29 August 2015

When it Rains, it Pours: 50 More Picture Books From a Stellar 2015

Note: This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on 8/24/15

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(FLOAT by Daniel Miyares from Simon & Schuster)
As far as I'm concerned, 2015 could have closed up shop months ago and it still would have been a landmark year for picture books. Back in February, I said that this year may well prove to be a high water mark for picture books. However, there was no guarantee that the year would continue its torrid pace.
But apparently, when it rains, it pours because much to my delight, wave after wave of great books has continued to roll in. As a result, this year's quality of books is matched only by its unfathomable depth. So, prepare to clear some space on your shelves as we dive into some of the best books from the rest of 2015 (in alphabetical order).

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Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah E. Harrison (Penguin): Compared to the limited emotional range of media-darling Grumpy Cat, Bernice is the Meryl Streep of the feline world. Harrison's vibrant art and clever (but not too clever) play on words makes Bernice the perfect companion for any mood.
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley (Macmillan): A touching book about love and loss, sponsored by Kleenex (or at least it should be). If this debut is any indication, the prodigiously talented Bagley will have reduced us all to helpless puddles of tears before we know it.
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, ill. Oliver Jeffers (Penguin): The team behind the runaway bestseller The Day the Crayons Quit is back, this time following the harrowing adventures of lost and forgotten crayons. Like The Godfather II, it's a sequel that not only stands on its own merit, but may be even more colorful than the original.
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The Dog that Nino Didn't Have by Edward van de Vendel, ill. Anton Van Hertbruggen (Eerdmans): A story about an imaginary friend that is interwoven with fraying threads of realism, Nino is a refreshing change of pace in the expansive imaginary friend genre. Rendered in scorching earth tones, this Dutch import might be the most visually jaw-dropping book of the year.
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, ill. Sophie Blackall (Little Brown): Long before the Hundred Acre Wood, there was a Canadian soldier (the author's great grandfather) and his rescued pet bear. And by the way, did you know that Winnie the Pooh was Canadian? Maybe that explains his mild temperament and excellent manners.
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Float by Daniel Miyares (Simon & Schuster): Following the rainy day adventures of a boy and his newspaper boat, every square inch of this book is a treat. The drama and disappointment hit when the boat floats away, but an uplifting twist leaves readers with their spirits soaring. And though it's a minor detail, I appreciated how, while racing down the street after his escaped boat, the boy still takes the time to look both ways before crossing the street. Safety first, people!
It's Only Stanley by Jon Agee (Penguin): It's only Stanley. It's only a mystery. It's only a slapstick comedy. It's only science fiction. It's only a love story. It's only all of these things, which makes it one of the best picture books of the year.
The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch, ill. Wolf Erlbruch (Gecko Press): A charmingly unconventional book, The King and the Sea follows a fumbling monarch through a series of absurd encounters. With wisdom and humor to spare, each of the vignettes (which read like Zen koans) expose the limits of the king's power. By the end, the king realizes that he's better off tossing aside his crown and going for a swim.
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Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead, ill. Erin E. Stead (Macmillan): People often quote FDR's "There is nothing to fear but fear itself," as if that's supposed to be comforting. But FEAR ITSELF?! Now that sounds absolutely terrifying. Lenny & Lucy gets that life isn't always about conquering your fears -- that sometimes, when faced with a threatening darkness, the best you can do is huddle up with a friend.
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, ill. Christian Robinson (Chronicle): Despite it being such a strong year for picture books, between this and Last Stop on Market Street, it still wouldn't surprise me if Robinson came away with both a Caldecott Medal and an honor (a rare feat last achieved by Jon Klassen). While his pages are usually bursting with color, here Robinson limits his palette to mostly cool blues, giving Barnett's clever ghost story a chilled but not creepy feel.
Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato (Macmillan): In a modern era when people often live so far from their loved ones, Curato hits close to home with a story about creating family wherever and however you can find it.
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Lizard from the Park by Mark Pett (Simon & Schuster): Pett is a master of quiet illustrations that subtly pack an emotional punch. It may seem odd to use the word subtle about a book featuring a boy, his dinosaur, and a daring escape during a New York City parade, but trust me, it's fitting. It's in each of the tiny gestures, perfectly-angled head tilts, and touching in-between moments that the full extent of Pett's skill shines through. That being said, the daring escape is pretty awesome too.
The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes (Flying Eye): Through economical text and luscious illustrations, Hughes captures the daunting challenge (and sometimes despair) of environmental stewardship. However, she ends her story on a hopeful note as the Little Gardener's seemingly futile efforts inspire others to take up the cause.
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Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina, ill. Angela Dominguez (Candlewick) Mango is a talking pet parrot, but more importantly he is an ingenious narrative device for a story about language acquisition. Mia and her grandmother have trouble navigating their language differences, but with a lot of persistence and a little help from Mango, they are able to close the language gap in no time.
One Bear Extraordinaire by Jayme McGowan (Abrams): A rambling musician goes in search of a missing element to his song and ends up finding so much more. McGowan's intricate papercut art and playful cast of characters are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and leave you howling with delight.
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (Scholastic): A multiracial warrior princess from the creator of Hark! A Vagrant? Sign me up!
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Red, Yellow, Blue (And a Dash of White, Too!) by C.G. Esperanza (Sky Pony): A true feast for the senses, the first thing I thought of while flipping through this book was Basquiat after a Skittle binge. There is a level of confidence to Esperanza's style that is unique in a debut author -- his control of the page is such that he is unafraid to loosen the reins and let the colors run a little wild. The result is thrilling and hypnotic.
Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson ill. Sydney Smith (Groundwood): On a walk with her father, a girl quietly picks stray flowers along the way. As they navigate the city, she gives away the flowers, adding much-needed color to the drab landscape and leaving traces of beauty and compassion in her wake.
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Sonya's Chickens by Phoebe Wahl (Tundra): Sonya raises chickens on her home farm, but following a deadly fox attack, she must learn to cope with loss. And with the help of her father's timely storytelling (way to use that teachable moment, pop), she receives a valuable lesson about empathy. A warm hug on a crisp morning, Sonya's Chickens is The Lion King's Circle of Life... minus the soaring orchestral arrangement.
The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear, ill. Katty Maurey (Kids Can Press): Like the ocean itself, this book shimmers quietly on the surface but contains an unexpected depth. A valuable reminder that just because you can't take something with you, doesn't mean you have to leave it behind.
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To the Sea by Cale Atkinson (Disney*Hyperion): A story about the importance of being seen, Atkinson illustrates his story about friendship with a bold palette (mostly richly dark blues and radiant oranges), adding a level of high drama to this heartwarming book.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Ekua Holmes (Candlewick): Told in a lyrical first person narrative by the prolific Weatherford (a master of picture book non-fiction), Hamer's inspiring life story is further elevated by Holmes' powerful artwork. A fine artist making her debut in children's literature, her work is both grounding and transcendent, somehow taking the tactile qualities of collage and paint and infusing them with the otherworldly glow of a stained glass window. A fitting tribute to the woman known as "the spirit of the civil rights movement."
Wait by Antoinette Portis (Macmillan): Similar in theme to the aforementionedSidewalk Flowers, we find ourselves again in a preoccupied and hurried world. It takes a child to remind us to slow down and notice the beauty around us. That being said, have you ever been in a hurry and tried getting somewhere with a toddler? It's adorable but absolutely maddening. I can already see the satirical version of this book from the parent's perspective called, That's Great Sweetie, But We Really Do Need to Go, So Let's Just Try to Focus and Keep Moving. One Step at a Time. There We Go, One Step at a.... ARGHHHHH!!!!! Not Another $#*(%^! BUG!!!
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(THE WHITE BOOK. Copyright 2013 by minibombo. English translation copyright 2015 by Walker Books, Ltd. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.)
The White Book by Silvia Borando, Elisabetta Pica, and Lorenzo Clerici (Candlewick): A child paints the walls of his room only to find that each color reveals a special secret. An absolute charmer of a book that doesn't need any words to cast its spell on readers of all ages.
The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin (Random House): Martin didn't just write a book, she took all the hopes and dreams that we have for our children and turned that into a heat-seeking missile aimed straight at the heart. If you're in the market for a baby shower gift, look no further than this stylish book about loving someone no matter who they grow up to be.

More Favorites (Seriously, I wasn't kidding about depth):
  • The Bear Report by Thyra Heder (Abrams)
  • Black Cat, White Cat by Silvia Borando (Candlewick)
  • Boo-La-La Witch Spa by Samantha Berger, ill. Isabel Roxas (Penguin)
  • A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, ill. Sophie Blackall (Random House)
  • Funny Bones: Posada and His day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams)
  • Good Night, Firefly by Gabriel Alborozo (Macmillan)
  • Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Jamey Christoph (Albert Whitman)
  • How to Catch a Mouse by Philippa Leathers (Candlewick)
  • I Will Fight Monsters for You by Sati Balmes, ill. Lyona (Albert Whitman)
  • Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer, ill. Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins)
  • Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter, ill. Shane Evans (Random House)
  • Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, ill. Iacopo Bruno (Candlewick)
  • Poet: the Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate (Peachtree)
  • Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, ill. Julie Morstad (Chronicle)
  • The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi (Kids Can Press)
  • Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure by Derek Anderson (Scholastic)
  • Traveling Butterflies by Susumu Shingu (Owlkids):
  • Two Mice by Sergio Ruzzier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Two White Rabbits by Jario Buitrago, ill. Rafael Yockteng (Groundwood)
  • Waiting by Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins): Like an Arthur Miller play
  • What James Said by Liz Rosenberg, ill. Matt Myers (Macmillan)
  • The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Welcome Home, Bear by Il Sung Na (Random House)
  • Wish by Matthew Cordell (Disney*Hyperion)
  • Zen Socks by Jon J Muth (Scholastic)

25 May 2015

The New Hip Hop: A Picture Book Playlist by C.G. Esperanza

Last week I asked the hyper-talented C.G. Esperanza to play DJ for the day and give us a picture book themed hip-hop playlist.  Jump over to the post on Book Riot (The New Hip Hop: A Picture Book Playlist by C.G. Esperanza) for the complete playlist, including a special performance of his electrifying debut Red, Yellow, Blue (and a Dash of White, Too!).

Red Yellow Blue


Social Media Panel

Last week I fortunate enough to be invited by the Children's Book Guild of D.C. to speak on a panel about Social Media with some great folks from First Book and National Geographic.  I took them at their word that I qualified as an "expert" and hopefully provided some useful insight beyond just, "I think of Twitter kind of like a Junior High Dance... I'm excited to be there, but also really nervous and terrified that I'm going to say something stupid that will be the end of me."


Celebrity Selfie Book Club

Note: This post first appeared in Book Riot on May 18, 2015

“Hey, I’m having a really great time with you.  Let’s capture the moment by taking a se… cond to read together from my favorite book.”
Inspired in part by the hilariously random Self Pop Tart meme from a few years ago, I thought it’d be fun (and equally random) to find pictures of people taking selfies and replacing the phones with, of course, books.
The result is surprisingly sweet. Look at how excited they all are to be reading!  Now just imagine if everyone felt this way about sharing their favorite books.
(Warning: I think this is actually how most Book Riot Contributors are in real life, so be careful if you see one of us walking down the street.)
mario lopez tyra banks selfie book
tom hanks steve martin selfie book

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - January 10, 2014

Oscar book-selfie

Diddy Selfie

21 April 2015

Attention to Detail: Portrait of Thomas Edison

Attention to Detail is a feature highlighting overlooked (at least by me) details from some favorite picture books.


Do you know which Caldecott Honor book features this somber portrait of Thomas Edison?


Do you know?  If not, can you guess?  

Answer after the jump:

18 March 2015

Attention to Detail: Where the Wild Things... Already Were?

How did I not notice this before?

It's a little embarrassing to admit, but I never noticed that at the opening of the book, Max already has a picture of a Wild Thing on his wall labeled "by MAX".







10 March 2015

Attention to Detail

Anyone recognize this cutie?  Can you name the book where this illustration is from?



One of my favorite things about picture books is all the little details that illustrators work into their artwork.  Problem with this is that some of the loveliest and most whimsical illustrations go undetected for years.  For example, I've read the above book hundreds of times and didn't notice this little mouse until just last week.

So, in an attempt to pay closer attention, I'm trying out a new feature called Attention to Detail where I pick out a small piece of an illustration and see if people can identify the book.

So do you have what it takes?
Can you figure out which classic picture book this little mouse is from?

Answer after the jump:


16 February 2015

The Best is Yet to Come: An Early 2015 Picture Book Preview

Note: This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on 2/13/2015.
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I've said before that we are in the midst of a golden age for children's literature. Well, if the early returns are any indication, 2015 might very well be a new high water mark in the modern era of picture books. There are a staggering number of great titles this year, and none have caught people's attention more than Matt De La Peña and Christian Robinson's modern classic, Last Stop on Market Street.
If there was one defining theme from 2014's book world, it was the growing demand for diversity (led by the highly influential and successful #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign). Last Stop on Market Street is a sophisticated and forceful answer to that call, not because it is a book that is about diversity, but because it is a compelling portrait about family, compassion, and our common humanity -- set in a diverse world.
De La Peña's finely tuned text conveys a deep wisdom (through the relationship between a boy and his kind but no-nonsense Nana) without ever becoming pedantic and Robinson's illustrations elevate the mundane setting of a bus ride by infusing it with a sense of childlike wonder. A story that strikes that fine balance between being timely and timeless, don't be surprised to see this book making frequent stops during award season (including one to pick up the coveted Caldecott) before taking its deserving place among the all-time greats.
While Last Stop may have set the bar ridiculously high, the year is full of books that rise to meet its challenge. From the hilarious to the heartbreaking, here are some early favorites (in alphabetical order) to keep on your radar:
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Random House): An unexpected (and possibly unreliable narrator) recounts the tale of a missing sandwich. Sarcone-Roach's clever narration and rich illustrations will leave you hungry for more.
The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond (Enchanted Lion): A work of nonfiction that understands that true expertise is born out of curiosity. Filtering the storyline through one inquisitive young child, Desmond joyfully presents facts about the earth's largest mammal in a manner that is both accessible and engaging, and will definitely spark the reader's curiosity.
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By Mouse & Frog by Deborah Freedman (Penguin): All Mouse wants to do is tell a story, but the overly enthusiastic Frog keeps hijacking the narrative. Metafiction with an odd couple cast, by the time the two friends learn the tricky art of collaboration, the book may be over... but their story is just beginning.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, ill. by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (Scholastic): Interracial marriage may not seem to be a highly contentious issue anymore, but that makes it all the more important to revisit the (very recent) historical struggles and breakthroughs that got us to this point--particularly given that the fight for marriage equality continues in the courts to this day.
Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, ill. Kris DiGiacomo (Enchanted Lion): The title of this book (Enormous Smallness) is perfect. Many of us think of poems as small things, but as much as anyone, E. E. Cummings showed us that even the smallest stanza could hold enormous meaning. Lovingly written (Burgess is himself a poet) and ingeniously illustrated, this book is a treasure for both fans of Cummings, as well as those discovering his poetry for the first time.
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Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor, ill. Jean Jullien (Candlewick): A hungry owl with a flair for the dramatic provides his own narration as he flies through the dark enormousness of the night in search of food. By far the most fun read aloud of the year so far, I recommend reading it with your best In a World movie trailer voice.
In a Village By the Sea by Muon Van, ill. by April Chu (Creston): At first glance, In a Village By the Sea appears to be a traditional story about family, but Van's clever nesting doll narrative and Chu's playful illustration gives this family's story a healthy sprinkling of magic.
My Pen by Christopher Myers (Disney-Hyperion): An invitation for children to explore the infinite possibilities of the blank page, My Pen is a thoughtful meditation on the power of the imagination. Appropriately rendered in black and white to mimic an artist's sketchbook, Myers wants every reader to realize that they have a story to tell. So, what are you waiting for? Pick up that pen and get going.
Pool by JiHyeon Lee (Chronicle): In this wordless adventure, a boy discovers a wonderfully surreal world hidden in the depths of a busy pool. Without saying a word,Pool speaks directly to introverts like myself, who believe (or at least hope) that if you want to discover something truly special, you have to look beneath the surface.
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Red by Jan De Kinder (Eerdmans): There are plenty of books out there on this topic, but few are this adept at capturing the organic nature of childhood bullying. In Red, a young girl laughs at a boy's rosy cheeks and inadvertently sets off a chain reaction that leads to the whole class piling on. De Kinder's intense artwork packs an emotional punch, making it that much more powerful when the girl takes it upon herself, through a lonely act of bravery, to reverse the momentum.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett, ill. Patrick O'Donnell (Macmillan): Question: What would have happened if Alfred Hitchcock directed an episode of Looney Tunes? Answer: The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick O'Donnell.
Supertruck by Stephen Savage (Macmillan): Look! Up on the shelf! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a brilliantly designed book that kids will love and demand to read over and over again! It's SUPERTRUCK!
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(Excerpted from This Is Sadie by Sara O'Leary and illustrated by Julie Morstad. Text Copyright © 2015 Sara O'Leary. Illustrations Copyright © 2015 Julie Morstad. Published by Tundra Books, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.)
This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary, ill. Julie Morstad (Tundra): Sadie is a young girl who revels in the power of her imagination and is not limited by silly things like traditional gender constructs. The dynamic duo of O'Leary and Morstad have crafted a quiet but powerful celebration of childhood with a heroine that is a role model for boys and girls alike. Readers should be prepared to reserve a special place on their shelves -- and in their hearts -- for the incomparable Sadie.
Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli (Penguin): Pizzoli's true crime caper is so fun and stylish, don't be surprised to see George Clooney on the big screen as the dashing Robert Miller (aka Count Victor Lustig). As a bonus, the book includes Tricky Vic's "Ten Commandments for Con Artists," which turns out to be surprisingly good advice for everyday use. My favorite is #8: "Never boast. Just let your importance be quietly obvious."
Trombone Shorty by Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, ill. Bryan Collier (Abrams): This portrait of a musical prodigy turned musical icon has the benefit of being both true and modern (Trombone Shorty is still only 26 years old). Andrews has a foundation whose mission is to preserve and continue New Orleans' rich musical tradition -- and this book, which is accompanied by Collier's always jaw-dropping art, should help bring more attention to that worthy cause.
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prévot, ill. Aurélia Fronty (Charlesbridge): Inspired in part by one of her mother's favorite expressions ("A tree is worth more than its wood.") Maathai was determined to make a difference -- and in the end she brought profound change to her community, her country (Kenya), and eventually the world. Winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, this book gorgeously preserves Maathai's life story, which will continue to inspire future generations.
Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, ill. Jason Chin (Macmillan): Creative nonfiction at its best. Chin (who raised eyebrows last year with his innovative nonfiction book Gravity), has a confident yet subtle style that brings to mind a modern day Norman Rockwell. Paired with Paul's rhythmically paced text, this exploration of the water cycle will not only teach today's children, but will also serve as a useful refresher for older readers as well.
What a Wonderful World based on song by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss (as sung by Louis Armstrong), ill. Tim Hopgood (Macmillan): Hopgood does the impossible and makes a song as ubiquitous as What a Wonderful World feel fresh again. With dazzling artwork that jumps off the page, the colors of the rainbow never looked prettier.
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Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, ill. Zachariah OHora (Little, Brown): With Dyckman's perfect comic timing and OHora's distinctively bold style, this is the most charming book of the year so far. If the cover (which features a wolf cub in a pink bunny jumpsuit) doesn't automatically bring a smile to your face, then watching Dot adjust to life with her new and potentially dangerous sibling will make you want to eat this book all up.
Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, ill. Lauren Castillo (Candlewick): Facing financial struggles, a family is forced to move into a smaller place -- and as a result, sell most of their belongings. Skillfully and subtly told from the child's perspective, Yard Sale is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. For you moviegoers out there, Bunting and Castillo (fresh off her Caldecott honor for Nana in the City) hit the same (bitter)sweetspot as Richard Linklater's critical darling, Boyhood.
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(YARD SALE. Text copyright © 2015 by Eve Bunting. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Lauren Castillo. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.)
But wait, I'm not done yet. Here are twenty more notable titles coming our way in the first part of 2015. Like I said, this is a really strong year for picture books. If the year keeps up this pace, I'm going to have to invest in some new bookshelves.
  • 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith, ill. Shane W. Evans (Macmillan)
  • Ask Me by Bernard Waber, ill. Suzy Lee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Beautiful Birds by Jean Roussen, ill. Emmanuelle Walker (Flying Eye)
  • Boats Go by Steve Light (Chronicle)
  • The Boy & the Book by David Michael Slater, ill. Bob Kolar (Charlesbridge)
  • Bulldozer's Big Day by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann (Simon & Schuster)
  • Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson, ill. Benny Andrews (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Finding Spring by Carin Berger (HarperCollins)
  • Fred by Kaila Eunhye Seo (Peter Pauper Press)
  • Goodnight Already! by Jory John, ill. Benji Davies (HarperCollins)
  • I Don't Like Koala by Sean Ferrell, ill. Charles Santoso (Simon & Schuster)
  • Juna's Jar by Jane Bahk, ill. Felicia Hoshino (Lee & Low)
  • Little Baby Buttercup by Linda Ashman, ill. You Byun (Penguin)
  • Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan, ill. John Holyfield (HarperCollins)
  • One Family by George Shannon, ill. Blanca Gomez (Macmillan)
  • Peace is an Offering by Annette Le Box, ill. Stephanie Graegin (Penguin)
  • Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony (Scholastic)
  • Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall (HarperCollins)
  • Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, ill. Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle)
  • Where Bear? by Sophy Henn (Penguin)