100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Top 20 Children’s Books of 2010 (#15-11)

#20-16 | #15-11 | #10-6 | #5-1

15. Farm by Elisha Cooper [Orchard]

Take a Midwestern farm, add a family, toss in animals, some machinery, and show how it changes through the seasons. Sounds like a traditional farm picture book, right?  Perhaps. It becomes extraordinary, however, when you add Elisha Cooper’s impeccable watercolor and pencil illustrations and first-class writing. It creates the same excitement as opening an Advent calender – every tidbit of farm life seems more intriguing than the one before. Farm will keep children reading until they uncover all of its gems. –John Schumacher


14. Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld [Little, Brown]

“Authentic” might not be the first word that pops into your head when reading a book that features a shark and a train competing in ping pong, but it should. The success with which Christopher Barton and Tom Lichtenheld have tapped into kids’ brains is impressive. Two boys meet at a toy box – one holding a train, the other, a shark – which is better? The imaginary battle quickly ramps up in ridiculousness. Shark vs. Train mimics how kids really play, immersing the reader in a world where this sort of contest could actually happen. And what a beautiful world that is. –Travis Jonker


13. Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse [Dutton]

First things first: a reversible poem, or the reverso, is a new poetry form created by Marilyn Singer.  It allows the reader to see two sides to a story – one perspective  going down the page, another coming up.  This is a fascinating way to look at twelve beloved fairy tales. On one side of the page, Little Red Riding Hood is skipping through the forest in her hood – on the other side,  the Wolf is watching Little Red skip through his “hood.” Josee Masse’s expressive illustrations are rich in detail. The juxtaposition of shadow color versus pure color in the same illustration enhances the concept of the reverso. This unique poetry collection is sure to be a winner with everyone, especially elementary school teachers. –John Schumacher


12. We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems [Hyperion]

Don’t underestimate Mo Willems. Over 10 books into his Geisel-winning Elephant & Piggie series, right around the creativity-sapped point where our heroes should be teaching youngsters about the magic of Christmas or something, he drops We Are in a Book! – a fouth-wall-busting, laugh-out-loud take on the conventions of the book itself. Say it with me: “Banana!” –Travis Jonker


11. Chalk by Bill Thomson [Marshall Cavendish]

Once in a great while, you come across a wordless picture book that is pure perfection. Imagine you are booktalking Chalk to third graders.  You stand before the group and reveal a green dinosaur holding a bag of magical chalk. You explain the story of three children who draw pictures that come to life. Your talk is going beautifully, and suddenly you’re having an adjective love fest… Stunning. Brilliant. Imaginative. Expressive. Intricate. Beautiful. Magnificent. Grand. Intricate (again). Visionary. Fantastic.

A student raises his hand and says, “Those are amazing computer generated images.” To which you respond (in this order):

  1. No, no, no. (said with an all-knowing look)
  2. You flip to the back of the book to read the note. “Bill Thomson embraced traditional painting techniques and meticulously painted each illustration by hand, using acrylic paint and colored pencils. His illustrations are not photographs or computer generated images.”
  3. Now, go take another look at Chalk.

–John Schumacher

#20-16 | #15-11 | #10-6 | #5-1

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. While we enjoy reading Cooper’s “Farm”, another Midwestern farm book we really like published this year is “Country Road ABC: An Illustrated Journey Through America’s Farmland” by Arthur Geisert. It has an awesome continuous panorama picture on the bottom of all the pages. Also, very excited to see “Shark vs. Train” on your list. It is definitely my son’s favorite book of the year.

  2. It is a travesty that I haven’t seen the new Elephant & Piggie book yet.

    That Chalk. Love it.

  3. Jules,
    The new Elephant & Piggie is a hoot! I cannot keep the series on the shelf.

  4. Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer is a fabulous book with beautiful illustrations! I’ve used it with my afterschool writing club and they are just amazed at how the poems are written and after the first read wanted to try their hand at one of their own. We had great fun!

  5. I like to measure the riotous laughter that each new Elephant and Piggie book produces in my school visits – I think Can I Play Too? inched it’s way over We are in a book! but just barely. I tried some of Elisha Cooper’s other work on my library patrons but it didn’t work – maybe I should give Farm a shot, since we’re still pretty rural in my community. Or maybe your library kids are more appreciative of good art than mine!

  6. FARM is excellent!* It is one of the very few books that really portray farms accurately. I can show pictures of the chocolate brown soil. In my area, which still has “Take Your Tractor to School” celebrations at the high school, this book is spot on! Finally a book for young students that really shows what a farm is like. I am not a huge fan of Shark vs Train–the construct became tedious for me, but I dare not say this too loudly lest any of my first grade fans hear this sacrilege!

    Love Chalk! I am surprised that Mirror Mirror is not closer to the top; 13 seems too far back. This is a top ten book for me because it works so well for a variety of age groups.

    *Like Country Road ABC too, but if I had to choose just one, I would pick Farm. The text is poetic and the pictures do a fine job of conveying scale.

    • I love to hear your thoughts on the matter, Ed! It’s funny how these sorts of lists shake out – which book lands where. Farm certainly appreciates your support.