Picture Books We Loved in 2019

Picture books...they're not just for kids! They make perfect books for readers of all ages. Here are some of our favourite titles from this year.

*****

A Little House in a Big Place, by Alison Acheson and Valériane Leblond

About the book: Every day, in a little house in a little town in the middle of a big place, a girl stands at her window and waves to the engineer of the train that passes on the nearby tracks. The engineer waves back and his wave and her wave together make a home in her heart. The little girl is curious about the engineer, about where he came from and where he goes. Which makes her wonder if she might go away, too, some day. This beautiful free verse picture book explores the magic of a connection made between strangers, while also pondering the idea of growing up, and what might lie beyond a child's own small piece of the world.

Alison Acheson has created a deceptively simple, warm story that will stay with readers of all ages long after they've closed the book. Children everywhere will relate to the girl at her window—what child hasn't waved to the driver of a train, truck, or bus and hadn't been thrilled to have the wave returned? Valériane Leblond's illustrations echo the girl's feelings for the prairie, the “big place” where she lives, with wide, open vistas and long views of the train coming and going. The flowing free verse offers a terrific opportunity for discussions of poetry styles and subjects.

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Climbing Shadows, by Shannon Bramer and Cindy Derby

About the book: The poems in Climbing Shadows were inspired by a class of kindergarten children whom poet and playwright Shannon Bramer came to know over the course of a school year. She set out to write a poem for each child, sharing her love of poetry with them, and made an anthology of the poems for Valentine’s Day.

This original collection reflects the children’s joys and sorrows, worries and fears, moods and sense of humor. Some poems address common themes such as having a hard day at school, feeling shy or being a newcomer, while others explore subjects of fascination—bats, spiders, skeletons, octopuses, polka dots, racing cars and birthday parties. Evident throughout the book is a love of words and language and the idea that there are all kinds of poems and that they are for everyone—to read or write.

Cindy Derby’s dreamy watercolor illustrations gently complement each poem. Beautiful, thoughtful, sensitive and funny, this is an exceptional collection.

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Where Are You Now?,  by Tyler Clark Burke

About the book: Just as the sun sets to make way for the rising moon, or snowflakes melt only to return as fog and mist, things that disappear in nature often reappear in different forms. This picture book uses this simple but powerful metaphor of disappearance and reappearance as an entry point for talking with children about death.

Drawing examples from nature—seeds, stars, and even the growth of children into adults—this book provides a bright and joyful framework for readers to begin to understand the passing of a loved one, or to help shape difficult conversations around death.

Written in accessible verse and illustrated in bright washes of watercolor, this is a beautiful, gentle book that invites young readers to find comfort in transformation. Built around the idea that death can be thought of as a kind of regeneration, the narrative shows how a loved one’s presence can be felt in meaningful and enduring ways.

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Book Cover The Shortest Day

The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis

About the book: As the sun set on the shortest day of the year, early people would gather to prepare for the long night ahead. They built fires and lit candles. They played music, bringing their own light to the darkness, while wondering if the sun would ever rise again. Written for a theatrical production that has become a ritual in itself, Susan Cooper’s poem "The Shortest Day" captures the magic behind the returning of the light, the yearning for traditions that connect us with generations that have gone before—and the hope for peace that we carry into the future. Richly illustrated by Carson Ellis with a universality that spans the centuries, this beautiful book evokes the joy and community found in the ongoing mystery of life when we celebrate light, thankfulness, and festivity at a time of rebirth. Welcome Yule!

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Finding Lucy, by Eugenie Fernandes

About the book: A thoughtful young artist is challenged to overcome a series of unruly naysayers and rediscover the value of her creative spirit.

How do you paint the color of laughter, or the flutter of birds, or the whimsy of the wind? Lucy, a thoughtful girl with a brush, a smock, and a sassy cat, is determined to find out. But after a snide rabbit appears with his own opinion of what Lucy should paint, the young artist’s confidence is shaken. And worst of all, the rabbit isn’t the only visitor keen to make their voice heard.

Acclaimed author-illustrator Eugenie Fernandes delivers a rich picture book about the value of independence and self-expression

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Birdsong, by Julie Flett

About the book: A tender, luminous portrait of art, nature, and connecting across generations.

When a young girl moves from the country to a small town, she feels lonely and out of place. But soon she meets an elderly woman next door, who shares her love of arts and crafts. Can the girl navigate the changing seasons and failing health of her new friend? Acclaimed author and artist Julie Flett’s textured images of birds, flowers, art, and landscapes bring vibrancy and warmth to this powerful story, which highlights the fulfillment of intergenerational relationships and shared passions.

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My Winter City, by James Gladstone, illustrated by Gary Clement

About the book: A young boy wakes up in the early light of a winter morning, pulls on his boots and mittens, and steps out into the snowy city with his dad. They trudge through the snow, their dog bounding along beside them, then a slushy, steamy bus ride takes them to the tobogganing hill for some winter fun. The boy describes all the sights and sounds of the day, from the frost in Dad’s beard and the snow “pillows” in the park, to the noisy clunking snow plows and the singing buskers they pass on their way home. That night, the boy lies awake under cozy covers, reflecting on the day, as snow blankets the world outside his window.

This is winter in the city.

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A Potato on a Bike, by Elise Gravel

About the book: This delightful board book will make the little ones in your life giggle at the absurdity of a fly on the phone and a carrot in the tub. The text's repeated asking Have you ever seen…? preceding the refrain No way! will have toddlers yelling "No way!" themselves as you read through these silly situations. Celebrated artist Elise Gravel brings the silly to a new level in A Potato on a Bike, because really, has anyone ever seen a broccoli counting to ten or a sausage reading a book? But wait, how about a...baby being tickled?! Uh-oh, I think the answer for that is—yes way!

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Seaside Treasures, by Sarah Grindler

About the book: A day of beachcombing is a day filled with salty sea air, enchanting seashells, and exciting discoveries. The ocean holds so much beauty and adventure, and it leaves so many treasures on its shores. Let's explore these seaside treasures.

An essential sea glass–hunting handbook for kids. With helpful advice, like "make sure no one's home!" before taking a snail shell, and fascinating facts, like how sea glass is formed and where glass fishing floats come from, the gentle and flowing text invites young readers to explore and wonder about everything that washes up on the sand.

Author and illustrator Sarah Grindler's images are vivid and realistic, showing readers what to look for by the ocean—from purple sea urchin shells (that otters love to much on) to mussel shells, sand dollars, and every colour of sea glass—and encouraging all of us to imagine where those treasures may have come from. A beautiful keepsake as well as a practical guidebook for the young beachcomber.

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Sharon, Lois and Bram's  Skinnamarink, by Sharon Hampson; Bram Morrison & Lois Lilienstein, contributions by Randi Hampson, illustrated by Qin Leng

About the book: What does "skinnamarink" mean? You may not find its definition in a dictionary, but the meaning is clear to the generations of children who sang along: friendship, happiness, sharing, community and, ultimately, love. This song has been sung in weddings and in classrooms. It can be fun and silly—especially with the accompanying actions! And it has a way of bringing people together.

Through Qin Leng's wonderfully imaginative illustrations, this delightful picture book tells the story of a community coming together. Young and old, from little mice to a big elephant, people and animals gather into a spontaneous parade as they follow the sound of music.

Sharon, Lois and Bram formed as a trio of children's entertainers in Toronto in 1978 and went on to create two top-rated children's television shows, most notably The Elephant Show, and to release 21 full-length albums (many of which reached gold, platinum, double platinum and triple platinum). In 2018, Sharon and Bram celebrated their 40th anniversary and they continue to entertain children and share their message of love.

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A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice, by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

About the book: Louise Bennett Coverley, better known as Miss Lou, was an iconic poet and entertainer known for popularizing the use of patois in music and poetry internationally—helping to pave the way for artists like Harry Belafonte and Bob Marley to use patois in their work. This picture book tells the story of Miss Lou’s early years, when she was a young girl growing up in Jamaica.
 
 As a child, Miss Lou loved words—particularly the Jamaican English, or patois, that she heard all around her. As a young writer, Miss Lou felt caught between writing “lines of words like tight cornrows,” as her teachers instructed, and words that beat more naturally “in time with her heart.”
 
 The uplifting and inspiring story of a girl finding her own voice, this is also a vibrant, colorful, and immersive look at an important figure in our cultural history. With rich and warm illustrations bringing the story to life, A Likkle Miss Lou is a modern ode to language, girl power, diversity, and the arts.

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One Patch of Blue/ One Yellow Ribbon, by Marthe Jocelyn

About the book: One patch of denim escapes from a pair of pants and becomes a stained-glass window, an ice-cream truck, a Ferris wheel, a fish tank and many other square surprises in this delightful board book by celebrated paper artist Marthe Jocelyn.
 
Jocelyn's paper collages in this wordless search-and-find adventure will encourage little ones to look closely at the world around them and explore what they see.

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I Lost My Talk, by Rita Joe, illustrated by Pauline Young/ I'm Finding My Talk, by Rebecca Thomas, illustrated by Pauline Young

About the book: One of Rita Joe's most influential poems, "I Lost My Talk" tells the revered Mi'kmaw Elder's childhood story of losing her language while a resident of the residential school in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. An often quoted piece in this era of truth and reconciliation, Joe's powerful words explore and celebrate the survival of Mi'kmaw culture and language despite its attempted eradication.

A companion book to the simultaneously published I'm Finding My Talk, by Rebecca Thomas, I Lost My Talk is a necessary reminder of a dark chapter in Canada's history, a powerful reading experience, and an effective teaching tool for young readers of all cultures and backgrounds. Includes a biography of Rita Joe and striking colour illustrations by Mi'kmaw artist Pauline Young.

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You Are Never Alone, by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Soyeon Kim

About the book: From the creators of You Are Stardust and Wild Ideas comes a new picture book that explores how humans are inextricably connected to nature. This book draws examples from the clouds and the cosmos, the seafloor and the surface of our skin, to show how we are never alone: we are always surrounded and supported by nature. Whether it’s gravity holding us tight; our lungs breathing oxygen synthesized by plants; the countless microorganisms that build our immunity; or the whales whose waste fertilizes the plankton that feed the fish we eat: nature touches every aspect of how we live.
 
 Using lyrical text grounded in current science alongside detailed diorama art, this informational picture book presents the idea that we thrive through connections to the land and sea and sky, and togetherness is key to nature. It encourages inquiry-based learning, inviting readers to wonder, ask questions, observe the natural world, and engage with big ideas. An author’s note at the end offers more insight into the research behind the text.

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Aunt Pearl, by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher

About the book: Aunt Pearl arrives one day pushing a shopping cart full of her worldly goods. Her sister Rose has invited her to come live with her family.

Six-year-old Marta is happy to meet her aunt, who takes her out to look for treasure on garbage day, and who shows her camp group how to decorate a coffee table with bottle caps. But almost immediately, Pearl and Rose start to clash — over Pearl’s belongings crammed into the house, and over Rose’s household rules. As the weeks pass, Pearl grows quieter and more withdrawn, until, one morning, she is gone.

Acclaimed author Monica Kulling brings sensitivity to this story about homelessness, family and love, beautifully illustrated in Irene Luxbacher’s rich collage style.

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Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden, by Andrew Larsen and Anne Villeneuve

About the book: Vincent is staying with his aunt Mimi for the summer while his mom recuperates from surgery. Mimi's drab city neighborhood, complete with an empty dirt lot across the street, doesn't seem too promising. But then Vincent meets Toma, a boy who lives nearby, and things start looking up. Mimi has a mysterious box of “dirt balls” in her apartment. When she asks Vincent to get rid of them, the fun Vincent and Toma have throwing them into the lot becomes the start of a budding friendship. Then one day, they notice new shoots sprouting all over the lot. Maybe those balls weren't just made of dirt after all!

Bestselling author Andrew Larsen brings a light touch and gentle humor to this picture book story about several kinds of growth—of the boys and their friendship, the flowers in the newly thriving lot, and the community that comes together around it. Award-winning artist Anne Villeneuve's illustrations add a visual layer to the storytelling as they show the transformation from mostly gray to vibrant color, both literally, in the blossoming garden, and figuratively, in the now engaged neighborhood. This book highlights the value of connecting to nature, even in urban areas, and the sense of community that comes from civic engagement. It's an excellent choice for character education lessons on kindness, generosity and citizenship.

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It Began With a Page, by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad

About the book: Gyo Fujikawa's iconic children's books are beloved all over the world. Now it's time for Gyo's story to be told—a story of artistic talent that refused to be constrained by rules or expectations.

Growing up quiet and lonely at the beginning of the twentieth century, Gyo learned from her relatives the ways in which both women and Japanese people lacked opportunity. Her teachers and family believed in her and sent her to art school and later Japan, where her talent flourished. But while Gyo's career grew and led her to work for Walt Disney Studios, World War II began, and with it, her family's internment. But Gyo never stopped fighting—for herself, her vision, her family and her readers—and later wrote and illustrated the first children's book to feature children of different races interacting together.

This luminous new book beautifully and openly touches on Gyo's difficult experiences and growth. Through Julie Morstad's exquisite illustrations, alternating between striking black-and-white linework and lush colour, and Kyo Maclear's artful and accessible writing, the story of this cherished figure is told at last.

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The Boy Who Invented the Popsicle, by Anne Renaud and Milan Pavlovic

About the book: Frank William Epperson is a curious boy who wants to be an inventor when he grows up. Since inventing begins with experimenting, Frank spends a lot of time in his “laboratory” (i.e. his back porch) trying out his ideas, such as building a double-handled handcar that whizzes past the single-handled cars in his neighborhood. What Frank loves most, though, is experimenting with liquids. When he invents his own yummy flavored soda water drink, his friends love it! And this gets him to thinking: “I wonder what this drink would taste like frozen?” Though he doesn't yet realize it, his curiosity will lead to his best invention ever: the Popsicle!

In this innovative picture book, Anne Renaud tells a lively story inspired by a real person and true events. Budding scientists will be inspired to emulate the way Frank follows his curiosity, works hard and never gives up—a growth mindset in action. Interwoven within the story are full-page illustrated instructions for four science experiments that Frank performs, so readers can try them at home or school. Thoroughly researched back matter provides additional historical notes, photos and a bibliography. This readable book covers social studies topics including early twentieth-century history and inventions and inventors, as well as science topics, such as simple chemistry experiments and an overview of the skills and strategies of scientific inquiry.

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The Girl Who Rode a Shark, by Ailsa Ross and Amy Blackwell

About the book: An inspiring biographical collection celebrating the adventurousness and ingenuity of girls and women around the world.

Now more than ever, the world is recognizing how strong women and girls are. How strong? In the early 1920s, Inuit expeditioner Ada Blackjack survived for two years as a castaway on an uninhabited island in the Arctic Ocean before she was finally rescued. And she’s just one example.

The Girl Who Rode a Shark: And Other Stories of Daring Women is a rousing collection of biographies focused on women and girls who have written, explored, or otherwise plunged headfirst into the pages of history. Undaunted by expectations, they made their mark by persevering in pursuit of their passions. The tales come from a huge variety of times and places, from a Canadian astronaut to an Indian secret agent to a Balkan pirate queen who stood up to Ancient Rome.

Author and activist Ailsa Ross gives readers a fun, informative piece of nonfiction that emphasizes the boundless potential of a new generation of women.

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Small in the City, by Sydney Smith

About the book: On a snowy day in a big city, a little boy hops off a streetcar and walks through downtown, between office buildings, through parks and down busy streets. Along the way, he provides helpful tips about which alleys make good shortcuts, which trees to climb and where to find a friendly face. All the while, the boy searches for what he has lost …

The first book that award-winning illustrator Sydney Smith has written tells a story of what it means to get lost in the city, travel the wrong path and get caught in bad weather—and to ultimately find your way back home. His beautiful watercolour illustrations alternate between full spreads and small panels, evoking the sometimes overwhelming cacophony of urban sights and sounds, as well as the quiet moments that make all of us feel less small in the city.

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Fairy Science, by Ashley Spires

About the book: Esther the fairy doesn't believe in magic. But fairies are all about magic, despite Esther's best efforts to reveal the science of their world. No matter how she and her bird, Albert, explain that rainbows are refracted light rather than a path to gold, or that mist is water evaporating rather than an evil omen, or the importance of the scientific method, her fairymates would rather just do magic. So when the other fairies' solution to helping a dying tree is to do a mystical moonlight dance, Esther decides to take it upon herself to resuscitate the tree . . . with the scientific method, some hypothesizing, a few experiments and the heady conclusion that trees need sunlight to live! But while Esther manages to save the tree, she can't quite change the minds of her misguided fairymates . . . or can she?

Fairy Science, the first in a hilarious new picture book series, introduces a charming, determined heroine as she learns about the world and celebrates the joys of curiosity and exploring science.

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Tallulah Plays the Tuba, by Tiffany Stone, illustrated by Sandy Nichols

About the book: Tallulah is tiny, but the TUBA is not!

Tallulah isn’t big, but the instrument she dreams of playing sure is. Try as she might, tiny Tallulah keeps coming up short on how she can play the tuba in her school band. But with some perseverance and a lot of creativity, Tallulah hatches a plan that she hopes will turn her musical dream into reality.

Children will laugh along with this fun and engaging story featuring a protagonist who takes matters into her own hands to solve a problem.

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Moon Wishes, by Patricia Storms, Guy Storms, and Milan Pavlovic

About the book: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be the moon?

“I wish I were the moon,” says the speaker in this timeless bedtime story, “so that I could shine on you.” The moon shines to guide a journey home, glistens beautifully on icy snow, and wishes peace and safety for travelers, friends and troubled hearts.

Milan Pavlovic’s dreamy watercolor illustrations complement this sweet story from Patricia and Guy Storms. Children and the adults who read to them will be delighted as moon wishes reach over icebergs, into towns, through forests and under the sea.

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May We Have Enough to Share, by Richard Van Camp

About the book: Award-winning author Richard Van Camp wrote this book to express his gratitude for all that surrounds him and his family. The strength of their connections, the nature that provides for them, the love that is endless. Complemented by photos from photographers who celebrate their own gratefulness on the collective blog Tea & Bannock, the simple verse in May We Have Enough to Share is the perfect way to start or end your little one's days in gratitude.

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A Pocket of Time: The Poetic Childhood of Elizabeth Bishop, by Rita Wilson, illustrated by Emma FitzGerald

About the book: There are, always, so many things to wonder about.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979) grew up to become a famous poet, but before that, she was a little girl who lived with her Gammie and Pa in Great Village, Nova Scotia. It was there that Bishop learned to walk, to read, to write, to sing hymns, and to catch bumblebees in foxglove flowers. It was there she first went to school and, when she was five, where her mother left and never returned.

Lovingly rendered, this visual and lyrical feast tells the story of Bishop's childhood days, inspired by Bishop's own poetry and prose and her time in Great Village, paired with eclectic collage-style artwork from illustrator Emma FitzGerald (EveryBody's Different on EveryBody Street). A love letter to words, A Pocket of Time is a lesson for young readers in finding the poetry in everything.

December 12, 2019
Books mentioned in this post
Seaside Treasures

Seaside Treasures

A Guidebook for Little Beachcombers
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
A Likkle Miss Lou

A Likkle Miss Lou

How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice
edition:Hardcover
More Info
One Patch of Blue

One Patch of Blue

by (artist) Marthe Jocelyn
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
One Yellow Ribbon

One Yellow Ribbon

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
It Began With a Page

It Began With a Page

How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Julie Morstad
edition:Hardcover
More Info
Boy Who Invented the Popsicle, The

Boy Who Invented the Popsicle, The

The Cool Science Behind Frank Epperson's Famous Frozen Treat
by Anne Renaud
illustrated by Milan Pavlovic
edition:Hardcover
More Info
The Girl Who Rode a Shark

The Girl Who Rode a Shark

And Other Stories of Daring Women
by Ailsa Ross
illustrated by Amy Blackwell
edition:Hardcover
More Info
Small in the City

Small in the City

illustrated by Sydney Smith
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
More Info
A Pocket of Time

A Pocket of Time

The Poetic Childhood of Elizabeth Bishop
by Rita Wilson
illustrated by Emma FitzGerald
edition:Hardcover
More Info
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