For a parent, keeping up with the current state of children’s publishing can be hard. Children’s and young adult titles are more popular than ever, so there are just an immense amount of new kids’ books hitting the shelves every week. And, for parents, finding those new titles – the new and really, really great titles that your kids will totally love – isn’t always easy or intuitive. Oftentimes, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for parents to encounter new kids’ books. Maybe you’ll see one online (if it’s prominently featured by one of the big retailers), maybe you’ll see one at the library (if your library ordered it), or maybe you’ll discover it at your local bookstore (if you still have a local bookstore). There are so many variables working against parents in the hunt for new books for their kids.
While I can’t solve the problem – because I miss just as many amazing kids’ books as the next parent – maybe I can help a little. Here are five of the coolest, most interesting, recently released children’s titles that I’ve encountered over the past few weeks. Even if these titles aren’t ideal for your kid, these books are all outstanding enough that they should definitely be on your kidlit radar.
Two years ago, I wrote a post about “The Difficult Task of Introducing Your Kid to Folk Tales and Fairy Tales,” which was all about the responsibility I felt, as a parent, to give my child a well-rounded introduction to the myths and legends of the world. Related to that, let me just say, one of my biggest regrets is that I never bought my daughter a collection of Aesop’s Fables. It was a huge oversight on my part that possibly occurred because I never really read them myself as a kid. But, if you want a truly superior introduction to Aesop’s Fables for your home library, you can’t do better than this off-the-charts GORGEOUS picture book by Ayano Imai. The edition of Aesop’s Fables is ingeniously designed (you flip the pages landscape-style, like a calendar), Imai’s illustrations are packed with absorbing details, and it’s just one of those picture books where you want to frame every page and hang them in your kid’s room. I think the book may have been originally published in 2012, but I just saw a new 2013 edition of Imai’s Fables last week and I was blown away. (You can learn more about the book here and browse through it here.)
Blexbolex is a ridiculously talented French illustrator and, last June, I wrote about my love for his beyond brilliant word-book People. That title was an epic, phone-book-sized masterpiece that taught children about a huge variety of different people, including contortionists, centaurs, fakirs, tattooed men, rabbis, cat burglars, and more. (Seriously.) Each page featured wonderfully simple and iconic representations of different kinds of human beings, illustrated in a fashion that almost made them look like they were screen-printed or stamped onto each page. If it’s possible, Blexbolex‘s new picture book, Ballad, is an even more ambitious work, a truly staggering piece of visual storytelling.
Ballad follows a young boy as he walks home from school and, during his journey, the boy spins a series of increasingly complex stories based around the different environments he encounters – school, street, path, forest, and, eventually, home. The boy’s stories feature classic icons from the history of fables, ranging from witches to queens, and Ballad just perfectly captures how ingrained storytelling is in our day-to-day lives and imaginations. (Maria Popova wrote a much better and more perceptive review of Ballad – with way more images – that you can read here.) If you want your child to have really smart and beautiful picture books on their bedroom bookshelves, works like Ballad are a great place to start.
In the beginning of October, David Wiesner released a new picture book. If you’ve ever read a David Wiesner book, you KNOW that’s a reason to be excited. For fans of children’s literature, that’s like the release of a new iPhone or a Star Wars movie. Wiesner’s books are just that good. I once called Wiesner’s Tuesday possibly “the coolest picture book I’ve ever read,” and I stand by that assessment. His new book, Mr. Wuffles!, is all about a group of miniature aliens who have crash-landed in a suburban home and who team up with an industrious group of insects to rescue their ship from a stubborn cat – the titular Wuffles – who’s decided that the ship is his new favorite toy. Everything about Mr. Wuffles is inspired, hysterical, and joyful, and Wiesner continues to be one of the most talented illustrators that’s ever graced the pages of a picture book. If you want to make your children’s eyes happy, find a copy of this book.
If I had to name my favorite author of all time, chances are better than average that I’d name Terry Pratchett. For those unfamiliar, Pratchett is the creator of the massively popular Discworld series and, before J.K. Rowling emerged from Diagon Alley, he was the best-selling British author of the past thirty years or so. I just love the man’s writing. Years ago, when I did a college semester abroad in Scotland, the first thing I did on my first day off was walk to a bookstore and buy every book Pratchett had ever published. Like David Wiesner, he’s just that good. A few weeks ago, they just re-released The Carpet People, a rollicking adventure story in the spirit of Mary Norton’s Borrowers series and the first novel Pratchett ever wrote (at the annoyingly precocious age of seventeen). This new edition of the juvenile novel also includes, for the first time, new illustrations by Pratchett himself that really bring to life his cast of miniature men struggling to survive in the vast jungles of a household carpet. This would make a marvelous introduction to Pratchett’s works for any young reader, although, I’ll admit, it isn’t nearly as genius as Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series of YA novels – a series that I’m DYING to take off to my daughter’s “Books to Read One Day” shelf.
Speaking of J.K. Rowling… while these aren’t “new” Harry Potter books, The Hogwarts Library IS a magnificent re-packing of a three “supplemental” Potter works that you might not yet have in your home library. This new box set, released at the end of October, collects the three short volumes that Rowling wrote about her wizarding world that fall outside her epic seven-volume novel series – namely, Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. To quote the publisher: “The books have been completely redesigned to form an elegant boxed set with colorful boards, headbands, footbands, and foil stamping.” I’ve seen the new box set and the books look fantastic. I actually greatly prefer these new editions to the originals. And, now that Rowling is currently writing a new series of films based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, this might be the perfect time to re-introduce these books to your young Potter fan. They’ve never looked better.