2019 Picture Books Part Twelve

Well, if my calculations are right, there should be three or four more of these, and that will be a wrap for 2019! — Here’s the clincher- I’ve seen a few 2020 covers already! Not ready to go there yet, so in the meantime, enjoy these 2019 beauties….



























Picture Books I Loved in 2018

At this moment on December 30th, GoodReads says that I have logged in 1,058 books read in 2018. Whoa! How did I do that? So many generous publishers have sent books in abundance, and I have also had the honor of serving on the Mathical Book Award committee in the K-2 category.

How on earth do I narrow down a list of all the books I loved in 2018? Over the course of the year, I’ve also had the opportunity to read some 2019 titles and of course, read titles from the past that were new to me.

But these, these are the cream of the crop for 2018. If someone asked me for a list of the books a classroom must purchase, and keep it narrowed down as close as you can, because we’re on a budget…. These are what I’d recommend. (Listed in no particular order).


Stemming from the poem, How Do I Love Thee, Jennifer Adams has re-imagined the possibility of this poem for expressing love to a child. There’s a large market for these books, but Adams has done things so exquisitely that it makes this title a standout- couple it with Christopher Silas Neal’s illustrations and you’ve got a winner. Valentine’s Day or any day- a love letter to a child, and what child doesn’t need to hear they’re loved again and again and again?


To be honest, this one nearly zoomed past my radar. I saw the words, “Fairy Spell” and didn’t even bother to read the subtitle. (Shame on me, I know.) I was fortunate enough to moderate a panel where Marc Tyler Nobleman spoke about this true story and I immediately said, “I have GOT to read that!” An incredible account of two little tricksters, complete with photographs and Eliza Wheeler’s signature illustrations.


Does anyone remember the book Mama Provi and the Pot of Rice? This book is a similar story, but with a fresh re-take and stunning collage illustrations by Oge Mora. If I had the power to award the Caldecott medal to someone today, I’d gladly hand it over to Oge. And to think, this is her first picture book. I can only imagine, and can’t hardly wait to see what else she will cook up for us in her career. Bravo.81hO+Gf3MHL.jpg

This book is every bird lover’s dream. It has it all. Stunning photographs, poems, stories, facts, information…. all delivered to you by Jane Yolen and her children. It’s a thick volume, but it’s so well done that it deserves time for you and your young ones to savor over the different categories. The organization and detail are just spot on.


This one got me in a bit of trouble over on Twitter. When I read it, I fell for it and instantly tweeted about it. I think the fact that I included the word “Phonics” in my tweet triggered some of the folks who are all about scientific reading instruction to come after this book, suggesting it could confuse young readers. Not so! Our language and words and spelling patterns are complex enough to confuse beginning readers- This book provides a bit of relief and reassurance that not all words are going to sound like they’re spelled. That’s just how our language works. Phonics rules don’t always apply to every word, and if we don’t teach children that, we’re not doing them any favors. It always bothers me to see parents sharply telling a child to “SOUND- IT- OUT” when the word is something like “this”- if the student hasn’t learned their digraphs, sounding it out will not work. Tuh- huh- ih- sss- …. you get the idea.


The number of animal books that comes out in a given year is always fascinating to me, and you’ve got to do something unique or present your facts in a way that’s not been done before in order to make your book rise above the crowd. Poet Marilyn Singer delves into some nonfiction here to celebrate wonderful (sometimes weird) animals. I learned a lot from this collection.


Tim Hopgood has been delighting us with illustrations to accompany classic songs for a few years now. Look back and he’s done Singing in the Rain and more. Classic songs tend to trigger a mental image for us, and Tim has painted out something more beautiful than my own mind could ever cook up. Play the right version of the song as you share the text for a calming experience. Nap time, or perhaps after a rowdy recess. Just the right imagery and soothing sounds to lull someone out of a ruckus.


I’m seeing more and more books about coping with loss and moving forward, and that’s a very good thing. For a while it seemed an “off limits” topic for picture books, but when done right, you’ve got yourself a story to soothe souls mourning any kind of loss. I won’t share anything about the plot here, but this handles the notion of loss and renewal very well.


One of the titles that stood out to me this Christmas season was Little Elliot’s latest adventure. You can take everything you know about Little Elliot and his friends, and mix it in with the spirit of Christmas …. and, well, here you have a winner. When I first read this book and got to the end, I let out a big, “Awwww!”


When I saw Finding Dory, I was amazed at the trick pulled by the octopus in the tank in the movie. Only at the Atlanta Aquarium in a conversation with Brendan Wenzel did I come to learn that it was something an octopus could really do- and had done. They’re smart creatures. Here is a tale of an escape of an octopus named Inky- with captivating and visually appealing illustrations by Amy Schimler Safford.


Okay, Maker Spaces and STEM/STEAM spaces are invading classrooms and libraries very quickly. That’s not a bad thing. At the same time, we’re seeing more and more books being pumped out about innovation and creating and thinking. It’s going to be a tough market to create an original storyline. Ruth Spiro’s managed it, and Holly Hatam’s illustrations are a pure delight. The most important take away from this book was that Maxine failed. Failed. It says it right in the text. But…. she didn’t give up. That’s what counts and children can’t hear that enough.


When I taught first grade, we had a song of the week every week that coincided with a picture book. I got so tired of “There’s a Hole at the Bottom of the Sea” that one week I couldn’t bear it any longer and introduced the following week’s song a day early. Oh, how I wish I had Loren’s fresh take on this classic- fun to sing, and the antics of the frog and sea life add an extra touch to the story.


I’d like to know a little bit more about Robin Page- Did her partner, Steve Jenkins, teach her the cut paper style? They are so similar, yet I could also easily distinguish the two if set side by side. Regardless, Robin is taking off with books of her own, and they’re quite good. I’d want this title as a primary read aloud for a seed unit.


I was never able to quite put my finger on what I loved so much about this book. Was it the unique plot? Amy’s illustrations? Whatever it was, it stuck with me and the storyline is so unexpected and sweet, it’s one you shouldn’t miss.


When I saw an F&G of this title, I thought, “Nicely done, Jon, perfect for this day and age.” It wasn’t until an event at ALA where he was speaking about the book that he mentioned he conceived and sold this idea long before the idea of a border wall was proposed. At any rate, it is Agee at his best.


I think I tweeted that I almost didn’t read this book. I got so tired of the LEGO hype from my former first graders that I was going to let it pass. I’m so glad I didn’t. Jonathan Fenske weaves a perfect tale for lego fans and toy fans alike- You don’t have to have the BEST Legos to have the most fun. In a world where children are comparing and contrasting Lego collections (or collections of other toys), it’s about who has the biggest, newest, and best. Well, Jonathan Fenske’s tale lets children know otherwise.


New experiences can be frightening for children. I still recall visiting my cousin’s farm for the first time as a young child and I was very hesitant to approach the horses in the pen. It took a lot to get me to come near, let alone set atop one of the horses. Vivian French tells a tale of a little girl’s bravery which leads to a new joy for her. That’s admirable!


Mr. Wenzel, you’ve outdone yourself again. I can’t decide which I like best about this book- the magnificent illustrations, the concept, or the backmatter which is sure to ignite further questions, curiosity, and an urge to look at more of these animals (most endangered!) more in depth! I can’t hardly wait to see where Mr. Wenzel takes us next. The man is a genius.


If you talk about fears with a group of children, some of them are going to list animals. And rightly so! The unknown is the most scary of all, and some of these animals have gained a poor reputation for being villainous, nasty, and evil. So it’s no surprise when field trips to the zoo when there are certain exhibits that some children would rather pass by. However, this book so perfectly shows how these creatures really aren’t so bad- and are vital to our environment and world as we know it. A new appreciation, and hopefully, diminishing of some common fears.


This book has deserved all the rave. The story. The art. So many times it’s about right and wrong, and all it takes is a moment to stop and listen and consider another’s perspective. If we had a lot more people like this in society, things would be different.


I’ll be transparent here and let you know that this was the first picture book of 2018 to make me cry. I didn’t expect it at all. Troy Cummings? He wouldn’t do that to me. Just look at that dog face on the cover. The last thing I expected to do was burst into tears. But this sentimental story did it. (And I don’t really like dogs). So Troy really did something amazing here.


Zola. One of my favorite books of 2018. I don’t know whose idea it was to pair Randall’s story with Pamela’s illustrations, but it produced a gorgeous story of making assumptions about the unknown… and the consequences… and rewards of being wrong.


I’ll be transparent again. This was my absolute favorite picture book of 2018. Normally I don’t make such claims, but this book took a hold of my heart and latched on, and it has not let go. Nor do I believe it ever will. Having been through a number of trials and tribulations, I know that I don’t want someone to talk at me with all sorts of advice, I don’t want someone to get angry with, I don’t want someone to plot revenge with… I just want someone to listen. And when someone needs me, I want to be there…. to listen.


Another book about overcoming fears. As a young boy, swimming lessons terrified me, so perhaps I related to this book in that way. Regardless, it’s a perfect addition to a collection of texts about Overcoming Fears and Being Brave. Hyewon Yum’s illustrations are just the extra icing on the cake.


Jessixa and Aaron combine forces for the first time. I don’t know who was responsible for what, but they’ve really pulled together a sweet story about exactly what “home” means. That’s all I’ll say. I hope they keep working together.


And, as Jessixa and Aaron wove a tale about what home means, Jessie Sima, in her own signature way, has pulled together a sweet story about what “love” means. We throw around that word so often that I think it loses its true meaning. This story causes us to stop for a moment and think about what we mean by “love.”


Laura told me about this book way back in July 2017 at ILA. By September 2017, she had a full video of the book produced on her iPad for Plum Creek and she showed me. She was signing and we were down in a computer lab on the university campus and I had to turn my chair away for a moment to cry and compose myself. (Her son’s music with the story added a special touch). Another book about loss- and hope- and renewal. Award worthy.


I remember seeing this announcement in Publisher’s Weekly and I thought, “Oh, that is SO a Kelly DiPucchio idea.” Meaning… a terrific idea bound to be well-executed. And of course, Kelly pulled through. The importance of listening that I mentioned earlier? It’s here too. We could all learn a thing or two from Poe.


Tongues. I couldn’t help but think of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine dates a tongue doctor (is there really such a thing?!) and they are in the car and he is going on about what a wonderful gland it is… and then he tries to kiss her, but the scientific facts he’s just shared about the tongue have repulsed her. This book is far from repulsive! It’s joyful, unique, informative, and a sheer delight. Tongues are indeed terrific when explained by Maria Gianferrari (I’d love to know how she pronounces her last name, by the way.)


We saw a number of stories about immigration come down the pipe this year, and most were great. This one stood out for me. Mustafa is confused about being in a new place. He’s not sure where he is, why he’s there, or what to make of it. He misses things about home. But his mother so gently shows him things like the moon- which are the same in his new home as in his old home. And suddenly he feels a bit more at ease about where he’s ended up.


There’s hardly much to say about this biography that hasn’t already been said by so many other reviewers. Barbara does something amazing here- what could have been a biography with pictures of Sophie sitting at her desk, Barbara transforms in a way only she could do. Little Brown put together a video of Barbara talking about this book. Do yourself a favor and watch it. Be inspired. Be in awe. You’ll admire Barbara even more afterward, if that’s even possible.


Another very unique way of looking at some of nature’s most fascinating animals. Melissa Stewart does it again in a fresh way, with delightful illustrations to accompany her informative writing about these wonderful creatures. Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers will start to feel like compliments after you read Melissa’s descriptions of these animals.


Oh, Bub. He made his debut so early in the year that I worry he faded into the memories of 2017. Regardless, he’s another that grabbed on my heart and wouldn’t let go. He’s a middle child, and I’m not, but still, I pulled for the poor little guy through the story. This is a work of heart from Stanton and one worthy to be included in any family’s collection.


Here are the endangered animals again. I like this title because the Lullaby implies it’s sort of a bedtime story. It works that way, but if read by caregiver/parent and child, it might nudge at the hearts of the children and the parents to do something for our endangered animals. A teacher can only do so much.


I don’t know whether or not Fred Rogers’ signature phrase of, “I like you just the way you are” had an influence on Suzanne as she crafted this masterpiece, but it works well with this soft and tender text. All animals and people are so different- We all have our quirks and flaws. But, it’s the ability to look past them and enjoy a person for who they are as a whole that’s important- and that’s perhaps become a lost art. When I finished this book, I imagined dear Suzanne and dear Mr. Rogers on an episode together sharing this book. I think they’d be good friends. And I think Mr. Rogers would have this title on his shelf, if he could stop himself from giving it away to all of the children he loved so dearly. It wraps up so perfectly that message he was trying to help all children understand.


Another book that deals with the hope that comes after grief and loss and mourning. What’s unique about this is that Evan almost goes through all of Edith Kubler Ross’s stages of grief in his experience with his garden- Thanks to Brian’s stellar illustrations, you can almost feel the anger and the hurt and the denial Evan experiences. Brian has the ability to make his characters look so very close to the way they feel. His attention to detail is keen and admirable. And the result of Evan’s work through his grief? Pure joy, pure hope, pure proof that there is life even after loss.


Here’s Brian again, because I’ve yet to come across a book of his I didn’t love. Brian may correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this book was sort of born while Brian was stuck here in snowy Nebraska when a school closed he was supposed to visit because of the snow. We all can relate to the urgency these friends feel to get to Bear’s… And the snow is not going to stop them. But why the urgency? A delightful ending to a great story.


I came to fully appreciate Jen Betton’s illustrations this year, and they are so tender and sweet- And she’s captured the notion of twilight time perfectly in her illustrations with this book. This book lulls you to relaxation as you see the sky change and experience the animals, sounds, and other changes that happen only during the few moments of twilight each day. A repeating rhyme tops everything off.


Some children have to face the tough truths that they’ll never get the pet they want. The next best thing? Imagination. In a day and age where iPads and screens and other technologies dampen imaginations, Gianna Marino presents us with this spectacular title and encourages children to look beyond their realities and imagine the possibilities. Absolutely stunning. Absolutely beautiful. Absolutely necessary. And it left me wanting my own horse.


Those wonderful people known as substitute teachers who bravely step into unknown classrooms- sometimes with pages and pages of notes; and sometimes with very little explanation from the teachers they are covering for. There was always so much I wanted my substitute teachers to know, but this book takes things to a different level- What do the children- What does the class- want the substitute to know? It really makes for a perfect book. Let’s hope Garton Scanlon and Verick keep collaborating, because they’ve yet to disappoint us!


Evan Turk. I am speechless each time I open a new book of his. It’s obvious that his whole heart is invested in every book of his, and each stroke of the brush or pen was done with complete deliberation to create a masterpiece. This book is no exception. And I haven’t even mentioned the story! I don’t need to. I trust you’ll go get the book for yourself.


I was so thrilled and excited that Denise broke free from her pulp paper technique (not that it was bad) to explore this new medium- Because she knocked it out of the park and has created something stunning. I was thrilled about the book… And then I realized it was a cumulative story and I groaned. I have come to resent cumulative tales; I think I’ve read too many of them aloud. But, let it be known, I made an exception for this book. Not only does Denise use words arranged in the perfect way to tell a cumulative tale, but it could be considered non-fiction, and it’s quite fun to read aloud. Then again, it’s Denise Fleming, so I should not have been surprised!



High Quality Literacy Instruction Never Went Anywhere

Normally, I use this space for featuring children’s literature and their creators. Today, I have to take a moment to pause that in order to reflect on a few things.

Let me start out by saying that a quote from Hillary Clinton’s concession speech has been driving my thoughts. When she was defeated in 2016, she said this, “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

I left the elementary classroom in May of 2015. Since then, I have had opportunities to work with undergraduate students who are studying to be teachers, and I have visited as many classrooms as I have been able in order to not grow stale on best practice. I am also a year and a half into my PhD program. I am by no means an expert in the literacy field, but I am sincerely trying to learn all I can to be the best I can in my position.

When I joined Twitter several years ago, it was a wonderful place to connect with other like-minded educators. When I sometimes felt I was on an “island” in my building and had no one to talk best practices with, I could go on Twitter and talk and find new ideas. It was so refreshing and it gave me a breath of renewal when I felt discouraged.

However, in the last few months, I, along with many literacy leaders whom I respect and admire, have come under attack by those who disagree with our beliefs and practices in regards to appropriate reading instruction. Of course, I will always believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the way we have been treated on Twitter is sad. We have been called names, challenged by one individual in particular time and time again with outrageous and outlandish claims about time for independent reading in the classroom; and when we provided evidence, it was dismissed as not “quality research.”

Recently, two opinion pieces have been published in the NYT by a journalist. Not a teacher. Not a researcher. A journalist. These opinion pieces make the most absurd claims about how classrooms and teachers are failing students (particularly students who are striving). The journalist has been hailed as a hero for shedding light on the problems in the classrooms.

I’ll be the first to admit, there is a lot of garbage happening in classrooms. I don’t know where it comes from- perhaps the desire to be “cute” or “thematic” drives some purposeless activities using up time that could be used so much more meaningfully. Some classrooms are filled with worksheets and other scripted curriculum that really does not accomplish much for readers.

But at the same time, there are many classrooms- and many teachers- who are striving day by day to do the very best for their children. All of their children. In a recent YouTube interview, children’s author/illustrator Tomie dePaola said, “Only the very best is good enough for children.” I believe that with my whole heart, and I know there are so many teachers across the country who believe that as well, and they spend hours preparing meaningful lessons and differentiating material so that all students have a chance to learn and to succeed. Those teachers should be very proud of the work they are doing, and they do not get enough pay or recognition. That’s another topic.

The pieces in the NYT would lead you to believe otherwise. They would lead you to believe that we are somehow failing a majority of the nation’s children. They would lead you to believe some claims that made my jaw drop. The practices they are calling for are outdated and frankly, ridiculous.

The notion that reading is somehow a scientific process is so strange to me. The notion that classrooms have totally done away with deliberate Phonics instruction is so confusing to me.

Reading is not scientific- Reading is an art. Learning to read is not formulaic. Educators welcome such a rich, diverse population of students in their classroom. Students have so many learning styles and abilities. I know so many educators who embrace them, and provide appropriate differentiation and scaffolding in order for these children to succeed. To somehow suggest that there is a formulaic, scientific way to teach reading is so baffling to me. Frankly, if I was in the elementary classroom, and I was forced to teach in a way that is suggested by the NYT pieces, I would quit. It would zap me of my joy and energy, and would suck the pleasure right out of reading. Educators face battles of engaging and motivating readers regularly- there is no right answer, but we are moving closer to uncovering the wonderful ways of ensuring that we are not only sending students who know how to read, but are READERS into the world. It is so refreshing and encouraging to see evidence of this happening across social media.

Phonics never left. Sure, some classrooms no longer isolate instruction with the plaid workbooks. They integrate it across practices like mini lessons, shared reading, guided reading, and conferring- right where it should be. In its natural environment.

I am afraid to put a label on what I (and many of the individuals I respect and admire) would consider to be high quality literacy instruction. I guess, maybe, that label is good enough- High Quality Literacy Instruction. It’s happening in so many places, and we have so many wonderful leaders in our field who are out there traveling across the country working with teachers and classrooms to make sure it happens in even more places. We have teachers who are willing to attend workshops and professional development to shift their thinking in a way that will lead to powerful instruction for all students.

I spoke at a teacher’s conference in Des Moines last week, and I left feeling so hopeful and encouraged. I spoke to two groups who were furiously writing down ideas, book titles, and more that I and their colleagues were sharing.

The NYT pieces would lead you to believe that High Quality Literacy Instruction has been removed from classrooms across America, and that teachers know nothing and are uneducated about what is best for their students. They would lead you to believe that classrooms are wasting precious time and failing our students with special needs. Perhaps such classrooms exist. Perhaps some teachers do need some encouragement and guidance to do better. But an article with blanket statements that made the American education system seem so inadequate is not helpful. Instead, it is harmful.

I did retweet and share some thoughts on Twitter, and was saddened that individuals lowered themselves to name-calling. The number of tweets directed at me this morning was heartbreaking. I was accused of being reckless, being jealous of the journalist, and also being accused of filling prisons and graveyards with illiteracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is evident that there are a lot of people are very passionate about this subject. Passion is not a bad thing, but when you use your voice to scream about something so loud and result to name-calling and attacking someone who wants the same thing as you do— the very best– for our children, you’ve gone wrong somewhere.

The NYT opinion pieces have not swayed me or anyone I respect to think any differently. Instead, it has ignited a lot of fiery discussion, and sadly, attacks on leaders who work harder than anyone I know and are on the road, missing their families for much of the year so that they can promote best practices. To send vile tweets to me is one thing, but when you step on the front lines and insinuate these leaders and professionals are wrong and do not want the best for children is inexcusable.

I hope that if you’re still reading, you believe that high quality literacy instruction is not gone, and is not going anywhere. Please proceed with hope that there are so many teachers out there who love children of all types and abilities- and work tirelessly behind the scenes for their success. There are some places where there is some work and encouragement and guidance to be done. But ultimately, we all have a deep desire in our hearts to turn our children into successful, capable, motivated, and empathetic readers. That will never change, no matter how many pieces are written in the NYT.


Saving Winslow: Interview with the one and only Sharon Creech!

I never know who to expect publicists will ask if I want to interview for my blog. When HarperCollins asked if I was interested in interviewing Sharon Creech, YOU BET I WAS!




Hi Sharon! Thanks for joining me here to talk about your newest book, Saving Winslow!

My pleasure. Thank you for celebrating this book birthday with me.

Tell us a little bit about Saving Winslow.

Saving Winslow follows a young boy, Louie, in his determination to save an orphaned donkey that he names Winslow. The growing bond between Louie and Winslow parallels the growing bond between Louie and Nora, a quirky girl who usually expects the worst. The story also traces the bond that exists between Louie and his brother Gus, who is now in the army.  Like most (all?) of my stories, humor balances seriousness.

What gave you the idea to write Saving Winslow?  

Witnessing my grandchildren’s dedication and care in rescuing orphaned lambs inspired me. The lambs, like young children, were so vulnerable, so dependent on their caregivers. There were tense times (Will the lambs make it?) and humorous times (As the lambs gained strength, they gamboled through the house and yard.)  Those combinations of vulnerability and strength and of the serious and humorous appeal to me. Instead of writing about a lamb, though, I chose a donkey, suspecting that my daughter and granddaughter might want to write their own lamb story one day.

Can you tell us about your writing process?

I usually begin with only a vague idea (child rescues orphaned animal) or voice, and then I jump in, writing rapidly to see what emerges. Part of the thrill of writing is discovering what emerges from that original, vague cloud. Once underway, I try to write 2-5 pages a day.  I edit lightly as I go and then more intensively midway through and again after completing a first –and second – and third draft.

Have you always been into writing?

I have experimented with writing stories, plays and poems for as long as I can remember, in part because I recognized early on that you could cheer people up by writing something for or about them. Later, I learned that you could also explore ideas and make sense of the world around you through writing.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

The most exciting part is taking a blank page and creating, word by word, something that did not exist before.

What inspires your creativity?

Life. The world. Children. Nature. Animals.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

Hmmmm. I do not know. I feel as if my whole self is out there, bits and pieces in each book. If you read all my books, you will know me.

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I might be teaching or renovating houses or painting.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m working on the next book—a stubborn thing that is veering off in so many directions that I am dizzy. I will have to rein it in.   Soon! After that, I assume I will keep exploring whatever comes up . . .

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

I was fortunate to encounter many great teachers when I was young, so I would like to pause and celebrate those teachers and librarians. I’ve also been fortunate to encounter thousands of readers and hundreds of teachers and librarians in my writing life, and they all inspire me. Here’s to them and to you—

Xx Sharon Creech