31 Days, 31 Lists: 2023 Picture Book Readalouds
It was fairly early into my creation of these 31 lists that I realized that it would behoove me to honor those picture books capable of entrancing large groups of children. Anyone who has ever read a picture book that bored kids to tears will understand what I mean when I say that not every picture book is a “readaloud” picture book. In this world there are lapsit books and there are readaloud books. The lapsit book is for a one-on-one experience. The readaloud can work just as well for 400 kids as it can for one. It just has to have something about it that engages and interacts with its audience.
Aside from the E.B. White Read Aloud Award handed out by the American Booksellers Association (and I’m not entirely certain it’s still being handed out), there are shockingly few awards that cover this territory. That ends today! Behold! A most glorious list of picture books (and one board book) published in 2023 that will delight and inspire your storytime attendees.
Here’s the PDF of this year’s Picture Book Readaloud List. Interested in other readaloud lists I’ve compiled? Then check out the previous years:
2023 Great Picture Book Readalouds
A-Train Allen by Lesley Younge, ill. Lonnie Ollivierre
A-Train Allen runs, bolts, scurries, dashes, and speeds his way down a bustling city street. Where is he going? A joyful read-aloud that zips faster than any train. As one of my colleagues said of it, “this is one of the best read-alouds of the year: vibrant language (look at all those verbs), colorful dynamic digital art, and plenty of chances to get kids interacting with the story.” The story itself is centered on a boy rushing through a bustling city street, trying to outrun a train so he can meet his Grandmother at her stop. My colleague cleverly gets the kids in his audience to move their feet when he asks them to pretend to be A-Train running. But, you ask, is there something kids can yell too? You bet there is! Check out the refrain towards the end as he approaches his goal: “Got Somewhere to Be, Got Somewhere to Be.”I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is an ideal storytime tale and a great way to kick off our list today.
Bing! Bang! Chugga! Beep! by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson, ill. Nathalie Beauvois
Sing along as a multi-colored car bings, bangs, chuggas and beeps down the road, in the clouds, and through the mud. Now I’m going to level with you. I think I was three pages in before I realized that the ideal way to go through this book is to sing it to the tune of “This Old Man”. The minute I started doing that, the old car just burst off of the page! Now correct me if I’m wrong here, but have we ever had a truly good picture book to this tune before? I’m 99% certain that we have not. If you are a storytime storyteller who enjoys singing, you are in luck. Could you read this without singing? I suspect that you could, actually, so for you non-singers, there is hope. As for seeing these images across a crowded room, Nathalie Beauvois’s art is a perfect accompaniment. An amazing storytime selection!
Cool Off and Ride! A Trolley Trip to Beat the Heat by Claudia Friddell, ill. Jenn Harney
Here’s the situation: It’s summer. You’re a children’s librarian or bookseller. You want to do a summer-themed storytime. You also want to include some new books in the mix, but since you’ve been doing storytimes for a while you know that not all books adapt to being read aloud to large groups all that well. Plus, you’d really like something that’s a bit inclusive. Then, lo and behold, you discover this title. It’s hot. It’s fun. It has a rhythmic bouncy rhythm that’s hard to beat. It friggin’ rhymes (and well)! Plus you can almost see the waves of heat just emanating off of the page. So much so that maybe I’m proposing this to you all backwards. Maybe the best time to read this isn’t in summer, when we’re all melting into our respective sidewalks, but rather in the dead of winter. February even! A summertime readaloud to invoke those days when all you want is to find a cool trolley car to relax in. So in this story a trolley car is riding around and a whole host of people are desperate to get in it and out of the sun. The magnificent backmatter makes it clear that this was inspired by the trolleys of Baltimore. There really was a Cool Off and Ride program in 1938 and Friddell dives deep not only into the program but their integration and even “What Do Streetcars and Roller Coasters Have in Common?” It’s a neat neat book, most recently seen on my knitting needles post for its correct placement.
Copy That, Copy Cat! Inventions Inspired by Animals by Katrina Tangen, ill. Giulia Orecchia
Okay, once more we dive into what can only really be considered a nonfiction board book. Sometimes these feel more like unholy unions than anything else. In this particular case the creators have cleverly managed to fulfill both the desires of their young readers (by having them guess what each technological innovation is) and that of their STEM-loving parents. The book kind of reminded me of the old Mac Barnett book Guess Again! in that it has fun fooling the reader into guessing the wrong rhymes with each invention. I suspect this would actually make for a fun readaloud for preschoolers. You do lift flaps, but be prepared for some pretty in-depth and sometimes complex explanations of scientific principles when you do (bet you weren’t expecting to hear the sentence, “The faster air has lower pressure, so the higher pressure underneath pushes up and lifts the wing,” in a board book, were you?). Ambitious but also really fun.
Have You Seen My Invisible Dinosaur? by Helen Yoon
Did you know that I have a secret bucket list of all the illustrators out there that I’d love to do a book with someday? I think a lot of picture book authors carry one of these in their back pockets. One of the names on my own personal list? Helen Yoon. Trouble is, she’s a one-woman show. When she makes a picture book she is both author and illustrator together. I guess that’s why they’re as good as they are, actually. Off-Limits was my own personal favorite, but I’ve nothing but nice things to say about I’m a Unicorn and Sheepish as well. I confess that when I picked up Have You Seen My Invisible Dinosaur? I didn’t really take note of the creator’s name until after I’d finished my first read. I got to the end and thought, “Wow! This artist really knows how to make characters personable” and also “This would be a great readaloud!” Helen Yoon, up-and-coming Queen of Storytime, is having a lot of fun with negative space in this book. Voice too, for that matter. Are you an incipient picture book creator and you’d like some clear cut examples of great “voice” in picture books? This book should be ideal for reference. Love the concept (a kid is looking for its dinosaur after a bath but doggone it, can’t find the darn thing) and the solution. It’s a cutie!
I Am a Tornado by Drew Beckmeyer
Often I read a picture book and instantly know what category to slot it into. Then, once in a great while, I meet a book that sort of defies my expectations and understandings. I thought, going into this book, that it was going to be funny. And it was! And I thought it might have a bit of a message, and there’s some of that too. So, a job well done, right? I’ll just put this book on the Funny list and the Message list. But then I actually read the whole thing cover to cover and found that it becomes downright poignant at the end. Beckmeyer makes this seemingly silly story of a tornado wrecking havoc into a gentler tale of why people with power cling to it so tightly, and how it’s their own loneliness that can be their real fear. That final shot of the winds blowing through the windmills really got to me. Then there’s also the fact that Beckmeyer has sneakily worked in all kinds of science information here discussing the formation of tornadoes and where they come from. By the end, I realized that while there are humorous parts to this book, what it really is is a fantastic readaloud for kids. A strange, wonderful one. Like a picture book version of the Neko Case song “This Tornado Loves You”. Never thought I’d write that in a picture book summary before.
Mister Kitty is Lost! by Greg Pizzoli
I submit to you that though the shape of this book is picture book square, the simplicity of the text makes it an excellent candidate for the Geisel Award (given yearly to books for beginning readers). With die-cuts galore, a little white girl goes about trying to locate her lost kitty. Look closely at her drawing of her missing pet, by the way. It doesn’t give away the twist but, upon closer inspection, it does hint at it. A counting book as well, everything leads up to a big reveal. I suspect that this would also make an excellent readaloud for a large group of Kindergarten or 1st graders. Particularly with that surprise “ROAR!”. It really comes outta nowhere. Go, kitty, go!
Oops by Julie Massy & Pascale Bonenfant, translated by Charles Simard
An interactive picture book revels in luring its readers into breaking with convention. From the very start, this narration plays devil’s advocate with its young readership. Opening upon a page featuring a single egg it reads, “Eggs are very breakable. Why don’t you try knocking on this egg?” Turn the page and the child’s knocking has revealed a bright yellow chick and the word, “Oops!” Lest you mistake that “Oops!” for an apology, the next page shows a dozen more eggs, prompting the reader to “Give them a whack!” Doing so, however, yields a sea of yolks and the pointed “Oops!” yet again. As the book continues, gentle chaos reigns. The titular “oops” is complicit in its own reoccurrences as the narrator urges readers to transgress by squashing toothpaste tubes, dropping mugs, flipping full bowls of noodles, and more. Within the safety of the page, kids are allowed to indulge in a cathartic release of naughty inclinations. The simple, colorful pages leave reader in little doubt of the results of their “actions”. Certainly, children that flinch from deviating from the rules will find this book more perturbing than inspiring but for others it may prove a joyful release. Interactive books work very well in storytimes too, I can attest. Remember the heyday of Press Here? This has the same energy. With just a hint of Uncle Shelby’s ABZs (1961) this book gives anarchic impulses a good name.
Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock by Jesús Trejo, ill. Eliza Kinkz
It’s Saturday so Jesús gets to go with Papá on his landscaping jobs. Papá says when their water-jug is empty it’s time to go home. So what’s so wrong about giving the jug a little help? Hilarity (and copious water consumption) ensues. I just love this one. Eliza Kinkz is rapidly becoming one of my favorite new illustrators. Last year we saw a nice, touching story from John Parra called Growing an Artist that talked about his dad as a landscaper. This book is in the same subject area but takes this fun, wild, goofy attitude. It also is a great example of kid-logic. I mean, if you tell a kid that when the jug is empty you get to go home, the kid is going to do whatever they can to speed that process along. The readaloud potential is fantastic (particularly the moment when the kid has a breakdown). Kinkz, meanwhile, may illustrate the best elderly cats I’ve seen in a book in years. Funny and kind of touching and contains a great scream of frustration as well. And is it available in Spanish? It IS available in Spanish!
Roll, Roll, Little Pea by Cecile Bergame, ill. Magali Attiogbe, translated by Angus Yuen-Killick
Did anyone else grow up listening to the cassette tape of “Wee Sing Silly Songs”? That whole chunk of my childhood takes up residence in large portions of my brain to this very day. In any case, I ask this mostly because there was a song on that tape mighty familiar to many kids that have ever done summer camp: “On Top of Spaghetti”. The song is about a wayward meatball that escapes being devoured. This is very in keeping with the plot of this particular book as well, though instead of it being about a wayward meat product on the run it’s about a small pea. I will tell you all right here and right now that since this book is a translation I approached it with trepidation. Not all translations are created equal and I was concerned that perhaps this book wouldn’t read aloud particularly well. Turns out, my fears were completely unfounded. Filled with incredible, vibrant colors and hues, the words on these pages are delightful. Once the pea has made its escape the text reads something like, “Roll Roll, Little Pea, along the floor and under the stairs”, (always changing where it heads) and on the opposite page is some kind of critter who would like to crunch or nibble or peck or even “Devour” the pea. With pictures you can make out across a room and that steady diet of repetition, the end result is a great readaloud and stellar translation. Two thumbs up!
Tap! Tap! Tap! Dance! Dance! Dance! by Hervé Tullet
He’s baaaaaack! Though, truth be told, he never really left us. Still, it’s been about a decade since Tullet climbed the picture book bestseller lists with his incredible Press Here (and I look forward to the papers of children’s literary scholars in the latter half of the 21st century as they strive to explain why a tactile book gained such traction in the early era of apps and interactive books). This book is obviously of a similar ilk, but the sheer size of it is fascinating in and of itself. Clocking in at an impressive 12.50″ H x 10.75″ W (so apologies to those of you who find you can’t fit it on your picture book shelves), I would argue that this book may be Tullet’s best book since Press Here itself. Why? Because it does manage to recapture that feel of interacting on a larger scale. And because it IS so big, it’ll have no trouble playing across a crowded room. I suppose that was always a bit of a problem with Press Here. It worked wonderfully with groups but was relatively small so that you had to really move it around a lot so that everyone could see it. Not so here! The large size plays well, though it could also be a great laptime read for one-on-one time. A return to form.
We Are Here by Tami Charles, ill. Bryan Collier
Boy, there’s really nothing to beat the moment that happens when an author and illustrator present their book together, right? For me, that moment happened this year when Tami Charles and Bryan Collier appears at the Andersen’s Breakfast in Illinois (hosted by Anderson’s Bookstore). It’s an annual tradition, where educators come to watch great children’s book creators speak, and then a whole slew of local authors and illustrators are available to sign their own books afterwards (including me, ho ho!). This year I watched as Tami and Bryan systematically went through this book and, in the process, made me completely fall in love with it. But it wasn’t until they read it aloud, start to finish, that I realized what a magnificent readaloud it truly is. The lines, cadences, and structure. And look at that art! Collier works in shotgun houses everywhere, and that (plus a balloon AND the pots from Dave the Potter as well) make this the kind of book where the reader can draw in the audiences by having them spot these different elements. You’re just going to have to try it out on your own. I was amazed.
Zap! Clap! Boom! The Story of a Thunderstorm by Laura Purdie Salas, ill., Elly MacKay
“Flicker, flitter, skitter, flash! / Pounding sounding distant crash!” A clear day turns stormy in this marvelous natural readaloud told with a gently rhyming text and simply gorgeous art. Oh! What a delightful surprise! Somehow, I came close to missing this little book, so I’m so glad you all pointed it out to me. I actually do get asked for rhyming nonfiction from time to time, and as anyone who has ever had to page through a dull Seussian attempt will tell you, that can go real wrong, real fast. But Salas, I am happy to report, is a true pro and best of all she’s been paired with Elly MacKay! I’ve been waiting years for MacKay to be given the right project and here, at least, we have it! This is a really good readaloud, with all kinds of interactive elements to enjoy. I can see a librarian getting a whole room of kids to repeat “Zap! Clap! Boom!” together. Add in the almost marbled, iridescent art with its vague hints of three-dimensionality and you’ve got yourself a hit.
Hope you enjoyed these! Here are the lists you can expect for the rest of this month:
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readaloud
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 – Older Funny Books
December 20 – Science Fiction Books
December 21 – Fantasy Books
December 22 – Comics & Graphic Novels
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 – 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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