Best Picture Books of 2018

Posted on December 20, 2018

by cindy vanderbrink

Hi! We’re Cindy V and Eric P, and we have some thoughts about the best picture books of 2018. It seems like several of our favorites this year tended to revolve around big feelings – especially fear and rage. Is that a reflection of the world we’re living in, or just of where we’re at right now? Shut up, I’m not weeping under the desk, you’re weeping under the desk!

Two Takes on the Best Picture Books of the Year

Eric’s List

1. I Hate Everyone by Naomi Danis

I Hate Everyone by Naomi Danis

An expressionistic yawp of a book, bursting with rage and unreasonable resentment and all the contradictions inherent in the moods of a child – and, let’s face it, also in the moods of me. “I hate you but I want you to love me.” GET OUT OF MY HEAD, PICTURE BOOK!

2. The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke

By focusing on close-up minutiae of a family’s home life and the particulars of their ramshackle bike, and by conveying those details through the textures of Van Thanh Rudd’s dynamic paintings, the book almost lets us fail to notice that it’s set in an African community beset by poverty. But just as these illustrations – painted on repurposed cardboard boxes – make a virtue of limited resources, the irrepressible siblings invite readers from all backgrounds along for the ride.

3. Heartbeat by Evan Turk

Heartbeat by Evan Turk

Turk’s story of a mother and baby whale emphasizes the fragility of these giants, which makes it legitimately scary when the saturated colors of their world are invaded by sharply delineated harpoons. We then accelerate unexpectedly through two centuries of war and industrialization before landing in the conflicted eyes of a child on a cruise ship communing with a whale. The same whale as before? In Turk’s story of connectivity and accountability, it might as well be.

4. Do You Believe in Unicorns? by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Do You Believe in Unicorns? by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

A light-hearted, relentlessly ambiguous exploration of the phenomena of interpretation, faith, truth and evidence. Not recommended for readers who want all their loose ends tied up.

5. A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

The extravagant black backgrounds of Lin’s double-page compositions, populated by puckishly expressive characters engaged in playfully kinetic mischief, give life – and a touch of “In the Night Kitchen” style absurdity – to her modern but timeless mythmaking.

6. Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

This plea for accepting children’s identities as they present themselves to us is cunningly tucked inside an exuberant and whimsical story that bleeds imperceptibly from the subway to an undersea fantasia and back again. By cannily giving us access to the joyful vivacity of Julian’s imagined self-image early in the story, Love makes his no-nonsense abuela’s unquestioning support of her grandson both inevitable and a palpable relief.

7. Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna

The symbolism’s a little on-the-nose – okay, it is the nose, it’s the whole nose – but the personification of the main character’s relentless fearfulness as an elastic marshmallowy creature of many moods is both delightful and persuasive.

8. One of a Kind by Chris Gorman

One of a Kind by Chris Gorman

With a bold four-color palate and a visual sensibility that purees elements from punk-rock zines, comics, and Barbara Kruger, this simple message of positivity is delivered in a vibrant package.

9. Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex

Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex

A goofy comedy routine in which a bunch of annoying kids pester the dark Sith lord, turning him into the deadpan comic foil he’s apparently always secretly wanted to be. Darth Vader as Margaret Dumont – thank you, Adam Rex.

10. They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

It begins as an effervescently illustrated, but familiar, paean to a child’s imagination as filtered through all the colors of the paint box. But between Tamaki’s bold and striking paintings and the weighty portents of her lyricism – we wonder what crows are thinking but “their dark eyes won’t tell. They just pull their big bodies into the air” – the world of this book acquires an open-ended portentousness.

Cindy’s List

A second opinion …

1. The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Like Eric, I love this Aussie import. The use of cardboard as canvas perfectly suits this story of siblings using whatever they can scavenge to make a bike. And the artwork is stunning – especially the first image of “our fed-up mum.” This book will spark creativity and hopefully, conversation about world poverty.

2. Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Blackall’s tribute to lighthouses and their keepers is a beauty. From the thoughtful design to the gorgeous illustrations, this is my choice for the Caldecott Medal.

3. Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex

Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex

I echo Eric’s review of this one. It combines two of my favorites, Star Wars and the comic genius of Adam Rex.

4. Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Thick acrylic paint relays this deceptively simple, heartrending and ultimately hopeful story of a boy and his dog. Seeger’s companion to the Caldecott Honor winning “Green,” this is the book on my list with all the feels.

5. Drawn Together by Mihn Le

Drawn Together by Mihn Le

A grandfather and grandson bridge the generational divide with art. Caldecott winner Santat’s considerable skill is on full display as he masterfully blends the grandfather’s accomplished pen & ink drawings with the grandson’s bold, colorful illustrations made with markers.

6. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan Higgins

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan Higgins

Higgins’s hilarious illustrations capture little T-Rex Penelope as she navigates school with human classmates. She eats her classmates, but only for a second and it makes me laugh every time.

7. The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfield

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfield

Okay, this one actually has all the feels. As Taylor deals with disappointment, a bunch of different animals try tell him how he should feel or how to act. The rabbit is the only one that listens, allowing the child to work through all the emotions.

8. Thank you, Omu by Oge Mora

Thank you, Omu by Oge Mora

The bright cut-paper collage illustrations add energy and movement to debut author/illustrator Oge Mora’s sweet story about sharing and community. Omu just wants to enjoy the delicious stew she’d made for supper but the aroma, depicted with white curvy paper throughout the book, attracts her neighbors. Of course, she shares her bounty, of course the pot is empty when she is ready to eat but she is rewarded with a delightful meal provided by all those she shared with.

9. Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell

adrian simcox does not have a horse by marcy campbell

The star of this mean girl learns a lesson in empathy story is Corinna Luyken’s illustrations. Clever use of color to convey Adrian and his rich imagination is countered with muted tones when he isn’t the focus.

10. Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Based on the author/illustrator’s immigration story, the artwork is spectacular. Morales incorporated original paintings, her childhood artwork, stitchery, fabric and more to create a unique visual experience which begs for repeated looks. And I’m a bit biased, but any book that portrays the library as welcoming and inspiring is fine by me.

This is part of a series of blog posts highlighting some of the Best Books of the Year.

Read more by Cindy V. and Eric P.

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