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January 3, 2012

2011 Wrap: Books, Part I (Picture & Board Books)

I'm generally of the opinion that blogging, like love for Harvard undergrads, means never having to say you're sorry, but I feel I really ought to apologize for the even-lighter-than-usual posting over the November and December holidays. The regular winter-holiday excuses apply, but are as always no real excuse, since it's not as if I didn't know they were coming.

Anyway, it's time for my second annual belated best-of-last-year posts. This time, so as not to get bogged down with stuff I've already written about for a month, I'll alternate them with brand, spanking new-material posts. (And now that I've made that promise, I will endeavor to keep it.)

As I look over my favorite picture books and board books of last year, I see that they fall, sensibly enough, into two categories: the clever and the gorgeous. (OK, there's some overlap.)

This category is led by one of my finalists for best children's book of the year overall (admittedly, I haven't gone beyond finalists yet), Jon Klassen's marvelous, ever-so-slightly shocking I Want My Hat Back, about a bear who really, really wants his lost hat back. Though come to think of it, I was no less enthusiastic about the brilliant concept and execution of HervĂ© Tullet's remarkable meta-interactive print book, Press Here, while Ido Vaginsky's Spin displayed actual interactivity of the clever paper-engineering kind.

Rounding out the category were three sweet-clever titles. Both I and my three-year-old vacillate daily on which of them we love most, so I'll list them in alphabetical order to avoid false momentary favoritism. (And truly, we love them all equally.) Edwin Speaks Up, by April Stevens and the beloved-of-this blog Sophie Blackall, struck a chord with all toddlers who know they're the only sensible people in the family. In her Hopper and Wilson, Maria Van Lieshout channeled the warmth and poignance of A. A. Milne. And Diane Kredensor's Ollie & Moon combined illustrations with Sandra Kress's photography in a charming, evocative, and, yes, clever way.

This list is shorter, encompassing just two titles: Laura Carlin's stunning illustrative interpretation of the Ted Hughes classic The Iron Giant, and Sylvia Long's breathtaking nature illustrations accompanying Diana Hutts Aston's text in A Butterfly Is Patient. What it lacks in length, though, it makes up for in beauty. (And heck, the Hughes story is rather clever as well. So much for categorization?)

In my next 2011 wrap-up post (i.e., my post after next), I'll look at the year's top graphic-novels for kids, including a fantastic compilation I forgot to write about first time around.

[Cover image courtesy of Random House]

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