Emily Raabe, Contributor
Happy December, all. As I type this some flakes are gathering (finally) on the ground, and it’s dark at 4 o’clock … ahh, winter.
I’m happy to report that 2022 was a bumper year for particularly gorgeous, poetic picture books. With that in mind, there are a few blockbusters not reviewed here, mostly because they are on everybody’s list this year and don’t really need a plug from me (Jon Klassen’s hilarious “Billy Goats Gruff,” I’m thinking of you).
Here are the ones that did make the cut, all available at The Flying Pig bookstore. And yes, the list begins with a bit of a blockbuster:
• “Farmhouse,” written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
“Over a hill, at the end of a road, by a glittering stream that twists and turns, stands a house,” begins Sophie Blackall’s latest magnificent picture book.
“Farmhouse” began with the author’s discovery of an abandoned house full of the broken, torn and forgotten artifacts of a family’s life. Blackall tracked down the last remaining child from that family, and by combining the woman’s memories with the found objects, she creates a collage of images, textures, story and verse that is wholly original and absolutely beautiful.
I thought Blackall’s 2020 “If You Came to Earth” was a tour de force. This one is at least as good. Ages 4-8.
• “The Mermaid Moon,” written and illustrated by Briony May Smith.
I have been waiting for another book from this author since I first discovered “Margaret’s Unicorn,” a book that gets my vote for the best unicorn book out there (no glitter). Like “Margaret’s Unicorn,” “The Mermaid Moon” is about friendship, this time between a little girl named Molly and her mermaid friend.
On one night each year, the seafolk can swim through the air and visit the human world. Under the author’s careful attention to detail, the mundane items of Molly’s world are made magical through the eyes of Merrin, the mermaid. But the friends must call on mermaid magic to return Merrin home before the moon’s reflection vanishes from the surface of the sea. Ages 4-8.
• “Night Lunch,” written by Eric Fan and illustrated by Dena Seiferling.
Described on the flap as “an ode to Victorian lunch carts” this exquisitely original book begins, “Clip clop, a midnight moon/The night lunch cart rolls in.”
Fox gets mince pie, badger wants a sandwich, upside-down bats choose sausages and peppers by candlelight. The food is served by a snowy owl who chops and cooks for all the nocturnal animals, even the lowly street-sweeping mouse. Seiferling’s softly-rendered images glow alongside Fan’s quiet story of compassion and kindness. Ages 4-8
• “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” text by Robert Frost and illustrated by P.J. Lynch.
The hushed and intimate voice of Frost’s poem is perfectly matched here by Lynch’s paintings. This book is oversized, and it deserves to be so — anyone reading this will want to fall into the dreamy, double-spread watercolor and gauche illustrations.
Last year I raved about Lynch’s illustrated “Night Before Christmas.” This one is even better. Ages 3-7.
• “The Lodge That Beaver Built,” written by Randi Sonenshine and illustrated by Anne Hunter.
For a change of pace (and tone) I give you a non-fiction (ish) book. The beauty of this book lies in the balance between the poetry of the language and the specificity of the natural world: “This is the buttonbush, alder and sedge/hiding new ducklings from Hawk on her ledge/shielding the lodge that beaver built.”
Children hungry for information will get it here, but from within the comforting rhythm of a familiar rhyme (the text is a retelling of “The House That Jack Built”). They will also get Anne Hunter’s lively ink and colored pencil drawings. Hunter is the creator of “Possum’s Harvest Moon,” a long-time favorite in our house. Her delicate drawings give life and personality to every creature depicted in the book and make it fun to return to again and again. Listed at ages 4-8, but I would not hesitate to go a bit younger as well.
• Now for a slightly older book, this one listed at ages 6-11. “The Wolf Suit,” written and (hilariously) illustrated by Sid Sharp.
This book is a knockout. Really all you need to know is that the illustrations are listed as “pencil, watercolor, ink, acrylic and dirt.” “The Wolf Suit” is a graphic novel, but one that is art-heavy, with relatively brief text.
Bellwether Riggwelter needs more blackberries, but he is afraid of the forest. As a solution, he sews himself a wolf suit … and off we go. Lyrical, funny and warm, this one would work for the recommended ages, but also as a read-aloud for a slightly younger child.
• I usually include a Christmas book and a Chanukah book in this list, but this year I am doing something slightly different. I’m breaking my books-published-in-2022 rule and giving you my favorite holiday book by one of my favorite authors — Susan Cooper’s “The Shortest Day,” illustrated by Carson Ellis.
The text is a poem welcoming Yule, or the Winter Solstice, when the year dies, “And everywhere down the centuries/of the snow-white world/Came people singing, dancing/To drive the dark away …”
“The Shortest Day” celebrates all the festivals taking place at the turn of the darkness back towards the light. I hope that it, and all the choices on this list, bring light into darkness and celebrate the beauty and the love to be found in the world around us.
Happy Holidays, everyone. Enjoy the light.