Images are just as important — if not MORE important — than words for little kids. These terrific books for young children add lots of color to our books of the year.
Ages 2 – 6
The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House
by Eric Litwin
illustrated by Scott Magoon
(Little, Brown, $18)
It’s time for nighty-night but Mama Nut’s having a heckuva bedtime tug-of-war with her sweet little Wally Nut and Hazel Nut. All of them are just … nuts! From the best-selling author of Pete the Cat, this one’s a must for every playful family. Story ends with a Nutty Lullaby you can sing along with; free download at thenutfamily.com.
Ages 3 – 5
by Joan Holub,
illustrated by James Dean
(Scholastic Press, $16.99)
Mighty dads, strong and tall, help their children, young and small. Do you know a youngster who, at the moment, chiefly cares about cars, trucks, tanks and such? The vibrant art in primary colors bursts with action and personality. Main message: that strong dads (vehicle “characters” here) teach their tykes all sorts of things and also provide protection, hugs, cheers, love. In this rhyming romp, a child is introduced to the bulldozer, crane, cement mixer and more.
Flora and the Penguin
by Molly Idle
Wordless books are hot, and this one’s a standout on ice — with unusually clever lift-the-flaps architecture. In Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo (which received a Caldecott Honor last year), the wide-eyed little girl did ballet with the tall pink bird. This time, she glides o’er the ice with a jaunty little penguin. The pair swirl and soar in harmony, but also have their problems with one another — much like any friends do. The graceful animation of the artwork, in muted shades of periwinkle, enhance this quiet story’s sense of wonder.
Gus & Me
by Keith Richards,
art by Theodora Dupree Richards
(Little Brown, $18)
A quirky array of pen-and-ink plus collage art by Richards’ daughter creates a burst of love, nostalgia and energy as the iconic rocker relates The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar, the book’s subtitle. Richards was heavily influenced by his Granddad Dupree, who “would hum whole symphonies.” Parents will adore this as much as their kids. Includes a CD featuring the Rolling Stones musician.
The Book With No Pictures
by B.J. Novak
(Dial Books for Young Readers, $17.99)
Maybe you’ve heard of this one from the writer, director and actor (he played Ryan on The Office), because it’s been hanging out at the No. 1 spot on picture-book best-seller lists even though there are zero pictures. This giggles-galore achievement embraces the notion of just being goofy together. Get set for those in your household to go around reciting things such as “Glurr-Ga-Wocko ma-GRUMPH-a-doo!”
Ages 4 – 8
The Hug Machine
by Scott Campbell
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.99)
Yikes and yippee, here comes the little Hug Machine — and no one or no thing (even if it’s spiky) is exempt from his stretched-out arms and sweet embrace. His hugs “make the biggest feel small” and “the smallest feel big.” Campbell’s expressive watercolor images are so full of love you might just start hugging this adorable book.
by Kadir Nelson
(Balzer & Bray, $17.99)
Nelson, one of the most gifted and lauded artists in the field, strikes again. His gorgeous dark paintings lend a soothing quality to this story of Baby Bear, who is lost in the forest and must rely on help from other animals and also learn to trust his instincts. “When I am lost, I sit very still and try to listen to my heart,” is advice from the gigantic Moose, who seems to stare smack into the eyes of any young listener. “It speaks as softly and as sweetly as a gentle breeze. And it is never wrong. It will lead you home.”
Pig and Small
by Alex Latimer
Sometimes it takes a little while for a friendship to find its footing — especially when two are so different. Such is the case with Pig and Bug. We adore Latimer’s playful pictures, which provide much to enjoy and ponder.
by Rosemary Wells
(Candlewick Press, $15.99)
Tiny, portable homes are trending these days, yes? The incomparable Wells, author of some 120 picture books, delivers another bright charmer. Here, the little fox girl Stella lives in a small house on wheels that’s “as silver as a comet in the sky.” Weasels tease her about it, and hurt her feelings. But she comes to learn she has everything she needs in life. The things that matter, that is.
Ages 5 & Older
Once Upon an Alphabet
by Oliver Jeffers
(Philomel Books, $26.99)
From the talent behind The Day the Crayons Quit comes this tall and thick — 112 pages — ABC book like no other. Each of our 26 letters gets its own brief and outrageous tale, such as “The Terrible Typewriter” for “T.” We especially love the clever arrangement of the wacky (and top-drawer) contemporary art. The humor is absurd, sometimes even sick or morbid. So, yes, it takes a certain family to embrace this one, but we know such families are out there.