The Best Picture Books of 2009

We ask a lot of a picture book. Are the illustrations excellent? Do they tell more of the story than the words? Does the art complement the mood of the text? Does the text sing when read aloud? Is the content of the book developmentally appropriate to the target audience? Can I read it aloud again, and again and not groan “Let’s read something else tonight.” Would I pull out my wallet and buy it for a present? The answers are an enthusiastic yes for these five.

The Lion and The Mouse

Jerry Pinkney

Caldecott Honoree Pinkney, a master of the art of watercolor, has set his version of the well-known Aesop’s fable in the Serengeti, populating it with the flora and fauna of the region. Anyone can interpret and read Pinkney’s almost wordless rendering of this timeless story.

When Stella Was Very, Very Small

Marie-Louise Gay

Is there a child with an outsized imagination in your life? Meet Stella. In exquisitely detailed witty, serene watercolor paintings, we meet Stella before she was “Stella Star of the Sea” and before she was Sam’s big sister, when she was a tiny child just discovering the world around her.


Emily Gravett

A small green frog deconstructs a book of spells and finds himself being transformed into a variety of creatures. Gravett’s ingenius use of split pages has a “choose-your-own adventure quality” as Frog recombines into a “snird” snake and bird, a “fabbit” frog and rabbit and a “rewt” rabbit and newt.

Moon Shot

Brian Floca

If I had to pick one moon landing book for young readers from all the anniversary contenders, this would be it. Floca’s spare text captures the adventure and wonder while his ink, acrylic and watercolor paintings depict the hugeness of space and bravery of the men willing to explore uncharted territory.

14 Cows for America

Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, Illustrated by Thomas González

Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, a Masaai warrior, was studying in New York City when the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers. When he returned to his village in Kenya, he shared his experiences first with the elders and then with the entire community. The people were so moved by his story they wanted to express their empathy with the loss felt by the American people. Storyteller, Deedy, in spare language expresses the culture of Kimeli’s people- “ To the Masaai, a cow is life, they sing to them, they give them names, they shelter the young ones in their homes. Without the herd, the tribe might starve To the Maasai, the cow is life.” Deedy tells Kimeli’s story , the generous gift of cattle as portrait artist, Gonzalez presents photo-realist painting in such a way that we are drawn into the circle of the story.