Book of the Year 2019

Happy Boxing Day! Hope you got some good books this Christmas.

2019 flew away like a sparrow. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I shared my book of the year 2018, Julián Is a Mermaid. This year I didn’t acquire as many picture books as I’d have liked due to lack of time and physical space. Currently I’m renting a tiny room in a shared flat and I own only one book shelf unit so I’ve been refraining from buying any more books until I find a new flat and move. But, it’s JUST TOO HARD. I love books TOO MUCH. My book of the year 2019 is one of those books I couldn’t resist. It’s Just Because by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Walker Books 2019)

I love Isabelle Arsenault’s work (e.g. Jane, The Fox & Me and Virginia Wolf). She is one of the reasons I decided to be a children’s book illustrator. And I like Mac Barnett’s picture books, especially when he teams up with talented illustrators (e.g. Extra Yarn and Leo: a Ghost Story). So there’s no way I could have resisted this book. 

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To put it simply, this book is charming. It’s a celebration of bedtime rituals. A curious little girl is full of questions and she can’t sleep. Why is the ocean blue? What is the rain? What happened to the dinosaurs? Are you a parent and does this sound familiar? What would you do when you are in this situation? In this book, instead of brushing off her curious mind with ‘Just because’s, her father patiently offers imaginative answers until she finally satisfied her curiosity for the night and goes to sleep.

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Barnett wrote something simple yet sweet, often poetic and full of imagination. I don’t have a kid of my own but I could imagine how tiresome curious kids with millions of questions can be. But this book reminds us of the beauty of our own imagination that could cultivate other people’s curiosity and imagination.  Curiosity and imagination are fuel for creativity, and creativity is a key skill in all parts of life. Some might say we shouldn’t lie to kids but here’s Mac Barnett talking about the service and role of lies/fictions. (Caution: this talk is very sweet and funny. Watch with care.)

What I love about this book is Arsenault’s fantastical interpretations of the text. Her mostly monochrome, two colour illustrations are so tender and perfectly capture the humour and poetry of Barnett’s text. My favourite is the answer to “What happened to the dinosaurs?” (Who doesn’t love the dinosaurs with carrier bags?)

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Little curious minds, and adults alike, will be charmed and delighted by these ‘alternative’ answers and beautiful artwork. This will make you want to come up with your own creative answers to your curious questions. And the book ends with the best answer to invite children to the dreamland. What a brilliant bedtime story book. 

Another year, another collection of wonderful picture books (see 12 other books I picked each month this year). I really enjoyed sharing these books with you and I’m looking forward to sharing more books in 2020! I wish you a happy new year and happy reading!

Momoko xxx

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