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Best & Brightest Picture Books of 2020


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

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Arbona, Marion, author, illustrator.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. “A young girl is walking home from school in a big city. As she gazes up at window after window in the buildings on her route --- each one a different shape and size --- she imagines what might be going on behind them. By opening the gatefold, readers will come upon the most fantastical scenes. An indoor jungle. A whale in a bathtub. Vampires playing badminton. The girl's imagination knows no bounds. Until, behind the very last window, we find the girl back home in her own room, where the toys surrounding her look strangely familiar.” --From the publisher. Window is full of architectural interest, imagination and a playful, fairytale spirit. Arbona details the depth of a child’s imagination as she envisions what’s behind each unique window with captivating felt pen illustrations that demand exploration. Readers will appreciate seeing how everything imagined connects back to elements in the child’s bedroom.
I Am Every Good Thing
Barnes, Derrick D., author.
Preschool-3rd grade. “The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through–as he’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny and a good friend. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid, because he’s so often misunderstood and called what he is not. So slow down and really look and listen, when somebody tells you–and shows you–who they are. There are superheroes in our midst!” --From the publisher. Readers who love rhythmic text and feel-good stories will enjoy this visually stunning book. The speaker compares themself to all things good, bad, beautiful, ugly, pleasant and painful. Guaranteed to engage readers who love musical repetition and the boldness and dynamism of Norman Rockwell, echoed in James’ spectacular oil paintings.
If You Come To Earth
Blackall, Sophie, author, illustrator.
Kindergarten-2nd grade. “If You Come to Earth is a glorious guide to our home planet, and a call for us to take care of both Earth and each other. This stunning book is inspired by the thousands of children Sophie Blackall has met during her travels around the world in support of UNICEF and Save the Children.” --From the publisher. This is a book with encyclopedic aspirations — a treat for readers who catalog, collect or dream of life on different planets. Blackall uses ideas supplied by actual children to showcase the world in all its biological, anthropological and technological diversity. Intricate, kaleidoscopic ink and watercolor artwork zooms in and out of a multitude of wondrous and fascinating perspectives.
Two Little Trains
Brown, Margaret Wise, 1910-1952, author.
Toddler-2nd grade. “A streamlined train and a little old train journey through hills and over mountains, crossing rivers and plains, in this treasured story from Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon. Reimagined with bold and vibrant art by Geisel Award–winning artist Greg Pizzoli. The classic picture book about two trains and their cross-country journey from east to west.” --From the publisher. Pizzoli’s bold stamp art lends Brown’s verse renewed vigor, texture and relevance. Two Little Trains is a book with a classic, keepsake feel, but one with visual appeal for modern, design-savvy sensibilities and kids alike.
Rita And Ralph's Rotten Day
Deedy, Carmen Agra, author.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. “‘In two little houses, on two little hills, lived two best friends…’ So begins the story of Rita and Ralph. Every day they meet to play beneath the apple tree. It's always fun and games — until one roundly rotten day when a new game means someone ends up crying. Who knew it could be so hard to say "I'm sorry"? Just when it seems nothing will ever be right again, a surprising thing happens. The old friends try something new, that isn't new at all. Something they've done a hundred times…” --From the publisher. Rita and Ralph’s engaging and relatable story exposes the perils of miscommunication, and will have readers laughing along and empathizing with the highs and lows of their friendship. Inviting, digitally rendered gouache illustrations, repetitive text and an accompanying hand game in the back matter round out this delightful book.
When Grandpa Gives You A Toolbox
Deenihan, Jamie L. B., author.
Kindergarten-2nd grade. “You asked for a special house for your dolls; but instead Grandpa gives you a toolbox! What do you do? Launching it into outer space is a bad idea. So is feeding it to a T. rex! Instead, be patient, pay attention, and you might find that you’re pretty handy. And just maybe, with grandpa’s help, you’ll get that dollhouse after all.” --From the publisher. This multigenerational, community-oriented story is filled with simple, brightly colored, eye-catching illustrations. It deftly challenges gender stereotypes and shows readers how to find common ground with elders, handle the little disappointments inevitable in life and discover joy when learning to build something by hand.
Magnificent Homespun Brown : A Celebration
Doyon, Samara Cole, author.
Preschool & up. “Told by a succession of exuberant young narrators, Magnificent Homespun Brown is a story -- a song, a poem, a celebration -- about feeling at home in one’s own beloved skin. A carol for the plenitude that surrounds us and the self each of us is meant to inhabit.” --From the publisher. This celebration of diversity and representation is brimming with full-bodied vocabulary that will offer kids plenty of food for thought. Mixed media Illustrations are warm and cozy and full of texture and personality. With every pass, readers will discover additional details and connections, like the strands of yarn coming together for the quilt in the book.
The Three Billy Goats Buenos
Elya, Susan Middleton, 1955- author.
Toddler-1st grade. “Three little cabritos have a clever plan to get past the grumpiest troll in the land. But then one of the billy goats wonders: Why is that gigante so grumpy, anyway? This thoughtful question sends their plan in a new direction, and the results are better than they ever imagined.” --From the publisher. Three Billy Goats Buenos is a fantastically hilarious story for burgeoning bilingual readers, featuring refreshingly simple scrapbook-style artwork. It includes a glossary with a pronunciation guide and definitions of Spanish terms spoken intermittently with English throughout the book.
My Best Friend
Fogliano, Julie, author.
Preschool-1st grade. “New York Times bestselling author Julie Fogliano and Caldecott Honor winner Jillian Tamaki come together to tell a delightful story of first friendship. What is a best friend, if not someone who laughs with you the whole entire day, especially when you pretend to be a pickle?” --From the publisher. The rolling rhythm of Fogliano’s text and Tamaki’s energetic, occasionally silly, digitally rendered illustrations full of childlike glee perfectly capture the breathless serendipity of fast friendship. Tamaki’s warm, familiar characters always feel like someone readers might just know, and Fogliano’s surprise ending rings completely true.
Friday Night Wrestlefest
Fox, Jennifer, 1976- author.
Kindergarten-2nd grade. “Ladies and Gentlemen, it's Friday night, and these kids are ready to wrestle! Join Dangerous Daddoo as he dishes out some serious moves to get the kids ready for bed. But what happens when Flying Mom Bomb gets home from work? Are the kids toast?” --From the publisher. Have a blast with this cleverly written dropkick of an early elementary title for wrestling fans who love stories full of playful onomatopoeia. Player’s eye-poppingly bright, ink and digital artwork depicts a Latinx family’s imaginative Friday night tradition, featuring role playing and awesome wrestling moves.
Sun And Moon Have A Tea Party
Heo, Yumi, author.
Kindergarten-2nd grade. “Sun and Moon sit down for a tea party, but they soon find out that they see the world very differently. Moon says moms and dads get their kids ready for bed, while Sun says no, they get their children ready for school. So who’s right? Well, as the two come to find out, they both are. With the help of Cloud, a gentle mediator, each stays up past their bedtime and sees the world from the other’s incredible point of view.” --From the publisher. Heo asks readers to think of day and night as two separate worlds — and then two halves of the same whole — in this story that sheds light on the validity of opposing perspectives. Stoop’s soft, saturated paint-on-plywood illustrations complement Heo’s ruminative, poetic text.
A Whale Of A Mistake
Hobai, Ioana, author.
Kindergarten-2nd grade. “When you make a mistake―a big mistake, a HUGE mistake―it can weigh you down or even swallow you whole! As one kid finds herself swept away by her whale of a mistake, she takes readers along on a journey of emotions. When the girl pauses to stare at the night sky, she realizes something important: there are as many mistakes in the world as stars in the sky, and maybe she can handle it after all. As the seemingly huge whale begins to shrink, the girl embraces her mistake and finds her way back to solid ground.” --From the publisher. Take a watercolor journey filled with surrealistic artwork, depicting the internal battles of a protagonist who learns that mistakes are only as gargantuan as we make them. This is a perfect title for lovers of experimental storytelling and for those who enjoy a good simile.
Like The Moon Loves The Sky
Khan, Hena, author.
Preschool-Kindergarten. “In this moving picture book, author Hena Khan shares her wishes for her children: Inshallah you find wonder in birds as they fly. Inshallah you are loved like the moon loves the sky. With vibrant illustrations and prose inspired by the Quran this charming picture book is a heartfelt and universal celebration of a parent's unconditional love.” --From the publisher. Calming prose, expressions of hope and unconditional love make for a perfect bedtime story. The soothing repetition of the Arabic phrase “inshallah” throughout is expanded upon in the author’s note, offering context and personal perspective. Richly colored, digitally rendered illustrations provide thoughtful, unexpected connections to the meaning of the text.
Lê, Minh, 1979- author.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. “Iris loves to push the elevator buttons in her apartment building, but when it’s time to share the fun with a new member of the family, she’s pretty put out. That is, until the sudden appearance of a mysterious new button opens up entire realms of possibility, places where she can escape and explore on her own. But when she’s forced to choose between going at it alone or letting her little brother tag along, Iris finds that sharing a discovery with the people you love can be the most wonderful experience of all.” --From the publisher. This immersive, fantastical book with minimal text is filled with illuminating illustrations that convey wonder, emotion and humor, showing readers the power of imagination. Parents and caregivers will relate to the depiction of the elevator button power struggle and the potential outcome of either pure joy or total catastrophe.
My Friend Earth
MacLachlan, Patricia, author.
Preschool & up. “Our friend Earth does so many wonderful things! She tends to animals large and small. She pours down summer rain and autumn leaves. She sprinkles whisper-white snow and protects the tiny seeds waiting for spring. A celebration of the natural world and rallying cry for positive action for Planet Earth.” --From the publisher. From the textured cover to the thoughtful die cuts that let readers peek through to the next page, this book celebrating nature beautifully highlights the interconnectedness of everything on our planet. Musical text offers a rich, evocative vocabulary befitting the bold illustrations flowing with movement.
Story Boat
Maclear, Kyo, 1970- author.
Kindergarten-4th grade. “When a little girl and her younger brother are forced along with their family to flee the home they’ve always known, they must learn to make a new home for themselves — wherever they are. And sometimes the smallest things — a cup, a blanket, a lamp, a flower, a story — can become a port of hope in a terrible storm. As the refugees travel onward toward an uncertain future, they are buoyed up by their hopes, dreams and the stories they tell — a story that will carry them perpetually forward.” --From the publisher. This moving migration story is comforting, hopeful and realistic. Profound yet intuitive metaphors round out the idea that “here” is a constantly moving target. Kheiriyeh presents a cohesive, cool-against-warm color palette of mixed media illustrations, and the birds she sprinkles throughout every page are an ingenious echo of the refugees’ flight.
What Will These Hands Make?
McClure, Nikki, author, illustrator.
Preschool-3rd grade. “This lyrical picture book from beloved creator Nikki McClure follows a family through one day and muses in the possibilities that one day holds—from enjoying treats at the bakery, to admiring handmade goods from local artisan shops, to observing the new construction in town.” --From the publisher. Bold, inventive illustrations created from intricately hand-cut pieces of black paper and poetic, list-like text answer the titular question: “What will these hands make?” Readers will seek-and-find listed items among the illustrations and consider how to use their hands and contribute to their community.
Oswald, Pete, illustrator.
Toddler-3rd grade. “In the cool and quiet early light of morning, a father and child wake up. Today they’re going on a hike. Follow the duo into the mountains as they witness the magic of the wilderness, overcome challenges, and play a small role in the survival of the forest. By the time they return home, they feel alive — and closer than ever — as they document their hike and take their place in family history.” --From the publisher. Like an actual hike, this book’s wordless presentation allows readers a quiet, contemplative stroll through the warm, earth-toned digital illustrations and a discussion starter for the nature and narrative experienced within. This book is an inspiring introduction to outdoor exploration, helping to build excitement for would-be hikers.
I Go Quiet
Ouimet, David, author, illustrator.
1st-6th grade. “Here is the story of an introverted girl, hiding in silence in a world that seems overpowering and hostile. In the power of imagination and the pages of books, she sees possibilities for herself and discovers a place where her words ring loud and true.” --From the publisher. Ouimet’s steampunk-inspired debut delivers spare, impactful text and darkly compelling, painterly illustrations in shades of grey and black. The sweeping, detailed artwork deeply immerses readers in the isolated protagonist’s reliance on reading, imagination and creativity to circumvent their grim surroundings and indifferent schoolmates and engage with a better world.
Old Rock (Is Not Boring)
Pilutti, Deb, author, illustrator.
Preschool-3rd grade. “Old Rock has been sitting in the same spot in the pine forest for as long as anyone can remember. Spotted Beetle, Tall Pine, and Hummingbird think just sitting there must be boring, but they are in for a wonderful surprise. Fabulous tales of adventurous travel, exotic scenery, entertaining neighbors, and more from Old Rock’s life prove it has been anything but boring.” --From the publisher. This humorous book draws attention to the interesting history of seemingly uninteresting things. Old Rock’s even-keeled response to their friends’ assumption about them being boring fits well with this patient exploration of geological time. Digitally manipulated painted artwork is cartoonish, lively and whimsical, perfectly complementing the smart, humorous text.
¡Vamos! Let's Go Eat!
Raúl the Third, 1976- author, illustrator.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. “Little Lobo is excited to take in a show with wrestling star El Toro in his bustling border town. After getting lunch orders from The Bull and his friends to help prepare for the event, Little Lobo takes readers on a tour of food trucks that sell his favorite foods, like quesadillas with red peppers and Mexican-Korean tacos.” --From the publisher. Vibrant, incredibly detailed, comic-style illustrations paired with bilingual text make up this fun Richard Scarry read-alike. Filled with camaraderie, community, lucha libre wrestling and tacos, this energetic book will leave readers’ mouths watering and have them coming back for seconds — and thirds! Don’t read this book on an empty stomach!
Playing Possum
Reinhardt, Jennifer Black, 1963- author, illustrator.
Preschool-1st grade. “Meeting strangers makes shy possum Alfred anxious, and he plays dead. So he has trouble making friends—until Sophia the armadillo reveals that when she gets anxious, she rolls up in a ball. A witty friendship tale inspired by animal behavior.” --From the publisher. This book about understanding and accepting others’ limitations, as well as one’s own, takes unabashed pleasure in animal oddities. Reinhardt’s retro-inspired mixed media illustrations done in watercolor, ink, colored pencil and collage, are a true delight. Readers will giggle every time Alfred “plays possum,” but they’ll also cheer every time he gets up.
Rex, Adam, author.
Preschool-3rd grade. “If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Well, what if the answer was: ALL OF THEM! When a bird narrowly escapes the clutches of a hungry cat, a nearby crab admires the bird's ability to fly, while the bird admits a longtime yearning for claws. And, just like that, they team up. Pretty soon, the team includes every animal in the forest who's ever wanted someone else's special trait. But how will these animals stop humans from destroying the forest for a megamall?” --From the publisher. Fans of unpredictable picture books filled with endearing characters will love this humorous tale depicting the value of collaboration to accomplish great feats. With charmingly upbeat digital artwork and snappy, fast-paced dialogue, Unstoppable! contains a timely, issue-driven story in a brilliant, witty package.
Don't Feed The Coos!
Stutzman, Jonathan, author.
Preschool-1st grade. “A cautionary tale that details the fallout when a little girl decides to share some bread with a coo (aka pigeon). From the park to home to the arcade to karate practice, the coos follow the generous-but-foolish girl who didn't heed the warning. Because when you give a coo a crumb...the entire population of coos will come! But fret not: our spunky little heroine will discover that even the biggest of problems can be solved with a little determination.” --From the publisher. Lovers of Mo Willems will enjoy this comical story illustrating the unexpected surprises that arise when feeding lovable, wild birds. With relaxed and cartoonish digital artwork and accessible, conversational text, this is a simple, colorful and amusing book, wonderful for laugh-out-loud read aloud sessions
Up On Bob
Sullivan, Mary, 1958- author, illustrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. “Bob the dog doesn’t mind hard work when it means he can reward himself with a nap. But Someone is watching him sleep! Hopefully they will just go away if Bob lies really still. But Someone, who happens to be a cat, has other things in mind.” --From the publisher. Sullivan captures canine mannerisms that dog owners everywhere are sure to recognize. The subtle accumulation of Bob’s hair as the book progresses is only one of the book’s clever visual gags. This approachable read aloud title also includes strong supportive elements for developing readers — repetition, controlled vocabulary and large, easy-to-see text.
Dandelion's Dream
Tanaka, Yoko (Artist), author, illustrator.
Preschool-1st grade. “In a meadow filled with dandelion buds just about to flower, one dandelion blooms into a real lion. Roots and leaves unfurl into four tiny paws and a long tail with a fluffy yellow tuft. What a great, wide world there is to explore when you have paws instead of roots: there are fast trains to ride, regal ships to sail, and cities with lights as bright as Dandelion’s field in full bloom. But will a real lion ever be content to go back to being a rooted dandelion?” --From the publisher. Dreamy, minimally-colored charcoal illustrations with sunny pops of color encompass lush, full-page spreads and smaller comic-style panels. This wordless picture book will enchant and amuse readers of all ages as they become storytellers: imagining, dreaming and cultivating a sense of wonder.
Outside In
Underwood, Deborah, author.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. “Outside is waiting, the most patient playmate of all. The most generous friend. The most miraculous inventor. This thought-provoking picture book poetically underscores our powerful and enduring connection with nature, not so easily obscured by lives spent indoors.” --From the publisher. Simultaneously introspective and engaging, Outside In’s seamless combination of poetic phrasing and impressionistic watercolors will resonate with young readers contemplating humanity’s disconnect with nature. Derby’s illustrations cleverly reveal how household items relate to nature and encourage readers to take time to look for other ways they’re still connected.
The Blue House
Wahl, Phoebe, author, illustrator.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. “For as long as he can remember, Leo has lived in the blue house with his dad, but lately the neighborhood is changing. People are leaving, houses are being knocked down, and shiny new buildings are going up in their place. When Leo and his dad are forced to leave, they aren’t happy about it. They howl and rage and dance out their feelings. When the time comes, they leave the blue house behind–there was never any choice, not really–but little by little, they find a way to keep its memory alive in their new home.” --From the publisher. Cozy illustrations in watercolor, gouache, collage and colored pencil are filled with detail, alongside thoughtful text that superbly conveys the sentiment of moving to a new house and life in a gentrifying city. Wahl weaves a heartwarming tale, illustrating that home is more than a place — it’s the people and memories inside it.
Nana Akua Goes To School
Walker, Tricia Elam, author.
Kindergarten-2nd grade. “It is Grandparents Day at Zura’s elementary school, and the students are excited to introduce their grandparents and share what makes them special … But Zura’s Nana, who is her favorite person in the world, looks a little different from other grandmas. Nana Akua was raised in Ghana, and, following an old West African tradition, has tribal markings on her face. Worried that her classmates will be scared of Nana–or worse, make fun of her–Zura is hesitant to bring her to school. Nana Akua knows what to do, though…” --From the publisher. The cultural touchstone Walker explores in this book — Ashanti tribal marks — is a fresh and welcome addition to the typical “show-and-tell” narrative. Harrison’s rich, emotive mixed media collage illustrations and informative endpapers are simply spectacular. Caregivers and kids can enjoy replicating and learning the meaning of Adinkra symbols together.
The Moon Keeper
Zosienka, author, illustrator.
Preschool-1st grade. “Emile, a very responsible polar bear, has a new job as moon keeper. He spends his evenings making sure the moon has everything it needs to shine its light over the night creatures. Night after night he keeps watch over the moon—clearing away the clouds and telling the fruit bats to move along when they play too close. Emile finds the moon nice to talk to in the stillness of the night. But what happens when the moon starts to change and slowly disappears?” --From the publisher. Zosienka offers readers a sensitive and subtle take on a natural process many people may miss, with dreamlike gouache and colored pencil illustrations and soothing, gentle text. This natural process that may parallel other, more personal losses, and the Moon Keeper’s awakening is a kind reminder that such losses often give way to gains.

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