It has been hard to post here over the last few weeks, but I am determined to finish listing my favorites of last year (even if, in the end, it is simply a list). These are not necessarily my Caldecott predictions, as the books that I end up loving most are often not the sort of book the Caldecott committee selects for one reason or another. These are also not in any particular order. I'm going to start by linking back to the reviews of any books that have ended up on this list rather than re-review them here. These reviews are also going to be pretty short. There will also be hardly any nonfiction, because I sell very few nonfiction picture books in the shop, so I haven't had the same experience with those as I have with the fiction this year. 1. OTIS by Loren Long 2. THE SLEEPY LITTLE ALPHABET by Judy Sierra; illustrations by Melissa Sweet 3. THE CIRCUS SHIP by Chris Van Dusen 4. ARE YOU A HORSE? by Andy Rash This book has one joke, but it's a good one (which I will not reveal, because it's on the last page). Roy is given a saddle for his birthday, and he has never seen one before (which is a little odd considering he's basically dressed like a cowboy). Fortunately said saddle comes with instructions: 1. Find a horse. 2. Enjoy the ride. So Roy goes off looking for a horse, working his way through many different living creatures in the process (and learning something from each one). I LOVE Rash's art, too. This one's a favorite in my house as well as in the shop. 5. THE LION AND THE MOUSE by Jerry Pinkney I am assuming that you have all seen this magnificent, beautiful achievement by one of the finest children's book illustrators to ever walk the earth. If this doesn't (finally, belatedly) earn him the Caldecott Medal he has long deserved, I suspect I will not be the only unhappy reviewer/reader/blogger/bookseller out there. 6. THE CURIOUS GARDEN by Peter Brown A quietly lovely book about a little boy who discovers a small patch of green on top of the railroad tracks in the dingy, brown place where he lives. He begins to tend to the green, eventually growing a garden, which inspires others to grow their own. Slowly, across the city, the gardens spread. With its basic message of "act locally," this book is very close to my heart. 7. ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon; illustrations by Marla Frazee This is such a beautiful book. My 3 year old daughter wasn't enraptured by it, but I think it works best either with someone younger (who is listening more to the cadence than the story) or someone older (and a little more capable of conscious thought about the world at large). This is the kind of book I often sell to a grandparent - often grandparents come in asking me for "something new and beautiful" that might be saved forever. This is definitely that book. This is also the perfect book to give your picture book-loving adult friend or relative. 8. 14 COWS FOR AMERICA by Carmen Agra Deedy; illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez This book is based on the true story of a Masaai man named Kimeli who returned to his Kenyan village after 9/11, bringing with him the story of what happened that day. The villagers are so moved by the story and wonder what they can do for the people of the US. Kimeli offers his prize cow - a generous, symbolic gift as to the Masaai, the "cow is life." In the end, fourteen cows are given as a gift. This is one of those stories that we don't often hear about, making it the perfect story to be turned into a picture book. "No nation is so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort." 9. THE CHRISTMAS MAGIC by Lauren Thompson; illustrations by Jon Muth Jon Muth's illustrations alone are enough to get just about any book into one of my "best of" lists. When you pair them with Lauren Thompson's delicate story, this book becomes my favorite "pretty" Christmas book of the last...well, several years, at least. Santa Claus (dressed all in midnight blue in a lovely variation on what has become tradition) is preparing for the arrival of the Christmas magic, and the book takes you step by step with him through everything that leads up to Christmas Eve. He selects a toy for each child, because he knows what each wants most, and loves them all (there's no "good list" and "bad list" here). He grooms the reindeer, and polishes the sled, and carefully, quietly, lovingly welcomes in the magic of the season as he always has and always will. This got added to my personal Christmas book collection immediately. 10. PRINCESS BESS GETS DRESSED by Margery Cuyler; illustrations by Heather Maione. There is always a need for a sparkly pink princess book, but I truly cannot abide selling them if the sparkly pinkness masks a mediocre story. Not the case here - this is delightful, and my customers agreed with me. Princess Bess has a day filled with obligations, and must change her clothes for each one. Finally at the end of the day she is free to retire to her room, where she strips off her finery and dances around the room in her favorite outfit of all - a set of simple cotton underwear. The rhymes are good, the art is good, and the extensive fashion display is sure to please fans of FANCY NANCY as well as little girls who just love dressing up. 11. LLAMA LLAMA MISSES MAMA by Anna Dewdney I am a big fan of the LLAMA LLAMA books, both as a bookseller and as a mother. This one was especially timely for me as my daughter started preschool this past fall, and that's what this book is about. We got a lot of mileage out of "Don't forget when day is through, she will come right back to you!" which is what the teacher tells Little Llama when he gets sad and misses his mama. Also, it's just fun to say "llama" over and over and over and over again. 12. RHYMING DUST BUNNIES and HERE COMES THE BIG, MEAN DUST BUNNY! by Jan Thomas I think you either think Jan Thomas's books are hilarious, or not. There's no in-between. I am definitely in the former category. (A BIRTHDAY FOR COW is so beloved in our house that every family member can be heard yelling "A TURNIP!!" occasionally.) I LOVE the dust bunnies. In the first book, Ed, Ned and Ted, the dust bunnies, rhyme all the time: "What rhymes with car?" "Far!" "Jar!" "Tar!" "Look!" says their friend Bob. As the others try to educate Bob on proper rhyming technique, it becomes apparent that Bob is trying to deliver a message to the others. Will they listen before it's too late? The second book has the dust bunnies attempting to placate (and, eventually, befriend) the big, mean dust bunny they've encountered. The illustrations might have you thinking that these books are best for younger toddlers, but the humor's more sophisticated than that. Molly liked hearing A BIRTHDAY FOR COW when she was 2 1/2, but now that she's a little past three, she truly finds it funny. 13. FELICITY FLOO VISITS THE ZOO by E.S. Redmond Redmond tells the tale of little Felicity Floo, who infects an entire zoo full of animals because she uses her hand to wipe her runny nose rather than a tissue, and for some reason (you must suspend your disbelief here), you are allowed to pet every single animal in this zoo. She leaves teeny tiny little green handprints all over the animals, and begins an epidemic so large they name it after her. The whimsical Edward Gorey-esque illustrations fit the story perfectly, and, of course, it sends a very timely message in a brand new way. 14. THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Clement C. Moore; illustrations by Rachel Isadora Isadora pairs her awesome African-inspired art (LOVE Santa's white dreadlocks) with Moore's classic poem to create yet another book of hers that had to go on my home shelf immediately. Bonus: as I said to one of my favorite customers (who shares my sarcastic sense of humor): "I didn't know that people of color celebrate Christmas too!" (This customer is African-American and we often discuss the dearth of books for children that aren't about slavery or civil rights or athletes or drugs.) Never is the whitewashing of children's publishing more evident than when the Christmas books start to arrive. I'd like to think that many more will follow this, but history has me rolling my eyes at the very idea. 15. NEVER SMILE AT A MONKEY by Steve Jenkins This book has the creepiest back cover of any picture book, ever. Jenkins uses his trademark paper collage art to instruct the reader about what not to do should you encounter certain animals. Since he often has more than one book published per year, I feel like Jenkins must have a sort of picture of Dorian Gray, asleep, in his attic - how else could he make so much art out of teeny tiny pieces of paper? I have never been less than impressed with his art, and the information contained within the books is always top-notch as well. This book is no different and will certainly please animal lovers, especially those who have a taste for the slightly scarier side of nature. 16. DINOTRUX by Chris Gall Honestly, this idea is so obvious that I can't believe no one ever thought of it before, but that's also what makes it brilliant. This imagines that before dinosaurs roamed the Earth, there were Dinotrux! The Dumplodocus...the Semisaur...the Blacktopadon. So simple, so clever, so funny. Absolutely fantastic, bold art. Great cover. This was on many, many in-store wish lists this past holiday season, and I love the way little boys' eyes light up when they see it. Dads are also usually pretty gleeful when they pick it up, like the little boy inside of them can't wait to turn the pages. Sometimes a book is pure fun to sell and this book has been one of those for me. And...that's it! I am sure I forgot something, and if I remember what it is, I will add it to this post another time. Let me know if I seem to have missed something that you think is amazing!