Every year, I like to share which picture books made the biggest impression on me. Picture books I think families, teachers, and librarians should consider buying. These are my 2018 recommendations.
All these favorite 2018 picture books are listed on my Amazon store page here.
2018 Gift Guides
Best Picture Books of 2018
P is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, illustrated by Maria Beddia
ALPHABET / HUMOR
Are you a logophile (someone who loves words?) If you are, this delightful picture book will be your new favorite alphabet book. It certainly is for me! The subtitle of this book reads “All the letters that misbehave and make words nearly impossible to pronounce.” Get your kids, sit by the fire, and prepare to enjoy a celebration of words with surprising pronunciations that don’t follow the standard phonics rules! In this book, “A is for Aisle” and “H is for Heir“. What? Below each letter and illustration is a sentence describing each word. “M is for Mnemonic. // But now Mr. M. can’t remember why.” Isn’t this a delight for readers and writers of all ages? Also, I think that this book selling 10,000 advance orders is due to my FB viral post. Crazy, right?
Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang, illustrated by Max Lang
This is one of the best, most healthy emotional intelligence children’s books I’ve ever read about feeling your feelings. Jim Panzee (chimpanzee, get it?) wakes up and nothing seems right. His jungle friends like Norman suggest that he might be grumpy. Yet Jim insists he’s NOT grumpy. As Jim stomps around, bunching his eyebrows, not swinging, he yells at the other animals that he is NOT grumpy. Later that day, Jim sits with Norman. “For now I need to be grumpy,” he explains finally. To which Norman responds, “It’s a wonderful day to be grumpy.” I love Norman’s response.We all need people around us who will sit with us and let us be.
The Rabbit Listened by Cory Doerrfeld
I love this book because it’s about the important skill of listening. Taylor feels proud of her block structure but is devastated when birds crash into it. One by one, the animals try to help. Chicken says Taylor needs to talk about it, bear suggests shouting, and elephant recommends remembering. But their advice doesn’t help Taylor. Finally, Rabbit just sits near Taylor. Later, when she’s ready, Taylor talks, shouts, remembers, laughs, hides, throws, and ruins things. And what does Rabbit do? Listens to all Taylor’s feelings– without commenting. Rabbit also listens to Taylor when Taylor becomes ready to rebuild her block structure. This a favorite book for feelings and emotions because it’s such a good example of being present for another person, whether your child or a friend. (Can you tell how important I think this is?)
A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes
Walrus in the Bathtub by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Matt Hunt
I love the illustrations, the humorous story, the handwriting font, and the lists (so many lists!) The worst thing about this family’s new home is the walrus in the bathtub. Why? Because:
- clam shells
- screechy seagulls
- bathtub tidal waves
- pool parties
- walrus songs
Twig by Aura Parker
My daughter and I absolutely adore this 2018 story about kindness. Bug school is starting and no one notices the new girl, Heidi, a stick insect, not even the teacher. Here’s where the brilliant artwork comes in because kids will have to look closely to see where Heidi is — can you notice where she is? You’ll feel so sad for Heidi who watches the other kids playing. Why won’t someone play with her? When Heidi is finally discovered (on accident by a ladybug), the teacher has a wonderful idea — all the students will knit a square for a scarf. The scarf will help everyone be able to see her. Now she always finds friends in the playground! Added to: Picture Books About Kindness.
This Is a Taco! by Andrew Cangelose, illustrated by Josh Shipley
Serious facts paired with hilarious commentary make this a memorable book with a surprise ending. Our narrator wants to tell you all about squirrels — with the help of Taco, a squirrel who love tacos and interjects his opinion about the narrator’s facts in comic dialogue bubbles in the illustrations. Taco gets more irritated as he hears the facts like “squirrels love to eat nuts, acorns, and even tree bark“. (He only agreed to be in the book because he thought there would be tacos.) But danger lurks when the predator of the squirrels, a hawk, arrives! Taco figures out how to escape the hawk AND get his tacos. Hint: All he needs is a red pen. Maybe he can write this story. Kids will beg to read this again and again.
This is the Day You Begin by Jaqueline Woodson, illustrations by Rafael López
Evocative, lyrical text illuminates the awkwardness of a girl’s first days at school. She listens to other kids’ big stories of summer and feels like she doesn’t fit until …she finds out that she might have something in common with others after all. And can still be her unique self. It’s a book you want to live in because of the beauty and wisdom from both the words and pictures.
“This is the day you begin
to find the places inside
your laughter and your lunches,
your books, your travel and your stories,
where every new friend as something
a little like you–and something else
so fabulously not quite like you
Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous (A First-Day-of-School Dilemma) by Keith Calabrese, illustrated by Juana Medina
You know how kids express their feelings? It sometimes can be just like this… personifying something else to represent a feeling. What I really like is that Lena’s feeling BOTH nervous and outgoing which is also an accurate depiction of our emotions. (Her shoes are nervous but her dress is feeling outgoing.) Lena tells her dad about her shoes feeling nervous. (And can I just say how much I love that this story is all about a girl and her DAD!) Her dad asks questions — doesn’t try to solve. Then, Lena figures out that her headband can talk to her shoes. Her dad gives them some space for her to work things out… “The shoes say that school is big and loud and different and they’d really rather not go. / The headband is a good listener and understands.” The headband reminds the shoes of other times they all were scared and also brave. And that things worked out. Even though her shoes still feel a little nervous, they decide to be brave and go to school. And Lena is proud of them! Use this book to talk about how we can have more than one feeling at the same time. It’s a beautifully illustrated, emotionally truthful role model picture book for us all. Added to: Essential Back-to-School Picture Books.
IslandBorn by Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
Díaz captures Lola’s heartfelt longing to remember the island of her birthplace for a school assignment. She left the island as a baby so she can’t remember. Lola interviews her family and friends, listening to their snap-shot, detailed stories of the island’s bats, music, agua de coco, heat, and the Devil Monster. Through their stories, she creates her own tapestry of island memories that will always be in her heart. Stunning illustrations explode in colorful exuberance on every page of this 2018 picture book.
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët
KINDNESS / BULLYING
When a classmate is being bullied, what can you do? This wordless picture book shows that sometimes it’s about showing someone that they are not alone. You can do what this girl does: show kindness and walk home with a lonely, hurting person. Added to: Picture Books About Kindness
The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith, illustrated by Katz Cowley
The credit for the success of this book is largely due to the Scottish granny whose viral video reading it was a total crack up! Of course, it’s a great, silly (very silly!) cumulative story filled with onomatopoeias like “stinky dinky lanky honky tonky winky wonky donkey.” This wonky donkey is walking down the road, he hasn’t had any coffee, and he’s always getting up to mischief. Added to: The Best Picture Books for 2-Year-Olds.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
GRANDPARENTS / ART
Oh, my goodness! This story shows how art brings together two generations separated by language and age. Mostly wordless, this is almost a graphic novel with exquisite artwork in comic-style panels. A boy arrives at his grandfather’s house. He’s frustrated because his grandfather doesn’t speak English. The two eat in silence. Then the boy begins drawing himself as a caped-superhero. Excited, his grandfather draws himself as a superhero, too — only one garbed in what appears to be a traditional ceremonial dress. Their connection continues through art — each with his own unique style. It’s beautiful on so many levels.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
You are going to read this book multiple times — it’s so funny while being profound. “Sometimes it’s hard to make friends with children,” said her dad. “Especially when you eat them.” After a rough first day at school where she eats her classmates, gets scolded by the teacher, spits them out, and doesn’t make any friends, Penelope’s dad explains that “children are the same as us on the inside. Just tastier.” HA. The next day, Penelope eats her classmates again. She just can’t stop herself! However, when the class goldfish chomps on Penelope’s finger and it HURTS, she realizes that it’s no fun to be someone else’s snack. It hurts. EMPATHY!! 🙂 So even when her classmates look delicious, Penelope tries to remember what it felt like…and she resists eating them. Which means now she has friends and playmates at school. Added to: The Best Books for Age 4 and Age 5 & The Essential Back-to-School Books for Kids.
Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex
Oliver: The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth by Josh Crute, illustrated by John Taesoo Kim
BELONGING / SELF-WORTH
My daughter and I LOVE this 2018 picture book so much! Embedded within the relatable narrative are three valuable messages: you are not alone, you don’t have to be the best to be worthy of love/ friendship, and if you look around, there might be others who feel as lonely as you do. In a time when more children are feeling un-okay, this book is exactly what we need in the world. Oliver lives in the shadow of Sherman, the largest tree on Earth. You see, Oliver is the second largest tree on Earth but there’s no sign for him and no adoring, photographing fans like there is for Sherman. Oliver feels invisible. (“Which is surprising when you’re 268.1 feet tall.”) He tries to grow bigger to top Sherman, but Oliver wilts when it doesn’t work. That’s when he notices the other large trees around him. It turns out that they also feel invisible. Oliver waves shyly. That’s when Oliver makes new friends! He realizes that he’s part of something bigger — the Sequoia National Forest. (“And there is even a sign.”) Back matter discusses the real sequoias and other second-largest things on the Earth. The expressive illustrations are just about the most perfect balance of white space and color and characterization that I’ve ever seen.
One Wave at a Time: A Story about Grief and Healing by Holly Thompson, illustrations by Ashley Crowley
Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, illustrated by Vashti Harrison