We’ve already written about our favorite books of 2019 so far for babies and toddlers. That list left off some books that we really loved so here is the companion list: our favorite picture books targeted at older children that were published in the first half of 2019.
Jen and Tilly’s Favorite 2019 Picture Books
Okay, I must confess: the heading says that these are Jen and Tilly’s favorite books, but really it’s just Jen — Tilly is still too young for most of these books, and I haven’t read them to her much. Tilly tends to stick to board books, and our other list are the books that she really does love. These books are just the ones that I really love from 2019 so far.
Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner by Finn Buckley and Michael Buckley, illustrated by Catherine Meurisse
This is a wonderfully inventive and charming book, and I love everything about this book: the story, the choose-your-own-ending, the dust jacket, the cover. Every little detail is clever and fantastic, and this is just a really fun picture book to read and experience.
Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
I love the voice, the humour, the illustrations, and the little details in this book. This book came out early in the year and it was a favourite then, and now we’re halfway through the year this remains one of my favourites. Younger children will love the illustrations and story; older children and adults will appreciate the humour and little jokes scattered throughout the book.
Fox and Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier
This is probably my favourite book of the year so far. I love the characters of Fox and Chick, and these are wonderful early readers/short stories/comics (the books are somewhat difficult to categorise, but I think most libraries and bookshops put them in the early reader category). They are funny and marvellous and even now when I think about some of the scenes and lines from the book I laugh. I didn’t expect to like it much when I first opened it because I’m not really a fan of either short stories or comics, so it was to my surprise that I ended up loving this as much as I did. You can also read an interview I did with the author here.
United Tastes of America by Gabrielle Langholtz, artwork by Jenny Bowers, photographs by DL Acken
This is the most beautiful book on my list. It’s a large book, almost like a coffee table book, with heavy paper, gorgeous artwork, and great photographs. It’s a food atlas of the USA, and there are food facts about each state as well as a recipe for each state. I love food and books about food, and this is the best food book I’ve seen for children. Love love love this book.
You Are New by Lucy Knisley
A lovely and sweet newborn book, so I’m not sure if this counts as ‘for older children’ but it’s in a picture book format (as opposed to board book) so I’m adding it here. I also got the impression as I read this that the book would be most appreciated by new parents rather than the child. The book is cute and highlights the best parts of new babies without being sentimental and the illustrations manage to somehow be bright, bold, and pastel-y. (I don’t typically like the pastel shades associated with everything baby, and they do make an appearance here, but in a way that works well.)
Another by Christian Robinson
Christian Robinson is one of my favourite illustrators and this is his debut book as bot author and illustrator. It’s a great wordless picture book about imagination, adventure, and identity, and is a lot of fun to go back and forth and look at. I also did an interview with Robinson which you can read here.
Margaret and Marian’s Favorite 2019 Picture Books
Unlike Tilly, Marian loves and even prefers picture books over board books. She enjoys turning the thinner pages, and while we have a couple of books with many, many rips, for the most part, our picture books are undamaged from her reading them.
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley
This is our most recently reviewed book, and one of Marian’s current favorites. While it’s actually a picture book biography about the doctor and pants-wearing trailblazer Mary Edwards Walker, Marian insists it’s about finding the cat and dog on every page. It’s a lot of fun. I’m impressed by the succinct prose, and it makes me want to read more about Mary Edwards Walker. Interestingly, the book has taught Marian the words “girl” and “boy,” though she uses the terms interchangeably. The art is deceptively simple, with geometric shapes and no background setting. I the simplicity of the art is another reason Marian likes it so much, though she also enjoys flipping through picture books with more complex art.
Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus
This story about Lubna, a refugee, creating a friend out of a pebble made me cry. I love how the author managed to take such a big issue our world is facing and pair it down to a simple story that still reflects the bigger crisis. It’s a really beautiful book. Marian loved the art, particularly all the big eyes. Read our full review here.
Georgia’s Terrific, Colorific Experiment by Zoe Persico
If you’re like me and love both science and art, this book is for you. It’s about a little girl named Georgia, who wants to be a scientist and conduct experiments. But the problem is her entire family are artists, and she doesn’t think they understand her, and she doesn’t appreciate their help. In the end, she realizes the two fields — science and art — don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Marian loves all the colors in the book. The illustrations are vibrant pinks and purples and are really exciting for little eyes. It’s fun to look back at the pictures I’ve taken of her reading her favorite books because she’s always smiling as she reads.
Home Is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard and illustrated by Chris Sasaki
Both my husband and I have read this book so many times we have it memorized, and sometimes we’ll make up our own additions: “home is where you get yelled at if you don’t read a book 20 times in a row.” Ha! But seriously, there’s a lot to love in this sweet and poetic book about what a home really means. Both Marian and I like the earth-toned art. She likes all the windows in the city, and especially the little girl’s dog, and I like that it shows an interracial couple. It’s a book I imagine we’ll read for many, many years. Both Tilly and Marian enjoy it.
Stardust by Jeanne Willis, Illustrated by Briony May Smith
Marian discovered she enjoyed turning paper pages much more than board book pages with this book. It’s strange: we’d had this book for a couple of months and she never paid it any attention, and then suddenly one day she insisted we read it, and then she wanted to read it ALL THE TIME. We haven’t read it in a while now, but it was an intense love there for a few months. The book is not only about sibling rivalry, but also about the relationship between and grandfather and granddaughter, and the science behind the beginning of the world. Seem like a lot? It is! But somehow it works in this brief picture book. I think I’m going to pull it out again today and see if Marian still enjoys it as much as she used to.
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Deenihan, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha
Once again Marian enjoys a book primarily because there’s a cat on every page. I swear, this girl LOVES cats. We don’t have any cats, ha. Poor girl. I suspect when she’s older, she’ll come home one day with a cat beneath her jacket. We’ll see. The little girl in this book wants lots of things for her birthday. One thing that did not appear on her list is a lemon tree, yet that’s the very thing her grandmother gifts her. Grandparents, right? But while she’s initially disappointed, she soon discovers that the lemon tree is a path to something even more special: a deeper relationship with her grandmother, and a deeper relationship with things that grow. And she can earn some money! There’s a lemonade recipe included in the book, and someday we’ll give it a try.
Grandpa’s Stories by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Allison Colpoys
These last three books are ones I enjoy, but Marian not so much (at least, not right now). I came across this book while researching a children’s books about grandparents’ post. But warning, it’s another tear-jerker. When a little girl’s grandfather dies, she mourns his loss, but also remembers the stories from India he told her, and all the time they shared together, and how special those moments were. The beautiful message is mirrored in the poetic language — “If all the world were dreams, I would mix my bright Grandpa feelings and paint them over sad places.” — and the vibrant art.
Mommy Sayang: Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase by Rosana Sullivan
We had an excellent library haul one day, and the last two books come from that haul. I’ve already reviewed this book twice on the website, so it obviously deserves a place here. As I mention in the other reviews, I’m a mom with a disability, and I appreciate seeing books portraying other parents who aren’t cookie-cutter perfect. In Mommy Sayang, when Aleeya’s mom falls ill for a long time, she struggles with waiting for her to feel better, so they can be with one another again. It’s set in Malaysia, and the art is sweet and colorful. I hope I’m never so sick that I can’t take care of Marian, but I know it’s always a possibility.
What Is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison
Why are picture books so sad? The little boy in this book is struggling with the death of his father, while at the same time his mother struggles to make ends meet financially. Yet, they still find the time and energy to donate to a little girl and her mom whose house has burned down. This story speaks to me a lot. I hope I can read it to Marian when she’s older.
These are honorable mentions because they’re for an older audience — later elementary — and I wouldn’t necessarily call them picture books. But they’re so good I (Margaret) had to include them!
She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World by Kathy MacMillan and Manuela Bernardi, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta
Each page spread has a gorgeous illustration of an important woman, a brief biography, and on the side of the book, you can press a picture of the woman and listen to a sound bite from one of her speeches! Amazing idea! And let me tell you, Marian loves pressing those buttons and listening. It sounds like a mixed tape sometimes, as she presses one button and listens to a phrase, and then presses another and another one finishes the phrase. She’s making some unique and feminist poetry. 🙂
Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit
As a fairytale lover and a feminist, this retelling of Cinderella is definitely in my wheelhouse. I’ve reviewed it before in a list of Cinderella retellings, but let me reiterate, this is the version you want to read your children. Skip the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault until you can explain how patriarchy works; start with Rebecca Solnit.