Brain Pickings

The Best Children’s Books of 2010

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Lost owls, found cats, and how contemporary art is helping sick children heal.

Last week, we spotlighted the year’s best books in Business, Life & Mind and Art, Design & Photography, as part of our end-of-year best-of series. Today, we’re back with the 10 most delightful literary and visual treats for young readers and their creatively sophisticated parents.

I LEGO N.Y.

Between our massive culture-crush on the amazing Christoph Niemann and our soft spot for all things LEGO, I LEGO N.Y. was a natural swoon-maker. Though not necessarily a children’s book per se, this imaginative look at New York rendered entirely in LEGO embodies Niemann’s incredible penchant for taking something ordinary and transforming it into pure whimsy.

I LEGO N.Y. came out in March and is Niemann’s print publishing debut as a sole author. (Though he has illustrated and co-authored a number of other treats). We can’t wait to see what he imagines next.

AN AWESOME BOOK OF THANKS!

We have a well-documented distaste for both exclamation points and the word “awesome” — mostly because they’re linguistic indulgences used far too often and indicative of actual merit far too rarely. But artist Dallas Clayton‘s An Awesome Book of Thanks! more than lives up to the linguistic promise of its title. A sequel to his 2008 An Awesome Book!, a lovely illustrated children’s book about dreaming big, this new treat is charmingly illustrated manifesto for gratitude and the art of being thankful. And as if this isn’t enough of a ray of light in the world, Clayton also gives one copy of the book to a child in need for every copy of it sold.

Sample this gem with a video introduction by Clayton and pages from the book in our full review.

13 WORDS

13 Words is a meeting of two great talents: Iconic illustrator Maira Kalman and the one and only Lemony Snicket of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

The beloved children’s author curates 13 of the most essential words of all time and pairs each with original illustrations in Kalman’s signature style of delectable, childlike simplicity.

Our full review, complete with a lovely animated trailer for the book illustrated by Kalman herself, can be found here.

THE HEART AND THE BOTTLE

Oliver Jeffers is one of the most prolific and whimsical children’s book authors and illustrators of our time, equal parts artist and storyteller. With modern classics like Lost and Found and The Incredible Book-Eating Boy, he has carved himself a special place in the hearts of creative parents and their offspring. This year, Jeffers returned with another slam-dunk: The Heart and the Bottle — the breathtakingly illustrated and touching story of a little girl who bottles up her pain when her grandfather passes away, with an underlying message about the importance of keeping curiosity alive.

I keep writing children’s books, I keep making children’s books, because I still have them inside of me.” ~ Oliver Jeffers

As of this month, The Heart and the Bottle is also available as a stunning iPad Picture Book app

via Swiss Miss

BETWEEN THE LINES

Nonprofit RxArt uses the power of art to aid healing by placing contemporary art in children’s hospitals and clinics in an effort to transform these sterile environments into comforting havens, inspiring healing and hope in kids, their families and the tireless medical staff that takes care of them. Between The Lines is a wonderful coloring book and fundraising tool for the RxArt program, featuring over 50 original line drawings by some of today’s most celebrated contemporary artists, including Takashi Murakami, Ed Ruscha and Cynthia Rowley, plus a series of delightfully vibrant stickers designed by Nate Lowman and Mickalene Thomas.

Take an exclusive peek inside the book’s beautiful artwork in our full review.

THE QUIET BOOK

From author Deborah Underwood and illustrator Renata Liwska comes The Quiet Book, which may just be the new bedtime classic of our time. The stuffed-animal heroes of the story aren’t merely adorable, their body language and facial expressions harbor a level of emotional complexity that is simply astounding. The book is as much a soft-colored illustrated lullaby for tiny humans as it is a meditation on life’s peaceful moments for humans of all sizes.

Amazon has some exclusive sketches from Liwska’s drawing pad, very much worth a look.

DOG LOVES BOOKS

On the surface, Louise Yates’ Dog Loves Books is the story of a little white dog who opens a bookstore and, after no customers come, occupies himself by reading. The story, of course, is really about the life of the mind and the importance of pursuing one’s own curiosity — something at the core of our philosophy here at Brain Pickings. Yates manages to deliver this message to young readers in charming, dreamy watercolor drawings and soft pastel pencil illustrations, a most delightful primer for a lifetime of bibliophilia and imaginative intellectual curiosity.

Dog Loves Books is the follow-up to Yates’ excellent 2009 bunny adventure, A Small Surprise.

THERE ARE NO CATS IN THIS BOOK

Viviane Schwarz‘s There Are No Cats in This Book is a lie — there are cats in this book, plenty of them, each more delightfully mischievous than the next. The story takes a charming meta turn as Tiny, Moonpie and Andre, the three lead feline heroes, decide to escape the confines of the book and venture out into the world — a narrative technique whose analogy in theater and cinema is known as “breaking the fourth wall.”

Beautifully illustrated, brimming with bold colors, and wildly playful from cover to cover, There Are No Cats in This Book is a wonderful exercise in full-immersion storytelling for young readers.

LITTLE OWL LOST

Little Owl Lost is the kind of book that feels like a beautifully designed poster that somehow accidentally contorted and folded itself into a different format and, in the process of it, unfolded a captivating story. Despite — or perhaps precisely because of — the completely flat colors and plethora of negative space, Chris Haughton manages to deliver a potent dose of suspense and surprise for a dynamic narrative full of wide-eyed creatures and vibrant forest landscapes, designed and art-directed with a kind of craftsmanship and creative vision that make the turning of each page an absolute treat.

Little Owl Lost came out in August. 36Pages has a short but excellent interview with the author about his creative process.

via Swiss Miss

ART & MAX

David Wiesner is one of the most prolific and beloved living picture book creators. Three of his books (Flotsam, Tuesday and The Three Pigs) are winners of the prestigious Caldecott Medal, making him one of only two three-time winners of the medal in the award’s 73-year history. This year, he bestowed his latest piece of creative genius upon the world: Art & Max, the charming and colorful story of two artist friends: Art, a collared lizard with a penchant for portraits, and Max, a smaller lizard armed with a restless paintbrush. The two embark upon a vibrant, eye-popping journey into art and color.

Amazon has some fascinating exclusive images showing the development of Wiesner’s illustration and named Art & Max their #1 picture book of the year.

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