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An American Story

Kwame Alexander, illus. by Dare Coulter (Little, Brown)

“How do you tell a story/ that starts in Africa/ and ends in horror?” Alexander asks, launching this compassionate picture book about communicating difficult truths regarding chattel slavery. Alternating between Coulter’s elaborately sculpted historical scenes and charcoal vignettes of a contemporary classroom, the work converges into a cohesive telling that suggests a route forward: “holding/ history/ in one hand/ and clenching/ hope/ in the other.”


Ancestory: The Mystery and Majesty of Ancient Cave Art

Hannah Salyer (Clarion)

“The lives of our ancestors were filled with difficulties and danger,” explains this visually stunning global survey of cave and rock art, “and yet... they took the time to create.” Salyer magnificently reimagines the artistic “time capsules,” detailing symbols used, now-extinct animals depicted, site specifics, and connections to Indigenous communities, making for a fascinating look at a still-unfurling human history.


Ancient Night

David Álvarez with David Bowles (Levine Querido)

In this absorbing variation on several Mesoamerican stories, Earth’s firmament is lit every evening by Rabbit, who fills the moon with “precious, glowing nectar” aguamiel. But when crafty Opossum steals the aguamiel, the orb loses its radiance, and Opossum must find a way to illuminate the world. Bowles’s unhurried lines and Álvarez’s saturated digitized paintings make for a luminous telling with an enduring feel.


Before, Now

Daniel Salmieri (Rocky Pond)

Salmieri uses the concept of opposites to follow a young maturing protagonist, initially “a small person in a big chair” who eats “squishy oatmeal in a hard bowl,” in this contemplative picture book. Via a quiet narrative voice and burnished colored pencil illustrations, the pages note patterns as the child grows, building into a moving intergenerational view that considers how moments can echo and recur.



Vashti Harrison (Little, Brown)

Deceptively simple text emphasizes the affirming message present throughout Harrison’s empowering ode to self-love, which begins with a smiling baby who has a “big laugh and a big heart/ and very big dreams.” In images set against dreamy pastel-hued backdrops, the happy infant grows into a girl who, when faced with cruelty about her size, reminds herself that “she was good.”


Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers?

Junauda Petrus, illus. by Kristen Uroda (Dutton)

Via jewel-bright illustrations, Uroda winningly interprets Petrus’s poetic vision of grandmothers as peacekeepers who drive “badass” classic cars and play “old-school jams.” Lush and celebratory, this moving depiction of a precinct-free world overseen by elders “comfortable in loving fiercely” offers a radiant meditation on intergenerational bonds and community care.


Do You Remember?

Sydney Smith (Holiday House/Porter)

In a loving familial portrait, an adult and child take refuge in shared remembrances, rendered in crystalline dialogue and light-filled vignettes by Smith. Offering glimpses into the duo’s past en route to a final reveal, this steadily paced exploration of life's change envisions tender intentionality around the process of memory-making.



Andy Rash (Scholastic Press)

Rash combines bold cartooning with countdown-style storytelling in this meaningfully starry-eyed view of an eclipse. After a child narrator learns that there will be a total solar eclipse, the narrative details planning steps leading up to the event’s viewing, and beyond. It’s a breathtakingly moment-by-moment work about looking forward to, experiencing, and reminiscing about a singular occasion—and more to come.


Elena Rides

Juana Medina (Candlewick)

Elena, the eager elephant star of this on-the-move early reader, strives to polish her cycling skills. Rhythmic couplets reveal what happens as Elena takes off and meets the first of several disasters. Across boldly rendered scenes of drama and eventually victory, Medina affectionately captures emotional highs and lows, creating an inspiring tale of persistence that’s perfect for anyone tackling a learning curve.



Matthew Cordell (Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends)

This action-packed forest marathon, which reads like a rollicking “Little Red Riding Hood” remix, stars oft-terrified squirrel Evergreen, sent by her mother through Buckthorn Forest to take Granny Oak an acorn’s worth of soup. Cordell skillfully conveys Evergreen’s self-doubt and the way she shines under pressure in this droll and adventuresome allegory about confronting both the world outside and one’s own very real fears.


Jumper: A Day in the Life of a Backyard Jumping Spider

Jessica Lanan (Roaring Brook)

This book's subject, known as Jumper, may be “as small as a bean,” but Lanan’s close-up artwork and lucid text result in a truly immersive exploration of the common jumping spider’s traits and abilities. Combined with often-question-driven narration that puts the reader in Jumper’s shoes, unconventional angles and deep shadows add fresh perspective to this captivating garden investigation.


Mr. S

Monica Arnaldo (HarperCollins/Tegen)

A dozen fresh-faced kindergartners find, instead of a human teacher behind their classroom’s big desk, “an impressive-looking sandwich” and “Mr. S” scrawled on the chalkboard. Confusion, mystery, and laughs are on the menu as the children guide themselves—under the sandwich’s watchful green-olives-on-a-toothpick eyes—through the day in Arnaldo’s deliciously goofy back-to-school tale.


Oh, Panda

Cindy Derby (Knopf)

Tantalized by a fluttering butterfly that heads up a tall, slippery mountain, a young panda is determined to follow the insect to the top, despite the slightly overbearing narrator’s agenda. Tackling persistence and much more via Panda’s considerable tenacity and ingenuity, this wryly empathic story from Derby winningly models an instance of learning to respect free will and offer meaningful support.


Summer Is for Cousins

Rajani LaRocca, illus. by Abhi Alwar (Abrams)

Three generations of family gather in a water-adjacent home to enjoy summer in this lively work that’s vividly told by LaRocca. Alwar’s expressive, uniquely rendered character designs skillfully portray the brood, while spreads crammed with activity (cousins pile out of cars and descend upon a local ice cream stand) convey the warmth and coziness of a bustling family vacation.


There Was a Party for Langston

Jason Reynolds, illus. by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey (Atheneum/Dlouhy)

The creators’ high-stepping testament to the enduring cultural influence of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes (1901–1967) begins with the promise of a party: “a jam in Harlem to celebrate the word-making man.” Communicating details of Hughes’s life through Reynolds’s laudatory text and the Pumphrey brothers’ kinetic, graphical art, this volume underscores the power of the subject’s poetry to move and to inspire.


Tomfoolery! Randolph Caldecott and the Rambunctious Coming-of-Age of Children’s Books

Michelle Markel, illus. by Barbara McClintock (Chronicle)

Randolph Caldecott (1846–1886) was one of the first artists to illustrate children’s books with an eye toward merriment rather than morality, and this action-oriented biography by Markel and McClintock fittingly portrays “a hero so chipper he can barely hold still on the paper.” With verve and verb-forward flourishes, the creators craft a buoyant work about a seminal figure whose innovative style remains relevant.


The Tree and the River

Aaron Becker (Candlewick)

In this spectacular wordless tale that takes a long view of time’s passing, Becker spotlights a single tree’s life cycle against a changing backdrop of human conflicts, natural events, and technological change. Sweeping, carefully detailed work, visually reminiscent of Anno’s Journey, distills a lengthy timeline into bite-size rises and falls whose beats eventually offer hope and solace for the long term.


The Truth About Max

Alice and Martin Provensen (Enchanted Lion)

This jewel of a story, a never-before-published work by the late Provensens, follows a rambunctious cat named Max, who previously appeared in Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm. Via a sketchbook-like format, Max’s life unfolds in laugh-out-loud vignettes that depict the maturing protagonist, detail his fraught interactions and “important tail,” and hint at his “real life” heading solo into a moonlit night.


A Walk in the Woods

Nikki Grimes, illus. by Jerry and Brian Pinkney (Holiday House/Porter)

Throughout an elegantly collaborative picture book about how “there’s always something that remains,” Grimes, the late Jerry Pinkney, and Brian Pinkney center a grieving narrator after his beloved father’s death. Following the child’s map-led woods walk toward a treasure left by his father, it’s a powerful call to creativity and enduring bonds rendered in fluid, dexterously crafted layers.


When You Can Swim

Jack Wong (Orchard)

Spanning numerous locales—a local pool, a sandy beach, a winding river—this immersive telling by Wong showcases myriad children encountering the joys of swimming. Each body of water is generously detailed in pastel and watercolor, while sinuous prose provides emotive ambiance throughout. It’s a thoughtful, glimmering work about the way that swimming can offer feelings of autonomy and connection.


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