As educational book publishers, browsing the children's section of a bookstore is more of a perk than a hardship of the job. While all of our publishing to date has focused strictly on creating literacy-specific materials for school classrooms rather than picture books that mom and dad read at story time, it doesn't mean we don't look to the latter for inspiration (read more here about Getting the Most Out of Story Time). In fact, we love discovering fun, new pictures books and add to the list of all-timers from authors like Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton whenever we can. 

We discovered some great children's books in 2012 and here are a few of our most favorite. So, if you're looking for a holiday gift, or just something you can read with your little one before bedtime, these are the best children's picture books discovered in 2012:

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?
by Mo Willems

The next installment in the always-fun, humor-filled 'Pigeon' Series by writer & illustrator Mo Willems. All of Mo's books are wonderfully cute, funny and smile-inducing... The Duck Gets a Cookie is no different. His unique art style and expressive characters add so much charm to a very simple, off-beat tale that we're confident you and your child will enjoy! We love THE PIGEON!

In fact, we are such an admirer of Mo's characters and chalky line art that it inspired the artwork for our newest app - Letter Buddies Alphabet Discovery - see it here

Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always by Tao Nyeu

Tao Nyeu's illustrations are simply magical and in her third book, Squid & Octopus - Friends for Always, she brings to life a series of four sweet stories (The Quarrel, The Dream, The Hat, The Fortune Cookie) that detail the adventures of two great friends: a Squid and an Octopus, of course! Lessons are learned. Laughs are had. Friendship is celebrated. And, the whimsical, colorful artwork will surely stimulate and engage the imagination of your little one!

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino

Look at the cover and you're immediately drawn in  Our first impression was that this could be a great book for our twin nephews... and we weren't disappointed. What's not to like about a Boy and a Robot? Ame crafts a heart-warming story about friendship and how differences can bring people together to have fun and share good times. And, Dan Yaccarino brings the characters to life with his wonderful illustrations. 

We just interviewed author Ame Dyckman, as part of our KidTech Series, to discuss Boy + Bot as well as her thoughts on storybook apps, becoming a published author, and what's next - read it here.

The Lonesome Puppy
by Yoshitomo Nara

The Lonesome Puppy was first published in Japan in 1999 and translated for the U.S. market in 2008. But, we just discovered it, and feel compelled to include it on our 2012 list since we absolutely LOVE Yoshitomo Nara's work (we have to of his prints in The Dragon's nursery even - see here). His illustrations have such a unique edge that is simultaneously playful and odd; we have become such big fans since we first laid eyes on his drawings years ago... This book is about a puppy who is so large that no one even notices him until a little girl climbs up his leg to discover a dog. Folly ensues. Friends are born! The girl is one of our favorite Nara characters, and the story he has crafted around her in The Lonesome Puppy is fittingly adorable and fun! 

Kitten's First Full Moon 
by Kevin Henkes

This book (published in 2004) was a gift for The Dragon's Full Moon Celebration this summer and though the story has nothing to do with a traditional Chinese Full Moon, which celebrates a child's one month birthday, Kevin Henkes' story about Kitten's first full moon is sweet and entertaining nonetheless. It's a tale about perseverance, adventure and like most good stories... there's a happy ending too!

We hope that you like the short list of children's picture books we discovered in 2012. With unique artwork and creative storytelling, we're confident that your budding readers will enjoy these books almost as much as you will... if you're going to read a book over-and-over again, at least let it be something you can be amused by too:)! 

For other children's books we love - click here.


- Kevin + Yun

Ame Dyckman is the author and creative mind behind one of the best children's picture book's of the year – Boy + Bot – with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino. Boy + Bot is the charming story about the unlikely friendship that develops between a little boy and a robot who serendipitously discover their differences and realize they can be great friends anyway. We first saw Ame's book at a wonderful, little kid's shop in Silver Lake called Yolk. The cute cover drew us in immediately with its simplicity, and we immediately knew that our 3-year old twin nephews would love the story, and love it they do. As book publishers, we always have our eye out for fun children's books and Boy + Boy has become one of our favorites. We recommend it all the time now, and it has a coveted spot on The Dragon's bookshelf too. 

You can find Ame on her website, Facebook, and entertaining twitter feed. And, you can purchase Boy + Bot here.  Read our interview with Ame below.

8 Questions with Ame Dyckman:

1. What was the inspiration for this charming story about a friendship between a boy and a robot? 


Awww, thanks!  (I’m blushing red as Bot!)  I’ve always loved “friendship despite differences” stories like FROG AND TOAD and GEORGE and MARTHA.  And I’ve always loved robots.  So when I sat down to write my own friendship story, I thought, “Why not a kid… and a robot?  Lots of differences there!”  But as I was writing the story, I realized Boy and Bot are really only different on the outside.  Inside, these two friends are very much alike!

2. What do you think about how children today are interacting with “machines” like the iPhone and iPad?

As long as it doesn’t interfere with one-on-one interaction with family, friends—including robot friends!—schoolwork or outside time, I love that today’s children have so many ways they can learn and brain-play!    

3. As a storybook author what is your feeling about storybook apps vs. actual books? Any plans to develop a mobile app for Boy + Bot?

Reading is good!  I feel anything that gets kids to read (books, storybook apps, comics, cereal boxes, Snapple caps, whatever) is good, too. I personally like to write actual picture books because it’s the medium I grew up with, study, collect, and adore.  But when it comes to reading, it’s all
              good! And while we don’t have any immediate plans for one that I know of, I
              think a mobile app for BOY + BOT could be really fun!  

4. How did you get started as an author? Any tips for children’s book authors hoping to have their stories published?

I got started thanks to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and my wonderful public library system!  I knew I wanted to write picture books, but I didn’t know how.  (My first manuscripts broke every picture book rule, and they were terrible!)  

               I Googled “writing for children” and found SCBWI.  I joined the NJ chapter of
               SCBWI and went to all the events I could.  (I still do!)  I met lots of industry
               professionals—and made lots of friends—and got fantastic advice.  The very
               best advice was, “Know your genre!”  So I went to my local library (Lawrence
               Headquarters Branch, Mercer County Library System) and read mountains
               of picture books. I requested mountains more, and my amazing librarians
               transferred them in for me.  (They still do!)  My writing improved, and I wrote
               the first draft of BOY + BOT.  Then I polished it… forever!  Finally, I brought it
               to the Agent Pitch Session at a NJ SCBWI conference, where I met my
               Super Agent, Scott Treimel of S©ott Treimel NY.  And in a very short while,
               Scott found BOY + BOT the perfect home at Random House’s Knopf imprint!
               I’d definitely encourage anyone who wants to be a kidlit author to join their
               local SCBWI  chapter and utilize their local library!

5. What has been the best part of becoming a recognized author and having your first book published?

Getting fan mail from children who love BOY + BOT is the best!  I keep and love every letter and drawing!

6. Will we be reading more about these two friends – Boy + Bot – in the future? Any plans for to make it a series?

I hope so!  I’d love to see more of their adventures. 

7. Your next book, Tea Party Rules, is coming out next year. Is there a release date? Anything you can share about it?

TEA PARTY RULES is scheduled for release from Penguin’s Viking imprint in Fall, 2013, and is illustrated by the fabulous K.G. Campbell (LESTER’S DREADFUL SWEATERS and the forthcoming THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES OF FLORA AND ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo).  It’s a funny
              eventual friendship story between a rule-obsessed little girl and a tea party-
              crashing bear cub who really wants cookies.  

8. Who is your favorite Letter Buddies Character?

My favorite Letter Buddies Character is Unique U.  I love that U’s not afraid to be different—right down to the mismatched shoes!  (I do that, too!)

A special thanks to Ame Dyckman for taking the time to participate in our KidTech interview series! For those of you interested in buying a copy of Boy + Bot, you can purchase it by clicking here.

- Kevin + Yun

KidTech is our new a monthly series of interviews with key "Influencers" in children's technology & early childhood education. From authors of our favorite children's booksto influential minds in children's digital media, we endeavor to discuss what's happening in technology, and how the digital revolution is affecting our children and their education.
When we first learned about Kickstarter two years ago it was because of this watch project (featured right) posted by Scott Wilson + MINIMAL. The prototype that Wilson wanted to build into a full consumer product was slick and very innovative, and he was seeking $15K but nearly raised $1M! What piqued our interest beyond the watch itself was the concept behind Kickstarter of crowd-funding projects. What a great idea and something perfect for entrepreneurs like us! The website affords individuals and businesses the opportunity to market test their ideas, – be it product, artwork, song, almost anything creative – potentially gain traction for the projects the community supports, and raise some funds from individuals before going into full production for a mass market. For individuals willing to pledge a modest amount (most bids average $50) to support projects that they like, they will receive rewards in return, which are often products at a discount or fun intangible things like naming rights for a clothing company's new tie line. A true win-win situation.

After many years of being a Kickstarter fan, we have decided to launch our own project today, The Grunion Run Kickstarter Project, in an effort to raise awareness and funds for The Grunion Run's new 2013 line of products – ties + pocket squares. We're hopeful that our project will be fully funded as it would be further proof that we're on the right track and reinforces the positive feedback that we've received for the company so far. If nothing else, it will be an interesting process to follow and an experience that we've been seeking for sometime. Check out the Kickstarter Project here and let us know what you think.

– Kevin