Not Just Child’s Play: A Fall 2013 Picture Book Preview

Some of the most original and beautiful artwork being produced today is currently on display in the children’s section of your local bookstore or library. Here are the finest picture books for the fall — to be enjoyed regardless of age.

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Some of the most original and beautiful artwork being produced today is currently on display in the children’s section of your local bookstore or library. If you’re skeptical and think that picture books are only for children, take a minute to reconsider. While a good picture book will delight and inspire children, a truly great one will resonate with readers of any age.

Now is as good a time as any to dive in because the shelves are busting at the seams with soon-to-be classics: innovative narratives, bold illustration and design, and just plain old great stories. 

So whether you’re getting a book for your own child, someone else’s kid, or for yourself, here are some new titles (in alphabetical order) that really show off the range of what picture books have to offer to all of us—from the innocent newborn to the most jaded of grown-ups.  

Animal Opposites by Petr Horacek (Candlewick, August 6)

Buying a pop-up book is a lot like starting a party with tequila shots: you know up front that things aren’t going to end well. Whether it’s because of too much drink or an overly enthusiastic toddler, you will inevitably have a mess on your hands. However, unlike tequila, a great pop-up book won’t leave you hating life the next day. And Horacek’s is one of the best out there —expertly conceived and constructed. The pages don’t just pop-up; they come to life.

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illus. by Matthew Myers (Simon & Schuster, October 22)

For lovers of experimental fiction, Battle Bunny is Don Barthelme with a crayon. Scieszka, Barnett, and Myers started by creating Birthday Bunny, the cheesiest, most generically sweet story they could think of.  They then conjured up the spirit of a child who alters the text and pictures with a marker, turning it into something that kids would actually want to read: Battle Bunny.  It’s complex, subversive, and shows that the cutting edge will always have a home in children’s literature.

Emma in Paris by Claire Frossard, illus. by Christophe Urbain (Enchanted Lion, November 19)

A celebration of young expat life, Emma in Paris combines photography and illustration to capture the innocent excitement of landing in a new city with no obligations but to experience life. Which, depending on your mood, may warm the heart or bring a tear to the eye. Because that carefree life sure does seem like worlds away when you’re up with a teething baby at 4 a.m.

Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder (Abrams, November 5)

This book does the impossible, taking one of the oldest children’s book conventions, the zoo alphabet, and completely reinventing it.  It’s a story about a family helping one of their own overcome fear by being utterly silly and completely loving.  The whole thing is done with such a confident and lively style, it’s hard to believe that this is Heder’s first picture book. Fraidyzoo is funny, original, and announces Heder as a force to be reckoned with. 

Hello, My Name Is Ruby by Philip C. Stead (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press, September 3)

Ruby is a small bird who is not afraid to put herself out there, introducing herself to potential new friends everywhere. This is a good example for children, but even moreso for the post-college crowd that suddenly finds itself beyond the comforts of campus life and having to actively make friends (to mention nothing of dating). Stead’s distinct style skillfully blends warmth and the offbeat (imagine Leo Lionni crossed with director Terry Gilliam) and is perfect for this story about how birds of a feather don’t necessarily have to flock together.

The Line by Paula Bossio, (Kids Can Press, September 1)

This is the art of the story stripped to its essence, proving that you don’t need a lot of razzle-dazzle to tell an effective tale.  At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, children’s entertainment these days is often so over produced that it is refreshing to come across something as spare and effective as The Line. Also, why does music have to be so loud and what is up with all the texting? 

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown (Little Brown, Sept. 3)

In the summer heat, it’s amazing how quickly a tie can suddenly turn into a noose. Mr. Tiger speaks to all of us who have felt the urge to shed the formal skin of modern life and go romping through the woods. Fair warning, though: you probably shouldn’t follow Mr. Tiger’s lead into the public fountain unless you’re looking for a run-in with the police and a possible overnight in the drunk tank.

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion, October 1)

Tiny aliens land in a living room and encounter a cat who rules the house as a ruthless and capricious demigod. Which let’s face it, is how most cats think of themselves. The award-winning Wiesner (his trophy collection would make Meryl Streep blush) is a master of the form, a magical realist who makes the commonplace seem suddenly much more interesting. 

The Nowhere Box by Sam Zuppardi (Candlewick, November 12)

There are countless children’s books about the power of the imagination, but few are as pitch- perfect as The Nowhere Box. There are several pages that stop the reader dead in his or her tracks as Zuppardi’s illustrations pour over the page. And we’ve all been there—whether it’s trying to escape boredom or little siblings, sometimes you just need to go somewhere, anywhere… even if that place is nowhere.

Rock-a-Bye Room by Susan Meyers, illus. by Amy Bates (Abrams, October 1)

Bates’s lush illustrations really stand out in this one as she fills each page with little details that hint at the mother’s life beyond the lullaby. The book paints a rich portrait of a loving young mother who is maternal without being matronly. As Rock-a-Bye Room ends, it’s easy to picture this particular mom tiptoeing out of the nursery and heading to the backyard to play a few songs with her alt-country band.

Those are ten new titles that deserve mention, but with a wealth of quality books coming out now, I could keep going.  However, for the sake of brevity, here’s just a quick look at some other notable new books coming our way: 

Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli  (Abrams, Aug. 6)

A typography nerd’s dream, this beautiful book could just as easily be shelved in the "graphic design" section.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Yuen Lang (Macmillan/Roaring Brook/ First Second, Sept. 10)

Technically a graphic novel, I couldn’t resist including this one.  For my money, Yang’sAmerican Born Chinese is the best book out there on the Asian American experience and this time he takes on the Boxer Rebellion in an ambitious two-part work.

Cozy Classics - Emma by Jack Wang and Holman Wang (Simply Read, Oct. 19)

Jane Austen meets Etsy.  Need I say more?

Crabtree by Tucker Nichols and Jon Nichols (McSweeneys/McMullens, Aug. 13)

(Image provided by McSweeney's McMullens)

A light-hearted meditation on how we are defined by our possessions, delivered with that trademark McSweeney’s flair.

Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin (Random House, Oct. 22)

Tender and dark, this brings to mind the dark and wooded world of classic fairy tales — but with a refreshingly quirky twist. 

The Hole by Øyvind Torseter  (Enchanted Lion, Sept. 10)

Kafka for kids.

Ike’s Incredible Ink by Brianne Farley (Candlewick, Aug. 6)

More metafictional fun.  Sorry, I can’t resist a good story within a story.

Journey by Aaron Becker (Candlewick, Aug. 6)

A gorgeous homage to Harold and the Purple Crayon, Journey tells the story of a small town girl living in a lonely woooooorld.  She has a red crayon that lets her go anyyyyyywheeeeeere…

My Blue Is Happy by Jessica Young, illlus. by Catia Chien (Candlewick, Aug. 6)

A sweet look at giving kids the freedom to see the world their own way, which is often much more interesting than how we see things.

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, Aug. 27)

Picks up where Herve Tullet’s Press Here (one of last year’s big hits) left off. Perfect for when it’s time to put away the iPad.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.