Welcome to Publishers Weekly’s seventh Children’s Starred Reviews Annual! In these pages, you’ll find nearly 300 reviews of books for children and teens published in 2019 that received stars from PW, indicating that they are titles of exceptional merit. We’ve arranged these reviews into five categories— Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, Comics, and Nonfiction—and further grouped them by intended age range, making it easy to find your new favorite read.
Our issue also includes a look at children’s book creators’ happiest surprises throughout their careers, interviews with some of today’s top authors and illustrators, and a list of our 50 best books of 2019. Happy reading!
About Our Cover Artist
Born and raised in Milan, Italy, and a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., for more than two decades, Sergio Ruzzier says he “never really felt Italian—as an illustrator or a storyteller—and I never felt American. I don’t quite know where I belong.” Alternately deemed “too European” and “too American” by some publishers, one thing he does know: “The first language I learned was comics.” The artist recalls, “I grew up reading classic American comic strips, like Krazy Kat, Popeye, Li’l Abner, Dick Tracy, and Peanuts. But at the same time, I would go through churches in medieval towns and look at the frescoes and sculptures.” His creative foundation, he says, was “a mix of those two worlds.”
Ruzzier has written and/or illustrated more than three dozen picture books, including Fox & Chick: The Party and Other Stories (Chronicle), a 2019 Geisel Honor book, and its follow-up, The Quiet Boat Ride; A Round of Robins; Two Mice; and more. He was awarded a Sendak Fellowship in 2011. This year has been especially productive for Ruzzier, who, in addition to releasing a solo picture book, Good Boy (Atheneum), illustrated a never-before-published work by the late Ruth Krauss, a mischievous abecedarian titled Roar Like a Dandelion (HarperCollins). The latter earned four starred reviews and was named a best children’s book of 2019 by PW.
On working with the legendary author’s text, he says, “It was the easiest book I’ve ever illustrated. One thing that was clear to me as I was reading the manuscript is that Ruth Krauss’s writing is so free and spontaneous. You can see some of the sentences as playful, but they can also be very deep. I wanted my drawings to have the same feel.” He dedicated the book to Maurice Sendak, a frequent collaborator of Krauss’s and a personal inspiration to him.
Also this year, Ruzzier relocated from the U.S. back to Italy, where he’s settled in the Apennine mountains, about an hour southwest of Bologna. Idyllic as his new home may be, he admits, “It’s been a little difficult this past year. I bought an old house from the late 1400s, and we’re fixing it up. So besides all the books I was doing, I had to work almost full-time on repairs.”
Beyond transitioning from city to country life, Ruzzier is likewise adjusting to an “isolated” working environment, after sharing a Brooklyn studio with fellow picture book creators Sophie Blackall, Brian Floca, Edward Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano, and Rowboat Watkins. Though he misses their collaborative energy, he says, “I work well here.” Inspiration lies just outside his room with a view. “The days are very foggy. I grew up in Milan, and in the winter you would open the window and see white, nothing else. Sometimes it’s the same thing here. And then, when the sun comes up, it’s so beautiful. You see far into the mountains; you see the fields. There are wild boars, badgers, deer, and other animals.”
The illustrator is returning to his roots in yet another way as he works on the third book in his Fox & Chick series for early readers, which combines his passion for comics and picture books. Finding a rhythm with his projects, he says, “I can finally feel that I’m working well and using my space and my time in the best way.” —E.K.