Category Archives: PICTURE BOOKS +
I’ve thought so much about connection during Covid as we all have. Despite distance, many of my relationships have gotten closer and more connected. On the other hand, a couple have receded. But overall, I’ve found sustaining ways to connect with people, with myself, and with my creativity during this long season. To that end, while most of us are still unable to connect in the ways we used to out of compassion and care for each other, I’ve rounded up 15 picture books that all touch on connection in some way, whether obvious or not. Connection of all kinds. Because really what we’ve learned is how very connected we are.
I hope some of these will encourage fresh ways to frame connection with kids in your life and to feel more connected to self, others, understanding, and the world through story.
Vy’s Special Gift by Ha-Giang Trinh and Evi Shelvia (2020). This mustard and periwinkle picture book features a girl waiting for a rice ration in Vietnam during COVID and the imaginative acts of kindness she shows to others, a model of connection and creativity in the most stretching, leanest times.
Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker & April Harrison (2020). Nana goes to school with Zura for Grandparents’ Day in this exquisitely illustrated picture book. In class, she shares a quilt from her home country of Ghana to explain the traditional facial markings she has, inviting everyone to engage with the meaningful symbols that grace it.
The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam (2020). Inspired by the creator’s own parents’ experience fleeing Vietnam when Thao Lam was a child, this tells parallel stories: two journeys, two boats, and opens and closes with a coming together of both.
Neighbors by Kasya Denisevich (2020), at its heart is about empathy, a kind of connection we can engage in from anywhere as well as through reading and also, like the narrator, through imagination and curiosity.
Hot Pot Night by Vincent Chen (2020). In this one, neighbors actually gather, everyone contributing something for the hot pot they’ll share together!
All Because you Matter written by Tami Charles, illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Bryan Collier (2020). This stunner is an ode to a child. A Black child. Connected to their ancestors. Connected to the love of their parents. Connected to how they ARE matter, the stuff of the universe. That they matter, tremendously so.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak (2020). A stunning, uplifting book that follows the journey of poi being made from farming to a community lū’au.
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, art by Hatem Aly (2019). A little sister bubbles with excitement and pride on the first day of school, which is also her older sister’s first day of hijab. The special bond of siblings and traditions and family buoys when faced with hurtful reactions.
My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep Around the World words by Rebecca Bond, pictures by Salley Mavor (2020). The coziest exploration of how some kids sleep in different countries with art stitched from fabric!
My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña (2019) is a portrait of a late afternoon spent by the main character riding through her hometown of Corona, CA on the back of her Papi’s motorcycle. “No matter how far I go from this place or how much it changes, this city will always be with me.”
What If… written by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Mike Curato (2018) embodies the spirit of invention. The text and art work together to take us on a vivid, surprising journey of imagination and persistence, the two most important components of any creative process.
At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (2019). A story with weaving at its center that embodies connection. A family is linked to a female pilot serving far away, a tribute to the high proportion of Native American and Alaska Native Nation women who are service members.
In a Jar by Deborah Marcero (2020) is a book for anyone yearning to hang onto moments, to savor and cherish them, and for anyone who loves someone who is separated by the distance of miles but connected by memories—even new ones still traded and shared. (Find a craft post for In a Jar here.)
Delivery by Aaron Meshon (2017) is a mostly wordless story full of fun and surprise as a box of love (and cookies) travels around the world in unexpected ways to its destination.
Hello, Rain! by Kyo Maclear + Chris Turnham (2021). Filled with classic and muted but jubilant illustrations and musical text, a kid and their dog go exploring in the rain to experience its sounds and sensations and observe how the world and creatures respond.
I’ve been keeping an eye out for very recent picture books I think would make great gifts this year for those who are able to give this winter holiday season. These will simultaneously soothe and affirm and lift the spirits of anyone who reads them.
Please find below 16 picture books for gifting and lifting spirits!
I Am: Affirmations For Resilience by Bela Barbosa and Edel Rodriguez (2020), a bold, hopeful, beaming “tool kit for children” that teaches mindfulness, emotional regulation, resilience, and positive self-worth.
Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Halls and David Litchfield (2020) is a gorgeous, hopeful poem: “Dark days may shake us and worries creep in, with dragons to duel and battles to win…But…there are footsteps to follow and words that are wise. There’s a map that will guide us when troubles arise.”
All Because You Matter, written by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier (2020) is a stunning ode to a child. A Black child. A reminder that they ARE matter, the stuff of the universe. That THEY matter. They matter. “They say that matter is all the things that make up the universe: energy, stars, space…If that’s the case, then you, dear child, matter.”
Layla’s Happiness written by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin Webb (2019) IS happiness, pure joy. Layla’s depiction of all the things she loves is lyrical, inventive, surprising, spunky, and sweet.
Every Child a Song by Nicola Davies and Marc Martin (2020) explores the metaphor of how each child is a unique song, each deserving of nourishment, belonging, and celebration. It was created for the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a list of 54 things every child in the world is entitled to.
Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le (2020) is a call to be the welcoming, inviting country we should be. It’s a story within a story, one modern-day, one a Persian legend, told with absolutely stunning artwork.
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James (2020) is created by a dream team and is a manifesto that celebrates Black boys. It wraps its arms around them with buoying, bouncing, beautiful language and vibrant pantings, affirming their preciousness and possibility and pride.
I Will Dance written by Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Julianna Swaney (2020) celebrates wishes and wishes coming true. A wheelchair user makes a wish to dance with other dancers on her birthday “between, around, while the other dancers glide past me, tumble over me, until we are all mixed together, one beautiful laughing heap.” And her wish comes true when she joins a dance troupe for EVERYONE.
We Are Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (2020) is a gorgeous, vital picture book that draws on Native history and culture, ancient and recent, to show how tribal nations are standing up to protect water and the earth. “We stand with our songs and our drums. We are still here. We are stewards of the Earth. Our spirits have not been broken. We are water protectors.”
Neighbors by Kasya Denisevich (2020) is, at its heart, about how imagination leads to empathy when a girl who’s just moved to a new apartment imagines her neighbors and wonders at the ways in which we’re all connected.
You Matter by Christian Robinson (2020) is a super inventive book that tells the reader they are—everyone is—precious: young, old, first, last, stuff too small to see.
Black is a Rainbow Color written by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2020) sings the song of the color black and where it’s found in nature and then goes on to sing the song of Black history and people, Black artists, Black culture. “Black is a color. Black is a culture…Black is a rainbow, too.” I featured this book in a post on Ekua Holmes’s picture book life right here.
Our Favorite Day of the Year written by A.E. Ali, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell (2020) is warm, connective, and charming as it honors the beautiful quilt of traditions celebrated by children in one classroom.
Every Color of the Light: A Book About the Sky written by Hiroshi Osada, illustrated by Ryōji Arai (2020) is a poem and series of paintings about a rainstorm, simple yet sophisticated and one of the most soothing bedtime books ever.
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Shahar Kober (2020) is a sweet story about two resourceful siblings who’ve just moved and can’t find their Hanukkah box to celebrate! But their lovely neighbors supply substitutions for everything they need and even though they’re not exactly what they were looking for, eventually it feels just like Hanukkah, with new friends in the building to boot!
Intersection Allies by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, and Carolyn Choi, illustrations by Ashley Seil Smith, forward by Kimberlé Crenshaw (2019) is a joyful call for inclusion, joining together, making rom for all.
And for those who are able to give gifts this winter season, I hope we’ll all think of indies first to show support for the work they always do and to help with the challenges they face now. Here are some of my favorite independent bookstores in LA and elsewhere (of course there are more and likely a wonderful one near you!).
A few booksellers from these faves have even stopped by This Picture Book Life to share picture book gems they recommend over the years! See those posts here:
Bunnie from Brave and Kind
Jen from Vroman’s
Sallly from The Curious Reader
Hannah from Avid Bookshop
These four non-fiction picture books, all published this year, showcase incredible people in history—and some young people today—who raised their voices to create change.
Shirley Chisholm is a Verb! written by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker (2020).
This picture book is a tribute to Shirley Chisholm and her verbs, her doing, her work and guts and courage. And the way she raised her voice as part of that. In Barbados, “…her teachers taught Shirley how to SPEAK up, and they helped her understand the power of words.” In Brooklyn, she became a teacher herself.
She helped people. Stood up for people. She was part of organizing Head Start. She ran for State Assembly and won. She ran for Congress and won. In 1968, she was the first Black woman elected to Congress!
She took action upon action. She spoke up and then spoke up again. She ran for President! In doing so, Chisholm inspired so many people and paved the way for so many others.
Rachelle Baker’s bold artwork in this biography portrays the spirit of the time as well as Chisholm’s dynamism.
Collection copyright © 2020 by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Jeanette Bradley. Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc. All work used by permission of the individual authors, who control all rights. All poems copyright © 2020 by the individual authors. “Water Protector” © Joseph Bruchac.
No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Jeanette Bradley (2020).
This picture book is a treasure of inspiration, of poems and illustrations by kidlit creators, each featuring a young person creating change.
Some of these kids may be familiar to you, some of them may not, but every spread showcases one kid, their brief bio, a call to action, and a poem in their honor by acclaimed writers like Hena Khan, Traci Sorell, Carole Boston Weatherford, Andrea J. Loney, and Nikki Grimes.
A variety of amazing young people for readers to admire and take a cue from, 14 different journeys and issues of activism that matter to them, that matter to us all.
The Power of her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne by Lesa Cline-Ransom and John Parra (2020).
This picture book captures the life of writer, fighter, and question-asker Ethel L. Payne who grew up in Chicago and “always had an ear for stories.”
Payne also had a lot of courage and persistence—when her school newspaper wouldn’t let a Black student write for it, when she worked toward social change in her neighborhood, when she set her sights on traveling the world as a journalist.
All that courage and persistence landed Payne in the press room of the White House asking important questions as “First Lady of the Black Press.” She documented history—and she was part of it—pushing for civil rights, for answers, and for change.
This non-fiction account is complemented by John Parra’s unmistakable illustrations full of color, texture, and symbols.
Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell and R. Gregory Christie (2020).
This picture book profiles Ella Baker, who took it to heart when her mother told her: “Lift as you climb.”
As a child, Ella Baker looked after neighbor kids and worked on the farm where her grandparents had been enslaved. She worked hard in school at her studies and as a waitress to pay for those studies. She moved to New York City where she worked hard for the NAACP, for the rights of Black Americans.
She worked for voting rights, always listening to people, always lifting her voice for justice, and always lifting as she climbed.
R. Gregory Christie’s art is extraordinary in this book, as always: technicolor backgrounds, captivating compositions, and portraits that pop off the page.
Thanks to Penguin Young Readers and Charlesbridge, I’m giving away two picture books—if you’re a a teacher or librarian, enter below to win a copy of SHIRLEY CHISHOLM IS A VERB and NO VOICE TOO SMALL below! (US only.)