Our Favorite 2019 Picture Books
Arree and I are going to share some of our favorite picture books published in 2019, and then we'd love for you to share your favorites in the comments. That way, we all end up celebrating a bunch of great books and finding new mentor texts. And to help motivate you to share, there's a giveaway at the end of this post.
Is it curious that my two favorite picture books this year involve eating human beings? Can you believe that these books were published? Let’s celebrate their brilliance.
I’ve always admired Ryan T. Higgins’s sense of humor and We Don’t Eat Our Classmates doesn’t dissappoint. What better way to calm first day of school nerves than read about a nervous dinosaur that eats her classmates?
First day of school stories have been told many times and most stories are too message heavy and have predictable endings. They’re not really fun for kids or parents to read. They feel like lessons. But Ryan pulls it off effortlessly with humor, embarrassment, and a few bites. (Don’t worry, no one was seriously hurt.) Telling kids to be empathetic is one thing. Showing how it feels to be bitten is another!
I guess it shouldn’t be any surprise that I also love Hungry Jim, by Laurel Snyder. Melissa Manlove, who edited this book at Chronicle, showed me this book earlier this year, and I immediately loved it.
I gasped as Jim, who turns into a lion one day, devours his mother and practically everyone in the book! The art and the story remind me of Maurice Sendak’s work, wildly imaginative and emotionally honest.
Come to think of it, the idea of eating our emotions isn’t entirely new. People eat to deal with their emotions all of the time. (There’s a reason why Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia is a popular late night checkout item.) I just never thought the concept of eating people could be used in picture books. It’s so refreshing to see this idea explored in two great stories.
No one gets eaten in the stories that I picked, but I have to say that I also loved the two that Arree picked. There's actually a really delightful podcast where Matthew Winner, Laurel Snyder, and Chuck Groenink discuss Hungry Jim that I'm going to share before I discuss my two picks.
In Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border, Mitali Perkins has created a story that resonated with me so strongly that I had to get a second opinion from my daughter. I bring home stacks of 10-20 picture books from the library, and she agreed that it was the best picture book in the stack (which included books by Ryan T. Higgins, Adam Rex, Mem Fox, and a lot of award-winning authors and illustrators).
It's a story about La Posada Sin Fronteras. A mother takes her two children to see her mother, their abuela, through the border fence that separates San Diego (United States) and Tiajuana (Mexico). The children bring gifts for their abuela, and the older sister comes up with a brilliant way to get the picture her brother drew to their abuela. This story has a lot of heart.
And the writing is amazing. “Hugging her would feel like hugging a chunk of cookie dough.”
My second pick is a friendship story that shows how a shared obsession/interest/talent and little bit of kindness can lead to the best kind of friendship. (Another 2019 book that did this well was Andrea Zuill's Sweety.)
Poetree, by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds, wasn't even on my radar. But a librarian displayed it facing out on a top shelf, and I picked it up because of Shahrzad Maydani's beautiful cover. I thought it might be a poetry collection, but it's a story with two characters who write poetry.
If you love poetry and trees and friendship like I do, this story is for you.
Thanks for reading! Please leave some of your favorite picture books in the comments so that we can check them out. If you do share your favorites in a comment, we'll enter you in a giveaway for a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card. We'll close the giveaway at midnight on Friday (1/3/20), and I'll pick a winner on Saturday.
Edited to add: Lou Flores won the gift card. Thanks to all of you for sharing your favorites with us!
Happy New Year!
Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems.
Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award.
Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.