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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Picture Books for … Teens?

It’s rare that there are true all-ages picture books.

This year, we have two of note.

Both are beautiful, thought-provoking, unusual, and skew way up. All the way to adolescence and beyond.

I’ll eat my hat if either receives a silver from the RealCommittee. Hell, I’ll eat all y’all’s hats. BUT. These are gorgeous books with appeal for older readers, so here’s me shining a bit of light on them.

Aviary Wonders, Inc., Kate Samworth
Clarion, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy

Weirdly, Aviary Wonders is simultaneously for older and younger readers than Rules of Summer, making it an even more impossible Printz contender. The bottom end of the age is probably 10 or so, much older than the average picture book target audience, and as an adult reader I liked the sly, sharp commentary on our vanishing world and commercialized, consumerist society but I also wasn’t startled or blown away by that commentary. For a 10-13-year-old, though, I think it’s spot on in the “new to me” thinking — this is a level of societal critique they are only just developmentally hitting, and I think this will feel fresh and original and a little dangerous (because it’s commentary packaged as a luscious picture books, and picture books say childhood and innocence like little else).

The art is great although I am not 100% sure of the art and the content — catalogs are full of glossy photos, this is full of stunning paintings. If I were actually bringing this to the table, I would have to raise that as a flaw, but looked at for what it is (again, picture book), it’s not a significant criticism. The layout comes closer to speaking the visual language of a catalog. (And the trailer is spot on!)

Speaking of language, this reminded me of the old J. Peterman‘s catalog — a little chattier than L.L. Bean or J. Crew’s offerings, with a hint of personality, clearly aiming at a rather particular — in all senses of the word — consumer. It’s a perfect fit for the concept.

Take a minute to enjoy this one, and if you work with the bottom end of the Printz age group, consider a copy for your classroom or library, because we don’t share picture books with teens or tweens often enough.

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan
Arthur A. Levine, April 2014
Reviewed from final copy

This is an odd little book. Delightful, but odd. I found myself thinking of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick; although Tan’s work is meant to have some sort of linear structure, or at least is consistently about the same two boys, each 2-page spread taken alone seemed to hint at larger and stranger tales, in some ways larger and stranger for being isolated from the rest of the narrative (such as it is).

And it’s this hinting at possibly unimaginable scenarios that makes this truly all ages. I read it alone, and my mind went to dark places. Faerie courts and crow boys, sort of Holly Black and Neil Gaiman territory. I read it with my 7-year-old and he though summer adventure and magic and probably just their imagination. We made totally different narratives in our heads, but we shared a sense of wonder, and a shivery little thrill at some of the images (for me, “Never give your keys to a stranger” was flat out terrifying; for him, “Never ask for a reason” felt all too familiar and evoked all the 2nd grade boy drama he’s lived through this year.

On my third read through (gotta love the 32 pages page count), I could see the narrative more clearly, because the shivers and admiration had been dealt with, and I see how this is all about a power struggle and a smaller brother living with and under the imagination and thumb of an older brother. But I’m not sure that really explains why we should “Never eat the last olive at a party” — are the guests at a grownup party like terrifying crows? And what about that one dark crow always watching? Even as a single comprehensive tale, there are deep mysteries here, and I love the puzzle, which works as well for 40 as it does for 7, and I believe will work at every age in between. In fact, while I have a small picture book collection in my high school library, I will probably shelve this as a graphic novel instead, because I think the appeal is that real.

The art is expressive and compelling. I like Tan’s style — the weird, almost industrial elements, the vast sense of space, and the use of color all shine here. I love that we can see the paint, and the use of luminescence (technically it’s not actually luminescent paint, but it looks that way) against the dark clors in several of the paintings really captures a sense of magic.

This is rare and special and while it has no chance (see: The Arrival), this one maybe should.

About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.


  1. I absolutely loved Aviary Wonders, and I can’t wait to pick up Rules of Summer. I am always looking for strange, slightly unsettling “picture books” to share with my teens!

  2. I’m putting a hold on Rules of Summer right now. I really enjoyed Aviary Wonders–partly for the commentary but also for the inherent whimsy and wonder from a catalog of birds. This one reminded me a lot of the poem “The Making of Dragons” by Jane Yolen which also brings back fond memories from discovering that poem as a younger person.

  3. I love this post. I work in high school library and I need easy reader picture books for teens that are new to the English language. But aren’t too cutest or that are aimed at elementary age kids, we don’t want teens to feel like there are reading kiddy books. Please blog more with this subject matter.

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