Best kids’ books of 2018 re­flect our so­ci­ety

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Arts Living - BY SUSIE WILDE

It’s time for my an­nual Wilde Awards, when I name the best books for chil­dren and young read­ers of the year.

As I put to­gether this list for the 22nd year and I re­flect on the books I’ve read, I find my­self ex­am­in­ing them in the con­text of the year’s cur­rent events.

Chil­dren’s books, like most lit­er­a­ture, re­flect the im­pact of the #MeToo move­ment. Sev­eral books were re­moved from pub­li­ca­tion, and artists and au­thors were cited for sex­ual mis­con­duct with col­leagues.

But on the pos­i­tive side, the in­dus­try has re­sponded cre­atively to the refugee sit­u­a­tion and Black Lives Mat­ter with poignant di­ver­sity ti­tles you’ll see listed be­low.

When be­stow­ing the Wilde Awards for pic­ture books and nov­els, which I re­veal here and at lo­cal book stores, my cri­te­ria re­mains con­sis­tent from year to year. I con­sider ques­tions like:

Will the book lead to mean­ing­ful

A dis­cus­sion, or un­der­stand­ing?

Will it en­gage chil­dren?


Is it evoca­tive?


Is it unique?


Is it made to be shared?


Does it have the rhythms,

A rhymes, word play and a thought­ful­ness that make it suc­cess­ful when read aloud?

Does it have the “read-ita­gain”

A qual­ity that makes chil­dren want to hear it again and par­ents pleased to have them ask for it?

And fi­nally, does it have

A strong char­ac­ters, com­pelling ten­sion and a sat­is­fy­ing res­o­lu­tion?

Here is my list of my fa­vorite chil­dren’s books. Soon, I’ll re­veal my win­ners for young read­ers.

The Wilde Awards Live will be pre­sented at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books at 7 p.m. on Dec. 4. There will be an in-store book fair as a fundraiser for Dou­glas El­e­men­tary School.


“A Busy Crea­ture’s


Day Eat­ing!” Mo Willems (Hype­r­ion): The ad­ven­ture be­gins as a comic crea­ture eats ap­ples and ce­re­als. Quickly he moves to a “huge hot­sauce hal­ibut hoagie.” His eat­ing reaches mis­ery in the lat­ter part the al­pha­bet with “Ooooohhh” and “potty.” Mo Willems proves again he can make any­thing orig­i­nal.

“Con­trary Dogs” and A

“Birds of a Color,” Elodie Jar­ret (Can­dlewick): Two small pop-up books fo­cus on con­cepts of color and size with big-time in­ven­tive fun and pop-ups sure to please par­ent and child.

“Hello Hello,” Bren­dan A Wen­zel (Chron­i­cle): A vis­ually play­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of how an­i­mals are alike and dif­fer­ent. Hu­mor and con­cepts are strength­ened by the unique il­lus­tra­tions. The back­mat­ter la­bels all the an­i­mals and notes the many that are en­dan­gered.

“A Hippy-Hoppy


Toad,” Peggy Archer (Ran­dom House): This rhyth­mic, rhyming readaloud follows a “teenytiny toad” who leaves his “teeter-tot­ter twig” when it snaps. Land­ing on a “raggy-shaggy tree” is only a tem­po­rary site and his ev­ery ad­ven­ture gives an op­por­tu­nity for word play.

“A Pa­rade of Ele­phants,”

A Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins): The ge­nius of sim­plic­ity cre­ates a book that em­beds count­ing and graph­ing in a lyri­cally-de­scribed ele­phant ad­ven­ture.

“Peek-a-Who?” Elsa A

Mroziewicz (Miniedi­tions): Ques­tions about which an­i­mal makes which sound find new ex­pres­sion in this bril­liantly-de­signed board book. Sturdy pages un­fold to add an ele­ment of sur­prise.

“The Rab­bit Lis­tened,”

A Cori Do­er­rfeld (Dial): Tay­lor is dev­as­tated when a flock of birds de­stroys his block struc­ture. An­i­mals of­fer ad­vice. The chicken sug­gests talk­ing, the os­trich ig­nores the sit­u­a­tion by bury­ing her head un­der blocks. Only the rab­bit listens. A sim­ple story with psy­chol­ogy and im­agery that open dis­cus­sions.


“All-of-a-Kind Fam­ily A Hanukkah,” Emily Jenk­ins (Schwartz & Wade): The clas­sic se­ries comes to pic­ture books as the five girls pre­pare for the hol­i­day. Full of the warmth, tra­di­tions, and car­ing that made this se­ries en­dure.

“Alma and How She A

Got Her Name,” Juana Martinez-Neal (Can­dlewick, ages 3-7): There’s a rea­son for Alma Sofia Espernza José Pura Can­dea’s long name and her fa­ther has a lyri­cal way of ex­plain­ing the fa­mil­ial sig­nif­i­cance.

“Baby Mon­key, Pri­vate

A Eye,” Brian Selznick (Scholas­tic): A 200 page I-Can-Read, a mys­tery, a comic view of pro­ce­dure? All of the above.

“The Day You Be­gin,”

A Jacque­line Woodson (Nancy Paulsen): “There will be times you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” Eco­nomic, cul­tural and lan­guage dif­fer­ence are poignant threads in this pow­er­ful story of chil­dren find­ing con­fi­dence.

“Dear Sub­sti­tute,”


Liz Gar­ton Scan­lon and Au­drey Ver­nick (Hype­r­ion): Short witty letters ex­press the un­named nar­ra­tor’s shift­ing emo­tions when a sub­sti­tute ar­rives. Com­plaints grad­u­ally change to ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

“Drawn To­gether,”


Minh Le (Hype­r­ion): How can you com­mu­ni­cate with a grand­fa­ther when you have nei­ther lan­guage, cul­ture, or shared ex­pe­ri­ences? Through shar­ing fan­tas­ti­cal draw­ing and vivid world build­ing, a young Asian boy and his grand­fa­ther find a splen­did com­mon­al­ity.


A Yuyi Mo­rales (Neal Porter Books): English and Span­ish lan­guages blend beau­ti­fully in this au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal mixed­me­dia pic­ture book of Mo­rales’ jour­ney of hope, love and dreams upon en­ter­ing the U.S. with her small son. Spe­cific to her ex­pe­ri­ence, it speaks uni­ver­sally to and about those who have faced the con­fu­sion and dis­crim­i­na­tion of im­mi­gra­tion.

“How to Code a


Sand­cas­tle,” Josh Funk (girls who code): A small girl and her ro­bot friend use tech­nol­ogy to build a cas­tle. Makes cod­ing un­der­stand­able…even those un­fa­mil­iar.

“I Got a Chicken for A

My Birth­day,” Laura Gehl (Carol­rhoda): Most chil­dren have faced birth­day dis­ap­point­ments, but this nar­ra­tor’s Aunt Lola sends a chicken in­stead of tick­ets to the amuse­ment park. The story shift quickly into the ab­surd and the res­o­lu­tion of­fers a big­ger sur­prise than the nar­ra­tor (or read­ers) could imag­ine.

“Inky’s Amaz­ing


Ad­ven­ture: How a Very Smart Oc­to­pus Found His Way Home,” Sy Mont­gomery (Si­mon and Schus­ter): Noted na­ture writer writes of the real life ad­ven­tures of an es­caped oc­to­pus, weav­ing facts seam­lessly facts and story.

“Ju­lian is a Mer­maid,”

A Jes­sica Love (Can­dlewick): The writer-il­lus­tra­tor in­tro­duces Ju­lian, a boy who sees mer­maids ev­ery­where and longs to be one. A lovely blend of pic­ture and text show his trans­for­ma­tion and the un­der­stand­ing of his Abuela. Span­ish wo­ven through the text strength­ens the story.

”Me and My Fear,”


Francesca Sanna (Fly­ing Eye Books): Graphic rep­re­sen­ta­tion and sim­ple text are a won­der­ful com­bi­na­tion for young nar­ra­tor who be­gins the story about her de­scrib­ing her “tiny friend called Fear.” Fear’s il­lus­tra­tion is in­deed small at story’s be­gin­ning, but grows larger and un­com­fort­ably pro­tec­tive. Al­most over­whelmed, he girl’s iso­la­tion is breeched by a new friend.

“Saf­fron Ice Cream,” A

Rashin Kheiryeh (Arthur Levine): The first-per­son nar­ra­tor, an Ira­nian im­mi­grant, trav­els by sub­way to visit Coney Is­land’s beaches for the first time. En route, she re­mem­bers her past at the Caspian Sea — the de­li­cious saf­fron ice cream and the sep­a­ra­tion of the men and women on the beach. This is a story to talk about cul­tural dif­fer­ences and the same­ness that unites us.

“The Word Col­lec­tor,”

A Peter Reynolds (Or­chard): Jerome is a wor­den­thu­si­ast who gath­ers words that are “short and sweet,” or “multi-syl­la­ble words that sounded like lit­tle songs.” But when his or­ga­nized col­lec­tion goes fly­ing and the words are jum­bled, Jerome dis­cov­ers the amaze­ment of string­ing words to­gether and shar­ing them with oth­ers.


“Adrian Sim­cox


Does Not Have A Horse,” Marcy Camp­bell (Pen­guin Young Read­ers): Chloe in­sists her class­mate is ly­ing about hav­ing a horse. Il­lus­tra­tions by Corinna Luyken aid Chloe’s re­al­iza­tions about Adrian’s cir­cum­stances and im­pres­sive imag­i­na­tion. Con­ver­sa­tions about poverty, kind­ness, and the gray shades of truth are all held in this book.

“The Day War


Came,” Nicola Davies (Can­dlewick): The au­thor writes, “Of the world’s 22.5 mil­lion refugees…more than half are chil­dren.” She of­fers the view of an or­di­nary child, who goes to school on a typ­i­cal day un­til “just af­ter lunch, the war came.” The child loses her home, fam­ily, coun­try and school­ing un­til other refugee chil­dren wel­come her back into learn­ing. Re­becca Cobb’s il­lus­tra­tions par­al­lel the power of the words.

“Is­landBorn,” Junot


Diaz (Dial): The adult au­thor makes a stun­ning de­but in chil­dren’s books as he de­scribes how Lola’s com­mu­nity con­trib­utes to paint a po­etic pow­er­ful pic­ture of “the Is­land” her fam­ily left when she was just a baby.

“Un­doc­u­mented: A


Worker’s Fight,” Dun­can Tonatiuh (Abrams): From the be­gin­ning, the for­mat of this book shows its unique­ness with the codex form used by Mix­teco. Juan, who is from that cul­ture speaks of his tire­less work and the plight of im­mi­grants.


“Be­tween the Lines: A

How Ernie Barnes Went From the Foot­ball Field to the Art Gallery,” San­dra Neil Wal­lace (Si­mon and Schus­ter, ages 8 and up): The Durham­born foot­ball star faces down prej­u­dice, learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and poverty be­fore he’s al­lowed to act on his pas­sion for art. You can learn more about Barnes at the North Carolina Mu­seum of His­tory, where “The North Carolina Roots of Artist Ernie Barnes” ex­hi­bi­tion runs through March 3.

“Camp Panda: Help­ing A Cubs Re­turn to the Wild,” Cather­ine Thimmesh (Houghton Mif­flin): Adorable pho­tos are only part of de­scrib­ing pan­das’ prob­lems and the so­lu­tions sci­en­tists have in­vented through trial and er­ror.

“Count­ing on Kather­ine: A How Kather­ine John­son Saved Apollo 13,” He­laine Becker (Holt): The bi­og­ra­phy zooms in on the child­hood cu­rios­ity of the fu­ture math­e­ma­ti­cian who con­trib­uted so much to the Apollo pro­gram, de­spite gen­der and race prej­u­dice. Il­lus­tra­tions fea­ture math­e­mat­i­cal com­pu­ta­tions in the back­ground cre­at­ing a per­fect ex­pres­sion of her pas­sion.

“Inky’s Amaz­ing


Es­cape: How a Very Smart Oc­to­pus Found His Way Home,” Sy Mont­gomery (Si­mon and Schus­ter): Pair an ex­tra­or­di­nary na­ture writer and the celebrity oc­to­pus who es­caped from a New Zealand Aquar­ium and you’ve a dy­namic pic­ture book made up of facts and story.

“Mae Among the


Stars,” Roda Ahmed (HarperCollins): The fo­cus of this pic­ture book bi­og­ra­phy is on the child­hood of Mae Jemi­son, the first black woman in space. Her cu­rios­ity, pas­sion for all things space, fam­ily sup­port and school prej­u­dices are present in equal mea­sure. The After­wards gives an as­tound­ing view of her ac­com­plish­ments.

“The Se­cret King­dom:

A Nek Chand, a Chang­ing In­dia and a Hid­den World of Art,” Barb Rosen­stock (Can­dlewick): When Nek Chand Saini be­comes a refugee from his peace­ful home in a small Pun­jab vil­lage, his fam­ily flees to “a sharp-edged city of color­less con­crete.” Over five decades, Nek cre­ates a mag­i­cal 13 acre “se­cret king­dom” from found ob­jects. A fold-out pho­to­graph com­ple­ments Claire Nivola’s de­tailed il­lus­tra­tions.

Fa­vorite Pic­ture


Book Char­ac­ters Re­turn in re­cent books: Tedd Arnold’s “Noodle­heads Find some­thing Fishy” (Hol­i­day House); Jim Aver­beck’s “Two Prob­lems for Sophia” (McElderry); Su­san Eaddy’s “Poppy’s Best Ba­bies” (Charles­bridge); Ryan T. Hig­gins’ “1 Grumpy Bruce” & “Santa Bruce” (Hype­r­ion); Anna McQuinn’s “Lola Gets A Cat” (Charles­bridge); David Shan­non’s “Grow up, David!” (Blue Sky Press) and David Ezra Stein’s “In­ter­rupt­ing Chicken and the Ele­phant of Sur­prise” (Can­dlewick).


The “Con­trary Dogs” small pop-up book fo­cuses on con­cepts of color and size.


David Ezra Stein re­turns with “In­ter­rupt­ing Chicken and the Ele­phant of Sur­prise.”

Schwartz & Wade

The clas­sic se­ries comes to a pic­ture book as the five girls pre­pare for the hol­i­day.

Neal Porter Books

English and Span­ish blend in this au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal mixed-me­dia pic­ture book about an im­mi­grant.


A pic­ture book bi­og­ra­phy zooms in on the child­hood cu­rios­ity of the fu­ture math­e­ma­ti­cian.


Ques­tions on sounds an­i­mals make find new ex­pres­sion in this bril­liantly de­signed board book.

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