Want the scoop on the best newly published picture books? Here’s what I’ve been reading and can recommend to you and your students and families.
New Picture Books, January and February 2020
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURE / #OWNVOICES
This beautifully written gem celebrates Native American culture through the lens of the food Fry Bread. The repetitive text starts each two-page spread, “Fry bread is…” then descriptive, lyrical verse follows each statement, elaborating on the meaning. “Fry bread is sound / The skillet clangs on the stove / The fire blazes from below / Drop the dough in the skillet / The bubbles sizzle and pop.” This rich text paired with evocative illustrations culminates in a wonderful book that will show children Native American traditions of family, food, and love.
Up on Bob by Mary Sullivan
DOGS & CATS
Hilarious! Bob makes his nap spot perfect.– it’s hard work. But he can’t sleep because Someone is watching. And then Someone pounces. And gets to work to make their nap spot perfect, too. This brilliantly written and illustrated story shows readers exactly why there are pictures in picture books because they narrate so much of the story! Sullivan skillfully writes word for word the second half just like the first half but it means something different in this half. And it’s thoroughly delightful.
Bedtime for Sweet Creatures by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Parents, you’ll love this relatable story about the production of going to bed — for a little boy and all his cuddly plush sweet creatures. The tireless mother helps all the stuffed animals go to bed first, then the little boy. Lots of rich imagery plus brightly colored collage illustrations make this a wonderful choice to read to children at bedtime, rich with family, imagination, and love.
Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen, illustrated by Nat Iwata
JAPANESE MARTIAL ARTS / #OWNVOICES
Introduce your kids to two Japanese traditional martial arts — sumo and aikido in this story about a brother who likes sumo and a sister who prefers aikido. While the rhyming text is minimal, it is also full of rich vocabulary (with a glossary in the back). For example, “Hands on knees, leg raised low, practice shiko.” Sumo Joe and his friends playing sumo in the living room. Until Aikido Jo comes home. Then the siblings face-off and end with a pillow fight. It’s such a fun story that is sure to get your kids up out of their chairs to imitate the moves.
The President of the Jungle by Andre Rodrigues, Larissa Ribeiro, Paula DesGualdo, and Pedro Markun
Need a good book to explain the democratic election process? This is a fantastic new option that I think you’re going to love! The jungle animals are tired of being ruled by the selfish king of the jungle, Lion. The animals decide to pick a new leader — one they elect themselves. Thus begins the process of protests, candidates, campaigning, slogans, debates, rallies, platforms, and eventually, a new leader. Who will it be? (Not lion, that’s for sure.)
Added to: Favorite Books for President’s Day.
Sing with Me, Canta Conmigo by Jose-Luis Orozco, illustrated by Sara Palacios
PRESCHOOL SONGS / #OWNVOICES
Read and sing along with your preschoolers to favorite familiar children’s songs from the United States in both English and Spanish. For example, “The Wheels on the Bus” in Spanish is “Las Ruedas Del Camión” and “Old McDonald” in Spanish is “Juancho Pancho”. Use these songs for older kids to when teaching them either English OR Spanish because music helps children learn all sorts of things, languages included. Exciting, cheerful illustrations from the talented Sara Palacios.
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
When Sofia’s abuela gets hurt from a mountain of trash, Sofia wants it to be removed and replaced with safe, beautiful community spaces. Her neighbors like the idea and want benches, fountains, place spaces, a pond, and more. But who will do the work? She’s only a kid. She bravely asks for the city’s help at a city hall meeting.
The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Pascal Campion
LOVING PARENTS / NIGHT WORKERS /#OWNVOICES
When the babysitter cancels, Daniel’s parents have to take him to their night janitor jobs even though he is about to go bed. At their jobs, these creative parents weave an imaginative story for their son about a Paper King and dragons. Their stories keep him entertained while they work, even though he’s sleepy. This story is about loving, amazing parents who work at night and do everything they can to show their son the magic in the world. I love it!
Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots by Michael Rex
FACTS VS. OPINIONS
In an entertaining and relatable story of robots, Rex guides children in their understanding of facts and opinions. He also helps them apply the knowledge with interactive questions. The design of the book with cute robots (OPINION) and large, colorful vocabulary words (FACT) make the message clear and understandable. (Swipe to see pages.) I really like how it teaches about not having all the information to decide if something is a fact or opinion as well as how kids can respect the opinions of others, even if they aren’t the same as theirs. This cheerful picture book deserves a spot on every elementary classroom bookshelf and library!
Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
A little girl sits sadly on her porch steps thinking about the colors of the rainbow and how black isn’t in the rainbow. Poignant, lyrical metaphors and luminous illustrations tell readers what black is — a crayon, a feather, braids, rhythm, blues, trains, dreams, and so much more. “Black is the color of ink staining page. Black is the mask that shelters his rage. Black are the birds in cages that sing– Black is a color. Black is a culture.// …My color is Black.” Her narration celebrates black culture, showing pride and context and history. She ends with the statement that in her box of crayons, black is a rainbow, too. Every single part of this incredible book is meaningful, beautiful, and memorable.
Mole Finds Hope by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sally Garland
SPRING / HOPE
Little Mole feels sad. His mother suggests that he needs hope. She then proceeds to show him where hope is hiding in the darkness around them starting with a seemingly dead bulb that she says will soon become a beautiful daffodil. She shows him the bare tree and asks him to visualize the little green buds will appear soon. She explains that that is hope. As they continue observing the world and visualizing the possibilities, we see what will happen soon (the abstract concept of hope) and learn about spring.
Note: I think you can also tie the lessons in this story with your family’s faith if you have one.
Bear Goes Sugaring by Maxwell Eaton III
HOW TO MAKE MAPLE SYRUP
Although there’s a lot of information, the clever and funny Squirrel and Dog will keep readers laughing while they’re learning all about the process of making maple syrup. The book doesn’t summarize much so you’ll read about the many steps involved to make get sap from the right kind of tree and turn it into syrup which is what Bear does. Because so many kids don’t know how their food ends up on their tables, books like this one are important.
Helga’s Dowry: A Troll Love Story by Tomie dePaola
A hardworking, clever troll named Helga earns her own dowery so that Lars will finally marry her, not Inge. But once she’s amassed a dowery, she realizes that Lars doesn’t love her, he just wants her money. But there is someone who loves Helga and doesn’t need money — the king! Tomie dePaola does it again with an entertaining story and classic illustrations.
The Blunders: A Counting Catastrophe! by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Colin Jack
The ten Blunder kids play outside for hours but when it’s time to do a headcount, they can’t find one of the siblings. (Although we can see the problem right away!) They keep making the same mistake (not counting the person who is counting) and it’s hilarious. They count in Spanish, count backward, and count by three. It’s no use! How will they tell their mom that they lost someone? Entertaining and educational.
In a Jar by Deborah Marcero
FRIENDSHIP / COLLECTIONS
Your kids are sure to be inspired to start their own collections after reading this sweet story. Llewellen loves collecting all sorts of things in jars — feathers and leaves, buttercups and heart-shaped stones. Then he meets a girl who also loves collecting things, Evelyn. Together they collect hard-to-hold things like rainbows, the sound of the ocean, and the long days of summer. Their jars filled the walls of Llewellyn’s house. Sadly, Evelyn moves away but the friends continued to collect special moments and share them with each other through the mail.
Martina: The Beautiful Cockroach / Martina, la hermosa cucaracha by Berta de Llano, illustrated by Jaime Rivera Contreras
FOLKTALE / DUAL LANGUAGE
Doña Julia wanted to help Martina find a suitable groom. So she devised a tricky test for prospective suitors. Anyone who would drink the disgusting tembleque with added salt would show that they really liked being with Martina. Eventually, she meets Perez, a kind mouse, who passes the test and they get married in a big ceremony. A wise and entertaining Puerto Rican folktale in English and Spanish.
How to Make a Shark Smile by Shawn Achor and Amy Blankson, illustrated by Claudia Ranucci
This picture book introduces children to the concept that a smile can be contagious and that we have a choice about our attitude. The dolphin named Ripple helps the other aquarium fish feel happy, even Snark the Shark. I have mixed feelings about this story because I also think it’s VERY important to that kids be allowed to feel ALL of their feelings — not be forced into toxic positivity.
The Heart of a Whale by Anna Pignataro
The sea creatures love Whale’s beautiful song that wanders far across the ocean. Yet Whale notices that his heart is lonely. He wishes for a song of friendship that would be sung to him. And that wish brings him a friend. Together they sing of happiness, hope, magic, and wonder. Lovely teal watercolor illustrations transport readers into the ocean depths.
Hike by Pete Oswald
NATURE / WORDLESS
Take an adventure with a boy and his father out of the city and into the woods. Wordless, playful, emotion-filled, and deeply satisfying, see the beauty of nature from a log bridge and a waterfall to the pine forest where the father and son plant a new tree. Stunning and heartfelt.
GO TO: Activities to Do with Wordless Picture Books
Boxitects by Kim Smith
Most kids can relate to the feelings of jealousy. Meg feels competitive and slightly jealous when a new girl arrives at the Maker School and is a cardboard box builder just like Meg. In this engineering-themed story, Meg and her nemesis, Simone, work separately to outdo the other in the Maker Match. Their plans fail. With only minutes to spare in the competition, they salvage parts, collaborate, and find that they’re more brilliant and creative when working together. Boxitect ideas in the back! Diverse, vibrantly colored artwork with movement and pizazz.
Dandelion’s Dream by Yoko Tanaka
IMAGINATION / WORDLESS
A special dandelion blooms into…a real lion. He explores the world, all in illustrations of yellow and gray. He sleeps on a sheep, sails in a boat, watches a movie in the theater, flies in an airplane, then returns to his roots. Literally. When it’s time for the dandelions to go to seed, the seeds float into the night sky in the shape of a lion. Notice the circular beginning and ending (also a life cycle), the playful adventure, and the imagination of a small but big plant.
GO TO: Activities to Do with Wordless Picture Books
Dot. Unpluggd by Candlewick
When the power goes out, the family decides to unplug. Which is harder than they think — but Scratch the dog just might finally get some attention. Dot and Scratch find games in the basement. They play all afternoon and don’t want to stop.