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)

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)

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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.