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Best & Brightest Picture Books of 2018

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This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published children's picture books. Enjoy!

More of the Best & Brightest Books of 2018

Unplugged
Antony, Steve, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. Blip the robot loves playing on her computer, until one day a blackout sends her tumbling outdoors. To tell this story of the joys of unplugging, Antony makes masterful use of color, illustrating the “plugged-in” sequences with crisp shades of gray and the outdoor scenes in soft greens, blues, oranges and yellows. Outdoors, Blip connects with three perky woodland critters. Their activities—and the story’s language—echo her online adventures, this time in a creative, open-ended play setting. A playful and deftly-executed message of balancing screen time with analog fun, this book stands out for its spare writing, sly humor and charming illustrations.
A Stone For Sascha
Becker, Aaron, 1974- author, illustrator.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. A young girl and her family bid a tearful farewell to their beloved dog Sascha, then leave for vacation at the lake. There, she finds a glowing golden stone that she brings home to lay on Sascha’s grave. In between those two scenes, this completely wordless book explores the path this stone has taken from outer space to earth, through the age of dinosaurs and ancient civilizations, across continents and seas. Once a large meteorite, the stone dwindles in size as it weathers natural and human forces, until finally it comes to rest in the shallows of a rocky beach. Becker’s illustrations, painted digitally on a tablet, are lush and painterly. The glow of the stone draws the eye in each page or panel, inviting readers to linger and explore. Maps on the endpapers show the path of the stone through time and space. This sweeping, engrossing tale is great for elementary age kids.
Good Morning, Snowplow!
Bruss, Deborah, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Feel the chill in the air, smell the hot coffee steaming in hand, hear the rumble of big tires and the scrape of the blade on the road as readers accompany a hard-working snowplow driver through the long night. Testing the rig, clearing and salting snowy roads and helping dig out cars, the details of the solitary route are engagingly laid out in well-designed, rhyming couplets that keep the narrative bouncing right alongside the snowplow. Richly painted illustrations use an engrossing mixed media pastiche of collage, acrylic paint, colored pencil and pen to create the hushed, deeply textured, swirling world of the blizzard. Winding down with a well-earned bedtime for the driver and a joyful, sunny snow day for the kids, the cozy closing scenes bring cohesion and contentment. This is a satisfying picture book perfect for lovers of big trucks, snow storms and snug tales.
My Hair Is A Garden
Cabrera, Cozbi A., author, illustrator.
Kindergarten-2nd grade. Mack has loved her neighbor, Miss Tillie, since she was a toddler. When Mack tearfully tells Miss Tillie that the other kids have been teasing her about her hair, Miss Tillie gently guides her to her garden. After talking with Miss Tillie and exploring the garden, Mack realizes she can weed out opinions that have no place in her “garden”, and she can cultivate a love for her hair as it is. “Miss Tillie says it’s not what you start with in the garden that matters. It’s the care, times, and attention you give it. My hair is a garden and I love it.” This empowering and informative book’s back matter includes a section on caring for Black hair, as well as recipes for an herbal infusion rinse and moisturizing shea butter. Folk art-style illustrations evoke an emotional response, and endpapers show different hairstyles on Black girls of varying hues.
Tiny Little Rocket
Collingridge, Richard, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. This stunning space opera for the picture book set takes readers on a tour through the galaxy, culminating, finally, at Earth. Full bleed illustrations optimize the trim size, portraying the vastness of space with crisp, black backdrops that show off a foreground full of brightly-colored planets and gleaming control panels. Rhyming narration spurs readers through the journey, painting a lush picture that matches the epic scale of the pictures: “And like a gorgeous fish of steel / in space you’re swimming free!” There is reverence both for the scale of space and for the delicate machinery of the rocket: “You hang there for a moment / while the rocket hums and clicks. / The sunlight gleams on silver wings; / behind you something clicks.” The trip through the galaxy ends with a resounding celebration of Earth, and brief nonfiction back matter includes illustrations of and information about the solar system.
Stick
Dickson, Irene, author, illustrator.
Toddler-Kindergarten. What can you do with a stick? Each two page spread in this book offers a single suggestion, as demonstrated by a young child and his dog while roaming outdoors. A child might tap it, balance with it, draw with it, throw it. Ideal storytime fodder, this book begs to be paired with whole body movement. Its large pages and clear, colorblock illustrations make it excellent to share with toddlers. The limited color palette uses primarily blues, greens and browns sparked with red, yellow and white, creating a gentle familiarity from scene to scene that draws readers through the pages. While the illustrations mainly parallel the text, the addition of a second character in the final pages allows for extrapolation and invites observations about collaboration and friendship.
The Rabbit Listened
Doerrfeld, Cori, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. When Taylor’s block tower collapses, a parade of animals visits, each offering different—and unsolicited—advice. Then, rabbit appears with some quiet solidarity. Doerrfeld’s warm and expressive drawings beautifully capture a young child’s emotions in posture and facial expressions. Masterful use of white space and composition reinforce Taylor’s interiority and relationship to other characters. Ultimately, Taylor emotes each reaction suggested by the animals, from shouting to laughing to making plans to running and hiding, all while rabbit quietly bears witness. With emotional work now complete, Taylor discovers the headspace to plan a new tower. An ideal choice for socialemotional learning, this warm-hearted story will captivate readers with its amusing animals and relatable protagonist.
Trampoline Boy
Forler, Nan, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Many kids don’t understand Trampoline Boy’s incessant bouncing, but when Peaches asks to join him, she too experiences the joy of jumping! Together, Trampoline Boy and Peaches go past blackbirds, airplanes and wispy white clouds, to a place where the world is clear and true. This tale of isolation, friendship and freedom is gorgeously illustrated in colorful, geometric forms, and its tall, narrow trim size is reminiscent of the heights the friends achieve through their jumping. This book is compelling, lyrical and reassuring to any child who may have felt like an outsider.
Mad, Mad Bear!
Gee, Kimberly, author, illustrator.
Toddler-Preschool. A straightforward, emotionally authentic tale for the youngest of readers, Mad, Mad Bear! reassuringly depicts the whirlwind cycles of big feelings that toddlers and preschoolers experience many times each day. Cute little Bear is mad for ever so many reasons; from being the first to have to leave the park, to getting an owie on the way home, to having to leave his boots and stick outside, the small injustices have piled up to an intolerable level, and an epic (and utterly relatable) meltdown ensues. After expressing his feelings and practicing some calming breaths, lunch and a nap work their magic, and Bear is back to his cheerful self. The clean lined, warmly colorful and rounded illustrations, plus minimal, sensitive text and oversized format, make this book especially accessible and engaging. Caregivers will smile in recognition, and little ones will see their experiences reflected and validated in this understanding story.
A Couch For Llama
Gilbert, Leah, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. The Lago family sofa has seen it all, from snuggling to spills to pillow forts. It’s time for a new couch. But when the Lagos buy a replacement, it flies off their car on the ride home, and it lands in a field with an unexpected new owner: Llama! Goofy antics ensue as Llama investigates the new arrival. Does it say hello? How does it taste? Is it bouncy? Gilbert, a Denver author and illustrator, draws with a refined cartoon style that will appeal equally to kids and adults. Llama is round and shaggy, with tiny legs and big, expressive eyes that brim with humor. When the Lagos discover the sofa blunder, an ingenious solution gives everyone—human and llama—a comfy place to crash.
Honk! Splat! Vroom!
Gott, Barry, author.
Toddler-Kindergarten. Five mice in tiny race cars brave a miniature course of dust, mud, water and an angry cat to make it to the finish line. Each car is illustrated in a different solid color—blue, yellow, red, green or orange—inviting readers to observe on each page who is first or last, and predict who will pull ahead. Told with spare text using entirely onomatopoeias, the mice’s humorous expressions of determination, dismay and triumph offer another way to “read” the action of the race. When a cat pounces onto the scene, the stakes get much higher. It will take some mousey ingenuity…and a little unexpected help to save the day. This book is a delight for one-on-one and small group shares, reinforcing concepts like color, feelings and relative order
The Honeybee
Hall, Kirsten, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. This picture book is sweet as can bee! The Honeybee follows bees from flower to flower amid a gorgeous and muted color palette with neon highlights with black used to great effect. Children will learn more about how bees make honey and what they can do to help save bees. The rhyming text is bouncy and staccato, just like the movements of the bees themselves. This wonderful STEAM-friendly title seamlessly melds science, information and fun.
Night Job
Hesse, Karen, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. As soft and comfortable as the night itself, readers will easily step into the pages of this quietly affecting tale. A young child and his father ride a motorcycle to Dad’s night shift job as a school custodian. As the boy helps and plays alongside his father, the specifics of the work—games, sights, sounds and smells of this place on this night—are portrayed with loving attention, lyrical language and softly detailed pictures. The pleasure the pair shares in being together is evident, whether they are polishing the library, listening to a baseball game on the radio, eating egg salad sandwiches or zooming home along early morning bayside roads. Using mostly muted tones, the masterful mixed media illustrations echo the hushed nocturnal vibe, with pops of color to highlight endearing and exciting details from the text. This is a satisfying, resonant story with a big heart.
My Dog Laughs
Isadora, Rachel, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. A true dog lover’s delight, this book is an enchanting tribute to the joys of canine behavior, as reported by a diverse cast of adorable preschoolers and enacted by their own equally charming pups. In a series of observations divided into sections such as meeting, training, playing, walking and sharing love, these young dog owners impart forthright tidbits about a day in the life: “My dog is as big as me”, “My dog can catch anything!”, “My dog follows me everywhere…even into the bathroom!” The spare prose is compelling, with repeated words and themes, as well as easily identifiable concepts that draw readers in. Isadora’s simple ink and watercolor illustrations create appealingly clean, colorful vignettes that pop off the bountiful white background space. With so much to look at, discuss, giggle over and relate to, expect this toddlerand preschool-friendly book to be on heavy rotation in the read aloud line up.
Drawn Together
Lê, Minh, 1979- author.
Preschool-2nd grade. A young boy spends the afternoon at his grandfather’s house, but Grandfather only speaks in Thai and the boy only in English. Their inability to communicate settles like a cloud. Then the boy begins to draw a colorful cartoon and suddenly Grandfather is drawing, too, using a traditional style with intricate black line work. “All the things we could never say come pouring out... and we build a new world that even words can’t describe.” This story of intergenerational friendship is told through illustrations created in traditional mixed media and composited on the computer. Full bleed illustrations alternate with sequential panels to create a cinematic effect, zooming in for a close up of a facial expression or tilting down to view contrasting lunches on the kitchen table. The vivid jewel-toned palette creates a feast for the eyes. Many of the panels are wordless, encouraging readers to delve into the details and tell the story in their own words.
Stop That Yawn!
Levis, Caron, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. At bedtime, Gabby and Granny travel to Never Sleeping City, a magical New Orleans-like land full of ceaseless cacophony. What will happen to the sleepless city when a yawn lets loose? It’s up to Gabby and Granny to chase the rogue yawn through the pages as it wreaks havoc. Readers will stifle giggles as they follow Gabby’s entreaty to grit teeth and seal lips…anything to avoid yawning. Levis peppers her story with consonant language—”We won’t sing lullabies; we’ll hullabaloo”—that introduces readers to a host of new ways to describe noise. Atmospheric, exhilarating illustrations burst with all manner of humans and animals, and lavish tableaus invite readers to return and soak in every detail. Comic book style panels throughout bring the dialogue and action alive and build to a momentous third-wall break that catapults readers into the story. This keen, enchanting read is ideal for bedtime and anytime readers wish to be transported by wonder and whimsy
A Big Mooncake For Little Star
Lin, Grace, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. Award winning author and illustrator Grace Lin offers a wholly original, visually exquisite fable in homage to the mid-Autumn Moon Festival and the holiday’s quiet, joyful spirit. Little Star and her Mama bake a huge, delicious yellow mooncake, and laying it in the sky to cool, Mama reminds Little Star not to eat the cake. As Little Star wakes night after night for a tiny, irresistible nibble, this sweet round mooncake begins to dwindle to a crescent. As it wanes, readers realize they have been cleverly spun into a stunning new myth of the moon’s phases. Gorgeously illustrated in gouache on watercolor paper, Little Star and her loving Mama drift against a softly ethereal backdrop of night sky, the yellow stars on their pajamas glowing and their faces radiating comfort and serenity. This book is a warm, calming and captivating read.
Julián Is A Mermaid
Love, Jessica, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. This deeply immersive tale celebrates imagination, the power of unconditional love and a child expressing his individuality. As Julián and his abuela ride the subway, he spots an entrancing trio of dressed-up mermaids who launch him into a stunningly illustrated, wordless fantasy of his own joyful transformation into a mermaid. At home while Abuela takes a bath, Julián uses inspiration and some basic items from around the apartment to fashion his dream into a reality and an ingenious costume. Abuela’s quiet acceptance and encouragement of Julián’s self-expression is heartening and unforgettable, and the depiction of Coney Island’s mermaid parade is an exaltation of community and creativity. This emotionally resonant story is told with exceptional empathy that radiates from the glowing watercolor, gouache and ink artwork and the few words of perfectly composed text. Julián and his world, with all their exuberant and profound humanity, are a triumph.
Alma And How She Got Her Name
Martinez-Neal, Juana, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela wants to know why her name is so long! When her father sits down to tell her about every part of her name, she is taken on a journey through family history. For example, her grandmother Candela “always stood up for what was right,” a trait Alma realizes she shares. Soft, round, mostly monochromatic illustrations are filled with references to Peru, the author’s country of origin, as well as Alma’s. Stylistic visual elements draw parallels between Alma and her ancestors. After reading this picture book, children will be inspired to examine the story of their own names.
100 Bugs! : A Counting Book
Narita, Kate, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Math, nature, fun rhymes and vibrant illustrations are a winning combination in 100 Bugs!: A Counting Book. Collage-style illustrations follow a boy and girl through their backyard, a barn, a chicken cage and a pond as they find ten unique ways to count to ten. Eventually, they count 100 different bugs on their adventure. Children will enjoy the “find and seek” aspect of this book and will be able to learn the names of many types of plants and insects. Back matter includes more information about specific insects and plants depicted in the book. Jam-packed with math and STEAM connections, this book is excellent for both classroom and home use.
Niblet & Ralph
OHora, Zachariah, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. Ralph and Niblet are two cats who look very much alike and live in the same apartment building. This leads to shenanigans when their owners, Gemma and Dilla, get them mixed up! The search for their pets involves numerous “missing cat” fliers, a magnifying glass and a huge collision. Ohora infuses this book with a vibrant color palette (turquoise, orange, brown and black) to accompany his trademark heavy black lines. The zany humor, such as the cats talking together on the phone, is a delight. This book is a great choice for exploring, as readers find themselves compelled to look for similarities and differences in the detailed illustrations.
The Field
Paul, Baptiste, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. A ball, a grassy field and bamboo goal posts are all that are needed for a lively game of soccer in this debut story illustrated by an inaugural recipient of the We Need Diverse Books mentorship grant. Alcántara’s exuberant illustrations brim with movement as a joyful group of youngsters gather for a match, persisting even as rain pelts and mud splatters. Though none of the characters are named, illustrations portray each child with expressive specificity. The characters’ varied features, complexions, hair colors and textures reflect the rich heritage of the Caribbean setting. The only thing that can stop the game? Mamas calling children home for supper. But even after a bath and a goodnight, futbol play continues in their dreams. This delightful book will hook young sports enthusiasts and transport readers with its soaring illustrations and lyrical Creole- and Spanish-punctuated text.
Summer Supper
Pfeffer, Rubin, author.
Toddler-1st grade. Summer Supper is a vivid farm-to-table picture book that little ones will want to read again and again! Shoveling soil and sowing seeds leads to a warm summer supper followed by scrubbing, saving and storing the bountiful garden harvest. Spare, alliterative text, featuring the letter S on every page, is paired with vibrant, detail-laden illustrations that invite investigation. Along with the narration, more print can be found in the many labeled items (“sunflower,” “stem,” “scale”), along with the sounds of birds squawking, worms wriggling and more. Readers will find themselves with an appetite for reading and rereading this thrilling visual feast.
The Breaking News
Reul, Sarah Lynne, author.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. In today’s era of the 24-hour news cycle, this book comforts and empowers children who find themselves caught in the midst of the fallout from yet another confusing and upsetting news story. When something bad happens, parents and other adults in the community are distraught, preoccupied and anxious, and the protagonist brother-sister pair feel bewildered and helpless. This comforting story gently and realistically portrays the adults’ upset and the children’s worry, and offers concrete actions children can take to resolve feelings of powerlessness and fear in themselves and the concerned grown-ups in their lives. Small good deeds, like lovingly distributing plants throughout the neighborhood, are simple and effective and spread human connection to ease the collective burden. Expressive cartoon-style illustrations help soften the heavy subject, keeping the book kid-friendly. This is an uplifting, inspiring and timely tale to help families weather the endless breaking news.
Festival Of Colors
Sehgal, Kabir, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Join the children of Festival of Colors for singing, dancing and feasting in a book that pays tribute to Holi, the Hindu springtime festival that originated in India. Protagonists Chintoo and Mintoo get ready for the festival by gathering different colored flowers that are then dried, separated and pressed into vibrant powders. At the festival, friends and family of all ages joyfully toss the powders at one another, “Holi, hai! Holi, hai, Holi, hai!”. The brilliantly colored illustrations use a presentational format, making readers feel as though the scenes are unfolding before them on a stage. The brief back matter includes more information about the Holi festival.
Harriet Gets Carried Away
Sima, Jessie, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. Harriet adores costumes so much, she wears them constantly. But when Harriet and her two dads run errands for her dress-up birthday party, her imagination takes her on a fanciful journey with a gaggle of friendly penguins. Will Harriet find her way home in time for the party? A purple-hued color palette accented with orange brings Harriet’s whimsical world to life. Rendered digitally, the illustrations frame the world from a child’s height, highlighting the private world of imagination so familiar to children. Harriet’s mischievous smile and her sense of adventure will delight readers of all ages in this charming story that’s ideal for one-on-one sharing.
My Family Four Floors Up
Stutson, Caroline, author.
Toddler-Preschool. A young girl explores the city outside her apartment building over the course of a day. Told in bouncing rhyme, the story highlights colors. As the girl spots items of different colors (brown dog, red floor, yellow sun), the word is printed in the color described. The retro-style art has a cartoony, 1960s feel, while the distinctly illustrated modern street scenes reflect a thriving multicultural society. Ideal for toddlers and preschoolers discovering basic concepts and for sharing in storytime, this book will resonate with city and country kids alike.
First Laugh : Welcome, Baby!
Tahe, Rose Ann, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Who will be the first to make baby laugh? That is the question posed by family members in this celebration of family and humor. As is traditional for many Navajo families, baby’s first laugh will be followed by a First Laugh Celebration (La’tse Awee’ chi’ideeldloh) hosted by the person who makes baby laugh first. A modern setting and an intergenerational Navajo family are the heart of this OwnVoices story. Illustrations drawn with pencils and finished with ballpoint pen and Photoshop use a palette rich with earth tones and textured by brush strokes. Back matter includes creator notes, as well as information on the First Laugh Celebration and other welcome rituals from around the world.
Mommy's Khimar
Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. This affirming, accessible and appealing picture book features warm, everyday portrayals of a Muslim and interfaith family and community while exploring the universal theme of love between parent and child. A young African American Muslim girl adores playing dress-up with her mother’s rainbow collection of headscarves, called khimars, which give her power, protection and freedom to dream. When she puts on Mommy’s bright yellow khimar, she is a queen, a shining sun, a mama bird and a superhero. She feels comforted by her mother’s scent all around her and her family and community warmly celebrate her. Joyful, brightly-colored digital illustrations and simple, clear text offer widely relatable representations of a close and loving relationship between mother and daughter, a supportive community of many different backgrounds and the carefree fun of playing dress-up in Mommy’s closet.
How To Be A Lion
Vere, Ed, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. “Is there just one way to be a lion? I don’t think so… Do you?” Humorous, thought-provoking and empowering, How to Be a Lion is a quiet, fable-like story that champions individuality, friendship and the power of creativity and words. Gentle Leonard, a lion unlike the other fierce lions, prefers contemplative walks and writing poems, to hunting and chomping. He even dares to befriend, rather than chomp, Marianne, a poetic duck. When challenged by the rest of the lions to conform to fierceness, Leonard and Marianne compose a straightforward and lovely poem that embodies selfawareness, integrity and nonviolent masculinity. Thick, rough, black outlines combined with savanna-inspired deep oranges, yellows and reds transmit confidence, security and simplicity. While the messages are big, the delivery remains lighthearted and engaging.