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!




2 thoughts on “Picture Books I Loved in 2018

  1. What a wonderful book list, Dylan!! Delighted and honored to see Terrific Tongues here among your favorites!! Happy New Year & thank you!!

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