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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Peter Brown (Little, Brown)

Against a backdrop of drab, buttoned-up Victoriana, Brown celebrates a tiger who rediscovers his wild self (and the joys of walking on all fours), shedding his inhibitions along with his clothes. Books that encourage children to embrace their true, unique selves are many, but few do so with such a big sense of fun and as little preachiness as Brown does here.

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The Year of the Jungle: Memories of the Home Front

Suzanne Collins, illus. by James Proimos (Scholastic)

Collins draws on her childhood memories of her father’s absence while he was off fighting in Vietnam, in a story that manifests the uncertainties that accompany children growing up during wartime. Innocence and awakening, fear and security, change and hope intermingle as Collins speaks with clarity and empathy to a new generation of military kids.

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If You Want to See A Whale

Julie Fogliano, illus. by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook/Porter)

Fogliano’s advice for children hoping to see a whale is full of don’ts: don’t get too comfy in that chair; don’t be distracted by the possibility of pirates in the harbor. But as Stead’s meticulous artwork and Fogliano’s soft ironies make clear, the world is full of marvels and mysteries that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Rosie’s Magic Horse

Russell Hoban, illus. by Quentin Blake (Candlewick)

The late Hoban’s final picture book is an out-and-out romp, filled with shape-shifting ice-pop sticks, nighttime adventures, pirate treasure, and Blake’s wild and instantly recognizable brand of cartooning. With a can-do heroine at the helm and rollicking humor, it’s a “kids first” kind of story and a wonderful cap on Hoban’s remarkable career.

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The Tortoise & the Hare

Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)

Caldecott Medalist Pinkney has a knack for getting to the heart of the fables and legends he brings his pencils and paint to. Here, he lets Aesop’s “slow and steady wins the race” moral stretch and repeat itself over the course of the footrace, highlighting the words’ meaning in a profound way, while creating sumptuous artwork for readers to dwell on.

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The Dark

Lemony Snicket, illus. by Jon Klassen (Little, Brown)

Given Snicket’s and Klassen’s respective tendencies to create books with an edge, they are a dream pairing for a story about the fear of the dark. But while there are some deliciously tense sequences, heightened by the pitch-black hallways and basement that young Laszlo tentatively navigates, the book leaves readers in a place of confidence rather than terror.

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Battle Bunny

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

Drawing in books? Sacrilege! Or is it? While it’s hilarious to watch the Scieszka and Barnett’s unseen young “editor” transform the story’s sappy hero, Birthday Bunny, into a heavily armed warmonger, there’s an important message underneath: don’t see books you like? Make ’em. Maybe the most subversive children’s book of the year, and certainly one of the funniest.

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Bluebird

Bob Staake (Random/Schwartz & Wade)

Staake makes a significant departure in tone from his earlier madcap work with this sensitive, wordless story about the salvation a lonely boy finds in the form of a friendly bluebird. Readers don’t get a traditionally happy ending (for some, it will be downright heartbreaking), but the book’s sense of hope transcends its tragedies.

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Fog Island

Tomi Ungerer (Phaidon)

This eerie adventure, about a pair of brave siblings, a mist-shrouded island, and its mysterious keeper, has the feel of a rediscovered classic, a relic from a time when these kinds of stories were more common. Luckily for readers young and old, Ungerer is still creating them.

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Mr. Wuffles!

David Wiesner (Clarion)

Aliens invade! And humans don’t even notice! Wiesner has always been at home with the offbeat and the unusual, and this dramatic encounter between a landing party of Very Little Green Men and the ferocious housecat of the title combines comics-style panels, alien hieroglyphics, and cross-species teamwork, with wildly entertaining results.

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This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration

Jacqueline Woodson, illus. by James Ransome (Penguin/Paulsen)

Woodson’s family participated in the Great Migration, and that personal connection shows in this fictional account of a family’s move from South Carolina to New York City. Woodson’s weighted writing and Ransome’s luscious oils quietly emphasize both the tangible and intangible things the family carries with them as they seek a better life.

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