Picture Books 2021

We spent a truly magical Christmas, and I hope you did too. We even found snow up in the Yorkshire Dales, which was nearly better than all the presents. Back at home, the water meadows beside the river were flooded. A heron paddled the path along which I usually cycle to work. One of the very special things about my new job is being being able to cycle to work, all the more special in the stillness between Christmas and New Year.

We celebrated ‘midnight’ at 7pm on New Year’s Eve, in the company of friends with small children – the clocks around the house moved forward by five hours (tee hee!). It was perfect, and we probably enjoyed it more for the earlier hour! As we walked home in the dark, Finch yawned and commented, “I’d better get to bed quickly as there’s not many hours left until morning.”

Now we are back to the usual flurry of school and work, marked by the ‘bringing out of the hyacinths’ from the shed to cheer us through January. Their jewel-like flowers and powerful scent always feel very apt for the coming of the Magi at Epiphany. As is now tradition, this time of year also marks my round up of our favourite picture books from the last year, bought, borrowed or given…

Favourite Picture Books of 2021 - Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

The Day Fin Flooded the World by Adam Stower is a hilarious story about a forgetful boy called Fin, who leaves the tap on after remembering to brush his teeth. Fun illustrations with loads of details to spot.

Saturday by Oge Mora is a picture book that makes me cry, in a good way. It is the story of a little girl and her hardworking mum. The only day Mum gets off in the week is a Saturday. It’s a really special day, which they both look forward to, filled with special things they will do together. But the day doesn’t go to plan – everything goes wrong, from missing the bus, to forgetting the tickets to the puppet show. It’s a story many mums will be able to identify with. You set aside precious one-on-one time with your child, and make every effort to make it as special as you can, but all your best laid plans go awry and the world feels as though it’s determined to remind you how far you fall short of being the sort of mum your kids deserve. Just before Christmas we had a day like this, and when we got in the door, Wren went and found this book, plonking it in my lap. Oge Mora’s beautiful book is here to remind us that these days are still precious days, because you are spending time together, and that’s the most important thing of all.

The Catchpoles, a pair of literary agents who describe themselves as having one working leg between them, are tireless campaigners in raising awareness about representation of disabled people in children’s literature. I have learnt so much from them and continue to do so. What Happened To You? is James Catchpole‘s picture book about a boy with one leg, much like James himself. This little boy doesn’t want to continuously answer questions about his ‘other’ leg, he just wants to play a game of pirates. This book is a story to help us all understand that a person’s health is no business but their own, so how about we mind our own, and just get on with playing awesome swashbuckling adventures?

Weirdo by Zadie Smith, Nick Laird, and Magenta Fox, is about a guinea pig called Maud who loves judo. When Maud is given to a little girl called Kit for Kit’s birthday, Kit’s existing pets don’t give Maud a chance, labelling her a ‘weirdo’. But before Maud can find acceptance in her new home, she has to learn to accept herself. It’s a tale about fitting in and standing out. Great message and super sweet illustrations. 

Don’t Get Your Tutu In A Twist by Jenny Moore and Barbara Bakos is a funny romp about the animals’ rehearsals for Miss Gorilla’s dance show. With a sloth who won’t stay awake and a crocodile who gets his leotard in a loop, what could possibly go wrong? Great rhythmic writing so a fab one to read aloud.

Many of you regular readers know what a fan I am of Clare Helen Welsh – her books regularly feature as some of our favourites. This year she has had a few new releases but the one we loved best was Time To Move South For The Winter, a non-fiction tale illustrated by Jenny Lovlie, which follows a tiny term from the Arctic to the Antarctic on her annual migration. It’s a really beautiful story with stunning illustrations, peppered with interesting facts which are explored further at the back of the book.

Margaret’s Unicorn by Briony May Smith is a gorgeous story about a girl who moves house and finds a baby unicorn. Briony is a phenomenal illustrator, whose wonderful use of colour and light elevates any book she’s involved with to classic status. It’s a longer picture book, in the vein of stories like The Mousehole Cat, which incomprehensibly, seem to have dropped out of favour at the moment, but suit children like Wren (5-7 age bracket) who aren’t ready (and who’d blame them!) to leave behind colour for the black and white of chapter books.

I love Autumn but I do find Halloween a tricky festival. Though we did do some celebrating this year, because The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle is particularly suited to the season, there are aspects of it that are problematic – y’know, like frightening the life out of little children, xenophobic and misogynistic tropes, etc, etc. The Little Ghost Who Was A Quilt by Riel Nason and Byron Eggenschwiler however, is a very sweet book, and ideal for children who find the whole Halloween thing just plain weird and scary. I don’t want to give too much away, but the little ghost in this book is different to the other ghosts. Let’s just say, scaring is not high on its priorities list.

The Night Walk by Marie Dorleans captured my kids imaginations this year. It’s a deceptively simple concept, immaculately pulled off. The world is transformed in the darkness when a family go on a walk through the night to see the sun rise. A very special book.

What are Little Girls Made Of by Jeanne Willis and Isabelle Follath is a retelling of classic nursery rhymes with a modern slant, and it’s really, REALLY good. Little Miss Muffet loves spiders, Jill saves the day when Jack crashes his scooter, and there’s even a quick lesson on consent in Georgie Peorgie. Absolutely brilliant. I internally cheer whenever I read it.

So there we go, that’s our round-up for this year! It goes without saying, huge thanks to the fabulous book reviewers and booksellers who have pointed us in the direction of some of these reading treasures. Here’s to a 2022 filled with many more wonderful books!

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