2017 is coming to a close folks, and you know what that means! Time to look back at all of the books this year that have provoked, charmed, inspired and anchored us. This year more than ever before, we've sought to celebrate the qualities that bring our friends and neighbors together while simultaneously honoring what makes our communities unique. In times of uncertainty, books such as Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris, Ghost by Jason Reynolds and This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe have guided difficult but fruitful conversations with our families and illuminated the beauty and strength that exists in complex, richly diverse spaces. This list wouldn't have been possible without the thoughtful recommendations of our dear friends at Mr. Mopps' Books, our favorite little bookstore in Berkeley, California. We hope some of your own favorites are on this list, and that you discover some new treasures to check out in the new year.
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris
As if Dave Eggers, founder of the literary journal McSweeny's, co-founder of 826 Valencia, and author of This Bridge Will Not Be Grey (among many other adult novels, such as What is What), could be any more genius or cool, his newest children's book Her Right Foot knocked us right out of the park. This timely story explains the significance and history of the Statue of Liberty, a topic that is especially poignant in a year when immigration and citizenship in the United States made headlines day after day. The illustrations by Shawn Harris are deceptively simple, but don't be fooled. Each page was a pain-staking labor of love by Harris, who drew sketches, then cut, edited, and arranged each detail of the illustrations in paper. Check out his website to see how several of the pages came together, from beginning to end.
Nina; Jazz Legend & Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Brière-Haquet and illustrated by Bruno Liance
This book takes on two equally difficult challenges, first, of honoring the life and legacy of Nina Simone, and second, of explaining racial inequality to young readers. Unlike the many children’s books that water down challenging topics or simply avoid them all together, Alice Briere-Haquet and Bruno Liance do immense justice to their subject matter, taking both Nina Simone’s life as a civil-rights activist and their audience seriously. Bruno Liance’s quietly gorgeous charcoal illustrations will take your breath away and Alice Briere-Haquet’s poetic narration will empower and strengthen. Thanks to this great book, and Nina Simone’s recent induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we have lots to celebrate.
This is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe
Who needs all the packing and potential nausea of world travel when you can just pick up This is How We Do It; One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World? This masterpiece of a book will introduce you to the customs, food, favorite after school activities homes and adorable quirks of kids from Uganda to Russia. By teaching us the commonalities that exist among such different lives, This is How We Do It wins Illustoria’s award for The-Book-We-Really-Needed-In-2017. So pack your imaginary bags (no 8 oz bottles necessary!) and good luck not falling in love with all of the families you meet on the way.
Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Esmé Shapiro
This book is an example of picture-book magic: when words marry illustrations to create a rich world that you'll want to visit over and over again. Shapiro’s artistry is rich with details and a warmth that invite you into the world of Yak and Dove—you’ll never want to leave! Yak and Dove is a story about friendship and celebrating differences but also so much more. Parents may see themselves and their kids in these characters. A takeaway: there is profound joy to be had in simply being present and appreciating those we love for who they are.
Lines by Suzy Lee
We can’t get enough of the uber-talented Suzy Lee. The creator of Wave, Shadow, and Open This Little Book brings her deceptively simple, majestic storytelling to her latest masterpiece: Lines, where the graceful lines created by the blade of a skate on a frozen pond by a young skater interweave with the storytellling lines made by an artist with the tip of her pencil. The youngest readers will enjoy every turn of the page, which progresses cleverly with each spread. There’s a heartwarming message about perseverance, artistry, and letting go of perfection that will resonate with all ages. Older readers will appreciate the subtle shift from black lines on a white page to the inverse. Every element of Lee’s quietly powerful storytelling is like poetry, a meditation on creative expression in its purist form.
The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Oh woe. Oh me! The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse is a picture book to die for. Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, the power duo behind Triangle and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole out-do themselves in their latest Kafka-esque tale of a duck and mouse that get swallowed by a wolf and decide to call it home. If you're a fan of stormy woodland Eastern Europe children's tales such as Hedgehog in the Fog (a classic 1975 film by Yuriy Norshteyn later published as a children's book in 2006) or the fantastically dark tales of Roald Dahl, you'll love this delightful tale.
Meet the Artist: David Hockney by Rose Blake
The first thing that popped into our heads when we saw Meet the Artist: David Hockney by Rose Blake was " So. Jealous." So jealous of the kiddos that can enjoy this extremely cool activity book (on one of the coolest artists of all time, no less) which is filled to the brim with innovative projects, hip Hockney-inspired doodles, and introductions to the artist's life and work. In a world filled with artist bios for kids that feel outdated and stale, Blake's activity book sets the bar high. Celebrate the art legend's 80th birthday (born July 9, 1937!) with this book, and if you're lucky enough, the amazing Hockney retrospective on view at The Met until February 25, 2018.
Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez
If you or your kiddo is a fan of gorgeous day-glo illustrations and seriously creepy storylines, Nighlights by Lorena Alvarez is the book to fawn over. This short story graphic novel stars Sandy, a talented and ever distracted artist who would rather doodle all day than pay attention to the drone of her school teachers. Sandy's troubles catch up her though when a supernatural creature named Morphie tries to convince her to use her drawing skills for evil. This book is perfect for anyone that is currently obsessed with the Hilda series by Luke Pearson and is ready to turn the scary dial up a couple notches. All who enter the surreal, sinister world of Nightlights beware: the cliff-hanger ending will have you praying that a prequel is in the works for 2018...
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
It's no secret that here at Illustoria HQ, we can never have enough Laurel Snyder, author of award-winning books Swan, Charlie and Mouse, and The Forever Garden. She's also graced the pages of the mag in Issue 1: Beginnings with her Dusty Bookshelf recommendation and in Issue 2: Canvas with Martha Graham in Motion, Her latest middle-grade novel Orphan Island made this year's National Book Award Longlist and is a masterpiece that will have you reading way, way past bedtime. The book takes place on a mysterious island inhabited by nine children and haunted by recurring tragedy. Every year, a boat appears on the island to take the eldest of the group and replace them with a new child. This eerie and thought provoking tale is a contemplation of childhood in all of it's beauty and terror.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
Why do books where trees take center stage pull at our heart strings so? First The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, then A House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and now: Wishtree, a 2017 bestseller by Katherine Applegate. In Applegate's heart-felt tale, Red is a 216-year-old oak tree who must make a change when a new family moves into the neighborhood. While the perspective of a stationary tree may first have readers scratching their heads, this pun-ny oak will open readers' hearts, and remind all why love, inclusion and diversity are the core of any strong community.