The one from last year is called "The Farmer and the Clown" by Marla Frazee. It's a wordless picture book and I don't understand how I missed this one. But ok. I have it now and it's really great. It's about a farmer who lives and works out on a barren plain. The perspective on these pictures is so broad it gives this very visceral sense of loneliness. The facial expressions on the farmer (at first) lead to you believe he is a crotchety old man but as the story progress, you start thinking differently. As he's working out in the fields one day, a train goes past in the distance. Something falls off the train and the farmer goes to investigate. He finds a small clown and without a lot of options, he brings the clown home. At first, the farmer is a bit puzzled but gradually he figures it out. I won't tell you any more because I just loved how the story unfolded and I'd love for you to be able to experience it for yourself. This would be a great book for teaching story structure as well as story telling.
Here's a video of the book with some nice music.
The second one is by a children's author who always tells a great story- Eve Bunting. This one is no exception. It's called "Yard Sale". It's about a girl who's family is moving from their big house into a small apartment because the family is having money troubles. The new apartment is so small she won't even have her bedroom, she will have a new magical bed in the living room that folds down. They are having a yard sale to get rid of some of the things they won't need. The people who come to buy things are very kind but it's really hard to see your things (especially things you really like) going away. I think this is book that will fill a very specific need but I think it can also help with empathy and helping kids to understand that there are people that don't have as many things as some people have. The pictures in this one are really great too. They are very realistic with soft colors and a lot of emotional depth. This would be good connected to an old one called "Tight Times" by Barbara Shook Hazen.
The last one is called "The Whisper" by Pamela Zagarenski. This one was definitely the most interesting and unusual of the three. I read it twice just to make sure I caught all the details in the pictures, because there are a lot of them. It's about a girl who gets a book from her teacher. Her teacher tells her that she had been given this magical book by her grandmother when she was about the girl's age and asks if the girl would like to borrow it. The girl eagerly accepts and runs home to enjoy the book. Alas, when she gets home, the words have flown out of the book but a voice whispers to her that she can make up her own stories. It's not easy at first, but she keeps going and suddenly, there are amazing stories with surprising characters and wonderful settings. I think this would be a great book to use to inspire young writers. The pictures call out for your attention and have many layers of details and each page takes the story in a completely different direction. It can be a bit confusing (at least it was to me, which might be why I wanted to read it twice). I really liked it. It felt like a magical adventure and I'd really like to share it with some kids to see what they thought.