If you love picture books as much as me, you’ll love this list. I read hundreds of picture books every year and when I come across ones that I can’t help but want to share with others I list them here.
Please chime in with books that you recommend.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #34:
I don’t know that I can understate the importance of hope. I’ve taught a class for teachers on hope and even given my daughter the middle name Hope. Without hope, there’s little to keep us going. For that reason (and because it’s a great story), I have chosen The Carrot Seed as today’s recommendation.
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by her husband Crocket Johnson is one of my favorite short, short stories. With only about 100 words, it tells the story of a little boy who refuses to give up his hope even when everyone in his family tells him his hope is misplaced. That hope (spoiler alert) comes to fruition in the biggest carrot anyone has ever seen.
I recommend The Carrot Seed for ages 3-6, but the story of hope fulfilled is one that will resonate and be enjoyed by all ages.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #33:
I’m an Immigrant Too! by Mem Fox and illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh is set in Australia, but speaks the universal truth that a city, a nation and the world is richer when it embraces all people as valued members of the community.
Honestly, I don’t know what group of kids I would share this book with. There are many references that are specific to Australia so I don’t know how much my daughter or other kids without a strong grasp of Australia will get out of the book, but the message is so beautiful I want it shared. If you know what age this book will work best with, please let me know.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #32:
(Forgive me. I’ve been watching a lot of The Office.)
Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens was one of the first picture books I fell in love with as an adult. With amazing illustrations (hence, a Caldecott Honor) and a story that blends the trickster stories of long ago with elements of fables, Tops and Bottoms can be a lovely read-aloud or a chance to start conversations about hard work, planning ahead and not letting others get the best of you.
I recommend Tops and Bottoms for ages 4 to 8 (but The Office should probably wait until at least middle school).
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #31:
Today’s recommendation is actually a series of early readers by the incomparable (and I do mean that; who else has written three different series featuring distinct, memorable and iconic characters?) Mo Willems. We’ll get to Knuffle Bunny and the Pigeon later, but today I want to focus on Elephant & Piggy.
To say that I like the Elephant & Piggie stories is an understatement. With a mixture of humor and friendship, spontaneity and empathy, and seemingly every personality trait contrasted between the two, Elephant and Piggie are the modern Bert and Ernie or the Odd Couple. I don’t know if I can identify only one of their stories to recommend. You’ll just have to read all 25.
I recommend the Elephant & Piggie books for kids who are not yet reading as well as those who are ready to start reading shorter books on their own. Basically, everyone between the ages of 4 and 8 should and hopefully will enjoy these books. (Plus, I think adults will like them as well.)
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #30:
The Rough Patch by Brian Lies tells the story of Evan, a fox, and his dog who live lives of quiet contentment until the dog dies. Evan’s peace turns to malaise then to anger then, finally, when enough space and time have past, to hope.
I love how Brian Lies lets the reader feel Evan’s emotions and experience the loss and the grieving process with him. The book is a wonderful example for writers of showing instead of telling, and a great opportunity for the reader to become part of the story creation process by filling in the gaps that the words and the pictures don’t explicitly state. The Rough Patch is a book for people who have lost or will lose friends or family or pets (that’s all of us).
I recommend The Rough Patch for ages 5 to 9.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #29:
As an adult, one of my favorite books from the past year is Quiet by Tomie dePaola.
I remember hearing and reading (and loving) Tomie dePaola’s books when I was a child which was a long, long time ago, so I was kind of surprised to learn he is still writing and illustrating books. I began to read Quiet not knowing if his work would still hold the same magic that it did in my youth. If anything, I think I like this book more than I liked Strega Nona or his Book of Bible Stories.
Quiet follows a grandfather and two children as they step away from the hustle and bustle of their hectic lives and sit, paying attention to what they see and hear. They allow themselves to be in the moment rather than caught up in the craziness of their lives. The book is a gentle reminder for everyone that it’s healthy to step back from our often hectic lives and just be in the moment.
I recommend Quiet for ages 4 to 7.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #27:
I’ve noticed a trend in my last few recommendations. The Two Mutch Sisters (by Carol Brendler) and Abner and Ian Get Right Side Up (by Dave Eggers) both embrace the silliness that I still appreciate even in my advanced age. I will eventually get back to the more serious stories/books, but I will revel in my childishness for at least for one more day.
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown (thanks for the recommendation Cassaundra Dunbridge) is a playful twist on the age-old desire of children to adopt wild animals as pets. When a bear cub finds a human child in the woods and brings it home, the cub discovers why you never adopt wild animals as pet. With a mixture of silliness (there’s that word again) and seriousness, Peter Brown captures the enthusiasm and idealism of youth.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations 26:
Abner & Ian Get Right Side Up by Dave Eggers with art by Laura Park is a silly book of friends who discover the harder you try to fix a situation, the worse the situation sometimes gets. Abner and Ian finally step back, relax and let things settle down (with a little help from the reader).
I recommend Abner & Ian Get Right Side Up for kids ages 4 to 7.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations 25:
When I was a child, I loved the kind of humor that took one idea that was just a little bit off and played it out to its (il)logical conclusion. Dave Barry, Steve Martin and Mel Brooks all appealed when I was young (who am I kidding, I still love those guys). Now, I find myself enjoying just about anything by Oliver Jeffers, Mo Willems or David Sedaris.
Given my love of taking things too far, I was pleasantly surprised to read The Two Mutch Sisters by Carol Brendler and illustrated by Lisa Brown (thanks for the recommendation Tricia Snyder). The sisters have been collecting since they were little, resulting in a house stuffed with pairs of everything…and I do mean everything: canoes and bear-skin rugs, lamps and kites and tea kettles and…too much. The silliness of their collections adds a levity to a story about boundaries and space and the bond between sisters.
I recommend The Two Mutch Sisters for ages 4 to 6.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations 24:
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall tells the story of a crayon who is continually told what to do and how to act and who to be. He struggles to conform, but no matter how hard he tries, he just can’t make himself be who everyone wants him to be. Only when he finds someone who accepts him for who he is and gives him the support to stop trying to conform does he find peace.
I love the way the story can speak to so many different people at different stages of their lives. It works as a simple tale of a misunderstood crayon, but it can also be read on a much deeper level. For slightly older kids it can be used as a conversation starter to begin discussions about deeper subjects like inclusion and acceptance. The story can be used to encourage kids to not just allow others to be the people they are meant to be, but to help kids recognize the beauty in honoring others’ courage in being themselves.
I recommend Red: A Crayon’s Story for ages 3 through 7 (I know that’s a big age range, but I truly believe the story can speak to, and be enjoyed by, all kids in that range).
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations 23:
Today’s recommendation is Whoever You Are, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Leslie Staub.
When my daughter was young, we cycled through stacks of books from the library (really not that different from now, I guess). And she had her own bookshelf at home filled with picture books. Some of these my wife and I got (very) tired of reading. But a few were books I continued to love to read after the fifth and tenth and hundredth read. Whoever You are is a book I never tired of when my daughter was young, and it’s a book I still go back and read now that she’s older.
Mem Fox’s language is deceptively simple with a lyricism that makes the book a joy to read aloud. I especially appreciate the normalization of all aspects of life, the acknowledgement that all children all over the world experience the same joys and sorrows, laughter and pain, learning and love and friends and family. The illustrations show children from all over the world growing sharing common experiences and growing to adulthood where they have their own little ones who now experience those same sorrows and joys.
There are two books I have read to almost every class of students I have taught. The Giving Tree (Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #9) and Whoever You Are have stood the test of time.
I recommend Whoever You Are for ages 3 through at least 2nd grade (those are your students, Deb Bost Bufton…you can borrow my copy if you don’t have one of your own). Regardless of your age or the age of your children, if you haven’t read Whoever You Are, get your hands on a copy.
Paul’s (not quite) Picture Book Recommendations 22:
I first read Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo before my daughter was born. I loved it so much I re-read it. Then, when my daughter was an infant, I read it to her. We read it again when she was a little older…and again…and again. By my count I’ve read Because of Winn Dixie at least six times and every time I get something new from it. Every time I read it I fall in love with the story and the writing a little more.
With elements of magic and sorrow, mystery and loss, community and friendship and healing and hope, Kate DiCamillo has written a book that appeals to both children and adults. It’s a prime example of why adults should read children’s literature. It’s accessible on so many levels, whether being read to children not yet in school, being read by children in 3rd through 5th grade or being read by adults who appreciate a beautiful crafted, emotionally resonant story.
The lyrical nature of the text makes it a perfect read aloud whether reading to yourself (more than once I’ve caught myself re-reading a line aloud…maybe that’s why people out in public give me those funny looks), reading to a class of 3rd graders or reading to a child too young to fully comprehend the story, but old enough to fall in love with the beauty of language.
I recommend Because of Winn Dixie for all ages, but I think it should be required reading for all children between 3rd and 5th grade.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations 21:
Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and illustrated by Barbara Cooney (thank you for the recommendation, Melissa Lail-Kunert) captures the magic of childhood imagination and creation and the memories of communal play that resonate through the years.
Upon first reading the book, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. When I read it again, I began to appreciate the different levels of the story. I am sure many children will enjoy the story, but the reason I am recommending it is because of the impact the story can have in future years. Because the end of the text has a nostalgic element, I found myself reflecting on my own childhood and the many memories I have of former friends who I haven’t seen in 20 or 30 (or more) years. If the book is able to spark those memories in me (someone who read the story for the first time in my 40s), how much more will it evoke nostalgia in those who not only have their own childhood to recall, but can remember hearing (and loving) this book from their youth.
Wow, I just re-read that paragraph. It’s a little more meta-cognitive (is that the word…meta-emotive…meta-something-or-other) than any of my other reviews. I’ll sum it up:
Share Roxaboxen with the children in your life so they can enjoy it now, and so that the story can prompt even more memories of their childhood when they read the story to their own children.
I recommend Roxaboxen for ages 6 to 8.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations 20:
The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague (by Julia Finley Mosca – Author and illustrated by Daniel Rieley) is the kind of book I want my daughter, my niece and nephews and all of my students to read, a story of perseverance in the face of racism and sexism until Ms. Montague finally triumphed over adversity.
I recommend The Girl with a Mind for Math for ages 5 to 8.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations 19:
Most of my recommendations are because the words of a particular book spoke to me in some way. Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers is different. The pictures captured my imagination in a way few books do.
The pictures (and the words, but especially the pictures) tell the story of a young boy who misses his grandfather. In his quest to remember/honor his grandfather he sets sail on a fantastic journey of imagination and wonder.
Ocean Meets Sky is a celebration of life and imagination and coming to grips with missing a loved one.
I recommend Ocean Meets Sky for all children ages 4 to 7, and for children of any age who find themselves missing a loved one.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations 18:
When I first read The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken I thought it was amazing. When I read it a year later…it was amazing. When I read it last week…it’s still amazing.
I love the way a “mistake” turns into something beautiful. The Book of Mistakes is what you get when “Growth Mindset” meets “Positive Thinking.”
I recommend The Book of Mistakes for kids 4 to 10. (I know it’s a big range, but the book is just that good.)
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations 17:
Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, is one of those seemingly simple stories that has more to say the more you read it. Perhaps my favorite lesson (and there are a few) is the power of a young child to positively impact her whole community.
And don’t forget to check out Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s other books.
I recommend Extra Yarn for Kindergarten through 2nd grade.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #15:
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales is a heart-warming tale of immigration based on her own experience with her infant son. It is a book of hope and fear, joy and wonder, courage and possibility. While reading the story and immersing myself in the illustrations I found myself invested not just intellectually, but emotionally as well, viscerally feeling my nerves roiling in my stomach. When the narrator and her baby son discover…
…well, I can’t give it away. You’ll just have to read it.
It should be read by everyone between the ages of 4 and 104.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #14:
Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake is a laugh-out-loud book (seriously, I guffawed twice while reading it…my wife and daughter gave me funny looks) about the desire of toddlers (and all people) to be independent while balancing our need for help every once in a while.
The child’s inner monologue is at times mature and at times infantile, capturing perfectly the nature of young children. The pictures complement the story beautifully.
I could write more, but just thinking about the story makes me want to read it again.
I recommend Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake for children ages 2 to 6 (but I think parents and teachers of children those ages will love the book just as much; actually, anyone who can remember a child when they were 2-6 will probably love the book).
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #13:
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith (illustrated by Danielle Daniel) is a succinct reminder of the many ways we are supported by the people who love us. In clear language children (and the adults who read the book to them) are reminded how to show love, respect and compassion for the people in their lives.
I especially appreciate the validation of more than just the stereotypical ways we are supported. The text mentions comforting, sharing and respecting as examples of ways we hold each other up, but it also points to playing, laughing, singing and listening as equally valid ways we are supported and can support others. The implication is that we hold each other up by simply living our lives together and accepting each other without reservation. In a world that so often demands reciprocation, children (and adults) need to hear this message.
I recommend You Hold Me Up for children ages 2-6.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #12:
Life by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel is a poetic celebration of life and love and beauty and hope. It speaks to the magic of small things and the magnificence of massive things and the interconnected nature of our existence on this Earth. It presents the struggles that are yet to come in perspective and offers a glimmer of the joy of life even in the hard times. It’s circular narrative, beginning and ending with the idea of life beginning small and then growing, will appeal to young children and the adults who read the book to them. The illustrations will capture the imagination of all ages.
Life is a perfect book to read while snuggling on the couch just before bed or while laying on a blanket in the afternoon shade. I recommend Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel for children 3-6 and for the adults in their lives who love to read to them.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #11:
Keeping with non-fiction books, today’s recommendation is Families by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly.
When my daughter was a baby, her favorite books were those that featured photographs of babies and kids and families. I wish Families had been published at the time because my daughter would have loved it. The vibrant pictures coupled with the open and affirming text clearly send a message I try to convey in the stories I write, the message that all families, no matter who comprises the family, no matter the ages or genders or ethnicities, are worthy of celebration. It is a message all children (and all adults) need to hear.
I recommend reading Families to children ages 2 to 6.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #10:
I’ve been remiss in posting recommendations of non-fiction picture books (only one so far, Frida Kahlo and Her Anamalitos by Monica Brown with illustrations by John Parra) so I’m going to try to fix this in the next few posts. Today, I recommend The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The story of Dr. Patricia Bath, written by Julia Finley Mosca – Author and illustrated by Daniel Rieley.
The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes tells the remarkable story of Dr. Patricia Bath who refused to allow society’s racial and gender barriers stop her from fulfilling her dream to help all people see. Hers is a story I had not heard before reading the book and a story I would love to have spread to all children (and adults) everywhere.
I’ve seen others recommend this book for anywhere from K-12 and I have to agree that all ages of kids (and adults) will enjoy this book, but if you really want to pin me down, I’d say it’s ideal age is 2nd through 4th grade. Enjoy.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #9:
For the past 10 years there is one book I have read to every group of students I have taught. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is one of my favorite books of all time. The selfless nature of the tree is an example of what love and sacrifice truly are. The simple (in a good way) illustrations complement the text and allow the message to shine.
I don’t know how many stories I have started writing with the hope of creating one that captures the sacrificial love of the tree, but every time I try it pales compared to the original. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I recommend The Giving Tree.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #8:
With the school year right around the corner (don’t worry, Deb, you’ve still got a month), there couldn’t be a better time to review All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman.
The message conveyed so succinctly in the title and repeated on (almost) every page comes through not just in the words but in the pictures as well. I especially appreciate the repeated refrain “all are welcome here” that lends itself perfectly to a read aloud where the children repeat the phrase.
I recommend this book be read sometime in the first week of school to all children from preschool through at least 2nd grade.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #7:
The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke and illustrated magnificently by Van T Rudd – Artist Page is about a girl, her brothers and the bike they create on the edge of “the no-go desert.” It is a tale of hope and joy and playful mischief.
The sparse text will appeal to younger readers/listeners and the rhythm and richness of language will appeal to adults. The pictures, painted on discarded cardboard, capture perfectly the mood of the story (and, for adults, tell another story of political and social commentary…check out the end pages for Van T Rudd – Artist Page‘s thought process in creating the illustrations).
I recommend The Patchwork Bike for ages 3-6. Truly a magnificent book.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations (bonus):
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is not a picture book, but it is a book every child and every adult should read (and re-read). I just finished it for at least the 4th time and I am in awe of the power of the friendship and the depth of the emotion conveyed so succinctly.
Like Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, it’s a book I wish I had written.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #6:
Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell and illustrated by the always amazing Corinna Luyken is a tale of acceptance, empathy and the magic of unexpected friendship. I recommend it for children ages 4 to 7, but the illustrations will appeal to everyone.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #5:
After a few days at Crater Lake National Park (and little-to-no Wi-Fi) I’m back with a new recommendation: Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown with illustrations by John Parra.
Beautiful pictures and an introduction to the extraordinary life of Frida Kahlo make this a must-read for 5 to 7 year olds. Her perseverance and unwillingness to bend her life to the stereotypes and expectations of her society are examples for us all, but especially our youth.
Check out the book when you get a chance.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #4:
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco is the true story (passed down through the author’s family) of two boys caught in the frenzy of fighting the Civil War.
I love the opportunity the story provides for discussions about sacrifice, courage and the massive cost of war. I wouldn’t have introduced it to my daughter until about 4th grade, but both she and I love the book now (she’s going into 6th).
When you get a chance, please read Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #3:
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall is a tale of setting goals and overcoming fears told from a child’s perspective.
I appreciate the very real way Jabari’s fears are acknowledged and honored and the way his father quietly supports Jabari and allows him to make his own decisions, all the while knowing that he is loved no matter what he chooses. Jabari’s dad is the kind of dad I want to be.
When you get a chance, check out Jabari Jumps by Gaia Corwall, a beautiful book about overcoming fears and celebrating success.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #2:
I just read My Kicks A Sneaker Story written by Susan Verde and illustrated by Katie Kath.
It is beautifully written and a pleasure to read aloud with unexpected rhymes, humor (that both children and adults will enjoy) and a wonderful rhythm. It’s an example of great literature that just happens to be written for children. If you get a chance to read it (especially aloud) I recommend it.
Paul’s Picture Book Recommendations #1:
I just read The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. What a beautiful book of sadness, acceptance and empathy. I highly recommend it.