Not all picture books are created equal. Though I cannot claim as many years of parenting as others can (currently in my eighth year of parenting littles), I have had enough time and experience to develop strong opinions about picture books. I've read some with my kids that have wonderful illustrations, some that teach history, others that promote diversity, and still others that foster friendship. Kids' books range from informative to artsy, serious to silly, heartwarming to thought-provoking. There are lots of amazing picture books, and there are also some I would (personally) place in the "not so great" category for one reason or another.
As my kids get a little older, I'm beginning to see just how impactful picture books can be on their hearts and minds. I have a deeper appreciation for the artistry, creativity, and skill that goes into a quality picture book, especially one that effectively communicates a "big" idea in a way that is attainable for young readers. It seems like my kids and I have recently hit the picture book jackpot, with the following seven small books that beautifully and powerfully address big ideas:
***A Different Pond first "caught" my attention because of the uniqueness of the author's name: Boa Phi. The tone of this book is interesting, both serious and comforting in a sense. It skillfully portrays hardship and offers a sense of joy despite it. It is the story of a young boy going fishing early one morning with his father. The book mentions that the father has multiple jobs and that they go fishing to secure dinner for that evening. It references the Vietnam War without being specific, and celebrates the value of family throughout. The back of the book offers a note from the author, who is himself the son of Vietnamese refugees.
***Keep Your Head Up by Aliya King Neil is the story of a young boy during what seems to be a typical school day for him: one in which he struggles. He tries to do the right thing and "keep his head up," but there are several things that happen around him that build into a "meltdown." He is sent to the principal's office, where he is met by wisdom and grace in the form of "Miss King." The BIG idea that is colorfully and transparently communicated in this book is, "Any day can be good if you try."
In ***On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, author Beatrice Alemagna takes us on a journey through the eyes of the main character who is a school-aged child. "Stuck" with their mom inside on a rainy day, the main character resorts to passing time with their favorite video game. Eventually the protagonist ventures out into the rain, where they begin to explore the forest in the backyard. Beginning to feel more adventurous, the child loses their beloved video game in a creek, forcing them to look more closely at their surroundings. Through imagination and inspiration from natural beauty, the main character discovers that even a "do-nothing day" can be magical.
***Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall is a wonderfully age-appropriate, STEM-inspired story of a young boy spending time in his backyard with his little sister and dad. Jabari wants to make a "flying machine," but his engineering endeavor is met with challenges as he has several unsuccessful attempts. Working through his frustration, he continues to tweak his invention through trial-and-error until at last he experiences success. Persistent, independent, backyard science experimentation and positive sibling interactions...what more could a parent ask for?
We're All Wonders by R.J. Palacio is the preschooler-friendly companion to the best-selling elementary-aged book Wonder by the same author. Both feature a boy named Auggie and his dog Daisy. Auggie feels like any other kid, but he isn't always seen or treated that way because he looks different. This imaginative, artistic picture book captures the essence of the original: we can all choose kindness, and "we are all wonders."
In Mad, Mad Bear! by Kimberly Gee, several things are not going Bear's way. So, he throws a fit. Then, using some practical strategies, he collects himself and recovers. It's a simple, straightforward story with appealing illustrations, such that any preschooler can relate to Bear's situation--and hopefully glean from his experience in dealing with anger.
In Tom Percival's Ruby Finds a Worry, the "perfectly happy" young heroine does just that: she discovers a worry. Not knowing what to do with the worry, Ruby inadvertently does "the worst thing you can do" with a worry which results in the worry getting bigger. The worry begins to consume Ruby's thoughts and daily life, until one day she discovers "the best thing you can do if you have a worry." The use of color and the accessible language of this book are delightful and meaningful.
My kids and I equally love reading each of these books--sometimes over and over again. I hope that you have the chance to purchase or borrow them. Happy reading!
***These books are not only fantastic pictures books, there are also built-in audio versions of them called as "Vox Books." Vox Books are currently only available in libraries and schools, but they have been my most favorite recent reading discovery for my children. Each Vox Book has a small speaker and a few buttons, and the audio of the book pre-recorded. Each page turn has a special sound signal to guide young "readers" to follow along in the story, and many of them even include a setting for asking comprehension questions for each story. Check with your local library to see what Vox Books they have available!