Just like every year, 2022 picture books are inspiring, informative, silly, joyful, emotional, and full of big messages. Through a mixture of words and beautiful illustrations, they tell big stories that will become beloved by many young (and older) readers today. And more and more diverse stories are being published every year. But the only way for this to keep happening is to support contemporary picture books along with our favorite illustrated classics (like Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle). I love the picture books I remember from my childhood so much. But since I started sharing more current picture books with my students and the young readers in my life, I realized that there are so many amazing, important stories that are being published today. I want to support these books as well as my old favorites.
2022 picture books had a big range. There are stories about Native American traditions, making Sunday pancakes, an elephant shipwrecked on a small island, and explorations of subjects from concrete to the Monterey Bay to the history of pizza! Some 2022 picture books will make readers giggle and laugh with silly delight. And others will make readers think about how to handle big emotions. Some 2022 picture books are full of fascinating facts. And others preserve our memory of important events in history. There were so many amazing, beautiful picture books published in 2022. But here are 20 of my favorite picture books from this year, that I classify as must-reads.
Berry Song by Michaela Goade
With lyrical words and dreamlike, atmospheric writing, this picture book about the seasonal berry-picking of the Tlingit people in Sheet’ká, Alaska is a delight! Throughout the year a grandmother and her granddaughter take gifts from the Earth while singing songs to help show their gratitude, and keep the bears away while they are berry-picking. This is a beautiful story about gratitude and appreciating the Earth. It is also an amazing way to learn more about the Tlingit culture, especially through a poignant author’s note at the end of the book.
Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter
This book has a long title and explores an even longer history of the color blue. It goes over all the ways blue pigment has been made throughout centuries, from snails in Eurasia to crushed sapphires in Afghanistan to indigo grown and harvested on American plantations by enslaved African people. The gorgeous illustrations showing a variety of blue tones augments the fascinating history of one of the world’s most popular and sought out colors.
Concrete: From the Ground Up by Larissa Theule, illustrated by Steve Light
Calling all construction-obsessed young readers! This picture book takes a fairly mundane topic and breathes life into it. From the creation of concrete through the many applications of the material in the world around us, this nonfiction picture book dives deep into the subject. Not only is the engineering and science of concrete explored, but also the building and architectural history. Concrete is so ubiquitous, it’s easy not to think too much about it. But reading this beautifully-illustrated, informative picture book will change that for readers.
Does a Bulldozer Have a Butt? by Derick Wilder, illustrated by K-Fai Steele
This book pitches itself as Dr. Seuss meets Everyone Poops. I found that to be a pretty apt description. This rhyming story follows a precious child walking to school with their father asking one question over and over and over again: does it have a butt? From scarecrows to crayons and sheep to bulldozers, they debate what does and doesn’t have a butt. A hilarious story that will have younger readers dissolving into laughter, but one that never devolves into gross out humor. Prepare for a lot of giggle breaks while you’re reading this one!
Elephant Island by Leo Timmers
When Elephant gets ship wrecked, he ends up on an island that’s comically small. One by one, his friends come to try to rescue him. And one by one their vessels are destroyed as Elephant tries to escape. But instead of giving up, Elephant and his friends use the wreckage to expand the tiny island so there is enough room for all of them to live there. Soon, there is even a ferris wheel and a waffle maker. Why would they ever want to leave? There are important messages about perseverance and friendship in this picture book. But the physical comedy portrayed through the illustrations is what will truly delight readers.
Feathers Together by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso
Inspired by a pair of real-life birds, Klepetan and Malena are storks who do everything together. Even when Malena is injured and must heal under the care of a helpful human, they find ways to stay with each other. But when fall comes, it’s time for Klepetan to leave Croatia and migrate to South Africa. Malena is still too injured to make the journey. The two storks must try to find a way to remain close while being separated for the first time.
If You Laugh, I’m Starting This Book Over by Chris Harris, illustrated by Serge Bloch
If you want a book guaranteed to fill the room with zany, chaotic absurdity, then this is definitely the right picture book to read. It breaks the fourth wall by speaking directly to the readers, in the same vein as The Book With No Pictures or There’s a Monster at the End of this Book (one of my personal favorites). By demanding that readers don’t laugh but then filling each page with silly art, funny names, and hilarious concepts, the book practically ensures giggles. This might not be a favorite for bedtime, but it makes an incredibly fun read-aloud.
I Love My Body Because by Shelly Anand and Nomi Ellenson, illustrated by Erika Rodriguez Medina
There are so many negative messages kids (and adults) receive about their bodies. This book combats those pervasive cultural messages with a celebration of all bodies. It discusses different ways we can show love to our bodies like playing, hygiene, and friendship. It also acknowledges that sometimes our bodies don’t feel good. The book also isn’t just about accepting and loving our own bodies. It also emphasizes loving and respecting children with bodies that are different from ours. This is represented through a variety of races, genders, disabilities, body sizes, hair types, religious garments, birthmarks, and more. The sheer amount of diverse representation within this book is a triumph that supports its core message.
I’m a Unicorn by Helen Yoon
Unicorn stories are plentiful in the picture book world. But the kids I know are still enchanted by them. And this unique, humorous take definitely stands out. A one horned calf, perhaps feeling self-conscious about being different from the other cows, decides they are a unicorn after reading about the magical creatures in a book. After all they have just one horn. And even if they don’t poop rainbows or shimmer under the moonlight, they still want to feel like they belong. A chance run in with some “real” unicorns will decide the issue one way or another. Along with some big laughs (did I mention the rainbow poop?) this book has a powerful message of openness and acceptance of differences.
Knight Owl by Christopher Denise
Owl dreams of becoming a knight one day, even though he’s a bird and a tiny one at that. With fun medieval details and lots of humor, the story shows him finally getting his chance when lots of knights go missing. After knight school, where he is adorably too small to wield weapons and has trouble staying awake in the daytime, he’s assigned to the night watch. Other human knights underestimate him. But his small size and cleverness save the day when a dragon attacks one night.
The Line in the Sand by Thao Lam
This wordless picture book is beautifully-illustrated and has an important message. Panels show a monster dragging a stick down the beach and creating a line in the sand. A group of other monsters who were playing on the beach now wonder what this line that divides them into different sections means. They debate if they can cross the line and even physically stop each other from doing so. But the arrival of a bee leads to the line being erased and their friendship restored. The metaphor inherent in this story is subtle, but a great way to start meaningful conversations with adult guidance.
Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Yas Imamura
This beautiful love story is intriguing for children and adult readers. It is based on the the true love story of the author’s grandparents who met and fell in love in the library of a Japanese Internment Camp during WWII. The story shows the extreme injustice of this time in American history where just being Japanese American became a crime. But it also shows the power of books to get people through unimaginably hard times and the optimism of finding love in the middle of extreme hardship.
Luli and the Language of Tea by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Hyewon Yum
This multicultural book takes place in a kindergarten English as a second language class. To combat the quiet classroom, 5 year old Luli decides to host a tea party. She calls the yummy, hot drink “Chá!” and her classmates respond with the words for tea in their languages ranging from Russian to Arabic to Swahili. While they all speak different languages and many come from different countries, tea is something they can all recognize and enjoy.
Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Loveis Wise
In this beautiful picture book, Kendi adapts a short story Hurston wrote in 1925 to make it accessible to young readers. In the book a river tells a story to a brook about a young Afro-Indigenous girl named Magnolia Flower. She is the beloved daughter of an escaped enslaved person and a Cherokee woman who escaped the Trail of Tears. She craves the freedom to love whoever she wants and makes the brave choice to follow her heart. The story is gripping and a unique love story to see in a picture book. And notes at the end give context to the elements of Black folklore preserved in this adaptation and the importance of stories showing Black and Native resistance from American History.
Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle by Nina LaCour, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
The young girl in this story loves being sandwiched between her two mothers. When Mommy has to go on a work trip, she stays with Mama who takes care of her. But it’s still hard for the girl and for Mommy to be apart from each other. Luckily, at the end of the week there is a happy reunion of the trio. Even though there are a few weird feelings at first when Mommy returns, eventually things feel just right again.
Over and Under the Waves by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
This book was always going to be a slam dunk for me. Firstly, because I love Kate Messner and Christopher Neal’s previous Over and Under picture books. And secondly, because I grew up near Monterey Bay, where this book is set. Stunning illustrations mixed with scientific information about the biodiversity and interdependence of ecosystems. From sea kelp to sardines and whales to wolf eels, this book covers so many interesting organisms!
Pizza!: A Slice of History by Greg Pizzoli
A nonfiction picture book on the history of pizza narrated by an adorable mouse! From just the premise alone, I knew I’d fall in love with this picture book. There are theories on where and when pizza was first invented, including a fanciful one featuring Queen Margartia. The book also includes fun facts about how pizza is eaten in different parts of the world, like how green peas are a common pizza topping in Brazil. Vivid and bright illustrations accompany this lively text. This is a longer picture book, coming in at 56 pages. But for pizza loving young readers, the pages will fly by.
Sunday Pancakes by Maya Tatsukawa
Cat wants to make Sunday pancakes, but realizes they don’t have any eggs or milk. To get these must-have ingredients, Cat invites Rabbit and Bear to join the breakfast making fun. Luckily, together they have everything they need to make a steaming, tall stack of pancakes. Even if there are a few mistakes made along the way, making breakfast together is the most delicious way to spend a Sunday morning.
The Worst Teddy Ever by Marcelo Verdad
Noa wonders why Teddy is always so tired. Teddy’s eyes are always in the same sleepy curve. And Noa is getting frustrated that Teddy never has enough energy to play. But it turns out there is a reason Teddy is so sleepy. He spends his nights protecting Noa from unwanted visitors like a tickle monster and the Boogeyman. Noa doesn’t know about Teddy’s nightly service in helping him sleep. But readers will have so much fun being let in on this secret and appreciating Teddy for all the work he does. There is also a Spanish language version of the picture book, El peor Teddy del mundo, for interested readers!
The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
A brother and sister learn to fight boredom by following their grandmother’s advice to use their imaginations. Now, sibling bickering and gray days can be solved with their powerful, colorful imaginations. This contrast between their internal world and the drab external conditions are portrayed brilliantly through illustrations. Particularly poignant is the grandmother’s descriptions on how she learned to use her imagination to fly from her ancestors who used the same ability from her ancestors who were forcibly brought to America and enslaved.