My Top 10 List of Picture Books for Older Children and Teens! By Sarah Butts It’s…
The list This is the culminating project for my Picture Books for older Readers course (LIBR271A), taken during the Summer 2011 semester. During this course I’ve read 60 picture books in a broad spectrum of formats and topics. There have been poetry books, adaptations of classics, new fiction, and nonfiction, all in a broad spectrum of artwork. The following list contains my top 10 favorite books from those I read this summer. My criteria for selecting this list were very self centered – whichever books made me feel the most, think the most or immediately tell someone else about them are on this list. I’ve included explanations of why I enjoyed each. They are not in any particular order. To read more about the books I read this semester, feel free to take a look at my blog as well! Enjoy!
Cinderella Skeleton Robert D. San Souci – author. David Catrow – illustrator. 2000. San Diego, CA: Silver Whistle. ISBN: 0-15-202003-9. Annotation : A macabre version of the Cinderella fairytale. All of the familiar elements are here, but the twist is that the whole story takes place in a graveyard populated by the dead and decayed.
Why I Loved It: My two daughters are just exiting the Princess phase, and it’s been a long 5 years! I loved seeing this familiar fairy tale turned on its head. Though the traditional plot points and outcome are unchanged, everything else is wonderfully different. Cinderella, like most of the other characters in the book for that matter, is a skeleton. Prince Charming is renamed Prince Charnel, the pumpkin turns into a funeral wagon instead of a splendid coach, and Cinderella loses no just her slipper, but her whole foot. The story had me laughing out loud at times, San Souci’s poetic narrative was as clever as it was funny. Catrow’s illustrations are grisly and gorgeous at the same time. This is a fun book – One I might add to my collection.
The Wolves in the Walls Neil Gaiman - author. Dave McKean - illustrator. 2003. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN: 0-06-053087-1. Annotation : Lucy hears noises in the walls of her house and suspects wolves, but she can’t get anyone to believe her. When the wolves come out of the walls, her family must rid the house of them.
Why I Loved It: I have been a Neil Gaiman fan since I discovered his Sandman series over a decade ago. I was so excited when he started writing for kids – his style is so twisted and silly – perfectly suited to the nature of many kids I know. The Wolves in the Walls is a great introduction to Neil Gaiman – it contains all of the elements of his writing that I love: the silliness, the eerie surreal situations, the unassuming protagonist; with the added bonus of Dave McKean, Gaiman’s frequent artistic collaborator. Mc Kean’s art style works so beautifully with Gaiman’s writing – thanks to this book I have become a fan of his work as well.
Harvey Herve Bouchard - author. Janice Nadeau - illustrator. 2010. Berkeley, CA: House of Anansi. ISBN: 978-1-55498-075-8. Annotation: Harvey and his younger yet taller brother come home one day in early spring to find that their father has died of a heart attack.
Why I Loved It: Though this book was not by any means a happy story, dealing as it does with the death of a parent, I really appreciated that it was not too heavy handed with melodrama and heartstring-yanking. I felt like it captured quite beautifully the numb disconnectedness that a child might feel in the hours following their loss. The reason this book made my list though was the interaction between the art and the narrative. I really loved Janice Nadeau’s illustrations in this book – without them the story may have seemed much more bleak. Her empathetic portrayals of the characters made them more likeable. Nadeau is adept at conveying personality through the features she chooses for her characters, and her use of patterns in many of her images adds richness to the story.
Vietnamerica GB Tran - author and illustrator. 2010. New York: Villard. ISBN: 978-0-345-50872-0. Annotation : Gia-Bao Tran tells the story of his family's fracture and eventual emigration from Vietnam to America during the Fall of Saigon, and of how they went on to raise their children as Americans.
Why I Loved It: This book was not only a well-written account of a family’s touching and sometimes heartbreaking history, it was an insight into Vietnam’s history that we as Americans may not have. It enriched my understanding of the Vietnamese people and that era in our shared history. Tran’s illustrations are a major contributor to the story as well – he masterfully uses different color pallets to convey a sense of time and place.
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain Peter Sis - author and illustrator. (2007). New York: Frances Foster Books. ISBN: 978-0-374-34701-7. Annotation : While describing the monumental events occurring in his native Czechoslovakia during the Cold War as a backdrop, Peter Sis relates the goings on as he experienced them as a child and young adult.
Why I Loved It: I loved the creative way that Peter Sis related the story of his youth through a combination of minimal third-person narrative, wry, gripping illustrations, and factual timeline statements. The cartoon-style pictures (often portraying police and government officials as pigs) added some levity to a story that was quite often pretty grim. Sis makes his use of color in the story almost part of the telling – red was often the only color on a page, and signified symbols of the communist regime. Conversely some pages were full of vivid pastels – the colored pictures always indicated western influence and ideals – little beacons of hope and inspiration in the black and white world Sis had been living in.
Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors Joyce Sidman - author. Beckie Prange - illustrator. (2010). New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 978-0618717194. Annotation : Poetry, scientific facts, and artwork are blended on each page to present a picture of some of the most enduring and prolific creatures in history.
Why I Loved It: Ubiquitous was such an unexpected surprise, successfully combining two typically unrelated genres, poetry and nonfiction, in a really beautifully illustrated combination. Each page of this book warrants careful examination and absorption. The art for each is so thoughtfully done, and each poem is perfectly suited in tone to its subject. The information included is well written too – very engaging.
The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau Dan Yaccarino - author and illustrator. 2009. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN: 978-0-375-95573-0. Annotation : This book describes the life of Jacques Cousteau, from the early-life adversities that brought him to the sea, to the development of his love for it, and finally to the lifetime of exploration and protection he devoted himself to.
Why I Loved It: I loved this book because it reminded me of watching Jacques Cousteau when I was young, dreaming about being a marine biologist and diving deep into the oceans like he did. I never knew anything about Mr. Cousteau himself though, and this book was a great introduction. This book certainly does what it clearly sets out to do: explain to people about a man who loved the seas, why he loved the seas, and why we all should work hard for the things we love.
Smile Raina Telgemeier - author/illustrator. Stephanie Yue - color. (2010). New York: Graphix. ISBN: 978-0-545-13205-3. Annotation : In addition to the typical trials and tribulations that the middle-school years bring, Reina must also contend with some very in-depth orthodontics work, which causes her emotional and physical pain as well as social trauma.
Why I Loved It: Since Telgemeier grew up around the same place and time as I did, the story is even more poignant for me - I had some of those outfits! Her story elicits those bittersweet memories of those painful formative years from those of us that are already past them, and could possibly bring solace and laughter to those that are still neck-deep in the awkwardness.
Stitches David Small - author/illustrator. (2009). New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN: 978-0-393-06857-3. Annotation : When the many radiation treatments, meant to clear a childhood sinus condition, instead cause thyroid cancer, young David is forced to face disfigurement, the loss of his voice, and the betrayal of his less than stellar parents.
Why I Loved It: If Smile is a story that reminds us all of the painfully awkward childhood memories we all have in common, Stitches is its polar opposite, making us all cringe and thank our maker that that wasn’t us. Small illustrates the painful episodes in his past with bitter humor, portraying the tense atmosphere in which he was raised with sympathy for the boy he was. I was inspired by the spirit of this boy, who knew on some level that he deserved more than he got, and who tried so hard to escape to a life where he could be loved. This was a very last-minute addition to my list – I’m so glad to have found it.
Ghostopolis Doug TenNapel - autor/illustrator. (2010). New York: Graphix. ISBN: 978-0-545-21027-0. Annotation : Garth is sent accidentally into the afterlife city of Ghostopolis in the ribcage of a skeletal horse. While trying to get home Garth becomes involved in an insurrection, fighting on the side of Joe the Tuskege Airman against the evil Vaugner.
Why I Loved It: This was the book that introduced me to Doug TenApel, my new favorite graphic novel author. I’m reading another of his books right now, and there’s another on the way for me. Ghostopolis has a solid story, full of great characters, fun action, and complex themes. TenApel’s illustrations are a huge part of the reason this book is so successful as well. Excellent all around.