Below is a lovingly curated recommendation of some of the most interesting picture books I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune of reading. I have the inimitable Mansi Zaveri at Kids Stop Press to thank for this delightful suggestion. Most of it appeared last year on her website here (0+; 1+), here (2+; 3+), here (4+; 5+), here (6+; 7+), and here (8+; 9+). The list below also includes a final category for the 10-110 year olds (not featured on Kidsstoppress).
This is, by no means, a definitive list, nor is it the most eclectic one you may come across. But these books have touched me and my kids in ways more than one. And I believe that these have in them what it takes to connect with a wider lot.
Ascribing an age-appropriateness to each book is an avoidable exercise in ornamentation and housekeeping. It is my firm belief that a 6 month child will respond with equal pleasure (in her own way) to a picture book mentioned in the 9+ category, and vice versa. However, where the classification does work is in deciding who could have the most complete and sublime reading/ comprehending experience with a particular title.
I have left out the obvious ones – Where The Wild Things Are, Madeline, Julia Donaldson’s, The Hungry Caterpillar, No, David!, Elmer, Goodnight Moon, George and Martha, The Giving Tree, Dr Seuss’s, Amelia Bedelia, Olivia, Guess How Much, etc. These, willy nilly, end up on every list.
The titles are listed in no particular order of preference. The list is not comprehensive, even for my liking. There are several loved books I’ve had to leave in order to restrict it to 10 each. Also, this is a six-month old list. I have read many more lovely books since that belong here, but I shall talk about them in another post. And there are many new ones that I’m itching to lay my hands on that will definitely get included the next time round.
A few points to keep in mind when going through ANY list:
- Omissions tell a reader as much about the interest and book-bias of a reviewer as do the inclusions.
- There is no such thing as the 10 best or the 100 best. What works as a priceless book for me may not work for you at all.
- No list, no matter from whatever source, will ever be a comprehensive representation of the entire body of impressive work that is happening in the world of kidlit. In most cases, the reviewer has access to a limited set of books, and therefore, each list will leave out many a precious gem.
- That’s Not My Puppy… (by Fiona Wells and Rachel Watt; Usborne): The fuzz, the texture, the pups – everything about this board book is appealing to a pair of little eyes and fingers eager to explore the world.
- I Kissed the Baby! (by Mary Murphy; Candlewick Press): If you though only bright colours work with infants, wait till you’ve started reading this one out to her. Striking bold animals and black and white with a splash of funky yellow at the end, plus dollops of animal fun and loads of cuddling and tickling and loving and kissing. Babies will LOVE it.
- Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury; HMH Books): A book as fascinating to an infant as to a 6 year old, there is everything awwwwe-worthy about it. Moms and dads never get enough of kissing and biting their baby’s tiny toes, do they? Continue to read this out (with its gentle soothing rhyme) to her for a few years and she’ll discover an entirely different, deeper world of we-are-born-the-same regardless of our skin colour and other externalities.
- Dinasaur’s Binkit (by Sandra Boyton; Little Simon): This was our very first plunge with my 4-month old into the wonderful world of Sandra Boyton and she has left us transfixed since! Fourteen years on, this book still bags the coveted ‘favouritest’ tag in my household. With flaps and blankets to lift and mouths and wardrobes to open, this book about a dino baby losing his ‘binkit’ will keep the little one enthralled.
- Oh Dear! (by Rod Campbell; Campbell Books): My kids used to love love love the repeated ‘Oh Dear!’ and lifting the flaps and all the egg-y fun in this book.
- Flutterfly (Niveditha Subramaniam; Tulika): Another lovely instance where the predominantly black and whites pages with just a dash of bright colour flitting from one end to another will fascinate a young reader without fail!
- Where are Maisy’s Friends? (by Lucy Cousins; Candlewick Press): This is our most favourite Maisy board book, perhaps because of the adorable animals that continue to show up with each flap lift.
- The Big Night-Night Book (by Georgie Birkett; Barron’s Educational Series): This lovely touch-and-feel board book makes for a perfect bed time pick for little babies. It is on the lines of Goodnight Moon, though I find this having a more endearing appeal because of its simpler (and cuter) illustrations, and textures that make it remarkably interactive.
- Where is My Baby? (by Harriet Feifert and Simms Taback; Blue Apple Books): Big mama and papa animals looking for their babies throughout the book, and surprise surprise, the babies have names of their own! Totally charming. The flaps are done imaginatively and the colours are gorgeous.
- Is This My Nose? (by Georgie Birkett; Barron’s Educational Series): Another Birkett favourite. Little babies will love lifting the flaps to explore the concepts of nose, mouth etc. through some big bright illustrations. And the fab mirror at the end is an added treat.
- Boodabim (by Alankrita Jain; Tulika): This book is such a sweet little tease! It’s a guessing game for the little ones, the really little ones, to identify who Boodabim is from the endearing disguises he appears in.
- Rooster Raga (by Natasha Sharma and Priya Kuriyan; Tulika): Who has not fallen yet for the unending charm of this rambunctious story so fresh and alive with the loud throaty calls from the farm?! We love this book! Also because it tells us to ‘Just be you!’
- Orange Pear Apple Bear (by Emily Gravett; Mac Millan): What a delightfully intelligent and engaging use of just the four words in the title throughout this whimsical book!
- Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld; Chronicle Books): A must have for any vehicle / truck – crazy child, it’s fun to see the big beasts dropping dead one by one after a hard day’s work, yes, with their blanky and soft toy! Surprisingly soothing, even for a non-truck person like me.
- No No Yes Yes (by Leslie Patricelli; Candlewick Press): Your little one will love love LOVE this adorable book that reinforces the all befuddling concepts of yes’s and no’s with some of the darling illustrations ever.
- Goodnight, Gorilla (by Peggy Rathman; Puffin Books): A cleverly done fun book with a naughty gorilla and a clueless zoo guard. And then there are the many other animals popping out one by one. Minimal text keeps the focus firmly on the visuals, which is where the matchless humour comes from anyway.
- I Went Walking (by Sue Williams and Julie Vivas; HMH Books): If you though predictable is boring, do pick up this fab book. Join the little boy in his walk and the trail of animals that builds up behind him, one animal at a time. My kids used to love the repetition and gentleness in this warm story.
- The Perfect Hug (by JM Walsh and Judi Abbot; Simon & Schuster): Pandas and hugs and loads of brightly illustrated animals make for some unbeatable treat. Especially when it’s a dear little panda in search of that loving squeezy that feels perfect.
- My Mother’s Sari (by Sandhya Rao and Nina Sabnani; Tulika): Children romancing the sari in every possible way. My favourite is ‘Then when I am tired, it wraps itself around me.’
- Cockatoos (by Quentin Blake; Little Brown and Company): One of the most darling set of naughty birds ever come together through Blake’s unmistakable water colours to teach the little ones count from 1 to 10.
- That Is Not a Good Idea (by Mo Willems; Walker Books): During the first snuggle time with this book, your little one will let out anxious shrieks of ‘That is not a good idea’ at each step of this hilarious silent-movie styled book, liberally peppered with Mo Willem’s trademark wit and perfect timing. Thereafter, it’ll be a mischievous all-knowing shout out for a befitting build up to the enormously satisfying end.
- Oh, Daddy! (by Bob Shea; Balzer + Bray): A zany daddy-child book overflowing with silliness and humour. And loads of deliberate crazy mistakes by daddy hippo.
- If There Was One Place I Could Be (by Kalpana Subramanian and Prashant Miranda; Little Latitude): Little Anahi takes us on a magical journey through the enchanting alive underwater world. Clever use of words and fresh detailed vibrant illustrations.
- Aliens Love Underpants (by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort; Barron’s Educational Series): This is the funniest book in Clairre’s Loves-underpants series, we adore the perfect rhyme and all the silliness of aliens going to any length to grab underpants on earth.
- Harry the Dirty Dog (by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham; Harper Collins): A classic in largely black and white, you cannot not fall in love with this dirty dog who runs away from the house to avoid taking a bath (and gets dirtier and dirtier).
- Where is Amma? (by Nandini Nayar and Srividya Natarajan): There’s something about Nandini’s lovely stories that never fails to resonate with me. This is my absolute favorite of hers. A gentle genuine honest and oh-so-real innocence characterizes both the text and the illustrations. The way the boy and his trusted general, the cat, look for amma everywhere is truly heart warming! The most touching moment – ‘It must have been very cold inside the fridge and you didn’t even have a sweater!’
- When the Earth Lost Its Shape (by Shobha Vishwanath and Christine Kastl; Karadi): An endearing what-if book. Getting to see limp squidgy out-of-shape everyday things a child is familiar with – egg, sandwiches, waffles, kites and more, is a perfect recipe for getting kids to talk of shapes for days.
- Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (by Mo Willems; Walker and Company): We LOVE, apart from everything else, the all-so-believable clueless dad in this classic.
- Z is For Moose (by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky; Greenwillows Books): I can’t decide what I love this whacky book more for – the alphabet madness or the rocking friend the zebra is to the moose.
- All Join In (by Quentin Blake; Red Fox): It’s the most crazy book to pick up for kids to soak in poetry in all its eccentricity (with equally eccentric illustrations) early on. It’s zany, the repetitions work well with kids, and it’s noisy. Incredibly noisy.
- Don’t Let the Pigeons Drive the Bus (by Mo Willems; Walker Books): Phenomenally hilarious, in case you still haven’t succumbed to Mo Willem’s charms.
- Ekki Dokki (by Sandhya Rao and Ranjan De; Tulika): One of the most crisply done folk tales rendered memorable by De’s unusual geometrical illustrations.
- Days with Thatha (by Geeta Dharmarajan and Nancy Raj; Katha): A evocatively done book on the warm, wonderful, inexplicable bond that children and grandparents share.
- Harold and the Purple Crayon (by Crockett Johnson; Bloomsbury): This 64 page classic is as much of a prized possession today as it must have been to thousands way back in the 50s. A brilliant combination of unbridled imagination and lingering imagery.
- Suddenly! (by Colin McNoughtan; Anderson): Kids usually LOVE this suspense thriller, or as close to one it can get for a young reader! Not sure what I enjoy more about this book – Preston the adorable pig going about his day in the face of the nastiest of dangers, or the suspense at each road corner.
- Frog and the Birdsong (by Max Velthuijs; Andersen): One of the best books for toddlers and young ones to talk about the inevitability of death and the beauty of life. And that there’s grief in death, even if it’s a stranger’s. Sweetly, lovingly, calmly told.
- Humbug Witch (by Lorna Balian; Star Bright Books): By far the cutest books you’ll find featured on this list. Little witch has everything going for her to be the meanest witch in the universe, except one. Don’t miss it!
- To Market! To Market! (by Anushka Ravishankar, Emanuele Scanziani and Rathna Ramanathan; Tara): Explored through the perspective of a little girl, watch this local marketplace come alive, page by page, with the help of some mesmerizing rich vivid illustrations and playful everyday words. It’s quirky and enchanting and almost photographic; wait until you get to the page with ominous red chillies – it’s sure to build up a sneeze in you.
- Junior Kumbhkarna (by Arundhati Venkatesh and Shreya Sen; Tulika): Laugh, giggle, chortle your way through this funny book that kids and adults are smitten by, especially if gorging and lolling around for a better part of the day are right up your alley.
- Dog Blue (by Polly Dunbar; Walker Books): ‘What Bertie wanted more than anything in the whole wide world was a dog. A blue dog! So Bertie pretended he had a blue dog.’ An irresistible story of make belief, dog love, and a freaking-out realization when faced with reality – ‘Bertie’s dog isn’t blue at all!’.
- The Fivetongued Firefanged Folkadotted Dragon Snake (Anushka Ravishankar, Rathna Ramanathan, and Indrapramit Roy; Tara): This book always always always gives me a bad bout of author envy! I find this as being one of Anushka’s cleverest and wittiest best.
- First Day Jitters (by Julie Danneburg and Judy Love; Charlesbridge): Funny, with vibrant detailed relatable visuals and an incredibly clever ending. It’s Sarah’s first day at school, and she just about manages to trudge along with her apprehensions right until the end of the book. Just that, it’s not a student we are reading about at all!
- It’s a Book (by Lane Smith; Roaring Brook Press): A witty, tongue-in-cheek case for printed books in this increasingly virtual world.
- Oliver (Birgitta Sif; Walker Books): When I first read this book about a deeply imaginative and quiet creative boy who enjoys solitude and is happy in his own world, I couldn’t decide whether it was as fascinating as the reviews had made it sound to be. But I have no qualms in admitting that I’ve seen it grow on me, bit by bit, every stunning pastel visual by visual, every gentle move in Oliver’s actions by action. A dreamily done book about being at ease while being different from the crowd, and in due course, finding someone who you can connect with instantly.
- Lost and Found (by Oliver Jeffers; Philomel Books): One of the BEST, most soulful, quietly moving books on friendship for young kids.
- Meggie Moon (by Elizabeth Baguley; Little Tiger Press): One of the earliest introductions my kids had to kickass feminism and caring two hoots about prescribed gender roles. And it’s a great book to pick up to see boys and girls play together in creative imaginative ways.
- Love Like That (by Richa Jha and Gautam Benegal; Pickle Yolk Books): To be released soon, this book is an endearing story of a little joey wondering why his mommy can’t love him the way other mommies love little ones.
- My Teacher is Not a Monster! (by Peter Brown; Little, Brown Books): An utterly believable story, because let’s face it, every child has at least one monster teacher at school every year!
- Hans and Matilda (by Yokococo; Templar): Each of us is shades of naughty and nice – explaining this to kids made easier by this breezy little book.
- Mr Wolf’s Pancakes (by Jan Fearnley; Egmont Books): I have this big thing for rib tickling picture books with intelligent foxes and wolves with hearts of gold. Or pancakes. Or whatever. This one is particularly yummy because of the hordes of selfish greedy neighbours our Mr Wolf is surrounded with. He outwits them all, of course.
- The Bear Under the Stairs (by Helen Cooper; Corgi Childrens): A magnificently told (in rhyme) and illustrated (in water colours) story of nearly every child’s fear of dark spaces and the overactive imagination that spurs on. Why I especially love this book is because it also shows the child deciding to be brave and confronting it in his own way.
- Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (by Mo Willems; Hyperion Books): Among my all time favourites. The key take-away from this delightful book is that if the world expects you to belong to a certain mould and you find yourself not fitting in at all, fret not. Cast a new mould for yourself and slip into it effortlessly and swing in there snugly. And take away no 2 – friendship makes an imperfect life perfect.
- Dirty Joe, the Pirate: A True Story (by Bill Harley and Jack E Davis; Harper Collins): The hilarious adventures of a set of sock-loving pirates and another that seeks out underwear on the high seas!
- Guji Guji (by Chih Yuan Chen; Kane/ Miller Book Publishers): An enchanting book on family, adoption, love and acceptance. Part quirky, part reflective, part believable, this warm gently-narrated story of a crocodile being adopted by a family of ducks is a winner all the way.
- Crispin the Pig Who Had it All (by Ted Dewan; Doubleday Books): Anyone who has ever played with an empty carton will enjoy this book. Because here, a carton is more than the endless worlds and possibilities that it throws up for Crispin, a super rich spoilt piglet. It is his one and only window to the world of friends. Real friends.
- Daft Bat (by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross; Andersen): I can’t think of a better book to introduce the concept of different perspectives and to have a healthy respect for differing points of view. Much needed in today’s world with rising intolerance.
- Mister Jeejeebhoy and the Birds (by Anitha Balachandran; Young Zubaan): Whenever I think of picture books that raised the bar for homegrown books in India, this one is always right up there. Drenched handsomely in magic-realism, and rendered in bold stunning incredibly detailed illustrations that speak a language of their own, this story of two sisters with supernatural powers remains a favourite with us even after years.
- Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears (Emily Gravett; Mac Millan UK): A book with a mouse-nibbbled corner is already a winner even before you’ve peeped inside, right? This is an indispensable book for children (and adults) troubled by big fears or small. Despite the sinister look and feel of the book, this one is light and humorous, and makes for an incredibly satisfying read.
- Winnie the Witch (Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul; Harper Collins): My kids and I LOVE going through the hilarious quirky exploits of Winnie and Wilbur, her black cat, as much as we gawk in admiration at the mind blowing detailed illustrations. This is the first book in the series.
- The Story of Ferdinand (by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson; Viking): A 1936 classic that doesn’t fail to move and inspire you, in its own sweet gentle calm manner, no matter how many times you read it. Be yourself is the mantra, and few other books can come close to talking about it with such ease, brevity and finesse.
- A Visitor for Bear (by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton; Candlewick Press): Ah! I wish I could write and illustrate a book like this, just once in my lifetime. The first of the ‘Bear and Mouse’ books, it has the BEST characterization, timing, pauses, lyrical near-poetic cadence and use of subtle wry humour among the hundreds of picture books I’ve read so far.
- Boris and Bella (by Carolyn Crimi and Gris Grimly; HMH Books for Young Readers): Beware the romance of the gruesome. For when Boris Kleanitoff and Bella Lagrossi lock horns, gouged eye-balls are sure to roll. And absolute all-time favourite in my household, we adore the illustrations, the wit, the attention to detail and the astonishingly funny sequences.
- Mrs Armitage on Wheels (by Quentin Blake; Peachtree Publishers): The invincible Mrs Armitage has been a super role model for girls and mommies and grannies for years. This book is a riot in itself – both in the way the plot gets more hysterical with each ‘what this bicycle needs…’ and in the way the illustrations get more and more detailed and hilarious. And yes, her devoted dog Breakspear is here too.
- Alone in the Forest (by Gita Wolf, Andrea Anastasio and Bhajju Shyam; Tara) A boy coming face to face with his fear of the unknown when alone in the forest. Lyrical text and a blinding play of rich colours in the page design lend a near-magical yet real immediacy to it.
- The Susu Pals (by Richa Jha and Alicia Souza; Pickle Yolk Books): A zany roller coaster ride through the friendship between two best friends.
- My Lucky Day (by Keiko Kasza; Puffin Books): A phenomenally fun book that will keep you on tenterhooks (a sweet little defenceless pig is about to be devoured by the big bad wolf, after all)!
- That Dreadful Day (by James Stevenson; Greenwillow Books): Surrounded by whines of it’s-not-fair and it-can’t-get-worse? Snuggle with this old Stevenson fun classic where Grandpa tells the little ones about his dreadful day.
- A Very Proper Fox (by Jan Fearnley; Harper Collins): Another brilliantly done, hilarious, heart-warming book by Fearnley (see Mr Wolf’s Pancakes above) about being yourself. Frankie the fox loves dancing and tidying up places and clearing the vegie patches and mending broken fences when all he ought to be doing is catching chickens. Or so he is made to believe by the wily Naughty Rabbit.
- The Dot (by Peter H Reynolds; Candlewick Press): A masterful ode to boundless creativity. You just need to have the first dot in place.
- Thatha at School (by Richa Jha and Gautam Benegal; Pickle Yolk Books): This book shows Oviyam’s insecurities about her grandfather’s dhoti, and how she rids herself of those.
- Mole and the Baby Bird (by Marjorie Newman and Patrick Benson; Bloomsbury USA): A deeply moving book about loneliness, companionship, friendship, separation and longing. How a picture book can pack so much in a few words is a marvel.
- A Mama for Owen (by Marion Dane Bauer): Tragedies happen in real life, they do. The ones with hope in their heart always manage to find comfort in strange ways. A baby hippo’s search for his mother swept away in tsunami brings him to an unusual mama.
- Grandpa Green (by Lane Smith; Roaring Brook Press): Grandpa Green is as much a loving ode to a great grandpa as it is to an inimitable green thumb and an artist at heart. The grandson walks us through the beautiful garden full of fanciful topiary that the great grandpa has lovingly hand-crafted over the years, and in the process, he walks us through his entire life story from the time when pa was born in a different era. Gentle and moving.
- The Story and the Song (by Manasi Subramaniam and Ayswarya Sankarnarayanan; Karadi): It is a story of a wronged story, a forgotten song, of chattering flames, of trapped elements and returning souls. This rendering of the folktale flows beautifully. It is gentle and lyrical, unhurried and evocative. And the illustrations, breathtaking.
- Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (by Mac Burnett and Jon Klassen; Candlewick Press): Oh the places you go when you and your friend go digging for something spectacular! A funny but frustrating (a ‘gosh, don’t stop, boys, keep digging in that direction’ kind of a helplessness) picture book with an equally ambiguous ending. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, a fresh theory will float into your head.
- A is for Activist (by Innosanto Nagara; Kupu Kupu Press): Well, it’s an ABC book, so you can sit with your toddler too with this, but I feel that the content of this book will be best absorbed by slightly older kids. This book on activism will trigger endless discussions between your child and you. Serious as may sound, it is quite a funny and enjoyable book.
- Pirate Girl (by Conelia Funke and Kerstin Meyer; Chicken House): We love Cornelia’s feisty badass girl characters. But of them all, it is Molly the intrepid pirate girl who has stolen our hearts like no other. The boisterous story, the spirited characters, the grime, the muck, the crookedness, the incredible depth of visual detail in each frame, along with the unfailing unfazed spunk of Molly – we are in complete awe of this book. Whenever we run out of options to read at bedtime, my 10 year old and I knowingly nod at each other, waiting for the other to fetch this one!
- The Princess Knight (by Cornelia Funke and Kerstin Meyer; Chicken House): Distressing as it is to see that we still NEED books like these that ‘show’ strong girls having to fight for doing the supposedly ‘boy’ things, this book is an absolute riot from cover to cover.
- Princess Pigsty (by Cornelia Funke and Kerstin Meyer; Chicken House): A glowing ode to muck and imperfection and many such un-queenly attributes.
- Following My Paintbrush (by Gita Wolf and Dulari Devi; Tara): Madhubani folk artist Dulari Devi’s story is both moving and inspiring. Two things come about strongly in the narrative: Dulari’s uneading quest for a creative outlet, and once the means is within her reach, how she uses true vignettes from her past to help her further in her new quest for perfection. The illustrations are one of the finest Madhubani styled paintings to have been rendered in a book form.
- The Why Why Girl (Mahasweta Devi and Kanyika Kini; Tulika): We do not have a better book for kids in India to address the whole array of deep rooted discrimination and marginalization in our society – gender, caste, class – and how the only befitting leveler in all these cases can be education, apart from an unquenched thirst for answers to ‘whys’. A powerful, thought provoking, book.
- Mukand and Riaz (by Nina Sabnani; Tulika): An poignant tale of friendship and separation set against the backdrop of the 1947 partition. Full of sadness, but also of hope and the everlasting nature of deep bonds of friendship. This book lingers on in a most melancholic yet uplifting way.
- Garmann’s Summer (by Stian Hole and Don Bartlett; Eerdmans Books for Young Readers): This seemingly unsettling Norwegian story of a six year old scared about starting school is anything but that. It is a means of elegant addressal of the never ending web of fears that the human mind keeps jumping to one after the other. Fear persues and persists in one form or another. And that, fear is. It is.
- The Unboy Boy (by Richa Jha and Gautam Benegal; Pickle Yolk Books): A book that questions gender norms and shows that there are no un-boy boy or un-girl girls in this world. I always sign this book with a ‘Believe in yourself and be happy being you’ because that, to my mind, is the essence of this story.
- Shadow (by Suzy Lee; Chronicle Books): This almost-wordless book will stun you with its sheer excessive exquisiteness of scope and form. It’s all about a little free-spirited girl’s mind blowing shadow play in her attic. The book folding out from top to bottom makes for an interesting juxtaposition of the real and the imagined.
- Badger’s Parting Gifts (by Susan Varley; Magi Publications): This story both gets my throat all lumpy and never fails to bring a smile. A most tenderly told and illustrated moving story of impending death, learning to deal with loss, and finding pleasure and meaning in one’s life through what the departed being has left behind. Look at how gracefully this ends – ‘Whenever Badger’s name was mentioned, someone remembered another story that made them all smile.’ Lasting legacies, we say.
- A Lion in Paris (by Beatrice Alamagna; Katha): A lion from Savannah saunters into Paris in search of ‘love, work, a future’. This story is about his journey from being an apprehensive and unsure newcomer in the city to gradually earning his sense of belonging and the rightful place in the crowd. On a more philosophical level, the book tells us that day we learn to be at ease with ourselves and be ourselves, we find our place and contentment in the world, no matter how cold, unforgiving or indifferent it may have seemed to us until then. Both grounding and uplifting at the same time.
- Infinity and Me (by Kate Hosford and Gabi Swiatkowska; Lerner Publishing Group): A relatable confusion in the mind of a young one about the abstract concept of infinity. And an extraordinarily done fun book to resolve it. Okay, somewhat resolve it.
- My Grandfather Aajoba (Taruja Parande; Tulika): Taruja collates snatches of the vivid memory of her Aajoba, his photographs, his words, scraps of paper, articles, other items that remind her of him, and decorates them together in the form of this book. It’s the kind of scrapbook you and I have always wanted to make of people who mean the world to us, but have never got around to doing it. It’s a loving grand daughter’s way of saying, ‘I miss you Aajoba.’
- Thank you, Mr Falker (by Patricia Polacco; Philomel Books): Dyslexic Trisha’s (the young award-winning author / illustrator herself) touching and inspiring struggle to cope with learning and reading in class, and how one teacher finally understands her fully and opens unto her window to the magical world of words. This book is Patricia’s tribute to the real life Mr Falker. I dare you to not be teary-eyed when you read this!
- Enemy Pie (by Derek Munson and Tara Calahan King; Chronicle Books): A book that most kids this age (or adults too) will relate to with ease. It’s all about how to deal with/ get rid of an (imagined) enemy. Take along the enemy pie you have baked, spend some time with him (because you MUST, before handing over the poisonous stuff to him), and oops, the enemy may well start appearing more friend-like!
- We Are All Born Free (various artists; Tara): A powerful visual exposition of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights by some of the most renowned illustrators of our time.
- Monsieur Marceau – Actor Without Words (by Leda Shubert and Gerard Buboi; Flash Point): A layered peep into the complex inspiring life of world’s greatest mime. Gorgeous illustrations and crisp references to some truly moving vignettes from his life.
- The Lion & The Bird (by Marianne Dubuc and Claudia Z Bedrick; Enchanted Lion Books): You can never get enough of this quiet gentle heartwarming tale of loneliness, finding companionship, the inevitability of separation, resignation, longing and the joy of meeting, all over again. Priceless.
- Winston & George (by John Miller and Giuliano Cucco; Enchanted Lion Books): Tales of friendship never go out of fashion, even when decades old. This vibrantly illustrated books has ingredients familiar to most Indian readers – a la Jataka /Panchtantra prankster, cry wolf like tale of a deep friendship with a happy ending. While younger kids too will immensely enjoy this, it is the element of bittersweet constant societal pressures which non-conforming units face from time to time that will register well only with the older kids.
- Michael Rosen’s SAD Book (by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake; Candlewick Press): A moving personal account of a father grieving, enveloped in melancholy, and coming to terms with the loss of his son.
- The Arrival (by Shaun Tan; Lothian Books): There cannot be a better book to have animated conversations with your child around the burning realities of our times- displacement, immigration, refugees. The stunning incredibly detailed frames, the sheer magnitude of a tale told without words, the highs of going along a journey on a somewhat familiar, somewhat fantastical land and the lows of fears and loneliness – every aspect of this book sucks you in.
- The Honey Hunter (by Karthika Nair and Joelle Jolivet; Young Zubaan): The stunning vibrant colours, the striking illustrations, the sweep of the Sundarban landscape, the enchanting story, the fulsome feel of this big gorgeous book – what is there not to flip for? Given the mindless games we continue to play with nature, I feel introducing this book to older kids is an interesting way to engage them with critically thinking about the sensitive Sundarban (and other) ecology.
- Grandfather Gandhi (by Arun Gandhi, Bethany Hegedus and Evan Turk; Antheneum): Gandhi, as observed, revered, deconstructed by the 12 year old Arun, his grandson, who has come from South Africa to live for a couple of years with Bapu at his ashram. ‘Have I not told you how anger is like electricity?’ –Mahatma’s wisdom, and the entire essence of his non-violent philosophy, his being, broken down into easy bits as a priceless take away for everyone from this brilliant book. No other book offers a young reader this level of intimacy with Gandhi.
- Almost to Freedom (by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Colin Bootman; Carolrhoda Books): Seen through the eyes of a much-loved rag doll of slave girl Lindy, several aspects of the Black History stand out in this powerful tale that ends on a note full of hope despite a lingering sadness. You can feel the fear, the isolation, the struggle for flight to freedom, the Underground Railroad, and the raw emotions giving our prior knowledge of slavery an intense immediacy.
These are books that you like to read in solitude because YOU want to immerse yourself in them. They work equally well as read alouds with younger kids, but for me, it’s their power to trigger strong emotions, to move me, and to draw me in like no other book meant for adults that is most appealing about them. I have also marked against each the ages for which these books will do well.
- Hoje Sinto Me… (Today I Feel…from A to Z by Madalena Moniz; Orfeu Negro, Portugal / 5+): This stunning and incredibly imaginative Portugese alphabet book will get you in a contemplative mood. Each reader will imagine a unique powerful story for each alphabet.
- Scar (by Charlotte Moundlic and Ollivier Tallec / 6+): A heart wrenching narrative, laced with graceful humour, of a child grieving the loss of his mother. “I’m trying not to forget what Mom smells like, but it’s fading, so I close all the windows so that it won’t get out.”
- The Heart and the Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers; Philomel Books / 6+): An utterly heartbreaking gem from Jeffers on a girl’s response to the loss of her father. The girl standing by the empty sofa will cling to you, you’ve been warned.
- Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator (Mo Willems; Balzer + Bray / 4+): In my Mo Willems madness, this book ranks way above the others. I like books that show friendship in all its messiness and heart aches and delight. This, to my mind, does it like no other book with the simplest of words and illustrations possible. Very amusing, very subtle, and very addictive.
- Chicken Big (by Keith Graves; Chronicle Books / 3+) : Perhaps the silliest book on this list, a clever clever take on the classic Chicken Little, will keep a room packed with preschoolers in splits, and is a household favourite with us. I pick this up whenever I’m in need of a chuckle.
- The London Jungle Book (by Bhajju Shyam; Tara / 7+): There are times when you wish you could peep inside the mind of creative geniuses just to get a glimpse of what goes on in there, after all. Renowned and much-loved Gond artist Bhajju Shyam makes it a tad easier for you in his mind-blowing rendition (and interpretation) of the familiar sights and sounds around London. An equally delightful book by Tara along similar lines is Drawing from the City from Tejubehan.
- Father Christmas (by Raymond Briggs; Random House / 4+): Catch Father Christmas with his pajamas down. Well yeah, sort of. Catch him groaning and muttering under his breath as a blaring alarm kills his sunny-beach dream on a freezing blizzardy Dec 24. ‘Blooming Christmas here again!’ he begins cursing and gives us the most endearing, funny, irreverent Christmasy ride.
- Supposing (by Frances Thomas and Ross Collins; Bloomsbury / 4+): On the face of it, a simple story of a mother allaying her child’s fear of nightmares, but a closer read throws up a beautifully presented to-do for easing out dark thoughts with happier ones. Always.
- This Is Not My Hat (by Jon Klassen; Candlewick / 5+): More than I Want My Hat Back, it’s the deadpan humour, the fatalism, the ambiguity, the colours of impending doom of this one that hits me each time I read it– I can’t think of a more brilliantly poised noir in picture books.
- The Sniffles for Bear (by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton; Candlewick / 6+): I don’t know who I go more awwww for in this series (but particularly this book) –Mouse or Bear. There are days when we feel floating in a bottomless, unloved, uncared-for, not-understood pit like bear: ‘I fear you do not appreciate the gravity of my situation.’ Awwwww. And then again, Mouse like, we are bursting with optimism: ‘I am come! Soon you’ll be good as new!’ Subtle, brilliantly-time humour and the most expressive illustrations at their sunniest best. There are times when my heart aches for this book (and for A Visitor for Bear by the same author mentioned earlier). It is then that I sift through my collection, collect the loose printed sheets (for I tried my best to grab a copy but had to make do with getting prints from a library copy), take deep appreciative sniffs of the pages and lazily slink into my sofa to savour the two gems.