I have so many favorite classic picture books—some of them were even published when my mom was a kid. I love the nostalgia of reading and sharing stories I remember from being a kid about hungry caterpillars or mischievous little girls who live in the Plaza or get their appendix out. But I also know that for picture books to continue, I should read and support the ones being published more recently too. And there are some really wonderful 2019 picture books coming out—with more empathy and diversity than ever. Hence this highly subjective list of 20 must-read 2019 picture books!
Astro Girl by Ken Wilson Max
Astrid has loved stars since before she can remember. As she moves through the day, her father helps her prepare for and act out various space activities. From swinging around fast in a space ship to eating food from a tube, Astrid is ready and willing to become a space explorer. And by the end we learn who inspired Astrid’s career goals. This simply illustrated book also includes nonfiction information about women astronauts in the back!
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
Bilal is excited to make one of his favorite dishes with his dad. And he’s even more excited to share it with his friends, who’ve never had daal before. But then he begins to worry. What if they think it tastes weird? What if they don’t like it? As they comment on the unfamiliar smells and colors, Bilal suddenly isn’t as sure about sharing his favorite food with new people.
Bunny in the Middle by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Christopher Denise
This sweet picture book delves into what’s great about being the middle child. Sometimes it can be hard, but the story focuses on the positives. For example, how the middle bunny gets to take care of their younger sibling but is comforted by their older sibling.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
This picture book uses poetry to tell the story of a contemporary Native American family through the lens of food. The lyrical sentences and soft illustrations show how fry bread is more than just a food. It represents feelings, family, colors, culture, and an entire nation.
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
This 2019 picture book shows a father stepping in to do his daughter’s hair. Daddy might have a lot to learn before he’s as good as mommy, but he loves his daughter’s natural hair and is committed to helping. Written by a former NFL player, this book celebrates Black hair and father-daughter relationships.
The Book Hog by Greg Pizzoli
A favorite for little bibliophiles, this story introduces the book hog. The book hog loves books. He loves the way they smell, look, and feel. And he’s collected quite a few books. But the book hog has a secret. He doesn’t know how to read. When he attends a library story time, the book hog learns one more reason to love books. The stories inside!
How to Read A Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This is another picture book perfect for little literature lovers. Celebrated author, Kwame Alexander uses poetry to describe the various pleasures of reading. From a tree to read under to a city stoop, there are so many ways to enjoy books and reading.
It’s Not Hansel and Gretel by Josh Funk, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor
The second book in the It’s Not a Fairytale series introduces Hansel and Gretel. But they are not following the directions of the storyteller. And this is not the Hansel and Gretel story you are familiar with. With wacky illustrations and hilarious banter between the characters, this picture book will give you a whole new perspective on the children who find a gingerbread house in the middle of the forest.
Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
This book by the Supreme Court justice has one central message: if someone is different and you don’t know why, just ask them about it! The story celebrates kids with many different abilities and draws on Justice Sotomayor’s childhood experiences with diabetes. With bright, colorful illustrations, this is a story with important message for all children (and adults!).
Kevin the Unicorn: It’s Not All Rainbows by Jessika Von Innerebner
Kevin thinks unicorns are supposed to be perfect all the time. But a bad day, including some epically untamable hair and an empty tank of gas in a rain storm, makes him question this belief. At first, he feels like he has to keep up the unicorn code and pretend everything is still sparkly, rainbow goodness. But once he admits his true feelings, something strange happens. He feels better. Yay for a book about feeling *all* the feelings and yay for a male unicorn!
Lubna and the Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egneus
Lubna and her dad had to leave their home behind. They now live in a refugee camp full of tents. Lubna is scared, until she befriends a pebble. Then one day a boy her age joins the camp. Amir becomes friends with Lubna and the pebble too. But when Lubna finds out she gets to leave the camp, she has to decide between taking her best friend, the pebble, with her or leaving the pebble for Amir. A gentle, gorgeous introduction to being a refugee, this book honors the importance of friendship and resilience.
Mama’s Work Shoes by Caron Levis, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Perry loves all of her mom’s shoes, especially the sounds they make. Zip-zup shoes are for the park. And pat-put shoes are for when it’s raining outside. But when her mom get’s new click-clack shoes that mean Mama is going back to work, Perry doesn’t like these one bit. So Perry decides to take matters into her own hands and hide the click-clack shoes. The plethora of onomatopoeia will make this cheerful book about separation anxiety extra fun to read out loud.
My Papi has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña
Daisy Ramona loves riding on the back of her papi’s motorcycle and seeing all the people and places she loves. But her immigrant neighborhood is changing. Some businesses are closing, and people are moving away. But one thing that won’t change is Daisy’s love for her home and her papi.
A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele
Pip is a spotted pig in a class full of pink pigs. But she doesn’t notice the difference and thinks she is “normal” until a new pig joins the class and begins to tease her. First, it’s her weird lunch. Then, it’s her art looking different. And worst of all, the new pig says her mom must be her babysitter because they don’t look the same. Now Pip doesn’t feel very normal. But with her mom’s help and a trip into a more diverse pig city, Pip will learn it’s okay to be different and how to stand up to her bully.
Poetree by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani
Sylvia is so excited by the end of winter that she writes a poem to a birch tree and ties it to the tree’s branches. She’s surprised and delighted when she returns and finds a new poem attached to the birch tree. Could the tree be writing her poems back? This picture book is an ode to both poetry and the inspirational beauty of nature in the changing seasons.
Stormy: A Story about Finding a Forever Home by Guojing
Told only through pictures, we meet Stormy—a scared, abandoned puppy living alone in the park. When a woman sees Stormy under a bench, she wants to take care of the pup. But Stormy is too scared and runs. The woman keeps trying, going back to the park day after day. Trust does not come easily for Stormy, but eventually the two become friends and Stormy doesn’t have to be alone anymore.
There Are No Bears in This Bakery by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Muffin the cat fancies himself a neighborhood detective and watches over The Little Bear Bakery. The bakery might have bears in the title, but Muffin is sure there are no bears in the bakery. Until one night, Muffin investigates a strange noise. At first, he thinks it’s the biggest mouse he’s ever seen. But the noise ends up being the smallest bear cub Muffin’s run into. And the bear’s stomach is rumbling!
Camp Tiger by Susan Choi, illustrated by John Rocco
On an annual family camping trip, a boy is encouraged by his mother to start doing more things by himself like his older brother. At first, the boy is scared, but then he meets a tiger who asks for his own tent to join the camping trip. With the tiger around, the boy’s confidence grows. And the tiger joins the boy in trying new things, like catching a fish and steering the canoe. A whimsical coming-of-age story that blurs the lines of fantasy and reality!
Truman by Jean Reidy, Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
Truman is a tortoise living in New York City with his friend Sarah. When he sees Sarah take the bus for the first time, he gets very worried about her. And as he waits and waits, his worries get bigger and bigger. So Truman decides to put his fear aside and go down into the big city to look for his friend.
Where are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez, illustrated by Jamie Kim
A little girls is upset and confused when people keep asking where she’s really from. She asks her abuelo for the answer. He replies with a nuanced history of her ancestors in South America. But when she wants a more literal location, he wisely points to his own heart.
If you are still looking for more to read after making your way through these 2019 picture books, may I suggest checking out this list of picture books from the last five years or these librarian recommendations.