Most readers are (at least somewhat) familiar with the Caldecott award – given to “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children” each year. But deciphering which books are Caldecott eligible can be a little tricky. Because this is an award for American picture books, the artist who wins needs to be either a citizen or resident of the United States. So, some of our favorite international illustrators can’t win a Caldecott award – unless they want to move to the States.
With this in mind, here are five of our very favorite picture books from 2019 that won’t get any Caldecott recognition – because they can’t.
Mac Barnett is the author of two Caldecott Honorees; EXTRA YARN and SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE, both of which were illustrated by Jon Klassen. His latest picture book, JUST BECAUSE, is a beautiful bedtime book about a curious young girl and her patient father who answers her pre-sleep questions with fantastical answers. The illustrations, which make use of black, white, and grey with accent colors in muted tones, are appealingly retro. These illustrations, a real highlight of this book, come to us courtesy of Isabelle Arsenault, a native of Quebec who still lives and works in Montreal. Don’t expect to see any Caldecott awards attached to the cover of this one, but make sure you don’t miss this one either.
I don’t often say that a picture book gives me chills, but this one does that and more. To reveal everything that makes this book so special would be a real disservice to the calm, patient, and very sweet ending, but I will say that this book is very deserving of all five of its starred reviews. A little boy, alone in a big city, speaks as first-person narrator telling the reader everything he knows about being small in the city. We follow this little boy as he travels through his beautiful-ugly city brought to life. The illustrations in this book are incredible. Period. Sydney Smith is a native resident of Canada so this book won’t win a Caldecott, but don’t let that keep you away.
On the first day of school, Faizah is excited to see her older sister Asiya wear hijab for the first time. Faizah sees Asiya as a princess, and her bright blue headscarf is her crown. At school, not everyone understands Asiya’s hijab and classmates whisper and shout ignorant insults. But Asiya keeps her head held proudly in her bright blue hijab. The bold, royal blue fills the pages of the book literally and metaphorically as a sweeping reminder of pride and respect for hijab. These triumphant illustrations, from Hatem Aly who illuminated THE INQUISITOR’S TALE, are bold, bright, and self-assured. Because Hatem Aly was born in Egypt and lives in Canada, this excellent new book won’t get a Caldecott nod, but should not be missed.
Australian author-illustrator Gus Gordon is back in a new picture book about two bugs debating who gets to eat the last peach of the summer. As the two bugs (who you will fall in love with) go back and forth debating who gets to eat it, all the other bugs try to remind them that the last peach of summer always looks good but doesn’t taste good – they shouldn’t eat it. This is a fun read-aloud type book where alternating font colors bring the bugs to life. These illustrations are fun – lots of white space with cut-paper collage adds to the lively nature of the book and perfectly accents the big, beautiful, last peach. A surprise twist ending will have readers eager to re-read this one and look for hints.
Little Doctor lives all alone in the deep, dark forest treating crocodiles of their various ailments. The fearsome creatures come from all over to receive reptilian treatment in exchange for stories. One day, Little Doctor is visited by Big Mean, the biggest, meanest crocodile of all; a particularly grumpy patient who won’t open up to Little Doctor – literally. Another picture book that packs a surprise punch, the climax of this book will keep readers guessing. Seeing Big Mean twist and curl and contort to fit into the pages of this book is enticing and the repeating ovular shapes and cool greyish-green makes for a beautiful and lush read. Sophie Gilmore’s debut picture book should keep her name in readers’ minds for a long time, but, born in New Zealand and residing in Italy, don’t expect to see her name on Caldecott lists this year.
Since I’ve started working for the library I’ve noticed myself reading more broadly, specifically in non-fiction. I used to read fiction almost exclusively, but I’ve really enjoyed getting exposed to some great non-fiction titles and authors. Particularly, I find myself attracted to non-fiction written by journalists. These books are usually written in a way that is really accessible to those outside of whatever industry/group/topic they’re writing about. They read a little quicker since they’re less technical and sometimes even have the feel of a novel. Here are just a few of my favorite non-fiction authors who also happen to be journalists:
Gladwell became popular largely after the success of his book OUTLIERS, but he’s written several other titles including THE TIPPING POINT and DAVID & GOLIATH. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996.
My favorite: BLINK
Lewis has had several of his books turned into popular movies including MONEYBALL, THE BLIND SIDE, and THE BIG SHORT. He has written for several different publications but is currently a contributing editor to Vanity Fair.
My favorite: THE UNDOING PROJECT
Orlean’s book THE ORCHID THIEF was turned into a movie called Adaptation starring Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton, and Meryl Streep. One of her other titles is RIN TIN TIN which is about the popular dog actor Rin Tin Tin. She has written for numerous publications including Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vogue, and The New Yorker magazine.
My favorite:THE LIBRARY BOOK
Johnson wrote a memoir detailing his work with his organization The List Project titled TO BE A FRIEND IS FATAL. While he has contributed to The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal, he mainly focuses on his non-profit organization which seeks to help Iraqi refugees who worked for the U.S. government during the Iraq War.
My favorite:THE FEATHER THIEF
Other popular journalist authors:
Truman Capote (IN COLD BLOOD)
Once upon a time, long, long ago you couldn’t watch movies in your car! I know this may come as a surprise to some, but it’s true. You were stuck for hours in the car with limited ways of spending your time. You could sleep, stare out the window, tease your younger siblings, sing, or listen to someone read a book and that’s about it. I grew up taking these kinds of road trips and boredom always got the best of me. But one of my favorite ways of passing the hours in the car was listening to books. This is still my favorite way to pass the time when traveling long distances, so I always have a book to listen. This is one of the reasons I love LIBBY, or overdrive, because it gives me access to lots of audiobooks.
The other day as I was browsing some of our holiday audiobooks, I came across some that I really love. These books aren’t necessarily about a Christmas story but they take place at Christmas time and to me they have a Christmas feeling about them. Here are my top 5 favorite unusual Christmas audiobooks.
This book of course isn’t one you would think of as a Christmas book but it does take place in a wintery wonderland of ice and snow and a boy named Edward is naughty and makes a bad choice. Does he get coal for Christmas? You will have to read the book to find out. But Father Christmas does visit and gives gifts to all of Edward’s siblings. I love this particular audiobook because it has sounds, music, and I think the narration is very entertaining to listen to.
Winterhouse is a motel where Elizabeth spends her Christmas break. She is annoyed and really wants to stay home but she is sent away by her aunt and uncle. While at Winterhouse, she discovers dark family secrets and because of her love of puzzles, uncovers a mystery. A perfect audiobook for anyone who loves listening to a good mystery.
Miss Penelope has just graduated from Swanburne Academy for poor bright females. When she gets a job as a governess to three young children, she finds she has a lot to teach them. They don’t know anything about manners or how to behave in a civilized manner and this all must be taught and learned before the Christmas ball.
Harry Potter is an all time classic and even though it isn’t a Christmas story, Harry does spend his Christmas holiday at Hogwarts. It’s during the Christmas break that he discovers the secret of the Sorcerer’s stone with the help of his new friends. There couldn’t be a better way to spend your holidays then chasing a villain and solving a mystery as a first year Hogwarts student.
This book, like the others mentioned, takes place during the Christmas holidays. Young Milo lives in the Greenglass Inn and usually during the winter it’s pretty quiet but a few days before Christmas, 5 unusual guests show up. They won’t say when they will be leaving or what they are doing there. As items go missing and even more guests show up, the mystery begins to grow and Milo must find a way to save everyone.
December is a magical time of year. There’s a chill in the air, a pine tree in the living room, and an endless number of holiday treats to nibble on. But you know what’s been missing the last few years? A DOWNTON ABBEY Christmas special on PBS.
Fortunately, this year gave us the DOWNTON ABBEY movie, which just came out on DVD. But if, like me, you’ve already seen it and are still wishing for the intrigue, the romance, the complicated class dynamics, and the gorgeous evening gowns that Downton once added to your life, these historical fiction reads should do the trick.
Historical fiction is a go-to genre for me, and this novel is one of my absolute favorites of the past few years. It features the tiny coastal town of Rye England in the summer of 1914, where a single, well-educated Beatrice Nash moves following the death of her father. There she develops a close friendship with society matron Agatha Kent and her two adult nephews, Hugh and Daniel. It’s funny, poignant, as clever as the Dowager Countess herself, and delightfully written.
Aspiring seamstress Tess gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she’s hired as a lady’s maid by celebrated designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon. With Lady Gordon, she sets off across the Atlantic in the famously doomed Titanic (where James and Patrick Crawley died, setting off the events of the Downton Abbey series). The Dressmakers offers a fascinating look into class relations, the well-known story of the Titanic’s sinking, and the largely forgotten social and political uproar that followed.
Belgravia takes place many years before Downton – as it’s set first in 1815 and then in the 1840s – but it’s chock full of the love triangles, intrigue, and sharp, witty dialogue you’d expect from Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey. Fellowes has a masterful understanding of the time setting, making this one of the most believable (and delightfully gossipy) pieces of historical fiction I’ve ever read. Even better, the audiobook narration by Juliet Stevenson is absolutely excellent.
Aristocratic Cecilila Tallis and working class Robbie Turner are on the brink of romance when a misunderstanding and lie by Cecilia’s sister Briony tears everything apart. Set upon the brink of World War II, this novel takes place a generation after Downton Abbey, but they share a story of star-crossed lovers, class snobbery, high drama and the leveling effects of war.
If you always preferred the downstairs half of Downton’s plots, I recommend this young adult novel. It features a naïve but plucky main character, Joan, who runs away from her abusive home in the country to Baltimore, where she gets work as a cook and cleaning girl to a wealthy Jewish family. Joan’s character has echoes of Anne Shirley, Cassandra Mortmain, and Downton’s own Daisy.
Given all the great historical fiction novels out there, this list was hard to narrow down! What novels would you recommend for Downton Abbey fans? Still can't get enough of the Downton-esque? Try these true stories and period dramas.