In this post, we've selected five picturebooks from the 62 we've reviewed this year. They have been chosen for their beautiful art, captivating words and the sheer delight that pours from their pages. All five have been a joy to read, again and again and again.
Lionheart by Richard Collingridge, published by David Fickling Books
Learning to find our inner roar is the central theme of this stunning, cinematic triumph. When a small boy senses the presence of a monster in his bedroom, he runs, clutching his cuddly lion. As he flees through the town, illuminated by the moon, he reaches its outskirts. Then, in a scene reminiscent of the opening to 'Where the Wild Things Are', he wanders into grasses that grow thicker and taller. There, suddenly, he is surrounded - by a menagerie of creatures. They can sense the monster too, and they are afraid.
They all take flight, but the boy runs straight into "something, or someone" - a huge Lionheart, towering above the boy - majestic, strong, fearless and protective. Riding high, nestled in Lionheart's mane, they set off on thrilling adventures, leaping rocks, diving under water, and joining the animals to explore ancient ruins. But their fun cannot last - still they feel the imminent danger of the monster. Finally the boy, his Lionheart and the animals see the monster looming over them.
To reveal the book's ending here would spoil the impact of its extraordinary denouement, and we hope others will discover for themselves its final pages, among which is one of the most dramatic double page illustrations we've ever seen. Despite (or perhaps because of) its generous pinch of mild peril, our daughter requested a reading of 'Lionheart' many days in a row - often a few times each day. Equaling our love for Richard Collingridges's 'When it Snows' was a tough task, but 'Lionheart' quickly found a place among our favourite reads.
A Great Big Cuddle by Michael Rosen (words) and Chris Riddell (illustration), published by Walker Books
When we ask our three year old daughter if she'd like to read 'A Great Big Cuddle', she replies "yay, poems!" We like to think that this reaction is what the creators of this magnificent book were hoping for. The combined literary alchemy of two Children's Laureates (words by Michael Rosen and illustrations by Chris Riddell), is fully realised in this original compendium of "Poems for the Very Young". This is a book of drum beating rhythm, stomping feet, clapping hands, and laughing out loud.
At 73 pages it could be dipped into, but we have found great value in enjoying the flow and music of the book as a whole. Our daughter has been captivated every time, and always wants to read it in full.
This is the picturebook equivalent of a winter's day tucked up in bed with hot tea and toast, taking part in a display of verbal gymnastics, going on a wild tour of menageries and monsters and, indeed, having a great big cuddle, all combined.
The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright (words) and Jim Field (illustrations), published by Orchard Books
It's a very helpful life skill to be able to find your inner roar and act like a brave lion, whether it's your first time in the big class at nursery school - or indeed if it's your first time dropping off your three year old daughter for her first day in the big class.
'The Lion Inside' is a pitch-perfect tale of a teeny, meek mouse that goes in search of its inner roar. Jim Field's beautiful illustrations are perfectly matched to Rebecca Bright's fun, lyrical narrative. There are enjoyable moments of genuine suspense as mouse climbs to the top of the rock where lion lays sleeping, and asks with a squeak for help, expecting to become the lion's lunch. They come nose to nose, and a tremendous double page spread reveals the scale of lion's enormous face and mane towering over mouse.
But lion's quiff and expressive eyebrows suddenly become limp and instead of a roar he lets out a huge "EEEEEEK!"; for lion, we learn, is afraid of mice. Realising they both have something to offer each other, they overcome their fears and find the a bond of friendship.
Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo by Amy Sparkes (words) and Sara Ogilvie (illustration), published by Red Fox Picture Books
When a young boy receives to a surprise a notice informing him that he has won a prize to run a zoo for the day, he sets off on his bike without trepidation. As he arrives at the strangest zoo he's ever seen, he finds that the bedraggled zookeeper is off on his holiday. He gives the boy only his best wishes, the key to the front door and his zookeeper's hat.
The boy soon discovers many wonderfully-named bizarre beasts in Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie brilliant 'Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo'. Through a combination of assertiveness, persuasion, bravery and guile (all good attributes for young readers to engage with) the boy soon has them under control. When the zookeeper returns, none of the monsters want the boy to leave.
Sara Ogilvie's colourful, energetic, cartoon-like style is perfectly matched here to Amy Sparkes' musical rhyme and her description of the wild-yet-sweet cacophonous creations. A bird's eye view of the zoo and a fabulous vertical double-page spread are two of our favourite scenes.
Oddsockosaurus by Zanib Mian (words) and Bill Bolton (illustration), published by Sweet Apple Books
Our three year old daughter has recently undertaken a new childhood rite of passage - acquiring a love of dinosaurs. Prehistoric picturebooks have played a key part in her growing fascination. In the excellent 'Oddsockosaurus' the many wonderful facets of a toddler's personality are explored through a humorous take on the Greco-Roman dinosaur names that fascinate our daughter.
book is narrated by a small boy who acknowledges that he's "very
complicated". Sometimes he's a Mudiraptor, jumping in mucky
puddles his mum told him not to go near. Other times he's a
Readabookadocus, enjoying stories and a love of reading every day; or
a Lovelyonychus, which includes being kind to his sister. One of our
favourites is Nofocusadocus, when "I just have to
look for my favourite toy while putting my shoes on".
Each trait is perfectly matched to a cute scene of the boy dressed up as a different dinosaur undertaking an apposite activity.
A few final remarks for 2016...
We launched www.booksmytoddlerloves.co.uk in June 2015 as a way of remembering some of the precious reading moments we've shared with our daughter and to help others discover a selection of books that we thought the children in their lives would enjoy.
In the last 18 months, our elder daughter turned three and our second daughter was born (and has now turned one). We've posted more than 100 reviews, received more than 35,000 visitors to our website, and met a community of readers through our Twitter account @books4mytoddler.
Thank you so much for your interest and wonderful feedback. See you next year!