I recently completed a huge assessment project: our branch’s entire picture book collection. While deselecting picture books might be the saddest part of being a librarian, the process did help me discover a LOT of amazing picture books that I absolutely love.
As a resource to myself and other librarians, I’ve put together a list of my favourite picture books. I tried to include many niche books, and non-classics, to draw attention to books you may not have heard of.
I’ve included links to videos of read-a-louds when possible – otherwise the links go to the authors’ sites or Amazon. I’ll continue adding to this list as I make more discoveries. Enjoy!
My Favouite Picture Books (in alphabetical order):
17 Things I’m Not Allowed To Do Anymore by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter – Hilarious and irreverent story about an ~8-year-old-girl who keeps getting herself into trouble. She stapled her brother’s hair to his pillow. She’s not allowed to use the stapler anymore. She decided to do her George Washington presentation on beavers instead. She’s not allowed to do presentations on beavers anymore. And on and on. What I especially love is her outrageous obsession with beavers, the combination of photos with drawings, the whimsical-cynical tone, and the random educational aspects snuck in there (palm reading and sign language). Would love to read this book to a room full of children and wait for the ensuing giggles.
A is for Alliguitar by Nancy Raines Day
Each page is an illustration of an animal-instrument hybrid. Beautiful, detailed illustrations, and a delightfully peculiar concept.
Animila by Graeme Base
Another bizarrely detailed animal alphabet with outstanding art. According to the author, this book took 3 years to create.
Any Questions by Marie-Louise Gay
A prolific children’s writer reflects on the zany and wonderful questions asked to her by children, and illustrates her experience with the creative process. A unique premise that anyone who works with children can appreciate, and cleverly simply illustrations that kids will love.
At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin
Unlike anything I’ve ever read, but so familiar at the same time. Stunning drawn images depicting what is happening in cities from every time zone around the world. A beautiful collection of snapshots, telling a universal story. This is a book to get kids thinking.
The Black Dog by Levi Pinfold
Take one look at the somehow ominously pink house on the cover, and you’ll know this is not a normal picture book. The art is phenomenal: the detailed, delicate style of Jan Brett meets the dark wonkiness of Brett Helquist. The story is about exaggerations, bravery, fear, and a giant black dog and a family in the woods. One of the most unique and literary picture books I’ve seen yet.
Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent by Bill Peet
Published in 1975, this is definitely an outlier on my list. But the simple storytelling and classic illustrations do the book well. I love the story of the most unlikely hero – a potentially scary sea serpent who is fairly bored with life, and decides to use his powers for good instead of evil (despite social pressure to do the opposite).
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
A little girl named annabelle knits like crazy for her entire town. A rich archduke offers her 10 million dollars for the never ending magical yarn and she says no (politely). He steals it but it doesn’t work for him and it finds its way back to her. Very simple, very sweet.
Finding Spring by Carin Berger
This book stands out because of its phenomenal artwork – paper art that has been photographed rarely lends itself so well to storytelling. A baby bear is very excited for his first spring, but must first experience his first hibernation, despite his overwhelming curiosity. A beautiful story – perfect for a springtime themed storytime
Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder
Even though her family is ready to go to the zoo, Little T is afraid. I love this book because instead of getting annoyed, the parents spend the whole day playing/ dressing up / recreating animals for her, trying to help her figure out what she’s afraid of. There’s one scene in particular where they are all laying on the living room floor reading books about animals. The parents and their 2 daughters have so much fun together, all while supporting Little T through her anxiety. Spoiler alert: the scariest part of the zoo isn’t an animal at all, but it is fierce.
Hooray for Hat by Brian Won
Elephant wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. But when he discovers a crazy awesome hat on his door step everything changes. He goes around sharing the joy of silly hats with all of his grumpy friends. Eventually everyone is happy. Hooray for Hats!
I Dare You Not To Yawn by Helene Boudreau
This Blue Spruce award winning book is exactly what you think it would be – an outrageous challenge.
The Insomniacs by Karina Wolf and The Brothers Hilts
The Insomniacs family moves 12 timezones away, and no matter what they try, they cannot adjust to their new sleep schedule. The illustrations are adorable and eerie at the same time, which I love, and the story is full of quirky details (like a pet aardvark, a nocturnal astologist who follows newspaper horoscopes, and six mugs of warm milk). Insomniacs everywhere will appreciate this creative story.
The King’s Taster by Kenneth Oppel, paintings by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
Kenneth Oppel is an excellent storyteller – his Silverwing series left a series bat-shaped impression on my young life. This book is a charming story about a dog, a chef, and a young boy. It’s a super interesting piece of multimedia art, combining paintings and photos. Specifically, the chef’s hat and smock is made out of photos of recipies, some hand written, some typewritten, all very cool.
Lemonade in Winter by Amily Jenkins and G. Brian Karas
Adorable artwork, and a truly unusual story about two kids attempting to run a lemonade stand during a snowstorm. This is a math book, brilliantly disguised as a silly book, and I admire it’s sneakiness.
Little Beauty by Anthony Browne
A gorilla in a zoo who has been taught sign language and asks for a friend. He gets a tiny kitten and they do everything together. It’s beautiful and heartwarming.
Magritte’s Marvelous Hat by D.B. Johnson
An extremely well done and creative story that explores the absurd art of Rene Magritte. It just makes sense to introduce children to surreal art – most of their drawings are absurd as well.
The Man in the Moon: The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce
Very long, deeply imaginative, beautifully illustrated picture book that gives a stunning (and slightly steampunk) back story to Mim, the infamous man in the moon. It’s by the same guy who did George Shrinks, Rollie Pollie Ollie, and some design work on Toy Story, so you know it’s going to be good. Also worth looking at is the sequel, The Sandman.
Mossy by Jan Brett
A turtle who grows a garden on her back is taken into a museum, and eventually freed. This book is very Jan Brett, and tackles issues like ecology and respectfully appreciating the environment.
Moustache by Mac Barnett
A silly, medieval tale about authority and trends. The obvious choice for a Movember storytime.
Mr.Prickles: A Quill-Fated Love Story by Kara LaReau
A really nice story about two porcupines falling in love, being accepted, and learning to love being themselves. Perfect for Valentine’s Day storytimes.
Nothing by Jon Agee
A brilliant, simple satire on consumerism. Are Black Friday storytimes a thing anywhere? Because this would be perfect for it.
The Obstinate Pen by Frank W. Dormer
A supernatural pen refuses to write the snobby, self-serving things its owners are trying to write. Instead it insults the writers until they throw it away, only to be discovered by a new type of snob. Some writers get angry, others think it’s hilarious. Not until a little boy finds the pen in a park and draws pictures with it does the pen comply. Kids will go wild for the insults.
Olive and the Big Secret by Tor Freeman
A very accurate book about juicy gossip. Great social lesson for kids going into grades 1, 2, or 3. The message isn’t too heavy handed – it’s still a fun story.
Paul Meets Bernadette by Rosy Lamb
A gorgeous painted picture book about 2 goldfish, and what they imagine the items outside their bowl might be. A beautiful exploration of perception and perspective.
The Return of the Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy
The beloved school librarian / closeted dragon is all ready to retire when a man named Krochip tries to get rid of all the books. He wants to replace every book in her library with ebooks! Children protest, because they love the real books. The librarian turns into a dragon and starts eating the technology, but the new librarian convinces her to stop and she agrees to embrace the chance but preserve the books.
Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee
A simple, clever story about riding a roller coaster. What I love is the details – each pair of riders undergoes a transition of character on the coaster.
Slowly, Slowly, Slowly, Said the Sloth by Eric Carle
I included this on the list because there’s an introduction by JANE GOODALL!? How cool is that?
Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner
This is a simple story about a freshly washed dog on a mission to get stinky again. It is an outstanding book because of the unique and creative illustration. Who knew an extremely dirty dog could look so beautiful. It’s easy to see why this author/illustrator has won the Kate Greenaway award for distinguished illustration in a children’s book.
Someday by Alison Mcghee
If you want a picture book to make you cry happy tears, this is the one. Especially if you are a daughter or a mother. A simple story about a mother’s hopes and dreams for her child.
Warning DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK! by Adam Lehrhaupt
Similar to The Book With No Pictures, this would be a riot to read to kids. With every page you turn you do something silly, like letting the monkeys out. I can just picture a group of kids yelling for you to turn each page.
What If…? by Anthony Browne
This is about a boy with social anxiety and an extremely active imagination. I think it’s great when picture books tackle mental issues in such sensitive, subtle ways.
Winston of Churchill: One Bear’s Battle Against Global Warming by Jean Davies Okimoto, Illustrated by Jeremiah Trammell
A very Canadian story about a polar bear named Winston who leads his fellow bears in a peaceful protest against the excessive use of natural resources. Important, funny, and inspiring.
Zoom by Istvan Bayai
A wordless picture book that keeps zooming out to reveal it’s not what you think it is. It gets very existential – definitely a thought provoking book for all ages.