Ericka Brunson-Rochette

It’s that time of the year where I look back on all the amazing picture books published over the course of this year, and identify those that rise to the top. This is never an easy task, as there are always phenomenal titles to select from — and this year has been no different. While there are many books that have shone brightly, here are standouts published prior to December, in no particular order:

”Outside, Inside” by LeUyen Pham

Nothing about the pandemic has been easy, add to that list discussing the very real life disruptions with children. LeUyen Pham does a phenomenal job conveying in both text and illustrations what happened when everyone who was outside, all over the world, went inside.

Themes: Empathy, patience, change, quarantine

”The Rock from the Sky” by Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen delivers his specific flavor of delightfully dry humor once again in this aptly titled story of three animals and their interactions with a rock that falls from the sky. I also love that this book is told in 5 episodes, so we get even more of the slightly off-beat and satisfyingly absurd storytelling from Klassen.

Themes: Humor, suspense, problem-solving

”Watercress” by Andrea Wang

Stunning illustrations aside, this book delivers on a deeply emotional level as a family connects through stories and memories of heritage, identity and resilience.

Themes: Family, food-insecurity, identity, connection

”Mel Fell” by Corey Tabor

I love a book that isn’t afraid to stray from conventional page structure, and this book is fearless. Using direction and reader interaction, follow a young kingfisher named Mel as he learns to fly, fall and everything in between.

Themes: Resilience, growth, independence

”A House” by Kevin Henkes

This book is so simple, but leaves ample room for discussion, imagination and interaction. Building on the importance of talking with your kiddos about what they see on the page, this book goes as far as offering discussion questions as part of the text.

Themes: Concept-learning, interaction, mindfulness

”Milo Imagines the World” by Matt de la Pena

Readers get a private invitation into the mind, thoughts and emotions of a child who is young enough to imagine the best in the world but has lived enough to know that every person has their own beautiful and complex story. Illustrator Robinson does such a fantastic job of interweaving realistic elements of the story with the child-like, but subtly detailed, imagination of Milo.

Themes: Imagination, creativity, empathy, incarcerated-parent”Wonder Walkers” by Micha Archer

The vibrant and bright collaged illustrations perfectly capture the wonders of wandering for these two siblings who ponder the beauty of the world, and their place in it.

Themes: Nature, curiosity, imagination, connection

”Is Was” by Deborah Freedman

The use of color and light in this book is magnificent. The story is a very simple message of how things can change and adapt while staying the same, but these illustrations are what really captured my attention

Themes: Change, time, acceptance

”Dino Grow” by Matthew Myers

This book is just plain imaginative and fun. A small child, soon to be older sibling, cares for a growing dinosaur that keeps getting bigger every time it gets wet. And it loves getting wet! From story to illustrations, a wonderful book, through and through.

Themes: New sibling, responsibility, change

”Wishes” by Muon Van

The illustrations in this book are simply stunning. Through the eyes of a child, the arduous journey of a family fleeing from their home is so poignantly conveyed through little text, the vivid illustrations and the raw emotion seen on every page.

Themes: Family, courage, immigration, refugees

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