A Year in Reading: Picture Books

This year I transitioned from Collection Processing Specialist, cataloging our new materials, to Youth Services Specialist, leading storytimes and focusing on the collection for our youngest patrons). While I’ve always enjoyed flipping through a picture book to note the unique illustrations and artwork, this year I wanted to read them from the perspective of a child.

In the category of delightful and amusing, "Truman, opens a new window" by Jean Reidy amusingly tells the story of a little turtle missing his owner when she goes off to school. I was delighted by a refreshing twist on Sleeping Beauty called "Reading Beauty, opens a new window" by Deborah Underwood, where our voracious reader of a heroine is fated to suffer a paper cut. "Penny and Penelope, opens a new window" by Dan Richards is an action-packed princess power picture book in which two friends have differing ideas about what their dolls can do based upon their wardrobe.

I learned of other cultures by reading #OwnVoices, opens a new window stories (works whose protagonists and authors share a marginalized identity). The moving and whimsical "Sulwe, opens a new window" by Lupita Nyong’o tells the complicated journey of a young girl finding beauty in her skin color. "The Proudest Blue, opens a new window" by Ibtihaj Muhammad relays the pride a sister feels when her older sister wears a hijab to school for the first time. I dare you not to fall in love with "Hair Love, opens a new window" by Matthew A. Cherry in which a father helps tame his daughter’s curly, coily hair so she can feel beautiful as herself. (You also must check out the short film, opens a new window of the same name which was recently nominated for an Academy Award.)

I was empowered and comforted by so many stories I found in picture books. "The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, opens a new window" by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo empowers readers to overcome fear. "I Am Enough, opens a new window" by Grace Byers celebrates the individual and shows the support system that is all around us. "Tomorrow Is Waiting, opens a new window" by Kiley Frank celebrates the dreams parents have for their children finding their place in the world, and for how they will make the world better. A darling snapper turtle learns the hard lesson of standing up for others in "Big, Brave, Bold Sergio, opens a new window" by Debbie Wagenbach. "I Will Be Fierce!, opens a new window" by Bea Birdsong reminds us how a daily affirmation can be a pillar of support when facing various adversities.

While putting up a quilt-themed display at Millard Branch, I found "Under the Quilt of Night, opens a new window" by Deborah Hopkinson, and was immediately enthralled by James Ransome’s lush and realistic illustrations. I requested many more of his picture books for my eyes to gobble up the beauty and the stories that accompanied them. "Visiting Day, opens a new window" by Jacqueline Woodson shares the story of a mother preparing to visit her son in prison and along with her granddaughter. "My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey, opens a new window" by Lesa Cline-Ransome stunningly depicts how Robert Battle came to love dance and pursue his passion.

There is quite the market for biographies in picture book form. With colorful textural collage illustrations, "A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa, opens a new window" by Andrea D’Aquino conveys artist Ruth Asawa’s creative practice. I was stunned to learn the devastating story of Hector Pieterson through "Hector: A Boy, a Protest, and the Photograph That Change Apartheid, opens a new window" by Adrienne Wright. "Parrots, Pugs, and Pixie Dust: A Book About Fashion Designer Judith Leiber, opens a new window" by Deborah Blumenthal is a gorgeously illustrated tribute to the difficult beginnings and then luxurious creativity of the iconic handbag designer.

With the task of leading storytimes, I have discovered the best books to keep children’s attention and entertain the adults as well. A friendship theme lead me to "Hi, Harry!, opens a new window" by Martin Waddell, a simply charming story about a tortoise seeking friends who travel at his speed. Mindfulness is a powerful tool to teach young ones, and "I Am Yoga, opens a new window" by Susan Verde, accompanied by Emily Arrow's musical version, opens a new window, makes for a fun storytime. Lucy M. George’s "Back to School Tortoise, opens a new window" is an adorable story about overcoming your nerves on the first day of school. I also love Jane Cabrera’s picture book representations of classic nursery rhymes like "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, opens a new window" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat, opens a new window."

If you attended elementary school in Nebraska, you are most likely familiar with the Golden Sower Award, opens a new window. I read all ten picture book nominees for the 2019-2020 school year and these are my favorites. "Can I Be Your Dog?, opens a new window" by Troy Cummings had me near tears, as anyone with a heart might be when you see a doggo asking politely to be adopted and then being rejected by various potential owners. As I love a biography in picture book form, "Mae Among the Stars, opens a new window" by Roda Ahmed did not disappoint, presenting a vaguely fictionalized version of astronaut Mae Jemison’s early years. "Charlotte and the Rock, opens a new window" by Stephen W. Martin has a delightful twist that had me giggling. As a person with Input and Communication in their Top 5 CliftonStrengths, opens a new window, I adored "The Word Collector, opens a new window" by Peter H. Reynolds. 

And finally, an honorable mention for a slightly disturbing, yet endearing picture book: "Cicada, opens a new window" by Shaun Tan.

In the midst of personal and professional challenges, picture books create a safe space in which to escape. I appreciate the simplicity of storytelling that manages to convey complicated life journeys and lessons. These books reminded me how hard it can be to survive in this world, but also how wonderful and kind people can be.

For a complete list of all the picture books I read in 2019, click here, opens a new window!