New York Times Book Review told us a few months back what their 67th annual list of Best Illustrated Children’s Books for 2019 was. I picked up one or two here and there and today I found myself reading three.
My “like” of Just Because by Mac Barnett comes from Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations. They are simple, with a lack of a traditional color, but the details are far from simplistic. The story (a child asking all the questions even many adults want to know) is interesting. At first, the fantastical answers the adult gives seemed silly. After all, why not tell the truth? Balloons flying dinosaurs to space where they still live? Yet, they are clever (black holes are the mouths of said dinosaurs). The page with the bombardment of questions is a perfect example of what children do. But again, the illustrations make the story. If you read them, you will see where many of the questions the child is asking comes from. You will see how this little narrator has big interests. And this would be a great anytime read, but would work for the bedtime story as it has a very amazing answer to “Why do we need to sleep?”
I thought I Miss My Grandpa might be a sad book. Yet, Jin Xiaoling has a hopeful story. The narrator is a young child who never knew her grandfather, yet, still misses him. But when she asks her grandmother about what he looks like, she is told which family member has “pieces of him” (her mother his hair, her uncle has the shape of his face, another family has his quality of listening). And when the child asks the family member, they give her another piece of the puzzle by expanding on that t trait or a piece of memory. The illustrations are simple, but not simplistic nor crude or childlike. Even the art of the narrator is nicely done. There is a fantastical element to them; almost surreal. They are airy, but sharp, deep colors and lines. It is almost a dram and the innocence of a child. You cannot so much read the story in them, but they complement the text.
Now The Famer is something I thought might be odd due to the quirky nature of the illustrations. They are simplistic in every sense of the word. There is some charm to them as they have bright colors that move you along and with little detail to bombard the senses. And yet, I did not feel any were ‘fameworthy.” The story is what really threw me off. It is obilsy translated, making the text boxy and somewhat awkward. There is no real action: Paul is the only one not resting in the town. He plants, watches, he grows things. When the rain does not come, he worries. But soon “his friend” the rain is back. The animals of the town have also helped him. This oddity that Abadia Ximo has added makes the whole story fall flat. There is nothing to really care about. The message is perseverance and friendship, and while you can see that, it still did not work for me.
I am now seven for 10 off this best 2019 of list. Each one did not scream “My new favorite” but each one was an experience. Which is one of the reasons I read to be able experiencing different things.