I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen
While I enjoy artistic fireworks (Brother Sun, Sister Moon is gorgeous), I'm almost more impressed by simplicity. This book says so much in such an understated way. The subtlety and static nature of the illustrations. The way they echo the deadpan humor of the text in the unchanging expressions of the characters. The emotional cue of the SUDDEN RED BACKGROUND to indicate bear's delayed, angry reaction. The way he runs "backward" through the book. The parts of the story that are told only through pictures (I can just hear the storytime crowds - "There's your hat! There!").
And the humor! The humor is timeless and appeals to both children and adults. How often do you come across a truly funny book that also feels like a classic?
Possible awards: Caldecott, please? Please? If this isn't a distinguished and primarily visual experience, I don't know what is.
Grandpa Green, by Lane Smith
This one is coming up at the top of a lot of Mock Caldecott lists, and for good reason. I am most impressed by the way the two styles of illustration both delineate between the present-day characters and the historical events, and also help to intertwine the two threads. And, of course, there is the tension between the straight narrative of the text and the fantastical interpretations of it within the topiary. The boy and the grandpa are drawn so sensitively and expressively, and the theme of building intergenerational bridges through art and story is masterfully expressed.
That last, wordless spread, with its suggestion of the tradition being carried forward, is... well, I said I liked fireworks. Even quiet, poignant ones. Wow. I think I've talked myself into liking this book even better than I did before.
Possible awards: Um, Caldecott. You know it'll be at least an honor.
The Money We'll Save, by Brock Cole
This little book is getting lots of love for both illustrations and text. Let's start with illustrations. The loose style and classic feel fit perfectly with the gentle, funny, early 20th century story, and each character is rendered distinctly and expressively. Some of the characters even border on the grotesque, in a Hogarthian way. There are lots of extra plot details to spot within the illustrations as well.
But there's plenty to love in the text too. It's stylistically charming, with lively dialogue and great pacing. It also establishes characters with impressive efficiency.
Possible awards: Heavy Medal has mentioned it as a Newbery contender, but I think too much of the textual humor is dependent on the illustrations (such as exactly why it wasn't safe to go out in the yard without an umbrella). In another year, I would bet on a Caldecott nod, but this is a strong, strong year for picture books.
Little White Rabbit, by Kevin Henkes
Oh, Kevin Henkes, you sensitive man, with your dreamy rabbits and your misunderstood ten-year-old girls. How do you do it?
Henkes uses space so well. As in Where the Wild Things Are, reality is contained within boxes here, while fantasy spreads all the way out to the edges of the page. And each of those fantastical, two-page spreads is just... joyous! You know? They're just suffused with imaginative energy. And he is a master of line as well. With the simplest of lines, he firmly establishes this story within the emotional world of a preschooler: feeling safe to explore the world because they are secure in the knowledge of parental love.
Possible awards: Maybe a Caldecott honor. Again, too strong of a year for this one to medal, I think, and it is actually quite similar to Kitten's First Full Moon in plot and theme, so not "distinguished" in that way, per se?
Next up: Morris Part Trois: Nonfiction!