December 20, 2016

Best Picture Books of 2016

The picture books we saw in 2016 were beautiful, honest, and often heartbreaking. Narrowing down a list of hundreds of books is never easy, but, for me, the beauty is in the details. Below are the top 15 most beautifully illustrated books of 2016, each of which stood out for their visual stories, illustration techniques, and attention to detail. These books represent the strongest illustrative narratives, and they stand apart as works of art that will stand the test of time.

I hope you enjoy, and cheers to 2017!


Written and illustrated by Katie Harnett

There's a cat who lives on Blossom Street, and every morning he visits each and every house on the street. Every house, that is, except for number 11. No one visits number 11. Until one day the cat decides to give the house a shot. The attention to detail in this book is phenomenal, starting with the title. Seven names demonstrates from the outset of the book that Archie is just as lost as his future human friend, and we see his visual expressions change as he comes closer to happiness. Archie is truly a cat looking for his forever home, and I'm proud to say he has a home on my shelf!

To read my interview with author-illustrator Katie Harnett, click here.



Written and illustrated by Salina Yoon

Dennis is an ordinary boy who expresses himself in extraordinary ways, preferring to show rather than tell. But even mimes can get lonely... As readers, we don't actually meet Dennis until the third spread. Instead, we get to know his character before we even see his face, and this amazing detail provides a perfect contrast to the kids around Dennis who know so little about him. 




Written and illustrated by David Litchfield

When a bear finds a piano in the woods and masters it all on his own, it's only a matter of time before humans discover him and take him to the big city. But will the other bears he left behind be upset with him? The mixed media illustrations are gorgeous beyond belief. Litchfield alternates between full-page spreads and framed images, and every single illustration not only showcases the text, but takes on its own emotions and story. Litchfield carefully texturizes every animal, blade of grass, and wave of water, and of course I have to throw in a shout-out to the endpapers...they're stunning and definitely highlight the shift in story from the beginning to the end.



Written by Ingrid Chabbert and illustrated by Guridi

It is the first day of school, and a boy falls in love for the first time. The only problem is that the girl of his dreams, Sylvia, only has eyes for birds. The boy takes the natural next step and constructs a giant bird costume, but will it be enough to catch Sylvia's attention? While I find that I often connect more with picture book illustrations than text, the two balance each other out so perfectly in this book. The cadence of the text is immaculately paralleled in Guridi's illustrations, and the pencil illustrations are sparse and loose, almost as though pulled directly from his sketchbook. It's one of the most open and honest picture books I've ever read, and it's proof that actions speak louder than words.



Written and illustrated by Carson Ellis

A seemingly nonsense book, Du Iz Tak? will surprise and delight readers as they uncover the meaning behind Ellis's mysterious big language. Several bugs inhabit a small piece of land and endure the hardships and fruits of the area they live in. The illustrators are soft, intricate, and expressive, and readers get to witness life on a much smaller scale. 

To read my interview with author-illustrator Carson Ellis, click here.



Written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna

Francesca Sanna​'s The Journey speaks harsh truths about the struggles of refugees and the strength it takes one person to save a family. The illustrations provide literal and metaphorical narratives, and though the story is consistently told from one of the children's point of view--it's unclear which one--we get to see some of the scenes from multiple angles. The illustrations and text are timeless--they could refer to so many wars, past and present. It's heartbreaking and moving, and it hits very close to home given current affairs. 

To read my interview with author-illustrator Francesca Sanna, click here.



Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Júlia Sardà

A family of seven (including the cat), the Liszts make lists like they're going out of style.​ There are lists on the walls, the floors, the piano... everywhere. And if you're not on a list then​ you're dismissed pretty quickly. Until one day a stranger shows up and​ teaches the family how to open their minds. The digital illustrations are incredibly well-defined, the color palette is perfect for this unusual family, and Sardà knows how to balance filling up space to ​punctuate Maclear's text (which is actually handwritten by​ Sardà​ herself!).​ Every character is multi-faceted, albeit very one-track minded, and there's enough detail in the illustrations for us to connect with each and every character.

To read my interview with illustrator Júlia Sardá, click here.




Written and illustrated by Bethan Woollvin

On her way to Grandma's house, Little Red Riding Hood meets a wolf, which might scare some little girls--but not this one! Woollvin limits her color palette to black, gray, and red, conveying everything she needs to with simple, flat images on stark white backgrounds. The angles she chooses make the story dynamic and hilarious (think Little Red poking her head through the window to see the wolf in her grandma's clothing). Readers get insight into the characters' minds through the illustrations, making the text and illustrations equally informative throughout. 



Written and illustrated by Esmé Shapiro

Ooko is the story of a friendless fox who sets out to find a companion. Sure he has his stick, his rock, and his leaf, but what fun are those without someone to share them with? Ooko physically stands apart from other animals in this book, often hiding in bushes, behind doors, or even staying on the opposite page of the spread. He constantly gets to observe, but never participate. Of course this changes when he ends up being adopted by a less-than-brilliant woman who mistakes Ooko for her dog, but this is the first time we get to see Ooko interact with others physically. Shapiro knows how to use space well to convey Ooko's current state, and it's a visual treat to follow Ooko on his adventure to friendship.

To read my interview with author-illustrator Esmé Shapiro, click here.




Petra
Written and illustrated by Marianna Coppo

Petra is unmovable and proud of her existence until a dog passes by and picks her right up off the ground. This act alters Petra's existence forever, posing question after question about what Petra has the potential to be. A mountain? An island? How about an egg? The sky is Petra's limit. Or so she thinks. The digital illustrations mimic gouache so the colors are solid but soft, and the illustrations wonderfully carry their own narrative, helping us to understand Petra's emotions on her journey to self-discovery.



Written and illustrated by Alessandro Sanna

This is the story of the wood that eventually becomes Pinocchio. The nearly wordless book shows us the magic and wonder of creation as we learn about how the wood started as a ball of cosmic energy that went on to experience a whirlwind of events.




Written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond

A little girl pulls a book about polar bears off a shelf, drawing us into the life of a polar bear. We travel along with the girl as the narrator tells us about polar bears' habitats, eating habits, and body structure. Readers read about polar bears in an accessible way that puts the facts they learn into perspective, but the book doesn't shy away from some of the darker aspects of a polar bear's life, either. The illustrations are beautiful, but it's this attention to authenticity that makes the book truly incredible.

Written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman

Shy tells the story of a unique friendship built on curiosity and bravery. From the first moment we meet him, we understand Shy to be a loner, literally tucked into the unvisited and forgotten part of his own world. Freedman uses watercolors and pencils to keep the eye moving forward, and her color choices mirror the tone of each emotional scene. And the best detail? We don't even know who Shy is until the end of the book!

To read my interview with author-illustrator Deborah Freedman, click here.



Written and illustrated by Julia Denos

In a place where colors run wild, there's a girl named Swatch who is even wilder. A lover of colors, Swatch sets out one day to tame the wildest color yet, Yellowest Yellow. But colors don't always like to be tamed... Denos created her illustrations from watercolor, pen and ink, and pencil with some digital alterations. While the colors are probably the most notable part of the book, I was more captivated by the way Denos depicts movement. We see the colors roll over and move through each other as the story pushes forward, beckoning readers' eyes to move across every page. The colors radiate energy as they move across the pages. 



Written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Sydney Smith

This is the story of a monk and his sole companion, a white cat. Together they fill their days studying and catching mice. The story is actually based on a poem by a monk who wrote about his cat companion and drew comparisons between their lives. Smith's watercolor and ink illustrations are soft and muted and provide a perfect companion to the sparse text. The text blatantly draws parallels between the monk and cat, but Smith does a lovely job of playing with it, even throwing in some little visual jokes.