What makes a good picture book?
Remember what it’s like to see spring for the first time? To get your first grown-up bed? To run in the park, on the beach, along the Brooklyn Promenade, and never want to slow down? To find sneezes hilarious and wrapping paper the best toy in the world?
wrote Marilyn Singer, author of more than 80 children’s books.
To write a good young picture book, you not only have to remember these things, you have to relive them. You have to write with all the skill of an adult who understands words, rhythm, rhyme, character, and story and all the heart and soul of a child who understands joy, anger, sorrow, and wonder in their purest form. It’s the wedding of our present and past selves that allows us to write a good young picture book. Then the illustrator completes the picture in every sense of the word.
The first on my suggested list of new picture books that rise to this joyful level is:
What Can a Crane Pick Up? by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; illustrated by Mike Lowery: An inviting rhyming read-aloud about the many surprising things a crane can pick up.
“All hail the crane! It’s clear that this machine lives in the best of all possible worlds: where happiness is busyness, calm competence prevails, and no job is too small. Sign us up.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred
From poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich and artist Mike Lowery comes WHAT CAN A CRANE PICK UP?, a rollicking picture book about cranes—the kind that pick things up! We start with pipes and bricks and loads of steel and then move on to funny, whimsical objects: a cow, a Ferris wheel, men in business suits, and an ancient mummy’s case. With a rhyme that begs to be read aloud again and again, and quirky, exuberant illustrations, this book is sure to delight kids and parents alike. But watch out: Cranes pick UP—that’s what they do! Look out, or a crane might pick up you!
Annie and Helen by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Raul Colón: A tender nonfiction portrait of the relationship between Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller
“What is breathtakingly shown here, through accurate, cross-hatched watercolor paintings; excerpts from Sullivan’s correspondence to her former teacher; and concise and poetic language, is the woman’s patience and belief in the intelligence of her student to grasp the concepts of language.”—School Library Journal,
Author Deborah Hopkinson and illustrator Raul Colón present the story of Helen Keller in a fresh and original way that is perfect for young children. Focusing on the relationship between Helen and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, the book is interspersed with excerpts of Annie’s letters home, written as she struggled with her angry, wild pupil. But slowly, with devotion and determination, Annie teaches Helen finger spelling and braille, letters, and sentences. As Helen comes to understand language and starts to communicate, she connects for the first time with her family and the world around her.The lyrical text and exquisite art will make this fascinating story a favorite with young readers. Children will also enjoy learning the Braille alphabet, which is embossed on the back cover of the jacket.
This Is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen (Author, Illustrator): From the creator of the #1 New York Times best-selling and award-winning I Want My Hat Back comes a second wry tale.
When a tiny fish shoots into view wearing a round blue topper (which happens to fit him perfectly), trouble could be following close behind. So itâs a good thing that enormous fish wonât wake up. And even if he does, itâs not like heâll ever know what happened. . . . Visual humor swims to the fore as the best-selling Jon Klassen follows his breakout debut with another deadpan-funny tale.
Olivia and the Fairy Princesses, by Ian Falconer (Author, Illustrator): In this picture book starring the world’s most imaginative pig, Olivia embarks upon a quest for identity with very lofty goals and being a princess is NOT one of them!
Big Girl Panties! by Fran Manushkin; Illustrated by Valeria Petrone: This book puts a fresh, fun, and positive spin on potty training, told with imagination and humor from the child’s point of view.
BIG GIRL PANTIES! features a light, positive approach to motivate toddlers to become toilet trained. What could be more rewarding for a little girl than wearing big girl panties, just like mommy? Adult caregivers and toddlers alike will love the snappy, rhyming text and colorful, hip illustrations. Valeria Petrone’s stylized artwork ensures that this commercial yet heartwarming book will have a special place on little girls’ favorite bookshelves. Soon they’ll all be saying, “Bye, bye diapers!”
Lemonade in Winter: A Book About Two Kids Counting Money by Emily Jenkins; illustrated by G. Brian Karas: A fun read-aloud AND an introduction to simple money math—a dream for teachers, librarians, and parents.
A lemonade stand in winter? Yes, that’s exactly what Pauline and John-John intend to have, selling lemonade and limeade—and also lemon-limeade. With a catchy refrain (Lemon lemon LIME, Lemon LIMEADE! Lemon lemon LIME, Lemon LEMONADE!), plus simple math concepts throughout, here is a read-aloud that’s great for storytime and classroom use, and is sure to be a hit among the legions of Jenkins and Karas fans.
Railroad Hank by Lisa Moser; illustrated by Benji Davies: CHUGGA-CHUGGA, CHUGGA-CHUGGA, WOO-WOO-WOO!
Injected with Lisa Moser’s trademark humor, RAILROAD HANK celebrates the powerful bond of friendship. When Hank finds out Granny Bett is feeling down, he enlists the help of his neighbors to find a way to cheer her up. Wandering the countryside, Hank befriends all sorts of fun characters, from Missy May, who thinks there’s nothing better than scrambley eggs to bring a smile to someone’s face, to Cinnamon Cobbler, who swears by a fresh-picked apple as the cure-all to any sadness. Readers will laugh together over Hank’s many goodhearted blunders – from uprooting an apple tree to scooping up all the water from Reel-‘Em-In Sam’s pond.
Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? And Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries by David Levinthal; illustrated by John Nickle: Nursery tale ne’er-do-wells receive justice at the hands of Officer Binky in this humorous, noir-style retelling of classic stories.
“Humorous retellings, cast in the world of hard-boiled crime and private detectives.”—The New York Times
Break in at the Three Bears family home? It could only be one dame. Wicked witch gone missing from her candied cottage? Hansel and Gretel claim it was self-defense. Did Humpty Dumpty really just fall off that wall, or was he pushed? Here are five fairy-tale stories with a twist, all told from the point of view of a streetwise police officer called Binky, who just happens to be a toad in a suit and a fedora. When Snow White doesn’t make it to the beauty pageant, Officer Binky is the first to find the apple core lying by her bed. When an awful giant mysteriously crashes to the ground, upsetting the whole town, Binky discovers exactly who is responsible.
Room for the Baby by Michelle Edwards; illustrated by Jana Christy: A family needs a place to put a new baby, but the only space in the house is a jam-packed room that has to be emptied first—not as simple a task as it may seem.
National Jewish Book Award–winning author Michelle Edwards provides a fresh take on repurposing and crafts in ROOM FOR THE BABY, the delightful story of one family putting everyday items back to good use as they quickly prepare for their latest addition. The big brother-to-be is worried—a baby is on the way, but there is no place to put the crib! His mom does have a sewing room, but its every nook and cranny is stuffed with cast-off items and outgrown clothes that people have given her to recycle and reuse—some day. Now that day has come—because the new arrival will need someplace to sleep and something to wear. So the resourceful mom gets to work, making new clothes from old to outfit the baby-to-be.
Inspired by her creativity, the neighbors get involved, and soon everyone is stitching and knitting something. As the months go by and the family celebrates the Jewish holidays from Passover to Hanukkah, big brother helps his mom get ready, too. But things move slowly and he continues to worry: will there ever be room for the baby? Filled with vibrant illustrations, children will love watching as little by little the sewing room is transformed.
The Chicken Problem by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson: What do you get when you add Peg and Cat, multiplied by dozens of baby chicks, and then divide them all with one farm. You get . . . The Chicken Problem!
Full of humor, refreshingly original characters, and math problems that young readers will be clamoring to help solve, THE CHICKEN PROBLEM is an ideal addition to the home or classroom. Left-brained Peg and her right-brained pal, Cat, are enjoying a picnic on the farm with Pig. However, when someone leaves the chicken coop open and the chicks run-a-muck, it’s up to Peg and Cat to use their math skills to help solve their poultry predicament.
Illustrated by Emmy-winning animators, this picture book is packed with farm-inspired counting and is a fun and refreshing take on learning math.
What makes a good picture book?
1. Rhythm in both text and art.2. A tight text rich in language.
3. Use of repetition or refrain which encourages the listeners to
4. A sense of playfulness and joy.
5. And rhyme, when it works, is a plus.
writes Denise Fleming, author of Buster, In the Small, Small Pond, and In the Tall, Tall Grass.
The books on this list will enrich your home or classroom library for years to come.