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There’s no place like home

CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF THE YEAR—PICTURE BOOKS | Detailed illustrations combine with beautiful prose to showcase the gifts of family and home

There’s no place like home
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This year our search for beautiful, engaging, and wise picture books reaped a rich harvest of options, making it a challenge for the committee to narrow the list to our favorite selections. In final discussions, however, Sophie Blackall’s Farmhouse (Little, Brown and Co. 2022) emerged as WORLD’s 2023 Picture Book of the Year for its ode to family and home.

The book begins by introducing readers to a house and its occupants: “Over a hill, at the end of a road, by a glittering stream that twists and turns, stands a house where twelve children were born and raised, where they learned to crawl in the short front hall, where they posed, arranged on the wooden stairs, and were measured with marks over the years.”

Blackall’s lyrical words wind us through the house and the seasons and years, giving glimpses of life in the home and on the farm. The children help with milking, fork the hay, scrub the floors, and darn their socks. They paint and read, get into mischief, and dream big dreams for their futures. The text hints at the family’s faith (bowing to pray over a meal), makes note of the children’s obedience to their mother, and points to the role of forgiveness and love in forging a thriving family.

The book’s beautiful prose is mirrored in Blackall’s colorful mixed-­media illustrations. Each page is a feast for young eyes with so many details to pore over and discover. Even the book’s front and back covers, hidden under the dust jacket, offer a peek into a ­dollhouse-style farmhouse. Blackall blended her ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil drawings with items she ­salvaged from the real farmhouse upon which her story is based. Readers can look for the scraps of wallpaper, ­newspapers, string, and curtains that Blackall uses to connect the past with the present. In her concluding author’s note, she provides a few photographs and talks more about her discovery of the old farmhouse and how she pieced together its history.

Farmhouse is ultimately a celebration of family and home, as well as a testament to the gift of shared history. Blackall’s story also reminds us that ordinary days fade into seasons, which then turn (much too quickly) into years: Children will grow up and move away, and even some of the places we once called home will fall apart and decay. This, though, serves as a springboard from which parents and grandparents can help children reflect on the hope we have in our heavenly home, where “we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

—Committee members include Sandy Barwick, Kristin Chapman, Katie Gaultney, Mary Jackson, and Emily Whitten

Picture Books runners-up

The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party

Joni Eareckson Tada

(The Good Book Co. 2022)

Everyone loves an invitation to a fun event like a birthday party or a wedding. But Jesus invites us to the best celebration of all: eternal life with Him! In The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party, Joni Eareckson Tada introduces the ­concept of heaven, a perfect place free from sin, sadness, or broken bodies. She explains the gospel in an age-appropriate way: how Jesus paid for our sins, why He’s our King, and how to say “Yes!” to His ­invitation. Catalina Echeverri’s colorful and vibrant illustrations ­convey the joy and excitement of living with Jesus in the new Jerusalem. This book is also an excellent resource to help young children process their feelings when they lose a loved one. Ages 3-8
—Sandy Barwick

The Forgotten King

Kenneth Padgett & Shay Gregorie

(Wolfbane Books 2022)

Padgett and Gregorie’s poetic parable explores the kingdom of God as described in Revelation 21:3-4. The story opens with a king living in a mountain castle, greatly loved by the villagers below. But after a wizard puts a spell on the people, they forget the king’s goodness as their hearts grow darker with each passing day. The king sends his son to rescue the people and banish the wizard, but the story is not finished: Much to the villagers’ surprise, the king chooses to ­relocate his castle so he can “dwell with them, and they will be his ­people” (Revelation 21:3). With Stephen Crotts’ woodcut-style illustrations illuminating the text, this cloth-bound, hardcover edition will make a beautiful addition to the family library. Ages 5-10
—Kristin Chapman

The Red Canoe

Anne Yvonne Gilbert

(Creative Editions 2022)

“Wrapped in stiff canvas like an ancient mummy lay the old red canoe, its fragile ribs grown brittle with age.” In this richly illustrated tale, readers go back in time to the red canoe’s first days on the river with his boy. As the boy grows, he and the canoe together learn the hidden ways of the water and nearby animals—wolves, deer, bears, birds, and more. But when the boy doesn’t return from war, the red canoe waits patiently to be used again. With elements reminiscent of Huck Finn’s adventures and the velveteen rabbit’s love, The Red Canoe’s classic storytelling will keep kids and adults returning to this story—especially Christians who prize redemption stories. Ages 6-10
—Emily Whitten

A Rose Named Peace

Barbara Carroll Roberts

(Candlewick 2022)

A Rose Named Peace opens with a young Francis Meilland admiring his family’s roses, heavily perfumed and “soft as lambs’ ears,” fortified by the fertile French soil and sun. Over the years, Francis becomes fascinated by cross-pollination and dedicates himself to developing a line of roses with the best qualities of those on his family’s farm. The horticulturist persists through trial and error when the dawn of World War II threatens his research. Despite enormous obstacles, collaboration with gardeners around the world yields a beautiful, hardy, and ­vigorous new specimen: the Peace Rose. Bagram Ibatoulline’s gentle and precise watercolor ­illustrations flourish throughout this bouquet of history, botany, and biography, offering a testament to perseverance and teamwork. Ages 6-10
—Katie Gaultney

This page is part of our 2023 Books of the Year special section.

Kristin Chapman

Kristin is the children's book page editor and an editorial assistant for WORLD Magazine. She graduated from two World Journalism Institutes, including one in Asheville and one in Austin. Kristin resides with her husband, Jarrett, and their three children in New Castle, Pa.


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