Many of these picture books will be on my BEST of 2020 list because they’re AMAZING. (I’ve indicated my enthusiasm with a purple star.)
You’ll be so proud of me, I cut quite a lot of books from this list so that there are now only 30 new books to share with you. These are the best of the bunch — and you won’t want to miss these reviews.
Fabulous New Picture Books, April and May 2020
Pacho Nacho by Silvia Lopez, illustrated by Pablo Pino
This hilarious story begs to be read aloud. It’s about a family that has two sons, the oldest son has a VERY long name that his parents insist everyone use, Pacho-Nacho-Nico-Tico-Melo-Felo-Kiko-Rico. This name appeased the family who suggested all the names but when he falls into the river, it takes so long for his brother Juan to say his name and get help that the parents decided to shorten his name. Based on an old Japanese folktale, you’ll love the retelling set in Mexico interspersed with Spanish words. LOVE this book!!
This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso
FRIENDSHIP / ANIMAL RESCUE
A tender, touching, and inspiring friendship story! Just like the Ranch believes in patience and love, the Ranch’s new goat named Charlie befriends a grumpy, blind horse named Jack through love and patience. Jack helps Charlie find his way around the Ranch. They spend their days together but not their nights because Jack is too afraid of barns. One day, a terrible storm traps Charlie outside and it’s up to Jack to go to get help. And after the Ranch friends rescue Charlie, Charlie is able to help his friend Jack overcome his fear of the barn.
Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park
The animals join forces to be better at everything. First, the crab and the crow work together so they can be a flying clawing creature. They call themselves a crabbird or a birdrab. They add on a turtle and a bear and now are an UNSTOPPABLE Birdraburtlebear! Suddenly, they notice construction workers digging up their forest for a shopping mall. How can they combine with other creatures to stop them? Their solution is both HILARIOUS and MEANINGFUL, involving both the President and Congress.
Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family by Nelly Buchet, illustrated by Andrea Zuill
Using the words CAT, DOG, AND DOG in a different order on each page combined with playful illustrations, we follow what happens when two families join together, one with a dog and one with a dog and a cat. When you blend together, growing pains happen as you see when one dog growls at another and one gets to sleep in bed with the parents. But there’s a turning point when they all get in trouble (and get cones of shame). The last illustration shows them all snuggled together asleep. “Dog Dog Cat.” Charming with a side of hilarious.
The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann
Ernestine shares all the important details about her first camping trip from packing to hiking and even getting a little scared in the night. The trip ends up being a wonderful experience! And it’s a wonderful reading experience, too. The comic panels and illustrations feel fresh and atmospheric.
The Perfect Birthday Recipe by Katy Hudson
Beaver likes things to be perfect, especially for his upcoming birthday. Which is why he’s worried when his friends volunteer to help with his birthday cake. Just like he feared, in their exuberance, they don’t follow the recipe properly. Beaver is so upset, he yells at his friends and makes another cake by himself. Then, he realizes that he would rather have his friends with him then try to make things perfect. A valuable life lesson for us all.
Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby
Outside In thoughtfully looks at our relationship with nature. Sometimes we forget about Outside but Outside reminds us with sunset and shadows and birds…”Outside sings to us with chirps and rustles and tap-taps on the roof.” Celebrate nature with this lyrical ode to all that Outside gives us. Beautifully written with evocative watercolor illustrations, this gem is one you don’t want to miss.
Zero Local by Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow
Narrated in illustrations with graphite grays and pops of yellow, this pay-it-forward story shows the multi-generational and multi-ethic community on a train. One small act of kindness turns into more kindness, spreading friendship and love.
Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Cole Doyon, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
#OWNVOICES / POC CULTURE / FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE / DESCRIPTIVE WRITING
Lyrical, figurative language (filled with similes, personification, and vivid imagery) not only celebrates people of color living life fully but transports readers into scenes rich with sensory imagery. “Deep, secret brown. Like the subtly churning river currents playfully beckoning me through my grandmother’s kitchen window, winding steadily past banks of tall grass and wild rose buses.” Or “Feathery brown. Like the jagged shadows of hemlock branches thrown over me and Daddy on a gentle mountain hike.” A stunning, joyful tribute.
The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil, illustrated by Aaait Semirdzhyan
IMMIGRATION / FRIENDSHIP
A wonderful story that shows the value of being bilingual and sharing your language and culture with others! Kanzi’s family moves to a new school. Luckily, her new teacher values Kanzi’s culture and language. She helps Kanzi share her Egyptian culture and Arabic language with her classmates which ultimately builds bridges and friendships with her new classmates.
I Will Dance by Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Julianna Swaney
Eva, a girl who has Cerebral Palsy and a wheelchair, dreams of dancing. She gets the chance at an inclusive dance studio and it’s a joyful, amazing experience culminating in a special performance! Based on The Young Dance Company in Minneapolis.
Knot Cannot by Tiffany Stone, illustrated by Mike Lowery
Punny word play and lots of laughs combine for a wonderfully humorous yet sweet story about not being jealous and appreciating your own special gifts. Knot is jealous of Snake. He cannot do what Snake can do. “Snake can swallow her supper whole. // Knot cannot. (Knot does not eat supper.”) Poor Knot! When Snake gets into trouble, only Knot can help! The simple text means this book could double as an easy reader.
Help Wanted, Must Love Books by Janet Sumner Johnson, illustrated by Courtney Dawson
BEDTIME STORIES / FAIRY TALES
When Shelly’s dad gets a new job, he’s too sleepy to read bedtime books without falling asleep. So Shelly puts up a Help Wanted sign to recruit a new bedtime reader. Soon fairy tale characters arrive for interviews –with hilariously disastrous results. Who will she pick to be her bedtime story reader? An adorable romp through fairy tales that celebrates reading aloud!
Molly’s Moon Mission by Duncan Beedie
SPACE / GROWTH MINDSET
Preschoolers will love this exciting adventure of a moth who wants to fly to the moon. Even when everyone tells her it’s impossible, Molly persists. She gets higher and higher, and finally achieves her mission. Darling.
A World of Opposites by Gray Malin
Amazing color photos that pop off the page show opposites like day/night, feathers/fur, land/ocean, and near/far.
Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by Jams Ransome
GREAT MIGRATION HISTORICAL FICTION
Starting at the beginning of her train ride, Ruth Ellen tells about her family leaving the south for a new life in the North setting the context of why they left, describing the things they see out the window, and sharing dreams for the future. When the train crosses into the north, the colored sign is removed and all the passengers can sit together. Ransome creates a vivid moment in history.
Thank You, Garden by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Simone Shin
Perfect for spring reading, this is a lyrical celebration of a thriving community garden with diverse characters. The illustrations invite readers into the friendships and community that grow along with the plants. Beautiful.
The Princess and the Petri Dish by Sue Fliess, illustrated Petros Bouloubasis
STEM / SCIENTIFIC METHOD
A STEM loving princess named Pippa uses the scientific method to improve the taste of green peas. She’s successful at first but must use her skills again to solve the overgrowing pea plants which shows the kingdom that she’s the best scientist in the land.
We Are the Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
Amazingly beautiful illustrations! Narrated from the point of view of Indigenous Peoples, a black snake threatens the Earth’s water with poison. “We are the stewards of the Earth,” rallies the narrator continuing with a pro-Earth stance to fight for the plants and animals who can’t fight for themselves.
A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis
A wonderful use of personification as nature’s elements speak to kids… Sunlight says, “Morning lays me on your pillow, an invitation, square and warm. Come out and play!” Snail says, “I scribble on the walk in glistening ink. Read all about my nighttime travels.” What will leaf, inchworm, tadpole, pebble, cloud, rain, lightning, mud, shadow, night, and cricket share with you? Read what each one says and guess who said it before you turn the page. Delightful!
Diabetes Doesn’t Stop Maddie! by Sarah Glenn Marsh, illustrated by Maria Luisa Di Gravio
Excellent! Maddie is a girl who has been recently diagnosed with diabetes. Her friends help her explain her condition to classmates who don’t understand which helps her feel understood. She’s happy to be able to continue to do all the things she loves like playing soccer and spending time with friends.
The Wonderous Dinosaurium by John Condon, illustrated by Steve Brown
PETS / DINOSAURS
SO FUN! This boy wants a pet dinosaur from the Dinosaurium. In an introduction to different kinds of dinosaurs, each one he picks, he’s not happy with. Finally, he settles on a small, cute dinosaur that doesn’t eat as much as some of the others. A turtle! Or meiolania.
This Little Pup by Laura J. Bryant
COUNTING / COLORS
What a great counting and color story! On a farm, a bouncy ball bounces past different animals — 2 brown cows, 3 green frogs, and so forth, all the way back to to the puppy whose boy threw it in the first place. Adorable.
Cave Dada by Brandon Reese
The little cave kid wants his tired Cave Dada to read him a different book. It’s so funny and reminiscent of many of our real lives putting kids to bed.
My Brother the Duck by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated Daniel Wiseman
If you like cute, silly books, you’ll be charmed by this little girl who uses the scientific method to conclude that her new baby brother is actually a duck!
Hurry Up: A book About Slowing Down by Kate Dopirak illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Now that we’re all in quarantine, this doesn’t apply to any of us anymore. But, we won’t be here forever so for the future, this is a gentle reminder about taking a break, breathing, and appreciating what’s around you.
Up and Down Mom by Summer Macon
The is the BEST book on bipolar disorder for children that I’ve read. (See all the books I’ve reviewed about mental illnesses.) This little girl lovingly discusses her mom’s days in bed contrasted with her mom’s days of excitement. She shares that she feels many different feelings — and how she stays with her granddad or friends when her mom has to go to the hospital. I’m impressed with how much this book covers in kid-friendly, relatable language.
How I Trained My Dog in 10 Days by Norma Lewis, illustrated by Tom Tinn-Disbury
Readers will laugh throughout this entire story of a boy determined to train his dog but each time he sets a rule, his dog breaks it. Soon the dog is playing video games, drinking from the toilet, and sleeping in the boy’s bed. Just who is training who?
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest retold by Georghia Ellinas, illustrated by Jane Ray
I would use this beautifully illustrated book with readers ages 8 and above to introduce Shakespeare’s The Tempest prior to them reading the script. It will give kids background knowledge of the story which will help comprehension of the Shakespearean language. It’s a complicated plot so it’s probably not going to be as accessible to younger readers but the author does a great job of simplifying it.
Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
BEES / BRAVERY
Kaia’s dad is a rooftop beekeeper but Kaia is scared of bees. She remembers how much it hurt to get stung. She even joins her dad on the roof one day, holding the bees in a frame, and gets stung again. Despite her fear, collecting honey in jars helps her realize that the bees are scary and also amazing. And something in her feels brave. A lovely character arc from fear to bravery!
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