31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Simple Picture Book Texts
A new category! It’s been a long time since I came up with one. But since I just couldn’t find the same number of reprinted board books that I usually find, I figured we should highlight those picture books that are best for the youngest of readers. Now, as adults critiquing books for kids, our inclinations are, by necessity, mature. We reward books with complexity and loquacity. This is a bit of a pity, though, when you consider just how hard it is to create a truly original picture book with a simple text appropriate for the youngest of readers. As such, today I celebrate those very books. Titles in which the complexity of text is age appropriate for our toddlers and preschoolers. They deserve good books too, doggone it. Let’s give them what they want!
2022 Simple Picture Book Texts
A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, ill. Brandon James Scott
Fuzzy bear. Angry bees. Yummy honey. Silliness abounds in this delightful readaloud full of ursine hijinks. Friends and neighbors, if you read only ONE bear-related picture book this year, let it be this one. I know that we’re on a constant lookout for younger picture books and it can be difficult to find them. Now Daniel Bernstrom first won my heart by creating the truly delightful One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree a couple years ago. This one has a rhythm of its own and as for illustrator Brandon James Scott, this guy can do so much with eyes. The slightest millimeter to one side or another changes absolutely everything. And the page turns! Dear god, the page turns! Basically, I see this as the ultimate readloud to large groups as well as one-on-one lapsits. Somebody do this in a storytime and tell me how it works!
Build! by Red Nose Studio
Telescopic handlers, excavators, bulldozers and more! Watch as these great big vehicles (or are they?) hoist and drag, load and push. Construction vehicles have never been this cool. Considering the fact that we’re always on the look out for books that speak to younger audience, let us not discount the fine fine work of Red Nose Studio. Now for a time I was the primary Kirkus reviewer of all picture books related to construction equipment. That was for the very good reason that my son was briefly obsessed with them. This book would have hit all the right notes with him when he was 2 or 3. The text is marvelously simple (easy book simple?) and does all the fun action words you’d like paired to the act of construction. “LOAD” “DRAG” “HOIST”. And because these are all models, there’s a kind of Walter Wick-ish aspect to seeing how the images are made. The threads that are part of the crane, for example. I love the appearance of the kid at the end. Now here’s an interesting detail I’ve not really seen before: Under the book jacket you’ll find additional nonfiction definitions of each vehicle, from payloaders to backhoes, in the form of a useful poster.
Chirp! by Mary Murphy
The sun is coming up and the birds are starting to appear. Bouncy rhyming text and beautiful art celebrate the dawn of day and the sounds of our many feathered friends. Okay, folks. I know some of you are always looking for those books for the younger kids that would be reading books from my lists. It’s so easy to praise those complicated stories for 5-year-olds and ignore their 3-year-old siblings. Now Mary Murphy is a known entity. She’s made a name for herself over the years (and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve read the board book edition of her I Kissed the Baby MANY many times over the years). This book is subtle. It sneaks up on you. At first it doesn’t seem like much, but Murphy is juggling a lot of balls in the air. First of all, she has to include this wide array of birdcalls. She also has to make the whole thing rhyme (which is NOT easy), and in the art the sun has to rise at a glacial pace. There is also a seek-and-find element with the little blue bird apparent on every page. This is a readaloud that could work particularly well with a crowd, and it’s beautiful as well. A hard thing to manage in something that seems so simple.
Firefighter Flo! by Andrea Zimmerman, ill. Dan Yaccarino
Move over, Mr. Gilly! There’s a new community worker in town and she goes by the name of Flo. When my son was just a little bit of a thing I became, and I don’t like to brag, a connoisseur of the finest firefighting picture books out there (in additional to the aforementioned construction books). Seriously, I managed to grab hold of every single fire-related book published and available in several library systems for a couple of years there. Had Firefighter Flo (part of the “Big Jobs, Bold Women” series from Holiday House) been available, you know I would have snapped it up right quick. Female firefighter picture books aren’t unheard of. As I recall the Susan Middleton Elya/Dan Santat title Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos! title did a great job with female representation. And then there was Send a Girl and Molly, By Golly. But both of those have nonfiction feels and read quite a bit older. The nice thing about Firefighter Flo! is that she feels custom-made for a storytime with the little littles. There are some gentle rhymes but I loved seeing Yaccarino back in the saddle, he and Zimmerman reliving their Trashy Town days. Fond of a firefighter trope? This book’s got everything from the poles to the dalmatian.
Hot Dog by Doug Salati
“too close! too loud! too much!” When a little long-haired dachshund is overwhelmed by the city, it takes a trip with its owner to the glorious sea. A book that feels like a deep breath of cool ocean breezes. A book that caught me entirely by surprise. I had walked into this figuring it was just your average, everyday dog book. What I didn’t expect was this author’s amazing ability to really plunge you into this little dog’s head. The claustrophobia of a hot overcrowded city felt so incredibly real. Never have I felt such a palpable sense of relief as when the woman and her dog make it to the seaside and those cool breezes start to blow. Then to have the return to the city feel like everyone has cooled down as well, is lovely. This book isn’t anti-city and pro-beach. It’s about needing to take a break once in a while and to just breathe. Extra points for a realistic look at living in NYC.
I Am a Baby by Bob Shea
“I am a baby and I am not sleepy”. If this sentence doesn’t strike terror in your heart then you are not a parent. A book that puts proof to the phrase “Cute is a survival mechanism”. I feel obligated to explain that Bob Shea could probably write a picture book about tree sap and I’d invest my life savings to see it go to press. To my mind, he’s hit this golden plateau of uninterrupted successes. Little wonder that I’m gaga (no pun intended) over this baby. With spare language and copious bags under the eyes, we get to see a preternaturally cheery babe wreck glorious havoc with human sleep patterns. Has there ever been so devilish an image as this cutie in footie pajamas grabbing its own footies in the middle of its crib while the text proclaims those deadly words, “I am not sleepy”. This pairs shockingly well, by the way, with the board book twofer by Antoinette Portis out this year called “I’m Up” and (hauntingly) “I’m Still Up” (both recently seen on the 2022 31 Days, 31 Lists Board Books list). I feel like kids will love this just as much as their dream-deprived parents since there’s a beautiful back and forth to the writing. Two exhausted thumbs up.
I’m Not Small by Nina Crews
A boy steps into his big backyard and notices what is both bigger and smaller than him. Crisp graphics and concise language explain the concept big and small in a very lovely way. Feel free to also slot this book into the easy book category (and, by extension, a legitimate nomination for the Geisel Award). This is another take on the little/big concept for children, but it’s also subtly giving kids the impetus to declare that in a world where they are small, in some places they tower. I would never have known that this was digital, since I’m so used to Ms. Crews collaging her photographic work. Definitely a strong easy title contender and it even manages to do a bit of an emotional punch with those last two lines.
No! Said Custard the Squirrel by Sergio Ruzzier
A rodent insists that Custard must be a duck, and badgers him repeatedly. Fortunately, Custard knows himself very well and is adamant in standing strong. A book about being true to yourself in spite of the doubters. This one has kind of blown my tiny mind. At its core it appears to be a book about dealing with jerks that insist on defining you by their own terms. Custard’s sheer patience with this little rat is downright inspiring. This is so unlike anything else that Ruzzier has ever done that it took a little while for me to take all its different aspects into consideration. This practically feels like a primer for kids on how to deal with assholes. And yes, it’s about being true to yourself too, but I think there are all sorts of potential ramifications here. Utterly original, though I’d like to see more along these lines, please.
The Polar Bear in the Garden by Richard Jones
Okay, this one’s for me. Once in a while I just sort of fall in love with a quiet, unobtrusive book and will go to bat for it. This book has hints of other titles surrounding it. There’s a whiff of The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. There’s a smackerel of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. There’s even a bit of Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu in the seams. But what it really and truly does so well is to give you this enormous sense of safety and comfort. Only, in the case of this particular story, it’s the child character that’s offering that comfort and that safety. A boy finds a very small polar bear in his garden. So small, in fact, that it can fit in the palm of his hand. He decides to take it home, so the two hop in a sailboat and off they ride. Mind you, the bear is growing larger and larger every day. Will the boat capsize before they get there? Gentle bedtime books of the world, meet your new king. Evocative and downright lovely, it is.
Eager to read other lists this month? Then be sure to stay tuned for the following:
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
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 – Gross 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
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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