Aug 10, 2013

What Makes a Favorite a Favorite?

Quite a few years ago a colleague commented that I was the most divergent thinker he had ever met. Put that together with another critique that I'm an unabashed optimist and idealist and it explains why I took both remarks as compliments. 
I'm also rational enough to know that both may have been backhanded remarks suggesting that I'm an unrealistic scatterbrain. I'll just say that the facial expressions and body language in both circumstances as well as the  the context in which they were stated helped me arrive at my upbeat conclusion. 
The combination of personal experience with verbal and visual cues to arrive at the fullest possible meaning is the essence of my admiration for picture books, and that approach carries over into my everyday life. Making meaning is built on background knowledge and should engage all possible clues and cues. No other literary format does that as well as the category we call picture books, especially if we stretch that a tad to include graphic novels and other visual narrative formats.

That's why I never seriously considered participating in this year's Fourth Annual Picture Book 10 for 10 blog lists. I've followed them each year, bookmarked many, used other bloggers' lists to explore titles new to me, and I'm doing so again this year. 
My issue has to do with that divergent thinking/optimistic idealist gene of mine. It interferes every time I try to make lists of favorite anythings. My personal list of favorite titles is enormous, each one having  qualifiers to it suggesting the age, interests, intent, experience, current circumstances, and other factors affecting their potential audience and use.
My tags on Goodreads titles sometimes (often) run longer than the review itself as I try to attach categories to each title that allow me to cross-reference a particular book for any future use.    
Despite my resistance to making lists, I  appreciate the willingness of others to commit to ten favorites, including Nerdy Book Club's Top Ten Picture Books for Secondary Classrooms, Cathy's Reflect and Refine post, (which offers multiple useful links to more extensive lists), A Year of Reading,  Cathy Mallou Bealey's Bildebok, and even the Twitter hashtag #P10for10. Just skimming the titles featured in these posts leaves me nodding in agreement, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over books I couldn't bear to leave off of a list of my own. This happened with well more than ten titles, and the lists above don't even scratch the surface.
Disney/Hyperion Books, 2010

So I'll share just two titles here, each of which could land on a list if not limited in number. The first is OH, NO! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat. The opening end papers signal a highly meticulous plan for a fifth grade science project: a robot with canine mind control, zero emission power core, and titanium alloy superclaws.  The first page turn provides an English/Japanese glossary scroll and double page spread warning signals, followed by the title page with even more clues to the impending disaster. Each further page turn reveals yet another wide-screen, double-page spread that reads from left to right with  expressive and comical details that advance the plot. I warn you, DO NOT fail to peruse each square inch.
The over-the-top conclusion (and it is over-the-top, literally and figuratively) belies the seriously meticulous final end papers. This is obviously a brilliant and creative young  girl, not unlike the brilliant and creative pairing of Barnett and Santat.
Harcourt Children's Books, 2013
Compare that to recent release LIVES OF THE SCIENTISTS: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought), by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt. This latest edition to their "Lives of the..." series offers anecdotal snippets about twenty scientists across the centuries whose accomplishments changed the world. Although Krull has received countless awards for her biographies for young readers, her emphasis in these vignettes is less on full life stories and more on their personalities, quirks, explorations, habits. These were often patterns that raised some eyebrows, although not to the degree of disturbance in the previous title.
This collection is undeniably non-fiction, with a bibliography, "extra credit" challengers, and well-researched insider stories on iconic names of science.Both, though, are entertaining, visually extend the content, and stimulate an interest in science.

These two titles perfectly demonstrate my reluctance to list favorites. Each serves its intended audience perfectly, reaches far beyond that to entice other readers, and pairs brilliantly talented authors with the ideal illustrators. Each intrigues and invites deep inspection of the images, rereading of the text, and fosters discussion. Why wouldn't they be favorites?
There was a time when I believed I could at least recognize books that would not "make the cut" for a personal list of favorites of any length. Then I realized that many of those "lesser" choices were inevitably being found, favorited, and treasured by some other readers for whom they were a perfect match. 
There are certainly some objective traits that mark quality picture books, but I've given up on being the arbiter of which are "best". On Goodreads I'm reluctant to note star ratings, and I decline to list, review, or rate anything I might give less than three stars. I'm only one reader. My opinions should "do no harm", since on another given day or in another frame of mind I might feel differently about the book. 
So thank you to all those who bravely share their lists. Anyone who wants to add favorite titles in the comments will be more than welcome. SOME of my many favorites are featured in these blog posts. If you're new here, I hope you'll take a look.
Disney- Hyperion Books, 2012

Here's an update: The books I review are purchased or acquired through the library. One measure of the popularity of the OH, NO! (above) was the wait I experienced on the library hold list for it and for its sequel title. I finally received their follow up book, OH, NO! NOT AGAIN! (or how I built a time machine to save history or at least my history grade). Don't miss it when you are "shopping" for the titles above, whether at a bookstore, online, or at your local library. they're worth the wait.
In this iteration our heroine builds a time machine to travel back and make her single error on a test "correct" by changing history. As you guessed, mayhem ensues. I'm a real fan of this proactive, full-speed-ahead character, and kids are, too!


  1. Sandy - than you so much for linking to my top ten post. :-) It was incredibly difficult to reach a list of just ten (OK, eleven) titles, but I know that next year I can choose ten new ones. So fun to discover a new community of passionate picture book readers!

    1. Happy to share your post, Cathy. I subscribe to it and, even on the busiest days, yours is not one I delete. Sometimes i have to wait to read it, but it is always worth it.
      I argued with myself about knowing I could feature ten (or eleven) more each year, but it leaves me feeling I've left some little stranded, deserving orphans on the wayside, especially with such remarkable new picture books coming out each year.
      That's why I count on braver souls, such as you.

  2. Hi Sandy,
    Many thanks for the shout-out. You ARE a divergent thinker--what a creative pairing!

    1. Kathleen,
      I'm honored that you stopped by for this post. I'm a big fan of all you write and share your titles with educators in workshops I teach. Pairing solid content with excellent writing and illustrations that inform and expand thinking make picture books an ideal tool for developing readers, thinkers, and curious kids.
      Thanks for your note!


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.