Monday, December 2, 2019

12 Days of Giving: Amazing Picture Books

There are so, so many picture books published every year. How do you pick out a great one? Well, I have some suggestions. I did a gorgeous picture books list in last year's 12 Days of Giving series, so check that out as well if you don't see something on this list that strikes your fancy. Or you might be interested in other Best of 2019 lists from Kirkus, School Library Journal, or Publisher's Weekly. Here are my favorite picture books from 2019. 

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua (Simon & Schuster, 2019). Amy loves to eat bao - steamed dumplings - and everyone in her family can make perfect bao... everyone except Amy. Hers always turn out too small or too big or too empty or too full. But today's the day that Amy will make perfect bao... or is it? This delightful book about a family coming together to share a traditional meal and a young girl learning from her parents and grandparents (and not giving up, even when it doesn't come out perfect at first) is a wonderful one to share with your family. A recipe for bao is included so you can try it out! 

At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorrell, illustrated by Weshoyote Alvitre (Kokila, 2019). At the mountain's base waits a family, worrying and weaving, waiting for their daughter/sister/mother to come home safe from flying planes in a war. With lovely illustrations depicting a Cherokee family and utilizing woven strings to connect the family to their loved one serving, this is the perfect gift for any family waiting on a loved one to come back from serving in the military. 

Because by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2019). This is a wonderful book about the power of music to change lives and to inspire people. I love that it highlights the many different types of work that go into putting on an orchestra concert (from the musicians practicing to the train carrying the conductor to the orchestra librarian handing out the scores) and emphasizes how hard work and practice can pay off. There's even a Knuffle Bunny cameo! This one's perfect for kids interested in music or the performing arts. 

Child of St. Kilda by Beth Waters (Child's Play, 2019). This is a book that's stuck in my mind since I read it and it's perfect for young readers who are curious about the wide world out there. Norman John Gillies was born in 1925 on the remote island of Hirta, part of the St. Kilda islands about 100 miles from the shore of Scotland. He was one of the last children to live on the island. This evocative picture book tells about the community of people who lived in St. Kilda, so removed from mainland civilization that they did not use money and often couldn't send mail for months at a time if the weather prevented ships from reaching the island.

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (Atheneum, 2019). This brilliantly beautiful picture book biography celebrates the life of a piano prodigy who played the piano for Abraham Lincoln. I love the bright illustrations and the inspiring story of an immigrant child is perfect for young performers. 

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Roaring Brook, 2019). This wonderful book is a celebration of food and family as a diverse group of Native family and friends gets together to share fry bread. Although the situation and illustrations are specific to the Seminole Nation, the themes of community and sharing a meal easily translate to any family. A huge strength of this book is the back matter with tons of information about Native American families in the United States. Not just for Native American Heritage Month. 

The Happy Book by Andy Rash (Viking, 2019). Camper (as in "Happy Camper") and Clam (as in "Happy as a") are best friends and they're happy. But when Clam bakes Camper a cake and Camper eats all of it without saving any for his friend, Clam gets sad and enters a new book. Instead of The Happy Book, Clam's spending some time in The Sad Book. And from there, the two friends experience a gamut of emotions as they work through their first fight. Not only is this book funny and great for recreational reading, it respects the range of emotions that kids experience and how friends can work through those emotions to express their feelings when disagreements happen.

Lambslide by Ann Patchett, illustrated by Robin Glasser (HarperCollins, 2019). This super cute picture book is a great primer for young kids on how to get involved and enact changes in their community. When the lambs on the farm mishear the word "landslide" as "lambslide", they decide they DO need a lambslide. But how can they make it happen? Mama sheep advises them to start by consulting stakeholders and talking to community members, figure out where the funding will come from, etc. It's a civics lesson successfully packaged into an adorable farm story and relevant in today's politically-engaged climate.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar (HarperCollins, 2019). This beautiful book is near and dear to this librarian's heart and will be appreciated by any book or library lover. It's the biography of Pura Belpré, Puerto Rican librarian and the first to incorporate Latinx children's stories into America's libraries. The name may sound familiar from the literary award named after her. Pair this one with the latest Belpré winner!

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly (Little, Brown Books, 2019). It's the first day of school and the first day that Faizah's big sister will be wearing hijab. She picks out a scarf the perfect blue of the ocean and sky and wears it proudly to school. This is a book that celebrates personal pride and rites of passage and also sisterly love. 

Saturday by Oge Mora (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019). This book is a celebration of working parents as a mother and daughter spend mom's one day off together. They have a whole day of wonderful things planned and... nothing goes right all day. But even though their plans go awry, the best thing about Saturday is that they get to spend it together. I love how bright and colorful this book is and its celebration of parental bonding. 

Spencer's New Pet by Jessie Sima (Simon & Schuster, 2019). In this delightful wordless picture books, Spencer has a new pet - a balloon dog - and he's taking it everywhere he goes. But danger lurks everywhere - a hedgehog's spike at the vet, a bee's stinger at the park... so many sharp things to avoid! Can Spencer keep his new pet safe? With a surprise ending that really got me, this is a great choice for readers who enjoy a funny twist in their stories. 

Stormy by Guojing (Schwrtz & Wade, 2019). Oh, this book broke my heart and put it back together again. In this wordless picture book, a young woman finds a small, scared stray dog near her bench in the park. When she approaches, the dog runs away. It will take some patience and persistence, but this could be a very special relationship. The beautiful artwork makes this a great gift for lovers of poignant stories, especially anyone who's adopted a rescue animal. 

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Versify, 2019). This book is a masterpiece, simply put. Two powerhouse authors come together to present a picture book that uses simple, lyrical text to pen a love letter to African American life. Super powerful, this is a book that belongs in every home if you're talking to your kids about African American history.

You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks by Evan Turk (Atheneum, 2019). This is a perfect gift for a family who love to camp or visit National Parks. The artwork is flat out gorgeous, featuring scenes from many National Parks around the country. Pair this with a park pass or a National Parks passport book and a commitment to visit a national park together in 2020.