31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Picture Book Readalouds
Until today the lists that I’ve produced this month haven’t been all that subjective. No one can argue that a pop-up is a pop-up or a board book a board book. A book has no words? Then it’s wordless. Pretty cut and dried. Readalouds are a different kettle of fish altogether. What works for me during a storytime might fall flat on its face during yours. And what you find invaluable during your class visits might seem odd to me.
And then there’s the additional difficulty to this list: I don’t work directly with kids all that often these days. Oh sure, I have my own niblets running around, eating up the picture books I bring home, but reading aloud one-one-one is very different from reading aloud to a group. And this list, for better or for worse, is intended for those librarians and booksellers and other adults that would like some 2018 readaloud suggestions. So, I decided to take advice from my experts. Some of these are books that I find readaloud worthy, and some of these are from the librarians in my location that assure me that these books are the tippy top of the pops with the small fry. Feel free to add some additional suggestions in the comments of books that we might have missed.
2018 Picture Book Readalouds
Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex
A word or two on the construction of this book. I’m going to avoid discussing the humor today, if only because (spoiler alert) I’ve a list for that coming up and this book was a shoo-in. But because this book features a Star Wars villain, it is instantly recognizable and, let’s face it, adored by certain audiences. This means that Rex could have coasted with this. He could have phoned it in. Let the man in the cape do all the heavy lifting. But no. No, instead he decided to actually make the book good. Weird, right? So what you get is a book that breaks the fourth wall with the narrator speaking directly with the Sith Lord. And Darth Vader is perfect for it. First off, there’s the voice. We can all do the heavy breathing bit (the book even references it at one point). And we can imitate James Earl Jones till the cows come home. So when you read it aloud doing that, kids adore it. Plus, Vader is the world’s greatest comic foil. Who knew?
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin
I’ll confess that on an initial read I didn’t quite realize the readaloud potential of Lin’s latest. Sure, I knew it would be a good bedtime book (a category I might like to add someday). And if we’re doing STEM tie-ins then there’s the whole phases-of-the-moon aspect. But it was my co-worker Brian in a picture book presentation the other day that really nailed how it works with a group. As he explained, in this book Little Star is told in no uncertain terms by her mother NOT to eat the Mooncake. This would be the moment the adult reader needs to turn to the audience and ask, in all seriousness, “Is she going to listen to her mom?” Awake and alert audiences can’t help but answer “Noooo!!!”
Ducks Away! by Mem Fox, ill. Judy Horacek
Best Of lists that include picture books have a nasty tendency to forget about the little guys. Take a look at some of the Best Of picture book lists of 2018. How many titles there would be perfect readalouds for 3-year-olds? The trouble with librarians is that they’ve a real penchant for sophistication. That’s fine if you’re dealing with 7-year-olds. It’s less good with the littles. Toddlers and younger preschoolers deserve Best Of lists too! Hmm. Maybe next year I’ll switch out one of these lists for that kind. At any rate, I was thrilled to see Fox and Horacek back together again. I consider But Where Is the Green Sheep? (a previous collaboration) to be right up there with Go, Dog. Go! in terms of wackadoodle children’s literary illogic. Ducks Away! lends itself to all kinds of delightful acting. It’s a counting book and also a spin on the old Five Little Ducks storyline. Kids particularly like it, I have been told, when you act out the mother duck. Freaking out parental units are always good for a giggle. A great one for the really little ones.
Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel
A little nonfiction with your storytime, madame? Actually, books with ties to reality proved to be particularly good storytime tie-ins this year. Take Wenzel. He’s always had a foot firmly planted in the nonfiction realm. Even his magnificent They All Saw a Cat was keen on truth. Hello Hello aims for a young crowd, but with some pretty sophisticated ideas. The words are not particularly complex, so the pictures get to star. As you go through the book you can see what seemingly disparate animals have in common with one another. The cover’s actually a very good example of that. See the two animals with curly horns? See the two with prehensile tails? This means that you can engage in a lot of interactions with your audiences, asking them to point out what they see. Getting them to question what should and should not fit.
Hey-Ho, to Mars We’ll Go! by Susan Lendroth, ill. Bob Kolar
Well, you know me. If you can sing it, and sing it well, I’m for it. Taking the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell” the book explores how exactly one might travel to Mars. It’s a complex idea rendered relatively simple (and that also avoids the whole we-can’t-get-back aspect). The reader of this book must have more than a nice singing voice, though. They need to be prepared for the ways in which you have to twist and turn the book as zero gravity sets in. It’s bright, colorful, peppy, and fun. Perfect for a space-themed storytimes, or just something you’d use to pep up a Toddler Storytime with something different.
A Hippy-Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer, ill. Anne Wilsdorf
Not, alas, a tale of a toad that has embraced an alternative lifestyle. No matter. The toad is, to my mind, the most maligned of the backyard animals. If not near a body of water it is lamentably (for its part) easy to catch. This makes it nature’s natural victim, and the perfect subject for picture books everywhere. With easy rhymes, the book sets up a very natural rhythm. Listen: “In the middle of a puddle / in the middle of a road / on a teeter-totter twig / sat a teeny-tiny toad.” Things after that escalate. I’ll spare you the details, but tell you that for a moment there, things look bad for our hero. SLJ in their review of the book hit the nail on the head when they called it, “A solid storytime pick,” and, “be prepared for repeat readings.”
The Honeybee by Kirsten Hall, ill. Isabelle Arsenault
This book was just the best surprise. A gift that keeps on giving. Books about bees can be a dime a dozen. Indeed, while I’m aware that teachers love teaching about them, finding quality titles that do anything new or interesting can be bloody difficult. This book is unassuming. From the outside package you’d never guess at how beautifully it renders the life of a honeybee for very young readers. The rhyming text probably should be a tip-off, though. Reading it aloud is beautiful, though you may wish to practice first. If you are ever charged with reading a book aloud that involves bees in some way, this should be your first and only pick.
Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth by Kate Gardner, ill. Heidi Smith
Another nonfiction title! I told you they were abundant. And a rather gorgeous one to boot. The trick with this book is in the set-up. You’re introduced to each animal with a single word. It might be “Creepy” or “Prickly” or “Ugly”. But turn the page and you get to see another side to that animal. Male gorillas can be fierce, but they can also be caring parents. I’m happy enough to believe that by showing the multiple aspects of every creature, kids might internalize the message that there may be more to an animal (or person) than initially meets the eye. A nonfiction storytime book that inadvertently breaks down stereotypes.
The Mouse Who Wasn’t Scared by Petr Horáček
This isn’t Horáček’s first picture book starring Mouse, but part of a great readaloud series. In the past Mouse has been under the distinct impression that the moon was a banana. In this book, Mouse learns a lesson in hubris. As it travels through the forest, proclaiming its own bravery, it encounters a variety of potentially dangerous creatures, but pooh-poohs them all. That is, until it meets one that’s fluffy and adorable. And feline. As with the other Mouse books, this one makes use of strategic flaps in the storyline, while bright colors make it easy to spot at a distance. Fun stuff.
Play This Book by Jessica Young, ill. Daniel Wiseman
This was released simultaneously with the title Pet This Book, but of the two I think this one is the standout. It’s interactive in the most physical sense of the word. Kids reading it are encouraged to strum the guitar, beat the drums, tickle the ivories, and do any number of instrument-related movements. And, best yet, it’s actual size so they can really do that stuff to the book. The guitar that you can play is laid out in a particularly keen way. That makes the book sound more like it’s made for one-on-one reading, and you’re not wrong. But with a little imagination (and a lot of running around) you could certainly engage a whole class to bring this book to life. Just try and stop ’em!
Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, ill. Madeline Valentine
Aw, Teddy. Part of the reason I love this book is that it reminds me of that old chestnut William’s Doll. But there are also clear readaloud moments to this story that make it one of my favorites. The great warrior doll Bren-Da with her sick fighting moves, table manners, and outfits is charming in and of herself, but the heroic mom component is the real draw. Because the book has so many action packed scenes, it’s ideal for engaging and involving audiences.
This Is the Nest That Robin Built by Denise Fleming
Despite appearances, this is a nonfiction picture book. Cumulative verse can be the bain of any readaloud, I’ll admit. I mean, we all love repetition. Repetition is fun! But after a while there’s only so many times you want to hear about the cat killing the rat that ate the cheese (if you know what I mean). In the case of this book, though, form, function, logic, and stellar visuals keep the reading peppy and the story interesting. Plus there’s a foldout spread. I don’t know you’re opinion on foldouts, but I always get a big kick out of them since even the youngest audiences will ooh and coo when they appear.
Three Grumpy Trucks by Todd Tarpley, ill. Guy Parker-Rees
Extra points right off the bat for making the kid playing with these trucks a girl. This book bears more than a passing similarity to Tarpley’s previous book Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep!, illustrated by John Rocco, but here the rebellious mechanisms have even more in common with little children. Which is to say, they perform a great big temper tantrum when their owner wants them to pack it up and head home. With rhyming text and a worm you can spot on every page (even the spacey dream sequence at the end) you can have a lot of fun with this one. Really throw yourself into the reading. Give it some gusto! Your audiences will love it when you do.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
A less flashy inclusion than a lot of the other books on this list, but doggone it, I like what it does. The premise here is that there is a wall in the gutter of the book and a small knight reassures us that this is a good thing. The knight’s side of the wall is good and the other side is bad. You respect the knight’s confidence, even as it becomes pretty clear that its side is flooding and the creatures on the other side are far more thoughtful and understanding than the knight ever gave them credit for. I love the book because much of it consists of the knight making these big, bold, bracing statements in the midst of certain chaos. You can ask the kids what it is that the knight’s not noticing, and get their opinions on where the book might be heading.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
The pièce de résistance, crème de la crème, and other fancy French words denoting importance. The name of the game with this book? Page turns. Timing too. Higgins just gets better with every book he does. I once watched three Disney-Hyperion employees perform his previous book Be Quiet! to gobs of entranced librarians at ALA. This book is even better. Consider, for example, the moment when Penelope Rex, the sweetest little T.rex that ever you did meet, gets a bit of a shocker when she finds she’ll be attending Kindergarten with a bunch of human children. A turn of the page and she has eaten them. Every last one. And yes yes, she spits them out, but the shock of the eating reminded me of the time I once read Pierre by Maurice Sendak aloud in a storytime and got an actual physical *gasp!* out of the audience when the lion ate the titular hero. It’s the lesson they never teach you. The best way to an audience’s heart is through an animal’s stomach.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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