Monday, June 28, 2021

Favorite New Picture Books, January - June 2021

As the halfway point in the year approaches, I've been taking stock of all the new picture books that have been sent to me for review. Today I want to share a list of the top titles I have received in the first six months of 2021. 

Road Trip by Steve Light (Candlewick, February 2021) has distinctively intricate illustrations that portray a group of animals driving through their woodland community of Whiskers Hollow to Elephant's junk yard where they hope to find a new headlight for Bear's truck. It's hard to write a book about vehicles and tools that doesn't repeat established tropes, but this book is a unique take. The story is simple, but the illustrations provide so much detail to look at that kids can really get lost in them. We have quite a few books by Steve Light on our shelves, and they have been consistently of good quality. Road Trip is no exception. 

Baby Moses in a Basket by Caryn Yacowitz and Julie Downing (Candlewick, March 2021) is a charming retelling of the Biblical story of the infant Moses floating down the river to be discovered by Pharaoh's daughter. In this version, friendly animals protect and assist young Moses in his travels, ensuring his safe arrival at his destination. We read picture book adaptations of Old Testament stories every year during Advent when we have our Jesse tree. My second daughter (C., age 5.5) will also be studying Biblical times in school this coming year, and I plan to use a lot of picture books with her. This one will certainly be included to enrich her learning. I also just recently made the connection that the illustrator of this book is the same artist who created one of our all-time favorite picture books, Lullaby and Goodnight. 

Twenty-One Steps by Jeff Gottesfeld and Matt Tavares (Candlewick, February 2021) highlights the role of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This book, with its beautiful illustrations and poetic writing style, really inspires its readers to appreciate the sacrifices the members of the U.S. Military and their families have made for our freedoms. I want my children to grow up with a sense of gratitude for fallen soldiers, and I want them to have an emotional connection to the observance of Memorial Day. This book is a perfect stepping stone toward that goal.  

In Zee Grows a Tree by Elizabeth Rusch and Will Hillenbrand (Candlewick, March 2021), a Douglas fir tree is planted when Zee is a baby, and she and the tree grow up together. At each stage of Zee's development, the story compares Zee to her tree and also shows how Zee cares for it. Facts about trees are written in the margins of every page, making the book a fun hybrid of fact and fiction. This book is similar in many ways to Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray and Barry Root, but I like having both books on our shelves as they complement each other quite well. 

Bruno the Beekeeper by Aneta Franti┼íka Holasov├í (Candlewick, March 2021) looks like a story book, but is actually a nonfiction guide to everything a young reader could ever want to know about bees. The feel of the book is a bit quirky, but I have never seen so much information about any topic packed into a picture book in my life, and the diagrams of bee anatomy and the inside of a hive are just utterly fascinating. This one skews toward a little bit of an older audience; I think upper elementary readers will get the most out of it. 


A Midsummer Night's Dream retold by Georghia Ellinas and Jane Ray (Candlewick, April 2021) is a gorgeously illustrated Shakespeare retelling. It's a little bit disappointing that more lines from the actual play don't make it into the text, but if you're looking for a book to introduce the plot ahead of introducing the Shakespearean language, this is ideal. My oldest daughter (7.5) enjoyed the book because she was learning about Shakespeare in history at the time that it arrived, but my other kids were equally drawn to the fanciful and colorful illustrations. 

How to Apologize by David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka (Candlewick, May 2021) is a fun, kid-friendly explanation of how (and how not) to make a sincere apology. Apologizing is often hard for my kids, and I like having this book on-hand to remind them in a gentle way how to make it right after they've done something wrong.  The examples of the wrong ways to make amends are also pretty funny, especially to the sense of humor of a 5-to-7-year old. 

Let's Play! A Book About Making Friends by Amanda McCardie and Colleen Larmour (Candlewick, May 2021) is another guidebook for kids, this time about meeting new people and developing new friendships. There are quite a few books out there that explore problems in friendships, but this one takes a positive, upbeat attitude and really emphasizes the joys that friendship can bring. 

Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca (Atheneum, April 2021) is the only picture book about Covid that I have accepted for review during the pandemic, and that was solely because I love the author. This is very much a snapshot of one person's experience in one place (New York City), but it surprised me by being very child-friendly and not at all political. I think it makes a nice souvenir of sorts that will one day remind us all of how odd of a year 2020 really was. It would also work as part of a community helpers themed story time, but probably only in the very immediate future.

Early One Morning by Mem Fox and Christine Davenier (Beach Lane Books, February 2021)  is a sweet tale for preschoolers about a little boy who goes looking for his breakfast on the farm. As the boy searches, the illustrations make it clear what he is seeking and where he can find it, but the text is careful not to reveal it so that the child reader has the chance to figure it out. This book reminded me a bit of the Minerva Louise books, but less silly. 

The More the Merrier by David Martin and Raissa Figueroa (Candlewick, June 2021) features a group of animals dancing through the forest. Because each animal is built differently, each one has different signature dance moves which he shows off when his turn comes. The message that everyone has something to contribute has been done many times before, but because of the incorporation of movement into the story, this one stands out as a bit different. If I host story time at all this summer, this is one of the books I want to use. 

In Noah's Seal by Layn Marlow (Candlewick, June 2021), a little boy named Noah wants his grandma to take him out on her boat to see seals, but she's not ready to go. Noah makes himself a seal out of sand instead, which he loves, and which breaks his heart when it is washed out to sea. Things turn around, though, with an almost magical surprise ending. This is sort of a summer take on stories that deal with snowmen who melt after the cold weather passes, but this friend disappears when the tide comes in. The atmosphere of the illustrations is perfect for hot summer days, and I'll be reading this one aloud before we head to the beach in August.  

Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon by Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua (Simon & Schuster, December 2020) is the sequel to Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao. In this second book, Amy is assigned to create a dragon at school, but instead of following her own creative thoughts about dragons, she tries to conform to her classmates' ideas instead. With help from her family, however, she realizes that the Eastern dragons of her culture are just as interesting and fun to create as Western ones. My kids love Amy Wu, and they are big fans of this book.

Finally, in Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter by Jamie Michalak and Kelly Murphy (Candlewick, June 2021), a mouse named Dakota prowls around the museum at night snatching up tiny objects, which she carries home for a very special reason. After the reader learns where the treasures go, there is an invitation for the reader to go back through the book and look for more hidden objects. This book indulges kids' curiosity about what goes on at places like museums after hours and behind the scenes, and it's also just the right blend of mystery and adventure for the pre-K to grade 2 audience. 

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