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Book Corner: The best of the best picture books of 2017

Cover to Wolf in the Snow

Last week I was on the edge of my seat, along with other lovers of children’s literature, as this year’s Youth Media Awards were announced by the American Library Association. I’m always thrilled when one of my favorites wins, and I rush to read the winners and honor books that I am not familiar with. These books exemplify the richness of children’s literature and are some of the best-of-the-best picture books from 2017.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children was awarded to Wolf in the Snow, illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell. Wolf in the Snow follows a little girl in a bright red parka who gets caught outside in a snowstorm while walking home from school. The girl comes across a wolf cub that has gotten separated from his pack, and, though scared, the girl picks up the whining cub and sets out to reunite him with his pack, which she can hear howling in the distance. After returning the cub to his family, the girl trudges away through the deepening snow, struggling until she is too cold and tired to go on. She lies down in the snow, curled up in her coat. The wolf pack has followed her and sets up a ring around her, howling to draw the attention of her family members who are searching for her. There are moments of tension when the little girl encounters the wolf pack, and we wonder what will happen to her when she lies down in the snow, but ultimately this is a sweet story of friendship and family, both human and animal. The simple illustrations capture the vast emptiness of the snowy, barren landscape in which the story is set and also perfectly convey the emotions of the little girl, even though all we can see of her scarf-covered face is her eyes and nose.  

Charlie & MouseThe Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished book for beginning readers was awarded to Charlie & Mouse, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes. This first book in a new beginning readers series introduces Charlie and Mouse, two brothers who unwittingly find themselves getting up to some harmless fun throughout the book. We get to know the adorable and creative siblings through four short stories, each captured in a chapter that is just a few pages long. Playful illustrations throughout match the humor of the stories. In the last story, “Bedtime Banana,” Charlie and Mouse are trying to avoid going to bed by extending their bedtime routine. They ask for a bedtime story. Then a bedtime song. Then, when Mom tells them it is now time for bed, they declare, “Not without a banana!” The four stories in Charlie & Mouse are sweet and funny and will have emerging readers wondering what these boys will be up to next.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, received multiple honors, being selected as a Newbery Honor Book, a Caldecott Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. In Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, a young man goes in for a haircut but gets much more than that. The barbershop is an art studio where people are transformed. As the young man says, “When my man is done with you, they’ll want to post you up in a museum!” This book is a tribute to great barbers and how the looks they create inspire confidence and pride in individuals and a community. A turn in the chair transforms a customer into a prince, a star, a master—ready to take on the world. Bold illustrations burst off the page with a lively energy that conveys the joy and dignity of the boy and the other barbershop customers, making this a celebration from cover to cover.

Check out the rest of the Youth Media Award winners and honorees here.

This article first appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.