Before we forge ahead into the new year and new decade, I wanted to take a minute to share my picks of the best children’s picture books of 2019!
Whether you get all your books from the library or buy a few new ones to add to your collection throughout the year, it’s helpful to have a curated list at the ready, knowing you’ll get some of the best books without having to wade through the dregs. Of course, like all best-of lists this one is subjective and your tastes may vary from mine.
However, when I see the same books appear on Publishers Weekly, social media, and the shelves of my local indie bookshop, I am confident that these 14 picture books speak for themselves.* I wish I could include the 20+ other books that didn’t make this list.
Rest assured, this is a great time to be reading children’s literature.
1 | A Different Story by Adolfo Serra
What you should know: A rhinoceros and rhinoceros beetle experience days filled with highs and lows, each engaging with the world from a different perspective.
Why I love it: Matisse-like cutouts combine with pen, ink, and collage illustrations to beautifully depict the experience of what it means to be alive. The underlying message: regardless of differences, we all share the same planet.
2 | Bikes for Sale by Carter Higgins
What you should know: Maurice sells lemonade while Lotta gathers sticks to share inside the same park. An unforeseen change in transportation for Lotta and Maurice ultimately connects the two in an unexpected way.
Why I love it: The endpapers and color scheme (yellow, pink, turquoise, and chartreuse) pair seamlessly with the prose of a friendship formed through mutual shared interests of biking and being outdoors.
3 | Birdsong by Julie Flett
What you should know: A young girl, Katherena, moves from the sea to the countryside. Eventually, Katherena meets her elderly neighbor, Agnes, and over the course of a year, the two create a meaningful bond.
Why I love it: From a brand new publisher, this book speaks to my intergenerational loving soul and purposefully paces the cyclical seasons to the unfurling of a new (and somewhat somber) relationship.
4 | Chirri & Chirra, Underground by Kaya Doi, translated by David Boyd
What you should know: Two sisters scurry after three creatures burrowing into a hole in their basement. Together the girls cycle through a tunnel of roots to an underground peanut farm and flower garden. Eventually, they greet a badger family that has one more surprise for them.
Why I love it: The third in a series, this compact book (translated from Japanese) epitomizes the wonder of exploring the natural world all from the freedom of two wheels. I adore the genuine kinship between these sisters, not to mention the colorful details of every scene.
5 | Hum and Swish by Matt Myers
What you should know: Jamie settles into the sand and begins using found objects to create something, meanwhile all the people passing by pester her with questions. When another artist arrives, Jamie finally feels seen and understood.
Why I love it: Any book set near the ocean tugs at my heart, and this one, with Jamie’s lovely windswept tangle of salty hair, gently reminds older readers to allow children space to just simply be.
6 | I am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner
What you should know: Overcome by the shiny green gem in her classroom, Eliza Jane Murphy pockets the treasure only to be overcome with guilt, an emotion she tries to combat by questioning those close to her if they’ve ever stolen anything.
Why I love it: A heartfelt look at how to deal with stealing that concludes with a reassuring message that people (children and adults alike) are more than just one bad decision.
7 | Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh
What you should know: A young girl and her grandpa (Papa) spend every Thursday afternoon together.
Why I love it: The mix of watercolor, gouache, and cut paper illustrations arranged in a semi comic book style add visual interest to each spread. Pay particular attention to the craft store and tree details.
8 | Paper Mice by Megan Wagner Lloyd
What you should know: Two girls (one old, one young) snip paper mice and tuck them away into a book. In the evening, the mice come to life and scamper about the house, each adventuring independently until they discover one another.
Why I love it: Tiny details like stamps, hanging laundry, Matryoshka dolls, pantry staples, a turntable, and a tiny doll/mouse-sized house make this a complete charmer through and through.
9 | Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise
What you should know: This is a nonfiction book about how Pura Teresa Belpré leaves San Juan to establish a new life for herself in New York. After landing a job as a bilingual assistant at the library, Pura flourishes telling stories to children and sharing folktales through puppet shows and library programs.
Why I love it:Planting Stories is a wonderful tribute to one of the most well-known librarians of the 20th century, a woman who saw a need for diverse stories decades before the “own voices” movement gained traction in children’s literature.
10 | Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe
What you should know: Pokko’s parents have repeatedly failed at gift-giving. Unfortunately, giving Pokko a drum seems to be their worst mistake ever, but is it?
Why I love it: Pokko literally marches to the beat of her own drum, gathering friends along her musical journey. Her firm but inclusive approach is admirable. Not to mention those frog facial expressions!
11 | The Star in the Forest by Helen Kellock
What you should know: Maisey and Pip embark into the forest one night—each observing the world from their unique outlook—both intent to find the light they saw fall from the sky.
Why I love it: Any book that showcases siblings in a positive light makes it worth celebrating. This book, with luminous illustrations and wide-eyed night wonder, will easily inspire a night hike or evening outing.
12 | The Dictionary of Difficult Words by Jane Solomon
What you should know: With these 100+ pages of fact-filled information, precocious children will revel in discovering definitions to over 400 words and will undoubtedly enjoy quizzing adults with their newfound knowledge
Why I love it: An illustrated reference guide that dedicates four pages to each letter in the alphabet, this is truly an enlightening work of art that fosters language acquisition beyond early childhood.
13 | Truman by Jean Reidy
What you should know: Sarah boards the number 11 bus for her first day of school, leaving her pet turtle, Truman, behind.
Why I love it: A resolute reptile takes center stage in this endearing tale of friendship and grit, while Cummin’s illustrations reflect perspective with masterful expertise. A back-to-school book for all seasons.
14 | What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett
What you should know: A young girl, named Maria, learns to use a telescope from her father; each night, the budding astronomer studies the night sky and eventually discovers a comet.
Why I love it: This nonfiction book celebrates a woman scientist who pursued her dreams and advanced women’s rights throughout her life. This was an especially lovely book to pair with our summer vacation to Nantucket, Maria’s island birthplace, this past summer.