31 Days, 31 Lists: 2019 Picture Book Readalouds
The other day I had the unique pleasure of promoting some of my favorite 2019 books of the year with a room full of librarians. As in any kind of promotion, you tailor your talk to the needs and wants of your listeners. And what do librarians need at any and all times?
Now when I was doing regular storytimes, back in the day, I had a nasty habit of reading the same dang books over and over again. I knew I was supposed to be trying new things with the kids, but it’s so hard to resist the siren call of a book that you just KNOW will kill with a crowd. Plus, how do you even go about finding new titles to try?
To meet this need, every year I collect the names of the picture books that go above and beyond the call of duty. Not all picture books read well to large groups, but those that do are pure gold. Here then is a salute to that gold.
Just to make things easier, I’m also separating these out into two categories. The first (which will include some board books you’re already familiar with) will be for Preschool/Toddler Storytimes and the second group the Elementary School Aged Storytimes.
2019 Readaloud Picture Books
Toddler/Preschool Storytime Titles
Amazing Me! / Soy Sorprendente!: Music! / Toco música! by Carol Thompson
This is an entire series of books, actually, and they’re all called “Amazing Me”. Of them, this is undoubtedly my favorite. Why? Well, first off it’s a board book, and you simply cannot have enough bilingual board books in this world. Then there are the storytime possibilities. In this story toddlers play with musical instruments like bells and sticks that they can clack together. If you want to pair a readaloud of this book (which hopefully may someday get a large sized edition) with the instruments in your storage closet (I’m talking to you, children’s librarians) that would work perfectly. Oh! And there are drums and shaky things too! You can’t lose!
Caterpillar to Butterfly by Frances Barry
Oo! I can already see the potential with this one. It’s a unique format. As you read the book you open up pages like petals, one by one. Along the way you’re also watching the life cycle of a butterfly from egg onward. And, naturally, when you’ve opened the last page you not only have a butterfly but the beautiful greenery it’s been pictured against. Getting those darn pages back together in the right order may take some readaloud witchery on your part (I suggest waiting until after storytime to do it) but during your read you’ll get some definite oohs and aahs!
Dinosaur, Dinosaur, Say Good Night and Other Bedtime Rhymes by Sanja Rešček
Not my usual fare, but this book is a pretty good example of why you shouldn’t judge one by its cover. As it just so happens, this book is a dino-themed baby storytime goldmine. Sixteen classic nursery rhymes are slightly tweaked in a Cretaceous-like manner. That means that you can sing and read them to your heart’s content (filling a good 15 minutes of your storytime in the process). There are interactive rhymes and clapping ones and bedtime ones, the whole kerschmozzle. The only downside? Not a big enough format. Again, this would be ideal in a large board book size for crowds. Ah well. Can’t ask for everything in this world.
Go, Girls, Go! by Frances Gilbert, ill. Allison Black
We see a lot of strong girl picture books in a given year, but there’s something that appealed to me about this book, above and beyond its premise. Maybe it helps that I didn’t read the cover all that closely when I sat down to peruse it. I found that the rhymes really work well, and then there are all those cool sound effects that you usually only find in vehicle books starring boys. My kiddos would have eaten this book up with a spoon when they were younger! And yes. I won’t deny it. It would make for a magnificent storytime. I imagine that there are a lot of different interactive ways to use it. You could get all the kids to say “WOOO!” “WHIRR!” and “TOOT!” where indicated. Doesn’t matter if you’re doing a cars and trucks and things that go storytime or you just want to work it into your usual toddler/preschooler roster. There’s a lot to love here. Go, book, go!
Go, Go, Pirate Boat by Katrina Charman, ill. Nick Sharratt
The inclusion of this little board book baby makes more sense when you realize that you should sing it to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. I was delighted to see the art of Nick Sharratt, a preschool staple of a fella. For those pirate-related story times for the toddler crowd, it can be hard finding enough interactive materials. This books solves that problem. It may not read big across a room, but there are plenty of hand and body movements you can pair with it to make it a stirring rendition. Arrrr!
Hush, Little Bunny by David Ezra Stein
You know the drill. You see a picture book based on a song and you wonder if it’s actually going to work. Will the words scan? Does it cheat with the rhythm? Can you bloody sing it at all? Based on the song “Hush, Little Baby”, I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t moments at the beginning when I had my doubts, but as it went on I found it a lovely and enticing father/child adaptation. Plus, y’know. Bunnies.
Jump! by Tatsuhide Matsuoka, translated by Cathy Hirano
I always say that if you have to hold a book vertically then there better be a darn good reason for that. This book provides that reason and then some! As you hold it on its side, different animals leap upwards with different variations on the word “Boing!” Adults will enjoy the fact that there’s a nice quick gag involving a snail in there and kids will adore jumping right along with the animals, insects, and fish. Use this in a toddler storytime and get the whole room jumping along with you (they’ll love it when you get to the snail and trick them by showing that it can’t go anywhere). Utterly charming.
Mary Had a Little Lamb by Hazel Quintanilla
Hazel Quintanilla’s board books of classic nursery rhymes intrigue me. For each one, she seems to have put her own specific take on the subject matter. Humpty Dumpty is a crab. Jack and Jill are goats (makes sense – they climb a hill after all). The baker man in Pat-a-Cake is a bear (not sure why, though). But out of all of these, I’d say the clear favorite should be Mary Had a Little Lamb because Quintanilla has turned Mary into a lamb herself. The lamb she brings in is a stuffed lamb (no stuffies in school, apparently), and it lends a funny irony to the line “It made the children laugh and play to see a lamb at school”. An inventive take on an old favorite.
Mary Had a Little Lamb by Jarvis
Okay, I like this but I have some caveats to relate. First and foremost, please be aware that you cannot sing this book. At the start it looks like your standard Mary fare, but pretty soon the cadences are wildly off (as is the storyline). I mean, basically the whole thing gets hijacked by a tiger on a skateboard early on. I wasn’t sure, as I began to read it, whether or not to include in on my list. Then I saw the expression on the lamb’s face when it gets caught in a blue bear’s slide trombone. It made my day. Now while singing it might be out, reading it could be a blast. You get to do animal noises. And if you do want to sing it, then you get to upset expectations by starting to sing the beginning and then you, the reader, could get thrown out of whack by the tiger’s appearance. Kids might find that HILARIOUS! Go on. Give it a go.
Snowman’s Magic Hat by Jeffrey Burton, ill. Ross Burach
Turns out, the word “Snowbert” is instant comic gold. You know that I always give a lot of extra points to any board book that manages to stay simple and appealing, but has some kind of a new idea going on. This one? Pitch perfect for storytimes. The basic premise is that a rabbit is trying to pull a snowman out of its hat. Trouble is, it keeps pulling out other things like carrots and buttons and sticks and coal (you see where this is going). Two extra features make this a PERFECT inclusion in a snowy day toddler time: It rhymes and the reveal with the hat is a lift-the-flap. Lift-the-flaps + rhymes + funny + great art (did I mention that before?) = board book wonderfulness.
Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, ill. Eda Kaban
Perfect. I loved the picture book version of this when it was originally released, so this board book adaptation just makes perfect sense. And it’s such a good adaptation (the font is big enough and there isn’t anything lost in the art) that I half wonder if this book was intended to be a board book from the very start. Ideal for storytimes (I can attest from firsthand knowledge that it sings aloud very well, though you should probably practice the ending beforehand) and great for all those little truck-obsessed hooligans that come through your library doors.
Skinnamarink by Sharon, Lois & Bram with Randi Hampson, ill. Qin Leng
Word amongst the librarians is that there was a different Skinnamarink picture book back in the 80s with interactive elements. If any of you have information on this book or its whereabouts, do be so good as to let me know. It makes sense that this book could have been done before, since the song is famous and yet we’ve very few picture book adaptations of it. Whoever thought to hire Qin Leng to illustrate the book should be given a cookie since her art is a perfect accompaniment. The only trick will be that you’ll need two librarians to conduct the book on the one hand and the hand movements on the other. Sharon, Lois & Bram first started singing this song in 1978. Now the kids they sang to have children of their own, including me. Heck, I myself saw them in concert when I was around four or five. Sweet marketing sense.
Who Has Wiggle-Waggle Toes? by Vicky Shiefman, ill. Francesca Chessa
On the younger side of the readaloud equation, this is definitely for your Toddler storytimes. Lots of great movements, and I really like some of the terms. It’s kind of odd, but I’d like to award this book the Best Description of a Butt honor of 2019. The question: “Who has a big bold bottom?” Yeah, man! Own that bottom! Own it!
Elementary School Aged Storytimes
Cyril and Pat by Emily Gravett
If I didn’t know better I’d say Gravett was making a play for the Gruffalo-loving rhyme time crowd. This may be the most British picture book of the year, though not in a flashy obvious way. I’m fairly certain that’s London in the background, the squirrel’s name is Cyril (which kinda, sorta rhymes?), they upset a Punch & Judy show, etc. There are some keen details hidden (it took more than one read before I noticed that the dog was pulling a roller skate full of rats in the park at the end) and I like the surprise ending. It reminded me of Ben Hatke’s Nobody Likes a Goblin. Which, come to think of it, this would pair with splendidly in a storytime. Speaking of storytimes, this book does a keen thing where you’re expecting to fill in the word “rat” to finish the rhyme but each time Cyril goes with another word entirely. Definitely a good interactive tale.
Everybody Says Meow by Constance Lombardo
I’m always on the lookout for a picture book I can read to a large group. And if it has the extra added incentive of allowing me to play the part of the increasingly frustrated straight man, all the better. In this book a cat wants everyone to say meow at the same time. I think you can figure out how well that goes. There is this close-up of the cat’s eyes as it demands, “Did somebody say, ‘Ribbit’?” that will be so much fun to pronounce between gritted teeth. Best of all? Lombardo sticks the landing. A lot of readaloud books have no idea how to finish the story. This one allows you to roar your head off. It’s all that I ask in life.
The Happy Book and Other Feelings by Andy Rash
You had me at “sad trombone.” Basically I was sold on this book in three pages, which is no mean feat. Someone once compared it to the film Inside Out but I think it’s much more than that. Imagine that someone walked up to you and said, “Hey. Write an original book on emotions”. You’d freak out, right? I mean, talk about an impossible assignment. And I love the dedication too. “My son, Joe, first wrote his version of The Happy Book for his sister, Katie. I borrowed his title and relied on his creative help to write this version. Joe and I dedicate this book to Katie as well.” 2019 was the year of father/son collaborations! Between this and Lenny the Lobster, I think we’re getting some high quality stuff from the kiddos.
High Five by Adam Rubin, ill. Daniel Salmieri
I don’t wanna brag, but if you ever need someone to do a killer rendition of Robo-Sauce, I’m your gal. You might know Rubin & Salmieri best for their Dragons Love Tacos book(s). This one is FAR more interactive. YOU, the reader, are competing to be the high five champion of all time. That means high fiving this book manymanymany times. It is honestly funny and I can attest that it works in a storytime if you let individual kids high five the book when it’s one competitor or another, and then let them ALL high five the octopus at the end. Plus you get to hold up a trophy in the final spread. I’ll say it. This might be one of the most fun books of the year.
The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach
My insect soulmate. Okay, I am so on board with this. I mean, the readaloud potential is, as my co-worker Brian says, magnificent. And I completely agree with him that it’s particularly noteworthy that it “sticks the landing”. There are so many funny picture books out there that have no idea how to end. This one does so brilliantly. Plus, I really appreciated that when he became a butterfly he looked GOOOOOOD.
Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea, ill. Zachariah Ohora
The subtitle on the cover just slays me. “It’s not the crime . . . it’s the cover-up.” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not usually the kind of person that finds pee-related picture books all the funny. But this? First off, some genius paired Bob Shea with Zachariah Ohora, so can we just give some serious applause right there? Then there’s the fact that Shea has inserted this subtle message about taking responsibility. And kudos to the other characters for not making fun of Bear for his accident. I think the only problem with reading it aloud is how often you’ll be interrupted by manic laughter. Sole Flaw: Makes me really hungry for donuts.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Bilingual Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Easy Books
December 18 – Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Informational Fiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Older 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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