31 Days, 31 Lists: 2023 Simple Picture Book Texts
This is only my second year working this particular list into the mix. Initially I added it because I noticed on my library 101 Great Books for Kids committee that we adults had an interesting tendency to favor the more complicated picture books. This makes sense. We are adults. We like picture books that utilize clever wordplay or will be fun for US to read out loud. That’s why I am pleased to announce that today’s list is for the simplest of picture books. Not books for kids first learning to read necessarily (though I suppose you could use some of these to that end) but that know how to put a minimal number of words on a page. They are, perhaps, the most difficult picture books to write.
You get the full PDF of the list here.
If you’re interested in seeing other lists of simple picture book texts, as I said I only started this category just last year. Here’s what we’ve done so far:
2023 Simple Picture Book Texts
Catside Up, Catside Down: A Book of Prepositions by Anna Hrachovec
Cozy kitties in kooky situations are up, down, on, and around. Simple and hilarious, these gentle rhymes are a sure-fire hit. I am on board with this book because it is weird. It is a weird book about prepositions. And strange and that may sound, that’s in my wheelhouse. I mean, about the point where I realized that someone in this world (that someone being Chicago resident, and therefore neighbor, Anna Hrachovec) had taken literal minutes of her wild and precious life and used them to knit a tiny toilet with a cat in it (accompanied by a tiny knitted plunger) I threw in the towel. How am I supposed to resist this? It’s a simple book for kids (which we always need) and the prepositions aren’t just the usual suspects. Love the words “configure”, “astride”, and “astraddle”, to name but a few. Gotta give it up for the wackadoodle knitted kitty book.
How to Bird by Rasha Hamid
“Are you a birder?” Good news. Anyone can bird! Let this joyful little book be your guide with vibrant photographs and a heaping helping of enthusiasm! Folks, I just seem to keep finding great books. This latest is no exception. Here we have a book that makes it clear that any kid, anywhere (but particularly if you’re in the city) can be a birder. The birds that they show are indeed of the city (though I might take issue with the fact that they call the sparrows in the book “house sparrows” which are an entirely different breed). The photographs are a ton of fun, a mix of photos takes by Ms. Hamid and some other folks and iStock photos. But really I just love the energy of this book. If any book is going to make you want to run out the door to spot a birdie, this is the one.
Just One Flake by Travis Jonker
Let’s wrack our brains a little. I know you can help me with this. If you would be so good, please remind me of all the children’s librarians in the world who didn’t just transition to writing picture books for children, but also went so far as to illustrate those books themselves to boot. I’m thinking of multi-Caldecott winner Marcia Brown, of course, but anyone else? How about Travis Jonker? Here’s a fellow who for years was sending his friends tiny illustrated pamphlet picture books in the mail (much as Mo Willems used to do at the beginning of his career). He’d done some lovely picture books with illustrators (be sure to check out his future title with Caldecott Award winner Matthew Cordell!!), but now he’s created a picture book of his own WITH his own illustrations and it’s his best yet. The story is that universal desire to catch a snowflake on your tongue. Trouble is (and I think we can all attest to this) it’s not as easy as it looks. Like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football, our hero is repeatedly thwarted in his attempts until the denouement at the end. Jonker finishes strong with the silent gag on the last page, and then, of course, there’s the case of the book. If you remove the cover you’ll see an array of pretty snowflakes created by everyone from Cece Bell to Minh Lê. Full disclosure: I’m in there too. The book reads aloud brilliantly and best of all has a simple text that the younger kids will get behind. A winner!
Song That Gets Caught In My Head When I Read That Title: Just One Night.
Skeletown: Sí. No! by Rhode Montijo
Ahh. I’ve been waiting for this. Not literally, of course. I had no idea that Rhode Montijo was working on a new picture book series. But ever since I saw Montijo’s last picture book The Halloween Kid about 13 years ago (oh, I have a long memory) I knew another holiday offering had to be in the future. I just didn’t know it would turn out to be a series. Or, for that matter, colored in a fluorescent orange you could see a mile away (consider pairing this with Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton if you ever want to make a fluorescent picture book display). It’s not explicitly a Day of the Dead book but with a town wholly inhabited by skeleton folks, you can bet that people will be pulling this out for displays by the dozens. This falls squarely into the category of “simple books” since the text is almost entirely two words: si and no. It reminds me a bit of Unfortunately by Remy Charlip with its continual set up and payoff structure. Eventually a plot does begin to settle in, with the naughty skeleton getting his just desserts, then making up with the clever skeleton with the hair. Montijo has even managed to work in a surprise twist at the end, so kudos there. Kooky, silly, and fun enough that I hope we see more in this vein in the future.
Slowly Slowly by Toni Yuly
Simplicity incarnate! A beautiful, very succinct book about slowing down and watching a persimmon tree produce fruit. Perfect for early preschool, this is the kind of book where we could all take in lessons from this one: “When you slow down, you see wonders all around.” Indeed. Personally, I thought this quiet book was a lovely and clear way to look at the world. Additionally, it can be so incredibly difficult to find books that are this simple. Yuly’s been doing this kind of a book for years, but it would be nice if she got a little more credit for them.
Tumble by Adriana Hernandez Bergstrom
This is a pretty good example of a book that I dismissed out of hand the first time I read it, then did a complete 180 on later. Credit my co-worker Martha Meyer with that little turnaround. First off, this is one of those incredibly rare simple picture books. I often find that such books are incredibly difficult to find. So it has some real readaloud potential, but then there’s the science behind the story. How much do you actually know about tumbleweeds? As a Midwesterner, I’d never encountered one in real life, but watching their eerie life cycle is really eye-opening. I had a co-worker say that they particularly enjoyed it as someone who has tried to move a tumbleweed in the past. Science and simplicity all in one.
The World and Everything In It by Kevin Henkes
Some future researcher is just going to have a ball with the oeuvre of Kevin Henkes. Particularly if you look at how his work has changed over the decades. If we were to give each of his eras a different name, I’d suggest calling his current era the Era of Simplicity. This is when he’s paring everything down to its most essential form. Simple words. Clear cut art with clear cut strokes of the brush. Beautiful, most certainly. And the Kevin Henkes lovers out there (which are legion) love everything that he does. I wouldn’t label him as a risky creator, but there’s something so comforting in his reliability. The words here are simple and clear. He indulges in sentences like, “The big things are big,” and “Everything is in the world” which he repeats twice at the end like a mantra. We read a lot of books about how to engage in mindfulness with kids. Skip those. Just give them this book. It’s practically mindfulness incarnate on the page.
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.
SLJ Blog Network