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Best & Brightest Picture Books of 2019

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

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Maybe Tomorrow?
Agell, Charlotte, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. When someone you love goes away, sometimes it leaves a weight that you carry for a long time. Such is the case for Elba, a pink hippo who drags a large and heavy black box with her wherever she goes. Then she meets Norris, a relentlessly upbeat alligator who is determined to befriend her and help open her world to new experiences. With persistence, patience and discretion, Norris convinces Elba to join him on a trip and helps her find ways of letting go of her grief. This simple yet impactful book provides children and families with a wonderful model of holding space, showing up without judgment or needing to change anything, and of acceptance and letting go. Gently colorful, soft-edged illustrations in digitalized watercolor are expressive and emotionally resonant. This is an excellent title to encourage children’s social-emotional learning and growth by fostering compassion and empathy.
Salsa Lullaby
Arena, Jen, author.
Toddler-Kindergarten. It's time for bed and Mami, Papi and baby dance, sing and jump all the way to bedtime! Even the family dog joins in! Mami and Papi create a salsa-rhythmed lullaby that starts off with upbeat and energetic movement and becomes softly repetitive, gently saying “goodnight” in Spanish and English. While the text in this book is predominantly in English, the author includes seven Spanish words that readers can easily learn and follow. Inviting illustrations are playful, with whirling notes and floral designs that evoke musical rhythms. Sure to be a bedtime favorite no matter what language families say goodnight in, Salsa Lullaby conveys to families that they too can create their own bedtime lullabies.
Henry The Boy
Felder, Molly, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Vibrant, inspiring, humorous and sympathetic, this is an #ownvoices tale of Henry, a boy who walks with forearm crutches that “click-click-click” everywhere he goes. Henry uses his active imagination to populate his world with characters representing his various states of mind; sometimes he sees himself as a graceful heron, other times as a stiff robot or a lurching chicken. Classmates can be unkind, but Henry’s authentic friendship with Joel, which is free from patronization or pity, helps him to identify as a resilient and strong kid--Henry the Boy. The succinct yet impactful text pairs well with the deeply colorful and enticingly saturated backgrounds and careful line drawings of Henry’s imagined characters. At once moving and prosaic, this is the story of Henry’s struggles, successes, and ultimately, his identity as an ordinary boy who happens to live with a disability.
Pokko And The Drum
Forsythe, Matthew, 1976- author, illustrator.
Preschool-1st grade. Sly humor and immersive illustrations combine to create a hilarious, thoughtful tale of a little frog who marches to the beat of her own drum. Pokko’s parents, with distinct reservations, gift her a drum but exhort her to take the noise and tumult outside of their quiet mushroom home. Pokko drums to keep herself company and is quickly joined by other animal musicians, some with divergent agendas (“No more eating band members or you’re out of the band,” Pokko scolds a shamefaced wolf.) As more musicians and followers join the parade, eventually even Pokko’s parents are swept away by the enthusiasm of the crowd and Pokko’s own legitimate talent. The lush and surreal illustrations, done in watercolor, gouache and colored pencil, are filled with light and dark, warm colors and mesmerizing patterns. The text is by turns darkly humorous, silly and uplifting, while the superb pacing keeps readers eagerly turning the pages to the very end.
Hair, It's A Family Affair!
Freeman, Mylo, 1959- author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. This gorgeous picture book celebrates the many different ways that hair can be. The author’s signature bold, bright illustrations bring the story to life and beautifully portray the variety of hairstyles worn by a Black family. Macy, the young protagonist, shares stories with her classroom about her family’s diverse hairstyles, including her Grandma’s awesome afro and her Daddy’s bald head. Each page is cheerful, buoyant and bursting with energy and personality. The author depicts authentic Black families in this #ownvoices book and offers a powerful and important message about family diversity. Many children will happily see themselves reflected in the vibrant images, colorful illustrations and the variety of hairstyles shared in this story.
Up, Up, Up, Down
Gee, Kimberly, author, illustrator.
Toddler-Preschool. Sure to resonate with very young children and their hardworking grownups, this is the tale of a toddler’s busy daily routine as told in a series of opposites. The spare, simple patterned text features vocabulary words imminently familiar to toddlers: “On, on, on...off” as the child is patiently dressed and subsequently disrobes while Dad is preparing the diaper bag, or “Make, make, make...break!” as the pair play in a sandbox and the exuberant tot looms over Dad’s castle with a threatening foot. The illustrations, rendered in digitally painted pencil, are appealingly clean, accessible and inviting. Small, action-packed spot-art vignettes are given plenty of breathing room as they float in ample white space. Children and their caregivers will relate to the reassuring, familiar scenes as this nurturing father and his lively child make their way through the ups and downs of a day in the life.
Little Doctor And The Fearless Beast
Gilmore, Sophie (Sophie Lorna Jamieson), author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. This immersive and dreamlike tale takes readers into the jungle, where a child called Little Doctor ministers to sick and injured crocodiles from her sunlit home. Her tender, unswerving devotion earns her the crocodiles’ trust, and in return, they share fantastical stories of fearless beasts and fabulous adventures. All is well until an enormous, hostile crocodile named Big Mean pays a visit, seeking care but seemingly unable to accept it. Little Doctor’s quiet determination and empathy finally win over this imposing animal, and she is exalted by the crocodiles as a fearless beast herself. Lush watercolor illustrations rendered in earth tones feature a wealth of fascinating details and textures, depicting Little Doctor’s book and plant-lined space and tools of her trade. The crocodiles are portrayed with sympathy and a healthy dose of respectful caution, echoing Little Doctor’s care for these impressive creatures, while a surprise twist shares a cautionary tale of humans’ impact on nature.
How Do You Dance?
Heder, Thyra, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. There are as many ways to dance as there are people, and Heder has captured an exuberant, effervescent cross-section of dancing styles and humans in this uplifting book. From dancing kids and their various grownups, to dancing dinos, robots and horses, folks have some serious moves and they’re not afraid to share...except for one child. This friend shuns all bids to join in on the kinetic fun until the very last page, when they are revealed alone in their own room, energetically dancing. The pencil and watercolor illustrations are dynamic, full of movement and color as they dance right off their clean white backgrounds. The diverse cast of characters is drawn with loving detail as they each share their personal, joyous celebration of dance. Beware: Upon finishing this inspiring book, readers may be moved to hold an impromptu dance party and showcase their own distinct dance moves to the world!
Mr. Scruff
James, Simon, 1961- author, illustrator.
Toddler-1st grade. There’s a saying that dog owners look like their pets, and for many of the human-dog pairings that readers meet in this book, it proves correct. Shaggy, friendly Minnie belongs to Vinnie with the floppy bangs and winning smile, while Mick and his owner Rick share a snaggle-toothed and speckled face and a love of motorcycling. But who is the right person for poor Mr. Scruff, a large, older dog who has spent too much time at the animal shelter? Along comes Jim, young and small, who chooses Mr. Scruff for his own, and despite their seeming lack of similarities, it’s a perfect match. Loose, engrossing pen and ink illustrations depict the dogs and their owners in a busy urban environment, and the couples’ shared traits are perfectly portrayed with much affection. Mr. Scruff shows that friends can be alike or very different, but the love they share is the most important thing of all.
Under My Hijab
Khan, Hena, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. This timely, entertaining and open-hearted #ownvoices title highlights the practice of wearing hijab and the diverse women who do so. The narrator is a Muslim-American girl surrounded by a loving circle of women who wear both their hijabs and hairstyles in many different ways. Mama’s bright pink hijab stands out against her white physician’s lab coat, troop leader Jenna tops her hijab with a sunhat for hikes, while cousin Imam wears a sporty hijab for martial arts. At home and in private settings, these dynamic women wear carefully cultivated hairstyles, showing the multifaceted aspects of this religious practice and each woman’s individuality. Light and cheery digital illustrations feature sets of two-page spreads, each showing the narrator alongside an important woman in her life who wears hijab in public, and then again uncovered and interacting in a home setting. Thorough back matter explains more about the practice of wearing hijab and women’s individual choices on if and how they do so.
When Aidan Became A Brother
Lukoff, Kyle, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. “When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl.” So begins this heartfelt #ownvoices story of a young boy endeavoring to speak and live his truth. With the support and love of his parents, Aidan explores many different ways of being a boy and is happy with the boy he is becoming, but when his parents tell him that they’re expecting a baby, Aidan is filled with worries about how to welcome the new addition to their family. Detailed digital illustrations with the appearance of gentle watercolors and a soft yet vibrant color palette perfectly capture the affectionate interactions between parents and child and Aidan’s sweet concern at being the perfect big brother. This is an intimate and moving depiction of what it means to accept and love someone for who they truly are.
Fry Bread : A Native American Family Story
Maillard, Kevin Noble, author.
Preschool-5th grade. Fry Bread celebrates tradition among Indian nations. This #ownvoices tale of coming together to make fry bread explores the culture and history of this important staple and how it unites families and communities. The story describes the ingredients used and the centrality of this custom to Indian culture. Showcased are food and family, love and tradition but also the value of diversity. Fry Bread reveals the many ways this food can be made, and that it comes in all shapes, sizes and colors--much like all the different shapes and colors of Native people in America. The illustrations in this book are lovingly created and the endpapers include the many names of Indian Nations and Tribes in this country. The story is a true celebration of family, and extensive back matter includes a deep dive into the various meanings of fry bread, as well as the author’s own warm and delicious fry bread recipe for families to make and enjoy.
Lubna And Pebble
Meddour, Wendy, author.
Preschool-3rd grade. Lubna’s best friend becomes a pebble that she personalizes by drawing a happy face on it, telling it all about her family, the war that displaced her and the home she left behind. When she smiles, it smiles back at her, and when Lubna is sad, so is Pebble. It was the first thing she found when she and her father arrived at a refugee resettlement camp that Lubna refers to as the World of Tents. When a little boy named Amir arrives at the refugee camp, Lubna realizes he needs the pebble more than she does. The short, simple sentences deliver an emotional punch, while the understated story and illustrations in cool blues, greens and crimson help portray this tough topic sensitively and appropriately for young children. This is a lovely and touching book about the power of true friendship even under the most difficult of circumstances.
Where Are You From?
Méndez, Yamile Saied, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. “‘Where are you from?’ they ask.” In this book, a young girl’s confidence is shaken after persistent questioning from her peers, teachers and friends’ parents about her family’s heritage. She turns to her loving abuelo for answers. With lyrical beauty, her grandfather describes her parents’ places of origin. The illustrations of luminous landscapes and skies full of birds and stars seem to suggest Abuelo’s many dreams for his granddaughter. The book’s digitized watercolor spreads celebrate various natural wonders found in the pampas region of Argentina that families can explore together. Where Are You From? is one of the few picture books that uniquely depicts Latinx characters from the southern hemisphere of the world, and this #ownvoices story warmly invites families to explore the beauty of their own heritage.
Saturday
Mora, Oge, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. In a compelling story about what matters most, readers are taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotions as Ava and her mother head out for their weekly Saturday outing, the day they look forward to spending together all week long. Stunning collages created with acrylic paint, china markers, patterned paper and old book clippings over soft pastel backgrounds beautifully adorn each page as the duo encounter obstacle after obstacle to their perfect beloved Saturday. With shared moments of mindfulness and breath punctuating the episodes of disappointment, Mora gracefully depicts a parent-child relationship set in a realistic world of often unavoidable challenges, yet still full of genuine love and enjoyment.
Hum And Swish
Myers, Matt, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. At the ocean’s shore, introverted Jamie just wants to be left to her creations, but every passerby seems to have a question or a comment on her work. Only the waves don’t ask questions; they simply swish, swish, swish while Jamie hums and focuses on her building in the sand. With textured and detailed acrylic and oil illustrations, Myers designs a coastal haven replete with everything a young artist needs to capture their imagination for hours. Jamie’s relatable facial expressions and body language will be familiar to anyone who has ever wanted to be left to their own devices. When a new visitor stops by, bringing with her many items but no questions, Jamie knows she’s found a kindred spirit. With some time, freedom and space, what will they create?
I Am A Tiger
Newson, Karl, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Readers will be laughing out loud as they follow the charismatic Mouse through his plot to convince all the other animals of his true identity: A tiger! A cast of expressive cartoon characters appear boldly against monochromatic backgrounds to confront Mouse on his claims, but unperturbed by his fellow animals’ rebuttals against his appearance and abilities, Mouse sticks to his conviction, even when confronted by a large, striped, real-life tiger. The clever facial expressions of the animals throughout the book are sure to lend themselves to giggles, especially as Mouse responds to Tiger’s existential question of “then what are they?” This silly story stresses that with a large dose of confidence and a willingness to stand up for what you believe, you truly can be whoever you want!
I Got Next
Peoples-Riley, Daria, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. As a young Black boy prepares for a basketball game, his shadow encourages him to put his game face on, but this story is bigger than a pickup game of basketball played on the neighborhood courts. His shadow is an entity unto itself: ever-present, steadfast and supportive, encouraging the boy to practice his gameplays, play hard and show bravery and determination. The boy’s fierce game face and relatable expressions capture his dedication and focus, while the warm watercolor hues of the illustrations create a striking representation of the rich cityscape in which the game is played. Basketball terminology is used throughout the story and follows the play-by-play dialogue that sports players often use. The rhythmic narrative has a soothing flow, and the author’s message in this book is clear: Work hard, play to win and never give up.
Puppy Truck
Pinkney, J. Brian, author, illustrator.
Toddler-Kindergarten. What happens when you want a puppy, but instead get a toy truck? Pinkney’s charming illustrations and unadorned text depict exactly this scenario as young Carter solves his predicament by putting a leash on his new truck and bringing it along with him to the park. With a predominantly primary color palette and paint that flows exuberantly outside of the lines, Carter’s unfettered enthusiasm jumps from page to page as he happily chases his puppy truck through the park, making some new friends along the way. Brief, cheery and repetitive text make this a winning read aloud for toddlers on up. Puppy Truck is a perfect representation of the simple joy that childhood imagination can bring and is sure to captivate young readers.
Let's Have A Dog Party!
Prevost, Mikela, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. Who doesn’t love a surprise party? In this story about love, friendship and respecting others’ boundaries, Kate throws a surprise birthday party for her introverted dog, but all Frank really wants is his bowl, his favorite comfy bed and Kate. At the party, Frank is clearly miserable and frightened and makes an anxious escape from the overwhelming scene. The kids at the birthday party think he wants to play hide-and-seek, but Kate is mortified at what she has done when she finds him cowering in the back of the closet. The bold multimedia illustrations capture the overly boisterous behavior of the partygoers from a dog’s-eye view, while the engaging text deftly blends humor and sympathy. The story provides a golden opportunity for kids to validate their own feelings about large noisy crowds, and models sensitivity and empathy when interacting with others.
My Papi Has A Motorcycle
Quintero, Isabel, author.
Preschool-3rd grade. Every evening when Daisy’s father arrives home from work, she runs outside with both of their motorcycle helmets. Then Daisy and Papi VROOOOOMM out of the driveway and take a whirlwind tour of their town, visiting neighbors and friends and passing taquerías, the hanging piñatas outside Joy’s Market, a tortillería, Abuelita’s church and a local supermarket. The immersive illustrations and richly detailed text are deeply evocative; readers will truly feel they are zipping through the streets on the back of a motorcycle, hearing the screech of the brakes and the rumbling vibrations of a lawnmower as they pass. Soft, warmly colored artwork invokes the nostalgic feeling of a memory being made in real-time, and both text and illustrations construct a truly multisensory experience for young readers. This book is an ode to the author’s own life, hometown pride and loving memories of her hard-working Papi.
Hats Are Not For Cats!
Rayner, Jacqueline K., author, illustrator.
Toddler-1st grade. This is a humorous and goofy story about a bossy dog that spends much of the narrative telling a cat that cats don't wear hats, but the cat seems to be trying to prove the dog wrong by wearing everything from shower caps to sombreros! Eventually, the cat has had enough and challenges the dog’s rigid ideas in a gently thought-provoking way. Hats Are Not For Cats is an uncomplicated and entertaining story that will surely catch the interest of young children and adults alike, as they enjoy all the wacky hats worn by the dog and cat throughout the book. The simple rhyming text is just as silly as the illustrations, and both the story and pictures offer young readers a fresh, cheerful take on bossiness and how to deal with it.
Truman
Reidy, Jean, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Every bit as sweet as a “small donut,” this delightful tale of friendship and bravery depicts an unusual day in the life of Truman the tortoise as he watches from his aquarium while “his Sarah” boards the number 11 bus, going to school for the very first time. The detailed prose, with its focus on the smallest moments in life, is the perfect entry into Truman’s very relatable thoughts and feelings as he navigates this new experience all by himself. Cummins’ ability to capture the world from a tortoise-eye-view perfectly complements the details of the story, and the endearing illustrations, a lively combination of gouache, brush marker, charcoal, colored pencil and digital techniques, creatively interact with the text throughout the pages to make this book an especially engaging read.
There Are No Bears In This Bakery
Sarcone-Roach, Julia, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. Clever similes and metaphors abound in this detective adventure where Muffin, a very expressive cat, patrols the neighborhood nightly to ensure everything is in its rightful place. Muffin’s bright orange coat is eye-catching as she jumps from page to page through the dark, textured night rich with blue, gray and black hues. When Muffin stumbles upon some unexpected visitors in the Little Bear Bakery, she’s ready to solve a mystery. Sarcone-Roach uses acrylic paint and marker illustrations and lyrical, compelling text to portray the characters’ escapades throughout the bakery until finally “the sun rose and stretched like a yawn down the alley.” Finally, as the night shift ends, the case is closed by a triumphant Muffin.
Spencer's New Pet
Sima, Jessie, author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. Silent films are the inspiration for this wholly original, nearly wordless and beautifully designed book. A film leader countdown and gritty bespeckled title cards set the scene for the stars of the show. Spencer, bespectacled and dressed in black and white stripes, receives a red balloon dog from a clown. As Spencer lovingly cares for his new pet and takes the dog on trips to the vet, the park and a party, each venue is gently laced with drama and suspense. Clean-lined, expressive digital illustrations are rendered in black, white and gray, accented only by the bright red dog, and the vintage movie feel is further enhanced by wide-lens, close-up and iris-shot effects. While the world is filled with sharp objects that pose an imminent threat for a balloon dog, a surprise twist ending will leave readers stunned, thrilled and clamoring for another reading of this unique and clever book.
Here And There
Smith, Tamara Ellis, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. What is bird-loving young Ivan to do when he now has a “here” and a “there” instead of both of his parents living together in the same home? Full bleed pencil, acrylic and collage illustrations that span the captivating, detailed two-page spreads equally capture Ivan’s deep sadness at the change of his family structure and his expanding joy as finds his place and voice amidst all the adjustments. As Ivan is a bird aficionado, the book also features excellent details about bird behaviors and bird calls seamlessly woven into the plot and the fluid, expressive text. Beneficial for any child who has ever had to wrap their head around a big change, this story depicts those complex emotions with accuracy and empathy.
How To Two
Soman, David.
Preschool-1st grade. Making new friends really can be as easy as 1, 2, 3! In this inclusive book, a diverse group of characters gallivant through the pages, embarking on a new adventure and acquiring a new playmate at every turn. Soft, yet vibrant watercolor illustrations that often span each two-page spread invite us into the expansive and magical world of childhood play where exploration, imagination and movement reign and the sounds of laughter and nature echo throughout. The thoughtfully composed illustrations bring a sense of balance and peace to an otherwise boisterous playground experience, adding to the overarching sentiment that kindness and inclusion lead to harmony.
Ruby's Sword
Véissid, Jacqueline, author.
Preschool-1st grade. Imaginative outdoor play on a summer day leads to sibling rivalry and ultimately compromise. Ruby and her brothers set off to play in the meadow, but they always leave her behind. Frustrated but resilient, Ruby forges ahead, finding three perfect sticks to use as swords, creating and populating a kingdom and fighting epic battles. When the wind whips a sheet onto Ruby’s sword, she builds a castle that finally draws her brothers back into her play, replete with peace offerings found in nature. Beautifully written text makes satisfying use of alliteration and expressive descriptors, and the depiction of Ruby’s environment is compelling and unique. Gorgeously illustrated two-page spreads in digitally finished watercolor and pencil portray the irrepressible protagonist completely at home in her idyllic natural setting. Modeling nature play and conflict resolution with grace and style, Ruby’s Sword will give children plenty of ideas for their own outdoor adventures.
Astro Girl
Wilson-Max, Ken, author, illustrator.
Preschool-1st grade. Astrid, an avid space enthusiast, has dreams of becoming an astronaut and she seems ready for the challenge as she and her Papa eagerly perform practice tasks around the house, such as doing science experiments and getting used to zero gravity. With uncomplicated and lively black-lined acrylic illustrations, Wilson-Max depicts a loving father-daughter relationship that feels homey, welcoming and everyday. Their attentive and playful interactions sprinkled throughout the pages are heartwarming, and Mama’s surprise return at the end is sure to bring a smile to adult and child readers alike. Back matter includes more enjoyable information about space travel and highlights women’s contributions to the field.
Amy Wu And The Perfect Bao
Zhang, Kat, 1991- author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Amy Wu is determined to make the perfect steamed bao. She sets to work kneading dough with her father and seasoning the filling with her mother. At the kitchen table, she attempts to place the perfect amount of filling in the center of the squishy, white dough. She molds and pinches, but they come out all wrong--too empty, too full, too holey. On the verge of giving up, Amy uses her problem-solving skills to successfully, and deliciously, achieve her goal. Digital illustrations, employing a vibrant color palette, use curved shapes and lines to mimic the plumpness of a bao and depict Amy and her supportive Chinese-American family. Readers will appreciate that each step of the all-day bao making process is depicted both visually and textually. An author’s note provides information on differences in regional pronunciation of and terminology for bao. Back matter includes a bao recipe with detailed instructions.