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My Grandfather’s Coat

Jim Aylesworth, illus. by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic Press)

This warmly told and splendidly illustrated tale of a coat repurposed and refashioned over decades of use celebrates the determination, resourcefulness, and ingenuity that are bedrock values for so many immigrant families. Here’s hoping copies of this book become as well worn as Grandfather’s blue coat itself.


Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Mac Barnett, illus. by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)

Through humor, surprise, and careful attention to detail, Barnett and Klassen challenge readers’ expectations as two boys find both more and less than they imagined as they tunnel underground. Just as the act of digging a hole holds untold promise for any kid with a shovel, children will finish this story with a new appreciation for the possibilities that lie between the pages of a book.


My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)

Peter Brown (Little, Brown)

It can be hard for children to imagine that their teachers have lives outside the classroom, but Brown goes a long way toward building empathy in the story of Bobby and his “monster” of a teacher, Ms. Kirby. Brown comically highlights the human complexity and depth of teachers (even the ones with fangs) and students (even the ones throwing paper airplanes).


Ashley Bryan’s Puppets: Making Something from Everything

Ashley Bryan (S&S/Atheneum)

Using wood, bone, shell, rope, and tattered bits of fabric, Bryan has fashioned a veritable pantheon of deities; his puppets exude playfulness, personality, and power despite (or perhaps because of) their humble origins. Bryan shows off an entirely new facet of his artistic gifts with this project, while opening readers’ eyes to a world of magic.


The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

Jen Bryant, illus. by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans)

If words fail when trying to encapsulate this remarkable introduction to Peter Mark Roget, what better course of action than to turn to the reference work that still bears his name? Bryant showcases the love of words that drove Roget to assemble his thesaurus, while Sweet’s visually exuberant mixed-media illustrations are themselves a tribute to the breadth of the English language.



Raul Colón (S&S/Wiseman)

A testament both to the power of imagination and to the creative impulse, Colón’s wordless tale follows a young artist’s daydream, which takes him to an African landscape full of animals to interact with and (most importantly) to draw. Colón’s sumptuous and finely detailed illustrations reveal the value of doggedly pursuing one’s dream, even when it seems impossible or out of reach.



Iris de Moüy (Groundwood)

Children will be hard-pressed not to recognize a bit of themselves in de Moüy’s cadre of grouchy, nap-refusing jungle animals (whether they wish to recognize themselves is another matter). In minimalist paintings bubbling over with emotion, de Moüy conjures the animals’ indifference, indignation, and withering disdain to hilarious effect.


Take Away the A

Michaël Escoffier, illus. by Kris Di Giacomo (Enchanted Lion)

This alphabet book from the French duo of Escoffier and Di Giacomo is anything but typical as they remove letters from words (“Without the C, the chair has hair”) to create scenarios that are alternately romantic, comedic, whimsical, and surreal. The clever results are reward enough, but will also have children looking at words and their constituent letters in entirely new ways.


The Farmer and the Clown

Marla Frazee (S&S/Beach Lane)

Emotions are quietly portrayed but deeply felt in this wordless odd-couple story that traces the gradual defrosting of a farmer’s stoic temperament as he looks after a young clown catapulted from a passing circus train. Frazee’s always elegant pencil-and-gouache artwork establishes a vast rural landscape that radiates loneliness, then punctures that solitude with the gift of unexpected companionship.


Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems

Selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illus. by Melissa Sweet (Candlewick)

Drawing on a few dozen brief poems from Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, and more, Janeczko and Sweet pull readers through the seasons, allowing them to take in the sounds of spring rain, visit a beach teeming with busy sandpipers, feel the whiff of a cool autumn breeze, and experience the quiet of a snowy winter landscape.


Once upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters

Oliver Jeffers (Philomel)

Jeffers takes the alphabet book to new heights, creating short narratives for every letter; the results can be drolly funny, vaguely unsettling, or out-and-out absurd (witness the Frankensteinian origins of the “whiraffe,” part giraffe, part whisk). Whether it’s a glacier-guarding sentry or an owl and octopus that fight crime, Jeffers sketches unexpected characters that will linger in readers’ minds.


Viva Frida

Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook/Porter)

Less a picture-book biography than an evocative tribute to an artist’s way of seeing the world, Morales’s bilingual story makes expert use of exquisitely crafted marionettes and other props to create a vibrant vision of Frida Kahlo’s life. Mischief, mystery, and enigmatic imagery combine as the book builds to an elated revelation: “I love/ And create/ And so.../ I live!”


Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons

Jon J Muth (Scholastic Press)

As Muth travels through the seasons of the year via haiku, he sidesteps dreary metric “requirements” (don’t look for five-seven-five syllable counts) to focus on emotion. Koo the panda serves as muse, equally in the moment whether he’s enjoying an autumn snack (“Eating warm cookies/ on a cold day/ is easy”) or expressing genuine remorse after accidentally squishing a bug.


A Boy and a Jaguar

Alan Rabinowitz, illus. by Cátia Chien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In a moving autobiographical account of a lifelong struggle with stuttering, Rabinowitz takes a deeply personal story and allows it to speak universally about finding one’s voice and recognizing the need for empathy. Chien’s moody acrylics capture the story’s darkest moments and most triumphant successes as Rabinowitz finds an outlet and refuge through working with animals.


Give and Take

Chris Raschka (S&S/Atheneum/Jackson)

Raschka makes the case for compromise in this polished fable about a farmer caught between two elfin creatures who urge him alternately to give or take with abandon, without regard to his need or well-being. This story makes the value of moderation abundantly clear while evoking the air of a classic folktale that has always existed somewhere in our collective memory.


Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual

Kate Samworth (Clarion)

Think dystopian stories are only for YA readers? Think again. Samworth’s gorgeously illustrated debut pushes the bounds of the picture book, taking the form of a catalogue from a future Earth where birds are extinct and consumers can purchase customizable avian automatons to replace the irreplaceable. Grim, yes, but extraordinarily powerful, too.


Rules of Summer

Shaun Tan (Scholastic/Levine)

Framed as a series of “rules” learned over the course of one summer, Tan’s haunting vignettes follow the misadventures of two boys. With appearances from giant red rabbits, armored demons the size of a strawberry, and miniature trains that hurtle to destinations unknown, the scenes could fuel much larger, longer stories of their own—stories that readers’ imaginations are all but certain to supply.


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