Sunday, December 28, 2014

New York Times 2014 Best Illustrated Books


I decided to read and briefly review each of the New York Times Best Illustrated Books of 2014.  I find this list intriguing because it contains books that aren't necessarily Caldecott buzzes and don't need to fit all the Caldecott requirements. However, Travis Yonker did a little study on the possibility of a NYT Best Illustrated book winning the Caldecott or the Honor.  Take a look at that blog post.  I really enjoyed the list this year, and thought I'd give you an idea of what I thought about each one.
2014-book, animals, art, imagination, nyt-best-illustrated-books, picture-bookwordless

Reading is not the only thing that can take you to different worlds - so can drawing! There are no limits to the imagination. After reading a book about Africa, a young boy in his room starts drawing a journey to Africa and what he sees there. The beautiful, savannah-hued illustrations capture the mightiness of elephants, the curiosity of zebras, the loping of giraffes, the majesty of lions, companionship of gorillas, and the stampeding of rhinos. Make sure to look at the title page and the knapsack of sandwiches - they show up in the hands of the gorillas and monkeys. I noticed that the boy's bedside table suggests he may even be sickly - there's an inhaler and a bottle of medicine there. It's even more important that he be able to escape the confines of his room and travels to other worlds. The Author's Note at the end explains how Raul Colon, the illustrator, would spend long hours drawing in his room in New York City, inspired by books, comics, and other artists.
Shackleton's Journey
My first reaction when I closed this book after reading about Shackleton's travels to Antarctica was that explorers were crazy! This is a fantastic account of the grit it took to explore the frozen oceans of the Southernmost hemisphere. Kids will learn all kinds of travel vocabulary and understand how amazing it was that men took the risks they did to discover unknown territory. Fantastic!
Haiti My Country: Poems by Haitian schoolchildren
Haiti My Country by Haitian Schoolchildren, illustrated by Roge
This book is gorgeous. Poems by young people about the landscapes of Haiti and beautiful painted portraits of Haitian children grace each page. Some of the portraits made my heart ache and others made me smile. Lines such as "Upon awakening we hear the song of our neighbour's rooster/A beautiful concert to the ears of merchants/Parading the streets of my country" and "In this beautiful setting stretches dazzling greenery/where we find small curved houses,/flourishing mango trees at the end of lanes,/and ripening oranges" make me want to visit Haiti and write about the beauty of my own country. This picture book is a must for every classroom and library. Perfect for writing workshop.
Harlem Hellfighters
The Men of Bronze, the Black Rattlers, the Harlem Hellfighters - J. Patrick Lewis tells us about the first all-black U.S. combat unit to be shipped overseas during WWI. Not only were they touted as tenacious by the Germans because in 191 days of duty at the front they never had any men captured nor ground taken, but the 369th Infantry's regimental band, conducted by James Reese Europe, was credited with introducing American jazz to France and the rest of Europe. I love Patrick's description of their music: "Europe's big band 'jazz spasm,' riffing to ten pianos, turned listeners' bones to liquid - cymbal-cornet-clarinet clash coursing in the blood." Gary Kelley's illustrations are emotionally raw, with dark tones accented with patriotic red, white, and blue. This book packs a powerful punch.
Time for Bed, Fred!
This reminds me so much of one of my favorite picture books when I was a little kid - Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion. Fred does NOT want to go to bed, so he tries everything to avoid it - he climbs to the top of a tree, lands in a pile of leaves, digs in the flower garden, and leaps into a mud puddle. Even after he is captured and given a bath, he doesn't give up - Fred will remind you of your own child's antics and routines she will insist upon before finally succumbing to sleep. Cute!
 Here Is the Baby
What a lucky baby - so loved! This book follows Baby and his family through a day, from the moment he wakes up in his mama's arms until he falls asleep as she whispers his name. In between, he sends his sister off to school, goes to the library, rides in his stroller throughout his neighborhood, plays on the playground - all with his daddy - until he returns home. So sweet.
Where's Mommy?
I've always loved stories about miniature things - The Borrowers, The Littles, etc. I love all the little things they gather around the big humans' house and use for their furniture, dishes, tools, etc. And so I enjoyed this story of Maria and her friend, Mouse Mouse. I love the beautiful, intricate illustrations of Mouse Mouse's wonderful house - the bottle cap chairs, Father's workshop, the matchbox bed, and button wall hangings. Maria's Frank Lloyd Wright-ish home is pretty spectacular, too! Maria and Mouse Mouse's secret is that their parents don't know they're friends. They think if they tell, Maria's family would get a cat and Mouse Mouse's family would flee. However, one day, when neither can find her own mother, they find out their mothers have been keeping a secret of their own!
The Promise
A bag full of acorns changes an angry young girl's life. After trying to steal from those who had almost as little as she did in a heartbroken and mean city, a woman lets her have her bag if she promises to plant them. The girl snatches it and runs off, hoping for food and money. When she discovers it's full of acorns, she understands the promise and plants them. The city and her heart is transformed. Gorgeous illustrations! Great for our 6th grade unit on Social Responsibility and Leaving a Legacy. Would pair well with Curious Garden and "Thank You Ma'am" by Langston Hughes. 
  The Baby Tree
With a humorous twist, this picture book address the question of where babies come from. I love the answers of the various people the little boy asks. Cute ending. Real answers to the question are located at the end. Great pictures and a perfect book to use for THE conversation with young kids. And no wonder it won Best Illustrated  - look at the adorable babies in the tree!!
Take a look at Katherine Sokolowski's experience with the book!
The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Having just finished the adult historical fiction novel, The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin, about Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, this gave me an interesting perspective on a French pilot in the same era. I read The Little Prince years ago. This book makes me want to read it again. As in Sis's other books, there is so much information and intricate illustrations throughout. Beautiful!
Consider reading all these award winners, also.  You won't be sorry!  It will be interesting to see if any of them win a Caldecott.  We'll wait and see.

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