31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Rhyming Picture Books
There is no sound finer to the human ear than well-coined rhymes on a page. And there is no sound more painful that strained rhymes in a poor picture book. They abound, I’m afraid, but we aren’t going to let them win. No sir! Today, I introduce to you the finest rhyming picture books of 2022. Each one a joy in scansion. Each one equipped to turn YOUR children into book lovers based on sheer rhyme alone. Don’t believe me? Better check the books out for yourself then.
Oh, and are you interested in previous years’ rhyming picture book lists? Of course you are! Feast your eyes, then, on these:
2022 Rhyming Picture Books
Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, ill. David Roberts
Grandma’s on the way to visit so everyone needs to clean up! “Sarah, feed the floor. I’ll sweep the dishes. Bobby, rock the rug. Dad will scrub the fishes.” Wait, what? A mischievous cat mucks with a family’s housework to hilarious effect. Okay. If there is an argument to be had that we simply do not have enough regular families with gay parents represented in our picture books, then I think I have at least one solution right here. This book is a sheer delight. Visually it’s such an eye-popper. I adore this family, and the mischievous cat in particular. Plus, it’s such an original idea for a storyline! Would love many many more reads on this.
Beauty Woke by NoNieqa Ramos, ill. Paola Escobar
Thanks to her loving Puerto Rican family, Beauty learns to wake up and find the beauty within herself and in her heritage. Bursting with colorful illustrations, an inspirational story from the author of Your Mama. Yeah, see, this is how you do it. There are books that say you’re special but they don’t show it. This book means it. It burns with it. Plus who can resist taking the Sleeping Beauty myth and turning it on its head like this? Ramos’s decision to make it rhyme too was gutsy since rhyme can go so wrong. Extra points to whatever editor tapped Paola Escobar to do the art. This title should serve as an example for others. No halfsies. This book is all in.
Bessie the Motorcycle Queen by Charles R. Smith Jr., ill. Charlot Kristensen
I kind of love that we live in an era where we can hear a cool story on a podcast or run across a social media video about some hitherto unsung hero of the past and then just turn that person’s life into a picture book bio. Of course Smith is doing one better by also making the ding dang thing rhyme. Now you might not think it but from time to time I get requests for rhyming nonfiction. I do! One advantage of the rhyming verse of this book is that it allows Mr. Smith the chance to tell a story without relying on false quotes (my greatest dislike) and gets the point across when, truth be told, there’s not a lot of information to go off of. As he himself says in an author’s note at the end, finding info on Bessie was tricky partly because she made up stuff and partly because there just wasn’t a lot of info to be found. I think he made the right choices with this story. Certainly she did have some badass adventures as a dispatch rider in WWII, the only woman in an all-Black unit. Still, the sheer amount of freedom you feel reading this is fantastic. Reminds me of a similar picture book bio about a woman and her motorcycle from a year or two ago called Girl On a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky and Julie Morstad about Anne-France Dautheville. Could be a cool pairing, particularly if you add in My Papi Has a Motorcycle.
The Blanket Where Violet Sits by Allan Wolf, ill. Lauren Tobia
Sometimes I have a little internal debate over where precisely to categorize one picture book or another. Should, for example, the book The Blanket Where Violet Sits go onto the Informational Fiction list since it provides a nice encapsulation of our place in the wider universe, or should I put it on the Rhyme list since it’s built atop that old “This Is the House That Jack Built” (a.k.a. cumulative) formula? Rhyming won out in the end and I think I made the right choice. Any book illustrated by Lauren Tobia gets this immediate leg up in the world anyway, but what’s nice about this title is how cozy it all is. It can feel intimidating to look into the sky and understand just how very small you are in the grand scheme of things. Wolf and Tobia conspire here to both acknowledge that point and counter it with the comfort of having your family around you. It’s also neat to see a cold weather nighttime picnic in a book (something I don’t recall seeing before). Great for science storytimes or just general STEM rhyming in general.
Chester Van Chime Who Forgot How to Rhyme by Avery Monsen, ill. Abby Hanlon
As far as I’m concerned we should just hire Abby Hanlon to illustrate all the things. All. The. Things. A little Hanlon makes any good book just that much better. Take Chester here. I open the book and immediately you see all these cute little rhyming things. A slug on a rug, for example. Or a fish in a dish. And little did I know that reading this book you see just a whole SLEW of rhymes in the art. Chester is, himself, completely incapable of rhyming and the book has a lot of fun with his near misses. Hanlon, meanwhile, has this whole little sideplot involving a naughty fox that kids are going to enjoy thoroughly. This book is giving off a real Richard Scarry vibe, I gotta tell you. Don’t be surprised when kids start asking for it again and again and again and again . . .
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. Seriously, I managed to grab hold of every single thing 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.
Good Night, Little Bookstore by Amy Cherrix, ill. E.B. Goodale
Are you one of those people that instantly roll your eyeballs skyward when you encounter a book for children that praises librarians or booksellers like they’re some kind of gods? I mean, I do. Fer sure. It just feels like the most basic form of pandering, right? Never mind that I work in a library where any book that features the word “book” in the title flies off the shelves. But what may set Good Night, Little Bookstore apart from the pack is the sheer level of intimacy and, let’s face it, creativity at work here. First off, you have E.B. Goodale doing the art, so that’s a plus right there. Goodale could have phoned this one in too. Could have just grabbed that check and dashed off some pretty basic books-on-shelves images. Instead, she decided to have a bit of fun. There is a two-page spread in this story in which the titles on the books are just a little teeny tiny bit off. So “Brave Irene” by William Steig becomes “Courageous Eileen”. “Nate the Great” becomes “Wes the Best”. And once you start noticing you simply cannot stop. She’s even worked in her own book “Below the Lilacs” into “Above the [something]” (the last word is cut off). Then you get the gentle rhymes of the text itself. Rhymes that really and truly work, with that bedtime cadence you want in a nighttime book. Gentle. Lulling. There’s just something infinitely comforting about people shutting down a beloved space at the end of the night. Seriously, if Cherrix and Goodale want to follow this up with “Good Night, Little Library” I won’t even peep. The best possible version of this kind of story.
Granny and Bean by Karen Hesse, ill. Charlotte Voake
A Hesse/Voake power combo? Don’t mind if I do!! Sometimes you hear folks (grandmother type folks) complain about the ways in which grannies are portrayed in a lot of picture books. You know the type. Doddering. Usually in the kitchen. White fluffy hair around their head. Generally decrepit. Where are the action grandmas? Folks, in that vein I present to you a contender. The Granny in this book isn’t just keeping up with her toddler grandchild. She is more than willing to traipse about in the wild wind and storm and cold and wet just so that they can play outdoors a bit. I remember having a toddler in New York City and finding playgrounds, even on the coldest of days, to be a refuge. If I’d had a sea, I would have taken my own Beans there. Now Hesse had the choice of merely writing lyrical text or attempting the far more difficult and risky move of making it all rhyme in some fashion. And that bouncy, enjoyable wordplay is a perfect complement to the story itself. Listen: “They sang as they went / They crouched to greet dogs / They skirted a fence / They leapt over logs.” It’s a beautiful ode to grandmothers and their grandkids on not-so beautiful days. By gum, if you know a granny with a penchant for amusing her grandchildren in great the outdoors, I cannot think of a better book to hand to her.
I’ll Always Come Back to You by Carmen Tafolla, ill. Grace Zong
I suppose I could just as easily slip this one onto the “Messaging” list, but I always feel like there are plenty of books out there trying to teach about different issues, while rhymes, good ones, can be difficult to find sometimes. The concept of a parent leaving and coming back is evergreen. We probably need new books on the subject every year, to be honest. You can never have enough. This book moves beyond the message, however, to rhyme and storytell at the same time. So you get sentences along the lines of “I might have to travel sunup to sundown, on a humpity camel crew! / But I’ll always, always, ALWAYS come back to you.” Zong’s having fun with the art, Tafolla’s having fun with the rhymes, and it’s all a great big message wrapped in silly, but very clear, packaging. A treat.
Lift, Mix, Fling! Machines Can Do Anything by Lola M. Schaefer, ill. James Yang
A little rhyme with your simple machine text, perhaps? They don’t get much younger than this lovely look at everything from pulleys to wedges. James Yang offers his customary simple, colorful, easily identifiable style to the work, but in this particular case I’m admiring Schaefer’s ability to both convey some fairly complex ideas about simple and compound machines in rhyme. “An inclined plane helps push or roll / These wheels and axles go for a stroll.” I’ll bet you even grown-up readers learn something from this particular book when they come across it. A great use for rhyme in a STEM title.
The Lodge that Beaver Built by Randy Sonenshine, illus by Anne Hunter
“This is the crunch in the darkening wood / of teeth against bark where the willow once stood.” Gentle rhymes and accurate facts tell the tale of one beaver family building homes near and far. I mean, I love beavers. Straight up love them, so I am not the most ideal person to judge this book. Once you’ve read the Superpowered Field Guide to Beavers by Rachel Poliquin, you come away thinking that you’re an expert. Even so, I loved that this book included information that I haven’t heard before (muskrats sometimes pop up in beaver lodges in the winter?). The gentle rhyming structure scans and informs at the same time. And there’s a nice section at the end of beaver facts, that I liked a lot. Makes me want to take an early morning walk over to Northwestern to see if their beavers are still there!
Mardi Gras Almost Didn’t Come This Year by Kathy Z. Price, ill. Carl Joe Williams
Better practice this one a couple times before you give it a go in your Mardi Gras-themed storytime. If you got it down and got it down right, it would just blow away listeners, but the rhymes aren’t cat/bat/sat or anything quite so simple. Now usually when a horrible historical event has happened in our country we’ll get books about it right away. Then a decade or so will pass and people will process what happened and start to come up with thoughtful, nuanced stories. This one is actually about recovering from the trauma of Katrina. It shows how kids bounce back while their grown-ups are still just trying to get through a day.I was impressed with how the story swells and changes and grows so that you have this triumphant return to Mardi Gras at the end for everyone. Williams is doing some creative things with the art as well. And while the whole book doesn’t constantly rhyme, there are enough rhymes in the book with enough rhythm to keep you going. Interestingly, Price made the choice to make the book rhyme only when things are getting better and Mardi Gras is back. Rhymes as joy. A neat idea.
The Most Haunted House in America by Jarrett Dapier, ill. Lee Gatlin
I mean, what would you do if you were invited to drum at the White House in a skeleton outfit by the Obamas? You’d do it, obviously. But if you were Jarrett Dapier you’d also go so far as to write the whole thing up as a picture book later. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an Obama cameo in a picture book, so this was a kind of neat book to discover. Rhyming all the way through, it fills itself not just with a fun bouncy storyline about little skeletons asked to drum for a White House Halloween party, but also a lot of factual information about the ghosts that reportedly haunt this structure. A neat amalgamation of ideas, and who can resist that killer Lee Gatlin art? No one, that’s who.
My Fade Is Fresh by Shauntay Grant, ill. Kitt Thomas
Considering the sheer number of picture books telling Black kids to be proud of their hair, I was caught completely unaware by the plot and structure of Grant’s latest title. From the cover, I just assumed we’d something along the lines of Crown by Derrick Barnes. And certainly there’s a little of that book in this one’s bones (he even has a blurb on the cover), but plotwise I couldn’t have been more wrong. A young girl walks into a barbershop seeking “the freshest fade up on the block!” She is not shy about this request and she knows PRECISELY what it would entail. But the adults around the girl just cannot deal with this. They literally suggest every other possible iteration of traditionally female hairstyles in the hopes of distracting the young customer from her goal. Through all of this she stays strong, which I greatly admired. It’s one thing to show kids a book about standing up to your enemies, but standing up to your friends and family? That takes an extra layer of toughness. The stylist keeps just cutting a little and then asking if she should stop, which is such a uniquely frustrating thing for any kid to deal with. The final result is HARD won, I have to say. It’s so nice that the rhymes scan as beautifully as they do, but that final show of the girl in her skirt with her new hair is worth the price of admission alone. An excellent title on showing how to stand up to a world full of other people’s opinions about how you look.
‘Twas the Night Before Pride by Joanna McClintick, ill. Juana Medina
I was real uncertain about this one since there’s that whole “Twas the Night Before…” series out there that ticks off each and every holiday. Obviously this isn’t part of that series (more fool the series) and it’s illustrated by the keen Juana Medina who has created THE coolest endpapers of the year. See if you can spot all the children’s book creators (I was particularly thrilled when I figured out Ann M. Martin). As for the rhymes themselves, they’re quite nice. Scan well. It doesn’t match the original “Night Before Christmas” poem phrase for phrase, and that’s just fine. I also liked the quick dive into the history of Stonewall too. Have a Drag Queen Storytime coming up? I think I’ve found the book for you.
Twelve Dinging Doorbells: An Every-Holiday Carol by Tameka Fryer Brown, ill. Ebony Glenn
You know when a holiday picture book is so good you just want to make it an instant classic and a standard immediately? Yup. That’s this book. And before we even get into it, I want to acknowledge the sheer brilliance of saying right there in the subtitle that it’s “an every-holiday carol”. Because really what this is is a story of a family getting together with a big meal and games and dancing and all kinds of stuff. So that could be Thanksgiving or Easter or Christmas or, heck, the Superbowl. In other words, this is the readaloud storytime holiday picture book of every librarian’s DREAMS! Next, you get to the format, which is your standard Twelve Days of Christmas deal. And like all Twelve Days of Christmas books, it has to jump the usual hurdles. Illustrator Ebony Glenn had to decide pretty early on whether or not she wanted to show every single person after they were introduced onto the page. So when you hear about the “two selfie queens” (mildly brilliant, right there) are they in EVERY picture? Pretty much yes! We had a different Twelve Days of Christmas book out this year involving cats that was not nearly so good at this. Then there’s the fact that there is, thanks to Tameka Fryer Brown, an actual plot! Our heroine, a small girl, wants “a sweet potato pie just for me”. And as you might expect, tragedy happens near the end, only to be rescued on the very last page. You can sing this. Perform it (have the kids do the repping with the seven brothers). The whole thing’s just a joy. SO glad to have discovered this!
What’s Up, Pup? How Our Furry Friends Communicate and What They Are Saying by Kersten Hamilton, ill. Lili Chin
As ever, it can be hard to find books for younger readers sometimes. In spite of its longish subtitle, this clever little title does a marvelous job of breaking down different types of doggie body language in your day-to-day interactions. It also rhymes, which was a nice plus, and wholly unexpected. It makes me think that this book could actually be used in STEM-related storytimes as well. Some of these movements you’ll already know, like showing a belly or peeing on things. But others were new to me. The tongue flick to the nose potentially meaning that they’re nervous. Sniffing the ground to say that they need space. It’s all explained in the excellent backmatter at the end, alongside an Author’s Note and a Select Bibliography. Fun!
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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