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Best of 2013 picture books

Miguel Porlan

BULLY” by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook)

Seeger’s anti-hero, a big, rude, unhappy bull, makes everyone in the barnyard feel bad until one kid (a young goat) stands his ground. There is beauty and wisdom in simplicity, and Caldecott Honor-winning Seeger has mastered the art of getting down to basics.

“ANIMAL OPPOSITES” by Petr Horacek (Candlewick)

Horacek’s pop-up book serves a few purposes beautifully. It features animals, including more unusual creatures like sloths and meerkats. It teaches the concept of opposites — my favorite poses the “heavy hippo” against the “light butterfly.”

“Swimmy” by Leo Lionni (Knopf)

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This 50th anniversary edition includes an eloquent introduction by fellow artist Eric Carle. The classic tale turns on “one bad day” when a large fish eats a school of small fish. “Only Swimmy escaped.” He then joins another group, and the little fish learns they must use their brains — and community — to chase the predators away. Lionni revolutionized picture book illustrations: Impressionistic, suggestive, watery and wild, his joyful art endures half a century later.

“THE SNOW QUEEN: A Retelling of the Fairy Tale” by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (HarperCollins)

This is the most ingenious of Andersen’s many enchanting tales. Russian-born award-winning artist Ibatoulline does justice to the icy beauty of the story, illuminating its endlessly inventive twists and turns. I miss the full text of the Andersen original, but you won’t easily find a lovelier version anywhere.

“LOOKING AT LINCOLN” by Maira Kalman (Penguin)

Abe Lincoln stood 7 feet tall with his hat on. His favorite dessert was vanilla cake, and he always kept an apple on his desk. Most importantly, Prinz Honor-winning Kalman reminds us, “He loved people . . . He loved justice and truth.” Her picture book biography paints a vivid, colorful, brilliant portrait of our greatest president.

“My POP-UP WORLD Atlas” by Anita Ganeri, illustrated by Stephen Waterhouse (Templar)

Ganeri and Waterhouse offer a veritable fireworks display of information, with doublespread pop-ups for each of the seven continents. The book is loaded with facts, native animals, major landmarks, flags, record-breakers, and more. Perfect for the rocking-chair traveler and helpful with those inevitable school reports — it’s also interactive, complete with a pull-the-tab Panama Canal and a turning wheel of Asian products.

“JOURNEY” by Aaron Becker (Candlewick)

Becker launches readers into a wordless adventure amid exotic lands and narrow escapes — thanks to the bright red marker-wielding heroine. Think Crockett Johnson’s “HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON” crossed with Neil Gaiman’s “STARDUST.” A lonely girl steps from her black-and-white world into a vast, colorful journey. Some stories, including this one, don’t need words to fire the imagination.

Liz Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling novel “The Laws of Gravity’’ and a forthcoming young-adult biography of the author L.M. Montgomery. She teaches at Binghamton University.
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