a baker’s dozen…picture books to delight, expand, and warm your world

Today I’ve got a batch of picture books I checked out of my library before they closed for the sake of our well-being.
I don’t know if any of you have access to libraries at this point, but if not — just bookmark these titles for the grand day when they re-open!

First up — five books brimming with delight and friendship, the perfect recipe for little ones or grown ups feeling worn thin by this difficult moment and cherishing community and caring:

the friendship book

The Friendship Book, written by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

This charming ode to friendship radiates love, kindness, warmth, and deep understanding about what it means to have and be a friend.  Having a friend feels “as if there’s sunshine in your pocket.”

the friendship book Ray and Graegin

Stephanie Graegin is the perfect artist to illustrate this tender, honest, wide-ranging exploration of one of life’s finest gifts — a true friend. Ages 4 and up.

hello neighbor

Hello, Neighbor: The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers, written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell
published in 2020 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House
on shelves: 5/5/20

Mister Rogers has become the person we all instinctively turn to during moments of national trauma, his gentle, caring soul soothing us with wise, measured words and a steady, compassionate gaze, even years after his passing.

So although Matthew Cordell could have had no way of knowing it, his generous, biographical picture book about Fred Rogers couldn’t emerge at a better time. Cordell sketches Fred’s long life of learning and creativity from childhood straight though all 900 episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. He shines a light on Fred’s deep well of caring that led him to become a brand new kind of minister, whose “congregation” was the children he respected, understood, and welcomed into his presence each episode.

hello neighbor Matthew Cordell

Matthew Cordell is the ideal illustrator for this account. His profoundly human, uniquely-warm, comforting approach pairs perfectly with Mr. Rogers’ neighborly ethos. You’ll thoroughly enjoy this whether you’re 5 or 95.

snail crossing

Snail Crossing, written and illustrated by Corey R. Tabor
published in 2020 by Balzer + Bray, HarperCollins

Snail spies a lovely green cabbage one happy day and impetuously decides to cross the road to nab it for a scrumptious feast. It’s a dangerous business, but Snail is determined.

Some impertinent ants, also bent on crossing the road, rudely accost Snail as they pass him by. Moments later, however, a rain storm threatens to pound those tiny rascals to smithereens, until Snail kindly welcomes them to shelter with him. When the sun comes out, the ants are off on their merry way, and Snail’s arduous journey continues.

snail crossing Corey R Tabor

  It seems that plump cabbage will never be his, until a turnabout of kindness from his new-found friends wins the day. This zesty friendship tale will bring cheers from ages 4 and up.

five nice mice and the great car race

5 Nice Mice and the Great Car Race, written and illustrated by Chisato Tashiro, translated from the Japanese by Sayako Uchida, English text adapted by Kate Westerlund
North American edition 2014 by Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd.

I’m not sure how I stumbled across the 5 Nice Mice books. There are several of them. This episode features the famous five — Bon Bon, Whisk, Teeny, Nibble, and Abby — teaming up to design and build a prime roadster, enter The Great Car Race, and win The Ultimate Piece of Cheese!

It is a complete blast, packed with ingenious engineering, thrilling competition, stupendous teamwork, and a dramatic finish! Plus copious good will on the part of the winning team. Your kids will eat this up! Ages 5 and up.

agent lion

Agent Lion, by David Soman and Jacky Davis
published in 2020 by Harper

Agent Lion is a hard-working detective…or a hardly-working detective. You decide. He means well, and when Ms. Flamingo rings him up to request help finding Fluffy, her missing cat, he is hey-ho-presto on the job!

agent lion Soman and Davis

It’s just that Agent Lion is, well, a mite dim shall we say? And his appetite for sweets — jelly doughnuts in particular — is insatiable and most distracting. Nonetheless, Agent Lion is a detective with a big heart who aims to please, so he is happy as can be when Fluffy is at long last found…and when jelly doughnuts are served for the congratulatory tea! This story hits all the funnybone buttons for young children and is deliciously illustrated to boot. Enjoy with doughnuts and tea with ages 4 and up!

Next, 3 books celebrating the riches of Nature:

being frog

Being Frog, written and photographed by April Pulley Sayre
published in 2020 by Beach Lane Books

The latest in Sayre’s treasure trove of gorgeous photographic nature essays for young children, this beauty zooms in on the substantial life of a frog.

being frog April Pulley Sayre

I’ve always loved frogs, so I am gladdened by this respectful treatment of them. Sayre has spent copious time observing the frogs in her local pond and thus has learned to appreciate the wonderful creaturliness of these tiny beings. Her vivid portraits of them and their surroundings are accompanied by succinct, insightful wonderings about their lives and habits. This is what nature study is all about, folks. Ages 3 and up.

a way with wild things

A Way with Wild Things, written by Larissa Theule, illustrated by Sara Palacios
published in 2020 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Poppy Ann Fields is a kid after my own heart. She is not much given to gabbing at parties. Rather, she is most at home outdoors, admiring creepy-crawlies and their bustling, intricate ways.

a way with wild things Theule and Palacios

When Grandma Phyllis turns 100, a huge party is thrown and Poppy, as usual, hangs out on the sidelines. Until — a shimmering dragonfly lands on Grandma’s birthday cake and lures Poppy in to investigate like a moth to a lantern. Suddenly she’s in the thick of the crowd, in the spotlight of attention, a terrible place to be if you’re Poppy. The way Poppy copes, plus dear Grandma Phyllis’s insight into Poppy’s unique gifts, will make your heart glow. I love this story affirming those who gravitate towards quietude and the natural world. Ages 5 and up.

hawks kettle puffins wheel

Hawks Kettle, Puffins Wheel, and Other Poems of Birds in Flight, written by Susan Vande Griek, illustrated by Mark Hoffman
published in 2019 by Kids Can Press

Verbs and birds — what a congenial combination! The ways birds move have such satisfying words attached to them. They kettle and mob, mumurate and flycatch.

hawks kettle Vande Griek and Hoffman

Twelve species each get a turn in the spotlight here, with a freewheeling poem focusing on their unique aerial moves, a short paragraph telling us more fascinating facts, and dramatic artwork captivating us with their lovely forms. Birds are a part of nature likely to be available to all of us. This handsome book reveals new and interesting aspects about sandpipers, crows, geese, and more, while encouraging us to more closely observe those in our neighborhoods. Ages 5 and up.

Finally, five books traipsing through different cultures:

vamos let's go to the market

!Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, written and illustrated by Raúl the Third, Colors by Elaine Bay
published in 2019 by Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

There is just nothing like this bilingual book, created by an award-winning graphic novelist with a rad style all his own.

Little Lobo and his dog, Bernabé, are off to the Mercado to deliver supplies from their warehouse. It is one bustling place, populated by the wackiest collection of citizens you’ve seen. Like Richard Scarry with a zesty, lime tequila twist.

vamos let's go to the market Raul the Third

Bumble along with Lobo and find out what these busy people do all day, visit the Dulceria for yummy sweets, watch Señor Puppetro’s performance, check out the comic books at the newstand, making deliveries to these good neighbors all along the way.

vamos let's go to the market2 Raul the Third

Dozens of Spanish words are incorporated into this very-much-now story. A glossary for many of them is included.  Ages 6 and up. A second volume, !Vamos! Let’s Go Eat, came out in March of this year.

the apartment

The Apartment: A Century of Russian History, written by Alexandra Litvina, illustrated by Anna Desnitskaya
first published in Russia in 2016; English edition 2019 by Abrams

And here again is a book like nothing you have ever seen before!

Follow the generations of the Muromtsev family and their dwelling places from 1902 to 2002 in a volume so jam-packed with information, creatively presented, I could not begin to describe it all here.

Each two-page spread moves forward in time and includes one portion of the ongoing story of this family narrating cultural traditions, holiday celebrations, dark times, political events, and daily life as it changes over the decades. Rich, detailed illustrations provide cutaway views of their apartment home which is divided up in various ways as needs shift, as well as personal and historical artifacts galore!

It is an astonishing fountain of Russian history and culture to pore over for ages 11 through adult.

the arabic quilt

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigration Story, written by Aya Khalil, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan
published in 2020 by Tilbury House Publishers

Kanzi is new in town, having recently immigrated from Egypt, and she is anxious not to stick out more than necessary at school. Her first day, however, she encounters ridicule from classmates over the Arabic language she speaks with her mom. Thanks to a wise and understanding teacher, Hanzi’s embarrassment is turned into a beautiful occasion of learning and artistry.

the arabic quilt Khalil and Semirdzhyan

A warm story of welcome, so needful at this moment in our country when degrading commentary and prohibitive laws  have usurped a stance of mercy and refuge. Ages 5 and up.

johnny's pheasant

Johnny’s Pheasant, written by Cheryl Minnema, illustrated by Julie Flett
published in 2019 by University of Minnesota Press

Johnny and his grandma have a most surprising day in this warm, intergenerational story sure to please young readers.

On their way home from the market, Johnny spies a pheasant in the tall grass along the road. Johnny is sure it’s sleeping. Grandma doesn’t exactly voice her deep concern that it is…forever sleeping…but allows Johnny to cart it home and settle it into a makeshift, cardboard box nest.

johnny's phesant illustration Julie Flett

What a surprise, then, when later that day, “Hoot! Hoot!” says the pheasant, as it swoops about the room! Written by Minnesotan Cheryl Minnema, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and illustrated by the extraordinarily talented Julie Flett, a Cree-Métis woman from Canada, it’s a lovely story set in a contemporary Native household that will delight children ages 3 and up.

Ohana means family

‘Ohana Means Family, written by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak
published in 2020 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House

Finally, a story blooming with Native Hawaiian culture. This is like a unicorn among books I must say. I have rarely encountered this culture presented in a picture book, let alone done with such authenticity and beauty.

The text uses a House that Jack Built scheme as we journey through the land and witness the raising and harvesting of kalo to make the poi for the family lū’au.

I learned a great deal from this simple book, which includes an educational note telling us much more about kalo, Hawaiian legends surrounding its origins, its cultivation, preparation, and the meaning of ‘Ohana to the Hawaiian people.

Ohana means family Loomis and Pak

Kenard Pak’s ever-lovely illustration work escorts us right into the muddy fields, leads us up close to the unique wooden board and stone pounder used to prepare poi, soars with us over the emerald green landscapes, and seats us with the grand family for a sunset feast. A wholly original piece that illuminates an overlooked culture, for ages 5 to adult.


 I have a few middle grade novels out from my library now which I hope to review soon. Meanwhile, stay safe, practice gratitude, look for the lovely, and find ways to keep reading!