Search Results for: picture book gems

16 picture books for gifting and lifting spirits

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!).

Find them online here: Brave and Kind, LA LibreríaSkylight Books,  Green Bean Books, Brain Lair Books, Vroman’s Bookstore,Once Upon a Time, Avid Bookshop, The Curious Reader.

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





a list of picture books that capture small, still moments

I thought it would be nice to round up a list of books that capture small, still moments. Moments to pay attention to. Moments to savor.


All Around Us by Xelena González, illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia (2017).

Alia of Read it Real Good first brought this book to my attention in her guest post. A grandparent and grandchild see the circles—both literal and figurative—in nature and life and family against a backdrop of beautiful, noteworthy illustrations.

It captures meditative moments.



The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2018).

A stunning book about the beginning of the universe, and the beginning of you and me.

It captures moments of stardust transforming. 



On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (2017).

Without their video game, a child becomes immersed in the outside world instead. “Why hadn’t I done these things before today?” they wonder as the book affirms curiosity and play and unencumbered time. 

It captures moments of exploring the outdoors.



I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan (2018).

A collection of poems by Nikki Giovanni that explore many things: social justice, pride, music, quilts, and cats. But they all exude love, for self and for others.

It captures moments of love and warmth.



Tiny, Perfect Things by M.H. Clark, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper (2018).

A child and grandparent go on a walk and discover the treasures all around them.

It captures moments of noticing.



Wild Berries by Julie Flett (2013). (See my profile of Julie Flett’s picture book life.)

A boy and his grandmother pick berries (written in English with Cree vocabulary) and thank the clearing before leaving it. Contemplative with endearing details and a recipe for blueberry jam at the back.

It captures moments of nature.



Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (2018).

A beautiful, triumphant book full of the most expressive portraits throughout. It’s, as the title suggests, about getting a haircut. But it’s about much more than that too.

“It’s the look your English teacher gives you when she hands you your last test with a bright red 97 slapped on it. It’s how your mother looks at you before she calls you beautiful. Flowers are beautiful. Sunrises are beautiful. Being viewed in your mother’s eyes as someone that matters—now that’s beautiful.”

It captures moments of pride. 



You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel (2017).

Written in both English and Plains Cree, an absolutely wonderful book embodying kindness and respect. The starting point was for “healing and Reconciliation” in response to the history of oppression of Indigenous people, particularly in regards to Residential Schools in Canada.

It captures moments of community and relationships.



The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi (2017). (See my profile of Akiko Miyakoshi’s picture book life.)

A walk home followed by bedtime in which a child wonders about all the neighbors’ own homes and bedtime routines.

It captures moments of empathy and imagination.



The Night Box by Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay (2017).

A curious book about a boy who has the key to let out the night, lyrically exploring day and dark.

It captures moments of night. 


The Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (2018).

This is a book that makes you feel like you are right there.

It captures real, true moments of a night shift.



Up The Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc (2018).

This sweet story guides the reader along while Mrs. Badger leads Lulu the little cat up the mountain path to Sugarloaf Peak with gentle encouragement, the right tools, and wise words.

It captures moments of sharing something you love.



A Walk in the Forest by Maria Dek (2017).

This book is an invitation to walk, to follow paths, to shout, and to look in the forest.

It captures moments of play and wonder.



The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo (2016).

Yoshio is on a quest for silence in bustling Tokyo in this captivating story where the text and illustrations work together perfectly.

It captures moments of searching and silence.




H is for Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi (2018).

A joyful compendium of 26 haiku poems embodying details of New York City.

It captures moments of life lived and observed. It captures poetry.



Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward, illustrated by Julie Morstad (2010).

A lullaby for coping with fears.

It captures moments of being brave.



A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui (2017).

A gripping story filled with descriptive imagery and glowing illustrations of a boy and his father going fishing early one morning in order to feed their family—a story of this pond and the one the boy’s father left behind.

It captures moments of family.



Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (2016).

A story of a big day followed by bedtime. A story of twenty yawns.

It captures moments of nighttime.



That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares (2017).

A beautiful song of a book.

It captures moments of making a friend.







17 chapter books to check out

I primarily feature picture books here, but I’ve been reading so many great chapter books over the last couple of years (plus, they have pictures too!), that I wanted to round up some recent favorites. I hope you’ll add in the comments any chapter book gems I’ve missed.

A range of page counts are included here, in no particular order, and many if not most of these are part of a series with more than one installment for kid readers to gobble up. (Disclosure that some of these I read quite some time ago and aren’t as fresh in my mind for fully fleshed out descriptions as others. But know I enjoyed them all!)


Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly (2018).

The first installment (with more in the series!) is a compilation of four delightful short stories with illustrations to match. The MC, Yasmin, who is Pakistani American, is creative and bold while also finding her way through sometimes being worried or unsure. Relatable and full of spirit and fun, this one is a true treat.



Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic (2017).

The ace design of this cover is a perfect preview to what lies inside this terrific book. I like the relatability of a girl who wants to do something designated for older kids, and for boys. I also like that this explores the tradition of making mochi for the new year, and other aspects of Japanese and Japanese American culture. The drawings complement the story beautifully.



Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes (2017).

A wonderful chapter book about friendship, flexibility, and change with a uniquely funny and charming character at its (upside down) heart. “Some losses were worse than others. A secret base was replaceable. Lenny Santos was not.”



Jada Jones: Rock Star by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton (2017).

In this sweet, engaging chapter book, Jada Jones is not the kind of rock star that first comes to mind. Nope, she loves rocks! A budding geologist, she’s navigating a science project and friendships after her bestie moves away, finding solutions and never giving up.




Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina (2016).

Juana is clever and funny as she tells the reader about her life. I adore how she introduces the characters (Lucas her dog, her friend Juli, the city of Bogotá where she lives, her tía, abuelo, and more) by way of illustrated diagrams. Plus, while Juana is learning English in the story, readers are either learning or recognizing the Spanish words weaved in.





Two Dogs in a Trench Coat go to School by Julie Falatko, illustrations by Colin Jack (2018).

An exceedingly funny chapter book about two dogs who, worried about this school place their boy has to spend his days, impersonate a student in order to protect and investigate. Turns out, these dogs LOVE school! Needless to say, hilarity ensues.




Power Forward: Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream by Hena Khan (2018).

Lucky for readers, Hena Khan, author of Amina’s Voice and several exquisite picture books, is bringing her writing to the chapter book arena. I was lucky enough to hear her present this book at Once Upon A Time Books in Los Angeles. A nicely paced story about basketball, following your passion, and a warm and well-drawn family you’ll definitely want to read more of.



Stella Díaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez (2018).

I had the great pleasure of blurbing this book! Stella’s story is relatable, honest, and warm-hearted. She certainly has a lot to say to young readers as she learns that just like the starfish who shares her name—Estrella—she is stronger than she thinks.



A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Charles Santoso (2017).

This book, its title main character, and the baby skunk he cares for are all delightful. Shout out to the well-drawn sibling and parent characters in this one, too.




Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown (2018).

Filled with family and positivity, this book was inspired by the story of real eleven-year-old Sarai Gonzalez. In the fictional story, Sarai’s grandparents are forced to leave their home so Sarai hatches a plan to raise money to help them—with chicha morada and cupcakes.




Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers and Diana Toledano.

This one had me at the concept. Polly receives a book that makes anything she writes actually happen! Full of magical misunderstandings and charming illustrations, it’s perfect for developing readers (and writers!) who are fans of magic and imagination.




Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

The most adorable illustrations and girl power adventures make this series another winner.



King & Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers.

Who doesn’t love a gentle mystery to solve? My favorite part about this series is that Kayla’s dog, King, is the one leading the way and figuring out clues before the human characters do. It’s a fun, inventive twist and has humor and repetition to boot.



Heartwood Hotel by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (2017).

A sweet and thoughtful story with tender adventure and the theme of finding one’s place and home.



Lola Levine by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela Dominguez (2015).

The irrepressible Lola is a spunky soccer player who wants to be in the school play. I read this one quite a while ago as a library borrow, but Lola made a lasting impression.




Super Happy Party Bears by Marcie Colleen.

A tittle to dance about! The stars of this series are super happy party bears indeed, but they live in the Grumpy Woods. Not to worry though, nothing gets them down and they get others to come around as well. A lively, bright, snappy story.



Zoey and Sassafras by Asia Citro, illustrated by Marion Lindsay (2017).

Zoey follows a clue to find out that her mom secretly helps magical animals. In this story, Zoey discovers her own magical animal in need. Magic + the scientific method = a terrific combination.



Your turn! What’s one of your fave chapter books?


picture book typeface talk + alphabet wall sticker giveaway

Let’s talk about type, shall we? In picture books. And who better to do that with than picture book designer (and creator) Robin Mitchell Cranfield?

Her studio, hundreds & thousands, specializes in children’s books and has designed beautiful gems like How To and When I Was Small. And she’s created a special series of them herself with Judith Steedman: Windy & Friends (you must see these charming books/soon-to-be stop motion apps!!).  To boot, both Robin and Judith have been shortlisted twice for the American Institute of Graphic Arts 50 books / 50 covers for their book design.

Windy Trailer from Windy & Friends on Vimeo.


This Picture Book Life: Tell us a bit about you as a designer:

Robin Mitchell Cranfield: At the moment, I’m working full time with my Windy partner, Judith Steedman to develop our series of books into interactive stories. We are working with traditional stop-motion animators and with Loud Crow to develop and release the app. We are also partnered with TwoFold films and SheepNoir productions


TPBL: What are some of your favorite examples of type/font in picture books and why? 

RMC: That‘s a hard question! I like a very wide range of type styles. For early readers, there’s a good argument to be made for simple typefaces that have very clear letter shapes. These would be variations on either geometric sans-serif typefaces or a Swiss style typeface. A good example of simple type treatment in books would be Dick Bruna — you’ll often see Mercator, a Dutch sans serif in a similar style to Helvetica, and Volta, a slab serif, in original editions of his books:



Back Camera


RMC: On the *other* hand, I love funny expressive type! So many great graphic designers produced books with expressive type like John Alcorn’s book “Books!”, and Paul Rand’s “Sparkle & Spin” which contain funny, found type specimens as part of the illustrations:




RMC: (I asked my creative partner on Windy, Judith Steedman, also a book designer who is in the studio today. She loves the Bruno Munari’s ABC book with its beautiful Normandia font. I agree!)

And I also love pretty, classic type:



TPBL: How do you go about choosing a type? What factors go into your decision-making process?

RMC: The three main factors are:

1. Who is reading this book? If it’s for early readers, I won’t use a quirky typeface for the main areas of text; it should be accessible to people who are learning the basic letter shapes. For cover type, it’s fair game to use more fun type, though.

2. What will set off the illustration style best? Sometimes, the type needs to be very quiet in order to let the illustrations take centre stage. Other times, funny or pretty type will bring out the illustration.

3. What characters or letters are in the words? Are there any opportunities in the pairings of letters or words to show off a nice aspect of a particular typeface? For example, if there’s an ampersand in the title, you don’t let that go to waste. 🙂


TPBL: What is your favorite font?

RMC: Oh, no! I can’t decide on that. I love so many, I just can’t answer. Probably my most used typeface is Akzidenz Grotesk.



TPBL: Can you tell us about the book HOW TO? How does the font serve the text?

RMC: I’m a big fan of Julie Morstad‘s work and I enjoy working within her colour palette, so that shapes how I approach her work. I always feel very happy when I am looking at it.


RMC: The cover image we used was a very quiet image, and it breaks some almost-rules about cover design in that the figure on the front is small and facing away from the viewer and secondly, there’s a lot of white space. So it was an image that would accommodate a bold and colorful typeface…If type can be large on a cover without overwhelming the image, that is great! The cover of a book is kind of a mini-poster, after all.






RMC: The interior text is much quieter to give the images full reign to tell their story. They are very dynamic and change from page to page, and they also contain subtle emotion. So, for these reasons, I felt it needed something quiet and of a lighter weight that the reader can take for granted and easily read, and allow them to focus on the images and the world being revealed.


TPBL: Anything you’d like to add?

RMC:  I’m feeling a real shift in how I feel about contemporary typefaces right now. Up until a few years ago, I was mostly using type from the twentieth century like Rockwell, Trade Gothic, Akzidenz Grotesk, Electra, or classic typefaces like Jenson and Bembo.

But recently I’ve been really enjoying contemporary type, thinking about foundries like Porchez Typofonderie or Grilli Type.

There’s a lot more crossover between printed pages and the screen that is changing how we read. Inexpensive foundries like YouWorkforThem are popping up, and there are a lot of resources for students that weren’t as widely available a few years ago; I think it’s an exciting time for type design. The last few books I’ve done have been all with recently released type.


Thanks to Robin Mitchell Cranfield for emailing with me and for images! What a pleasure to have Robin’s expert answers on the blog today!!



Speaking of type, how cool is this alphabet wall sticker from Wonderwall Decal on etsy?! Well, Wonderwall is nice enough to be giving one regular sized alphabet decal to a reader of This Picture Book Life! I can picture it in a classroom, a kids’ room, or an office. A graphic design studio, an English faculty conference room, a nursery.


So clean and simple and sophisticated, yet, also the alphabet. That wonderful arrangement of letters from which we make words. Aaahhhh.


I’m also super excited about Wonderwall’s polka dot decals! I totally want those. My next favorite is the animal wall sticker because: woodland creatures. (The decals are removable matte vinyl, btw.)



Enter to win a regular size Wonderwall Alphabet Decal (47″ by 47″) with the rafflecopter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
I’ll contact the randomly chosen winner by email for your mailing address. And the winner gets to choose custom colors!

(Open to international readers this time!! Giveaway ends Tuesday, September 30. Good luck!)

picture books on love and friendship

ibdgposter2014Since International Book Giving Day is February 14th, I’m figuring what better way to celebrate than by giving or donating picture books that touch on love and friendship?


 A valentine to read all year!


(The super fun poster’s by Mariann Maray.)

The folks who put it together recommend three ways to give books:







1. Give a child a used or new book (or lend one).

2. Leave a book in a waiting room or lobby (or little free library?).

3. Donate a book or books to children’s hospital, library, shelter, or other organization you know of.

Without further ado, here are eight books that fit the bill.  Some gems about friends and love:







Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. 

A story about wanting the cool shoes everybody else has  turns into a story about wanting to give to a friend despite your own lack. I love how this one plays out.










The Lonely Beast by Chris Judge.

Everyone gets lonely without someone including the lonely beast. The ending = sweet city.











Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein. 

A simple story of kindness: Amelia smiled and her smile traveled around the world. Sometimes that’s what happens with a good vibe.







 Little Treasures by  Jacqueline K. Ogburn, pictures by Chris Raschka. 

This one explores pet names for loved children all over the world. Plus it’s the reason I started calling my cat “little flea” in French.






 One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, pictures by David Small.  

This is such a charmer! And not only is it about a boy and his penguin friend (they both wear tuxedos), but the father/son duo is delightful.








The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrations by E.B. Lewis.  

Friendship despite obstacle, namely a fence separating the white side of town from the black. So good.








The Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Catia Chien. 

An all-time favorite of mine, the friendship of a girl and a sea serpent who, one day, has to go to its true home. On love and growing up and letting go. If you have a heart, you will cry.







The Robot and the Bluebird by David Lucas. 

This is the kind of book I fall in love with. A broken heart. Friendship. Healing.







Thanks goes to Zoe at Playing By the Book for the heads up about International Book Giving Day!

And since there’s a veritable plethora of books on love and friendship (as there should be) here are some I’ve posted about here in the past:

Flora and the Flamingo

Lost and Found (my very first post!!)

The Giant Hug

Penguin and Pinecone/Squid and Octopus

To books as very special valentines!