I’ve got 13 fantastic picture books for you today.
Thoughtful and playful; world-expanding and wondrous; funny-bone-tickling and poignant.
Each one is a gem.
Share them with the small ones in your world — or just check them out for yourself.
there is no upper age limit on the profound enjoyment of picture books!
Milo Imagines the World, written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
published in 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Milo and his big sister are taking the subway together. It’s a long ride and Milo is feeling such a mixture of emotions that he feels “like a shook up soda.” His go-to way of passing the time is to draw the people he sees along the way, placing them into stories and worlds he imagines they occupy.
Milo is an immensely appealing little boy. Observing him and peeking into his notebook is a delight. Yet many questions also bubble up: Where are these siblings going all by themselves? Why are they feeling the way they do? Would we imagine the same outcomes and lives for his fellow passengers that Milo does, or would we invent other stories about them? How much can we know about a person just by seeing their outside selves anyway?
In the end, this warmhearted, poignant, revelatory story opens our eyes to families impacted by incarceration, to the profound love of family and need to be together, and to the possibilities that hide beneath the exteriors of those we encounter. Honest yet leaning towards joy, important yet not heavy-handed, diverse yet accenting our common humanity, this is a tremendously meaningful story. Robinson’s artwork is perfection, effervescent, naive, bubbling with hope and tenderness. Ages 4 and up.
From Ed’s to Ned’s, written by Gideon Sterer, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
published in 2020 by Alfred A. Knopf
Every once in a while I find a picture book that is just a sheer, unencumbered delight. It doesn’t pursue matters of weighty importance. It’s not exploring any well-trod children’s literature themes like going to bed, being a friend, overcoming your fears. Nope. Just imagination and pizzazz and smiles. That’s this book.
Beginning with two twin girls and a tin can telephone, this crew of friends navigates their way to one another’s houses via every crazy system of conveyance you can imagine, accumulating more and more happy kids as they go.
Climb the wash line to Cal’s.
Whirl with mini helicopter rotors to Will’s.
Boing on a series of trampolines from Ted’s to Jill’s.
Jubilant, retro artwork in an on-point color scheme carries us along until finally the gang’s all together. At this point even though their parents haul them off to bed, the crew has one last wild adventure planned. What could it be?! Spectacular fun for ages 4 and up!
Pirate Stew, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
published in 2020 by Quill Tree Books
I put this yo-ho-ho jolly book on my Christmas gift suggestion list seven months ago sight unseen because I was so sure it would be a winner. I have finally got my hands on it and am pleased to say — I was right 🙂 It’s a blast and a half.
A young brother and sister are none too pleased when their parents leave them in the care of a babysitter by the name of Long John McRon, Ship’s Cook. Sure enough, faster than you can say, “Polly wants a cracker,” Long John is joined by an entire pirate crew who turn the household upside down as they cook up a galoptious pot of preposterous pirate stew. The ingredient list is peculiar to say the least. AND it turns anyone who eats it into a pirate! Egads!
Despite all the rapscallion rambunctiousness these intrepid kids resist the stew, surviving instead on a delectable plateful of doughnuts obtained by the merry crew for a gold doubloon. However, when their mom and dad return they are so tantalized by the aroma of that stew that before their kids can stop them, they’ve eaten some! And the rest, as they say, is pirate history!
A roaring good time from an author and illustrator absolutely on top of their game, for ages 4 and up!
13 Stories About Harris, written and illustrated by Amy Schwartz
published in 2020 by Holiday House
Harris is a blond, chunky, ragamuffin of a toddler. His world is at once small and enormous. Small because it mainly consists of his house and urban neighborhood. At its farthest reaches it encompasses his grandmother’s house where they drive for Thanksgiving, and a local beach.
Large because these familiar environs encompass a universe of curiosity, delight, and relationships. Chalk drawings, booboos, chocolate cake, windy days, a pet hamster, friends with pillowcases, mismatched socks, construction paper masks, and even grapes and mashed potatoes on his head — these are the grand, exciting, discoveries of Harris’s world and the subjects of thirteen tiny vignettes in this charming book.
Amy Schwartz is the queen of the ordinary glories of a young child’s world. By turns matter-of-fact, humorous, and enormously sunny, this is a peachy choice for sharing with ages 3 and up, over and over again.
I am the Wind, written by Michael Karg, illustrated by Sophie Diao
published in 2020 by Page Street Kids
Some children might be afraid of wind, but for me it has always been one of the most soothing sounds. I fell asleep as a child to the sound of wind sighing in the tall, tall pines surrounding our house, sat with my dad on our front porch as thunderstorms swept in, relished the sounds of waves smacking into the rocky shorelines of northern lakes.
Maybe that’s why this book particularly captivates me. It’s a lovely tour of the world showing the wind at work, interacting with wildlife from the poles to the rainforest. In captivating illustrations and lyrical text we see a barred owl float in the boreal forest on a puff of wind, watch chimpanzees dance in a jungle thundershower, surf on ocean breezes with petrels.
A closing page tells a tiny bit more about each of the animals encountered. It’s a beautiful way to awaken children to the animals in their environment and the kindness of the wind. Ages 3 and up.
The Wanderer, by Peter Van den Ende
originally published in the Netherlands; U.S. edition 2020 by Levine Querido
Embark on a fantastical journey in this wordless book, a stunning work of art from Belgian artist Peter Van den Ende.
A small paper boat is folded into being and launched from one extraordinary ship as our story opens. Its sailing adventures take it across vast seas where it comes in contact with a gobsmacking array of creatures. Some are recognizable as coral, anemones, manta rays, while many add flirtatious flounces or jaunty checkerboard patterns to themselves and behave most unusually.
The wandering boat encounters not only dancing borealis and cavernous icebergs, but weird and wondrous beings engaged in dramatic battles and occupying utterly novel civilizations.
Readers can pour over these drawings for a long time to observe and absorb all the mysterious stories within them and each person may well interpret the tales differently. The artwork is entirely created with dip pen and Indian ink, with details drawn in with technical drawing pens. It’s an astonishing beacon to imagination for ages 5 through much older.
Your House, My House, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Yvette Ghione
originally published in France in 2019; English edition 2020 by Kids Can Press
Welcome to the bustling world of 3 Maple Street, a triple-decker abode, plus attic, that’s home to seven (or eight if you count the mini-ghost!) households. It’s Little Rabbit’s birthday today so in their apartment lots of jolly party preparations are happening: a bit of tidying, some cake baking, streamer hanging, guest welcoming. All that party day business.
In other apartments there’s a lot going on as well. Mama Fox is having a baby today! Mr. Bear is feeling quite under the weather. Thank goodness Dr. Dog makes house calls. There’s a Cat family moving into the empty third floor unit. And what about the Hedgehogs, Mice, and Mr. Owl? And the Bird crew in the tree? What is filling up their days?
A minimal text narrates a bit of the goings-on centering on the Rabbit family. Meanwhile we get to observe and tell the stories happening with the other folks. With every turn of the page the action continues, the scenes change slightly, the stories advance. There’s so much to notice, including some fairy tale characters who wander in and out of the scenes. Thoroughly charming, nicely oversized, enormously absorbing, it’s as yummy as a slice of that birthday cake! Ages 2 and up!
I is for Immigrants, written and illustrated by Selina Alko
published in 2021 by Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Co.
Exuberant color, plus compositions surging with energy, flood the pages of this joyous celebration, this boisterous display of the richness brought to us via our diverse immigrant communities.
An alphabetical array of elements sprouts up in fuchsia and turquoise, lemon and brick red, blush pink and spring green, each page intriguing us with everything from abuelitas to baklava, Ellis Island to hijabs, Japanese gardens to pannenkoeks, as well as creativity, endurance, hope, languages, memories — a cornucopia of ideas associated with the centuries of immigration making a mark on America.
It’s a book to pour over slowly, to absorb what’s tucked into each collage, and it’s a piece of art abounding in appreciation, welcoming hearts, and joy. Do yourselves a big favor and share this one with ages 2 to 100.
We All Play, written and illustrated by Julie Flett
published in 2021 by Greystone Kids
Julie Flett, a Cree-Métis woman from Canada, is one of my favorite illustrators, suffusing everything she creates with elegance, tenderness, loveliness.
Here she offers very young children a gorgeous feast of artwork to look at and thoughts to spark new ideas and imaginings. In simple phrases and stunning portraits, she highlights the various ways animals move and play — hiding and hopping, swimming and squirting, wiggling and wobbling — and draws a connection to the ways children similarly move and play. How fun to imagine you’re a rumbling bison as you race around the yard.
The refrain, “We play too!” is echoed in the Cree language, and at the end of the book all the animals pictured are listed with their names in English and Cree. An audio pronunciation of the Cree words is available through a link given so you can hear just the way they really sound. Playful and exquisite for ages 18 months and up.
Peace Train, lyrics by Cat Stevens, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
published in 2021 by Harper
Cat Stevens’ classic song, Peace Train, has been illustrated in eye-popping colors and a groovy 1970s vibe, providing a happy, sing along book that shares his hopeful message of peace.
The illustrations in this book narrate a story of one young guitar-strumming youngster who jumps aboard the peace train, collecting a gladsome, ethnically-diverse throng of child-passengers as it chugs its way across the countryside. Optimism and harmony burble up all along the journey.
We’ve been singing this song for about 50 years now and it’s as popular as ever. Jazz up your day with this rendition of it for ages 3 and up.
Elevator Bird, written and illustrated by Sarah Williamson
published in 2020 by Alfred A. Knopf
Elevator Bird works at The Hotel, a friendly, competent, and immensely-service-oriented member of the staff. See him there on the cover? He’s the purple fellow in the bowler hat. Elevator Bird is not only unfailingly polite, but he tends to all the little things — complements Ally the flamingo on her new hat, straightens up Charlie the dog’s tie, gives excellent directions to hotel guests.
Every night Elevator Bird retires to his quarters in the hotel basement — such cramped and creaky quarters among the mechanicals and laundry machines. Sigh. Elevator Bird loves his job but really wishes he could get outside more, take in the city lights and stars at night.
Once his pals on staff discover Elevator Bird’s wish, they set about making it come true with a splendid, kindhearted surprise! Charming figures, oodles of kindness, and a splash of dreams-come-true make this a small delight to share with ages 3 and up.
Mel Fell, written and illustrated by Corey Tabor
published in 2021 by Balzer + Bray
Mel has made up her mind. Today’s the day she’s going to test out her wings and fly. It looks like a l-o-n-g way down, but Mel bolsters her courage, does a little loop-de-loop and then…
…Mel fell. Down and down and down and down Mel fell. Yikes!! However, something very surprising happens when Mel reaches the bottom of the tree. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it’s a jolly good surprise.
Brilliant storytelling, a generous splash of humor, and a mighty clever use of the book’s format with illustrations running vertically to emphasize Mel’s dramatic journey down…and, happily, back up. What kind of bird is Mel? Find out why that’s of the utmost importance to this feathery tale. Great fun for ages 4 and up!
A Day for Rememberin’: Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day
written by Leah Henderson, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
published in 2021 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
The children’s literature world has been mourning deeply the recent passing of Floyd Cooper, artist extraordinaire, who has brought us such gorgeous, dignified, moving artwork over his prolific career as an illustrator. What better way to memorialize him than with this, his latest book, which reveals the fascinating, little known history of our Memorial Day celebrations.
Memorial Day’s roots are in a ceremony known as Decoration Day. This somber day was first celebrated in 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina, when newly freed Black citizens banded together to provide an honorable internment to hundreds of Union soldiers who had died while imprisoned under inhumane conditions at an old racetrack-turned-prison.
This fictionalized account tells that story through the eyes of one young boy as he witnesses and participates in this immense labor of love and gratitude. We read of the community’s tremendous work constructing a fenced-in cemetery and decorative archway, reburying the soldiers’ remains with proper headstones and flags, then forming a parade of thousands of Black children and adults, singing, speechifying, in tribute to the freedom bought by these soldiers.
Cooper’s illustration work is often, and aptly, called luminous. Here again he gifts us with gorgeous, dignified human figures, their faces awash in light, delineated with fortitude and emotion. This is history few of us have read before. Share it with children ages 5 and up. A lengthy Author’s Note and timeline provide more historical detail.
Hope you are able to access these tremendous books.
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