Chaos Household Choice: Best Picture Books 2013

In the Chaos household we’ve read in the region of 500 different picture books this year, around 40% of which were published in 2013. That’s probably enough to be slightly expert, although there are many more books we haven’t seen or read. This is a very personal Top 15 picture books published this year, based on favourites from all of the Chaos family.

Ruby, Blue and Blanket: Jane Hissey (Scribblers, 2013)Ruby, Blue and Blanket: Jane Hissey (Scribblers, Feb 2013)
Starting the year with the first new Jane Hissey for a decade, what a delight. Ruby, Blue and Blanket is told in rhyming text and stunningly illustrated. We also had the fortune to meet Jane in July this year, which really cemented MG and DG’s love of her work. MG got to tell Jane Hissey that she was an author too, and was inspired to draw her own soft toys with pencils. DG loves this story. One day she requested “the book with the mouse and the horsey” and I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about (it was bedtime, I was tired, and we hadn’t read this book for a few weeks so my mind was full of books she’d heard recently.) She absolutely insisted on it, so I went through the bookshelves until… Oh, of course, the mouse and the horsey! Full review of Ruby, Blue and Blanket.

Open Very Carefully: Nicola O'Byrne (Nosy Crow, Feb 2013)Open Very Carefully: Nicola O’Byrne (Nosy Crow, Feb 2013)
I was lucky enough to meet Nicola in December 2012 and loved the illustrations on her business cards, and the description of her first book, so made a point of seeking it out and quickly fell in love. I almost added it to my interactive books list, but felt it wasn’t quite as interactive as Press Here is for example. However, it’s a wonderful idea of book characters taking over another story (in this case, The Ugly Ducking) and has a fantastic hole-in-book ending when a certain crocodile escapes. It’s a book of the year for me because of the gorgeous illustrations and fun concept, and it’s a story that my fairy-tale loving four year old finds hilarious.

Let's Find Mimi in the City: Katherine Lodge (Hodder Children's Books, 2013)Let’s Find Mimi In The City: Katherine Lodge (Hodder Children’s Books, Feb 2013)
The entire series of Find Mimi books belongs on the list, but this was one that was published this year so I’m using it as the example. Let’s Find Mimi are searching books with mice, suitable from a young age but captivating enough to keep older children amused for hours too. This is one of MG’s choices for the list, she loves these kind of books, but we need at least two copies so that both children can have one each to browse through. Sister Jo Lodge only just missed being in this list because Icky Sticky Monster was originally published in 2012 although the latest Mr Croc was another close contender. Full review of Let’s Find Mimi.

Mabel and Me Best of Friends by Mark Sperring & Sarah WarburtonMabel and Me – Best of Friends: Mark Sperring & Sarah Warburton (HarperCollins Children’s Books, Mar 2013)
This is a fabulous book about friendship, written by friends. The stunning city design keeps me captivated as I read it, and it’s a well-requested favourite from both DG and MG. MG recently told me that this book is very popular at her school and they’ve used it in an assembly about friendship, which makes me very happy (not just because I donated the school copy!) because I adore Mabel and Me so much. It’s been chosen by the entire book-loving Chaos household for this list, and is thoroughly recommended. Full review of Mabel and Me.

The King of Space; Jonny Duddle (Templar Books, 2013)

The King of Space: Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing, Mar 2013)
This is a wonderful treat for sci-fi and comic book geeks, and is even more wonderful for its intended audience of small children. Jonny Duddle can do no wrong in my eyes, his three (so far) picture books have all been favourites to read over and over and over again. Packed with ‘in jokes’ from his two pirate books, The King of Space works perfectly as a stand alone too. MG and DG point out things in the pictures that I’ve missed, and we all love the Moogs. Full review of The King of Space.

Primrose: Alex T. Smith (Scholastic Children's Books, 2013)Primrose: Alex T. Smith (Scholastic, Apr 2013)
A best of the year list wouldn’t be complete without an Alex T. Smith book. I’ve chosen Primrose because it’s an example of  ‘pink princess’ done well (and there are sadly all too few of those) but also because it’s been read so many times over and thoroughly enjoyed. Primrose is a princess after my daughters’ hearts: climbing trees, squelching in mud, bouncing on beds, playing games and generally getting the most out of childhood. Coupled with the breathtakingly wonderful artistic talent that is Alex T. Smith, this is a book to be enjoyed repeatedly. Full review of Primrose.

Bubble and Squeak: James Mayhew & Clara Vulliamy (Orchard Books, May 2013)Bubble and Squeak: James Mayhew & Clara Vulliamy (Orchard Books, May 2013)
If it’s at all possible, Clara Vulliamy’s artwork improves in each book she illustrates. Bubble and Squeak is a tour de force of text and illustrations from two picture book legends. James and Clara are both capable of spinning a tale and illustrating it well, and their combined talents are a joy. That this book has been created by friends (like Mabel and Me) shines through. Bubble and Squeak slightly pipped Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I Heart Bedtime as the Clara Vulliamy choice for the list, but it’s one of MG & DG’s absolute favourite series (mine too) so should be included too! Full review of Bubble and Squeak.

Little Red Riding Hood: Alison Jay (Templar Publishing, 2013)Little Red Riding Hood: Alison Jay (Templar Publishing, Jun 2013)
DG has been obsessed with Little Red Riding Hood for several months now (we have about six versions, it’s not enough) and she absolutely adores this version. It’s not just the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, there are so many other fairy tales happening in the backgrounds of the pictures that we can take ages reading the book as we try to find them all. I make silly comments to MG and DG like “why didn’t her granny notice she was living next to a gingerbread house?” and they come up with reasons why it works in fairytale logic. I hope this is the first in a series, as we’d all love to read more. Full review of Little Red Riding Hood.

Splash, Anna Hibiscus: Atinuke & Lauren Tobia (Walker, Jun 2013) Splash, Anna Hibiscus: Atinuke & Lauren Tobia (Walker, Jun 2013)
Every child deserves the infectious joy and love that comes from an Anna Hibiscus book. In this newest picture book, Anna is caught by the joy of splashing in the waves, and her whole family joins in. The contentment of family and togetherness shines from the pages. Anna Hibiscus books are another example of text and illustrations done to perfection, and I recommend them all. MG and DG prefer the picture books so far, but they don’t like any books without colour pictures yet! Full review of Splash, Anna Hibiscus.

Ten Little Pirates: Mike Brownlow & Simon Rickerty (Orchard Books, 2013)Ten Little Pirates: Mike Brownlow & Simon Rickerty (Orchard Books, Jul 2013)
A book that includes girl pirates and characters meeting all sorts of grisly ends (even if they don’t actually get killed) was always going to have a chance to be in my top books of the year, but Ten Little Pirates cemented its place in the list by being the first book that Mighty-Girl chose to review for the blog. It’s also subversively educational. And enormous fun. Full review of Ten Little Pirates.

Troll and the Oliver: Adam Stower (Templar Publishing, Sep 2013)

Troll and the Oliver: Adam Stower (Templar Publishing, Sep 2013)
I haven’t written a full review of this yet, and I’m sorry I haven’t, but it has such a fabulous denouement that any write-up of the story is almost guaranteed to give away too many plot details. The illustrations are delicious, the story spot-on perfect (and not just for Olivers everywhere) and the thick hardback cover even has a cut-out pulling you into the story from the start. Poor Troll has such a hard time with that naughty Oliver, and my girls aren’t the only ones rooting for the Troll to get his dinner! The reversal of names does cause problems for my youngest (she asks for “Oliver and The Troll” instead) but it’s one of the many wonderful things to love about this book. A must-read.

Abigail: Catherine Rayner (Little Tiger Press, 2013)Abigail: Catherine Rayner (Little Tiger Press, Sep 2013)
We all adore Catherine Rayner’s books, and probably own almost all of them, so falling in love with Abigail wasn’t going to be too difficult! Just look at that face, how could you not fall in love with her?! Another book that deserves its own write-up, but so far only appears in our collection of Beautiful Picture Books for Giving, Abigail is a delight. She also encourages small children to count, and to see numbers everywhere, which can only be a good thing.

Very Little Red Riding Hood: Teresa Heapy & Sue Heap (David Fickling Books, Oct 2013)Very Little Red Riding Hood: Teresa Heapy & Sue Heap (David Fickling Books, Oct 2013)
Very Little Red Riding Hood contains one of the most perfect representations of toddler habits I’ve read in a picture book, and I’m so excited that it’s the first in a series. The story follows Very little Red Riding Hood as she bravely walks to Grandmama’s house with her red shopping bag, red ted, cakes for Grandmama, and of course her blankey and tea-set. The wolf (Foxie!) doesn’t stand a chance in any argument with a toddler (Not LELLO flowers! RED!) and the scariest thing of all is very close to any child’s heart. I can’t wait to see how Teresa Heapy deals with all the other Very little Fairy-Tale characters (there’s a map as the endpapers listing a few. A map!) This isn’t just my choice for the list, DG adores this story, and not just because of her Little Red Riding Hood obsession.

Alfie's Christmas: Shirley Hughes (Random House Children's Books, 2013)Alfie’s Christmas: Shirley Hughes (Bodley Head, Oct 2013)
I grew up with Shirley Hughes, with her wonderful line drawings illustrating so many of the chapter books I read, but the only picture book of hers I remember is Dogger. I’ve only read Alfie as an adult, so have a nostalgia for the time the earlier books are set, rather than the stories themselves. DG absolutely adores Alfie books, and Alfie’s Christmas was no exception. I love how today’s world is included effortlessly – toys with batteries, a three-wheeled scooter (two wheels at the front, rather than the back) – without detracting from the essence of an Alfie story. As soon as I started to read the story for the first time, MG and DG were silent and absorbed it all. Beautiful and heartwarming, the perfect modern Christmas tale.

taleofjackfrost10thThe Tale of Jack Frost: David Melling (Hodder Children’s Books, anniv ed. Nov 2013)
I’m bending my own rules with this one, because it’s a tenth anniversary hardback re-release, but it would be on my best books read of every year and this gorgeous limited edition more than deserves its place on the list. Choosing The Tale of Jack Frost means I’ve left out We Love You, Hugless Douglas; Hugless Douglas Needs A Hug; and Colour With Splosh, which were all published this year. As huge David Melling fans, we want to include them all. Full review of The Tale of Jack Frost.

Rules for inclusion: first published in the UK this year, picture books only (no highly illustrated books like Dixie O’Day and Claude, or they’d be in the list) and only one book per author/illustrator. It was so hard narrowing them down, I could have done a top 30 or top 50 – I couldn’t quite cut it down to a top ten!

If I’ve left out one of your favourites, it’s may be because we didn’t get a chance to read it ourselves, so please leave a comment to nominate your favourites from 2013 too.

Disclosure: Many of these books were received from their respective publishers for review, but that didn’t affect our choices, it’s more that we were lucky enough to not need to buy many newly published books this year…

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