31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Picture Book Readalouds
I’ve told you the story of one of my first storytimes as a children’s librarian, haven’t I? I had just gotten my first gig in a New York Public Library branch and I was desperate to do a good job. I hadn’t done many storytimes by this point, but by gum I was willing to give it a go! I knew the rudimentary basics, after all. How hard could it be? So I had a crew of active 3 and 4-year-olds before me and the book I pulled out to read to them was . . . Horton Hatches the Egg. Folks, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but old Horton is the longest book ever written in the English language. That, in any case, was how it felt to me when I had to read the dang thing and it would. Not. End. I learned a valuable lesson that day: Never devalue a truly great readaloud picture book when you find it. And never try to force a lapsit book into a starring role in front of a crowd.
Storytimes in 2020 were mostly virtual affairs, I’m afraid. So many children’s librarians gather their energy from the squirmy little balls of life and light and vitality that come to their readalouds. Across a screen? It’s very difficult to maintain that same level of verve and interest. Today’s books won’t solve that problem, but they’ll at least help. Each one is tapered to a different age group, each with its own tips and tricks. Readaloud picture books can win few awards, but they’ll definitely work their ways into the hearts and minds of librarians and booksellers everywhere.
2020 Picture Book Readalouds
Little Baby’s Playtime by Sally Symes, ill. Nick Sharratt
If this looks familiar, I already put it on the list of the best board books of the year. That said, this is really designed for a marvelous Baby Lapsit Program. Baby Lapsits, I should mention, always scared me a little cause babies do not care what you do. This book might tip the balance in the reader’s favor, though. Look at those clean black lines and bright eye-catching colors. Now you may just think I included this book on this list for the sole reason that it involves sticking your fingers in there to make the baby legs . . . and you would be 75% correct. But but but! Sally Symes, an old hat in the baby board book game, accompanies each picture with gently rhyming text and little descriptive wiggles, jiggles, whooshes, ding-a-lings, and more. A librarian doing a storytime could get a real routine going on here with enough practice. A winner from start to finish.
Bunnies On the Bus by Philip Ardagh, ill. Ben Mantle
Yeah. I pretty much took one look at that cover and I was on board. Basically, all I want out of this life is books about bunnies run amok. Now this is a British import, and you get a bit of a sense of that in the verse. When a massive brown bunny grabs a good six of them by their ears the text reads, “DO sit down, or you’ll end up in a pile.” Rhyming text keeps it bouncy from page one onward, while the whizzing action and detail-filled pages make for a roaring good time. I had to double back and reread the whole thing just to find out how the lion got outed as bald by the tabloids at the end. Essentially, this is NOT the wheels on the bus with bunnies. This is what would happen if the Pigeon in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus actually got ahold of a vehicle . . . and was a rabbit. Madcap, wild, raucous, and perfect for storytimes everywhere.
Friday Night Wrestlefest by J.F. Fox, ill. Micah Player
Are you ready to RUMBLE??? Where will your loyalties lie when Dangerous Daddoo takes on the Tag Team Twins with Mama-Rama joining in the fun? I like a book that allows me to make a big, booming announcer voice. This one delivers. But I find it so strange that this is the first time I’ve mentioned this book on this blog, because in real life I’m singing its praises constantly. As a readaloud, I think this book is just gonna hit it out of the park. I absolutely love the colors, characterizations, and shifting loyalties. There are twists you won’t see coming. And there’s just this great sense of family. Since I’ve been stuck home with my family, I’ve gotten to really appreciate when we can all play together in some way. This book understands and elevates that concept.
The Hips On the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish by Lil Miss Hot Mess, ill. Olga de Dios
A first! By now we’re all probably familiar with the concept of Drag Queen Story Hours (and if you are not, get thee to this website to learn more) but until now there has never been a picture book meant SPECIFICALLY for those events. And one you can sing at that? With a familiar tune and super fun art? Heck, forget just limiting this to DQSHs, you can use this for any storytime you want. I have a request. Please, someone, let me know about a YouTube video where someone is performing this song. I want to watch it at work.
The More We Get Together by Celeste Cortright, ill. Betania Zacarias, sung by Audra Mariel and Kena Anae
Okay. I am adding this book to the readaloud list but there are some caveats involved. Not about the art, which is bright, colorful, and fun. More about the audience. My great fear is that this book will be read (or its CD played) for classes of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or even 5th graders. Should this happen, the rolling of the eyes will be heard across this great nation. PLEASE do not make older kids listen to this. Not because the message isn’t good, of course. I mean, it’s a clever adaptation of a familiar song and given an environmental twist. But it’s so very earnest that the best possible audience are younger children. Preschool, ideally. For them, this is a perfect complement to Earth Day or any storytime with a green bent. Older kids get real twitchy and irritable if they think you’re talking down to them. So yes, by all means, use this book with preschoolers and maybe even Kindergartners. The right book for the right audience.
Nerp! by Sarah Lynne Reul
When a picky baby wants its pet’s food, nothing’s gonna keep it from its goal. I came into this figuring it was just another average alien pet story. What I didn’t realize was that Reul is as playful with her language as she is her art. First off, this book is a hoot to read aloud. “Squishalicious wumpa glump?” “Picklefishy verp?” So you have the group storytime aspect right there. Then you look at the odd three-dimensionality of it all. This pairs very well with The Secret Rhino Society in terms of eclectic illustration + modeling.
On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex
Oh no. There’s gum stuck in your hair? Don’t worry, I know a surefire solution. A book where things get increasingly, hilariously, catastrophically worse. When it comes to comic timing, Adam Rex may be surpassing Mo Willems and Bob Shea. This is very much like Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, only instead of a tree it’s a kid’s head. And there is just so much to enjoy about it too. Little details like the rabbit’s never changing expression or the band-aids on the aunt’s chin in the final picture (see if you can figure out how they got there). The jokes land and they land hard. My kids were rolling when I got to the line, “Wait, no. I’m thinking of the old cat.” And on top of all of that it RHYMES!? Try reading this aloud to a group (you’ll need to practice beforehand because some of those rhymes aren’t obvious when you’re just reading a book in your head) and see what the results are.
Rita and Ralph’s Rotten Day by Carmen Agra Deedy, ill. Pete Oswald
Every day Rita and Ralph run down the hill, and up the hill, and down the hill, and up the hill to see each other. That is, before an accident makes everything bad. A rotten day was never this much fun. Consider it the readaloud book to beat all readaloud books! Deedy’s a storyteller at heart, but I’ve never seen her take a hand rhyme and turn it into a book before. She calls the original handrhyme “Mr. Wiggle & Mr. Waggle” but when you see it in the back of this book you’ll recognize it immediately, no matter what version you do. This book was made for storytimes. Plus Oswald’s art really fits Deedy’s writing so well. Love the color palette and those little noseless, glaring faces. A pretty darn good encapsulation of how things can get out of hand between friends.
Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, ill. Dan Yaccarino
Who’s looking for some serious smash time? Join Mr. Gilly has he smashes, crashes, tumbles and crumbles a great big building down to smithereens. Expect to read this one out loud again and again! While I prefer not to put sequels on my lists, there’s gotta be a 20-year statute of limitations in there, right? Trashy Town was released in 1999 and a whopping 21 years later we now have Smashy Town. It has all the perks of its predecessor, but the extra added benefit of allowing you, the children’s librarians, the chance to yell, “SMASH SMASH SMASH!” and “CRASH CRASH CRASH!” at the top of your lungs during storytime. Amazing!
Ocean! Waves for All by Stacy McAnulty, ill David Litchfield
By now you probably have seen the other book sin McAnulty’s “Our Universe” series. And until now McAnulty has primarily focused on heavenly bodies. With Ocean she switched her focus to something found specifically on earth, and to do so she’s gone an interesting route. The voice of the Ocean in this book is that of a real chill surfer dude. You fall into the accent so naturally that it feels like slipping on a silky robe. This book was born to be read aloud for those environmental storytimes you always promise to do. Tired of trying to adapt books that don’t read well to large groups? Ocean to the rescue. Lots of facts and a killer grab bag of backmatter to boot.
There’s a Skeleton Inside You! by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost
I was such an incredible fan of Ben-Barak and Frost’s previous collaboration Do Not Lick This Book so when I heard that there was a follow-up title I snapped it right up. Though lacking the high-powered microscopic photographs of its predecessor, this book employs a very clever method of showing how your bones, muscles, and nerves all work together in the human body. A floppity alien wants to fix her spaceship. To do so she has to grow bones, muscles, and nerves in her hands. With all the interactive elements you’d expect from the first book, and bright colors to boot, it’s a delightful human body book for rather young readers. Want a science storytime book? This is an ideal choice. ou can even have the kids in the audience high-five the book at the end!
Want to see other lists? Check out what happened this month!
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 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists, Best Books of 2020
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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