved into her history, which was both remarkable and difficult. Her poems are distinguished by their empathy for everything, even like in the spread above, her empathy for snow. It’s a treasure of a book.
Cloth Lullaby by Amy Novesky, pictures by Isabelle Arsenault (*a favorite of 2016). A biography of the artist Louise Bourgeois that is as captivating in words as in pictures (and combines two of my favorite artists in the same book).
Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman (2015). A tribute to and compilation of dogs in Kalman’s life and work. With her signature bold and wonderful paintings and handwritten notes, she tells her own history with dogs too, from fear of them to finally getting one after her husband passed away.
“And it is very true, that the most tender, uncomplicated, most generous part of our being blossoms, without any effort, when it comes to the love of a dog.”
This Bridge Will Not Be Gray by Dave Eggers, art by Tucker Nichols (2015). This one’s a love letter to The Golden Gate Bridge, the amazing things humans make, to collage art and color, and to caring about something that will have a daily impact.
Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead (2016). A book about the artistic process. And walks. And neighbors. And war. This is how one creates, isn’t it? By collecting ideas in your little corner of your world. By caring about people and problems and what’s going on big and small. By chasing the beautiful, mundane blue horse made from spilled paint on the sidewalk. By noticing it.
Any to add to the list? Please share!