As reviewers, we pick books apart. We dissect mood and discern connotation, weigh words and evaluate images. Our work can be analytical, almost scientific, and we love to do it. But what really brings us to our knees are books whose hearts beat louder than our pencils scratch. These picture books check all the boxes for excellence, but most importantly, their honesty resonates strong and clear.
Bess the Barn Stands Strong
In Bess the Barn Stands Strong, Bess the barn is an integral part of life on the farm. She participates in its celebrations and shelters its residents. Her wooden beams and well-made doors are kind and welcoming. But when Bess is replaced by a gleaming new barn, she is no longer the center of farm life—until she proves that a loving, unwavering heart always shines bright.
A true storyteller, Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia gives Bess life with literary gilding; there’s repetition, imagery, personification and more. The prose flows, poetic and brusque by turns, as the finely wrought story oh-so-delicately addresses the concept of passing on.
Katie Hickey’s art fills these pages with warmth. Her tones shift from light to dark but stay within an appealingly agrarian palette. Varied brushstrokes create movement and mood; soft fields are wind-swept under a swift-moving storm, and when Bess’ neglected beams begin to wilt, her distress is visible and wrenching.
This is a book to share while tucked in somewhere cozy. Bess the Barn Stands Strong reminds us that love shelters us through all storms.
Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away
Sometimes love protects us tangibly, while other times it surrounds us with friendships that change us forever. Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away gently addresses a difficult moment in many childhoods. Autumn has arrived, and so has the moving van. Daniela and her best friend, Evelyn Del Rey, spend one last day together, sharing all the things that make them “almost twins.” Daniela knows life is changing, but will her friendship with Evelyn continue?
Sonia Sánchez’s illustrations resound with the clatter and chatter of kids at play. Vibrant colors and energetic patterns collide with myriad textures. Some images are framed slightly off-kilter, as though the product of a lively jumble of imagination. Each page feels like a long-ago moment, as pinpoints of detail stand out against a hazy recollection of boxes and bookshelves. Amid the chaos of moving day, Sánchez finds moments of connection and comfort: cookies baked by a neighbor, parents conversing nearby, the two girls placing the last special stickers on each other’s faces.
Newbery Medalist Meg Medina writes in the earnest and playful voice of a child, using uncomplicated words and a tone that’s equal parts solemn and hopeful. Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away affirms feelings of sadness but provides assurance that true friendship—the kind built on sharing glittery stickers—endures.
Sometimes love blossoms in spite of the miles, while other times it grows with every step we take. Red Shoes is a tribute to objects that bring us joy and people whose thoughtfulness follows us everywhere. The story opens as Malika’s grandmother surprises her with a pair of red shoes. Malika wears them on school days and play days, rainy days and fancy days. Even on a hard day when she has a disagreement with a friend, the red shoes are there. When the beloved shoes no longer fit, Malika and Nana decide to donate them. And so the shoes arrive in Africa as a gift from a generous aunt to a devout little girl who’s been fasting for Ramadan.
Ebony Glenn’s art is bright and cheerful, and her characters pop against muted backgrounds. She imbues Red Shoes with a spunky personality and a visual style reminiscent of film animation. Bold shapes, warm shades and expressive faces create an inviting tone. It’s one of those rare books that feels both brand-new and well aged. Karen English’s narrative is kid-friendly, and her writing style—repetitive and full of onomatopoeia—makes for a sweet, delightful read-aloud. Red Shoes focuses on the joy Malika finds in her treasured shoes, but its heart sings of family, relationships and tradition.
This Old Dog
Finally, there is love that expects nothing in return, love that delights in a sunny day shared, an easy walk and a whiff of fresh grass. After an old dog’s humans bring home their new baby, he wonders if he will ever again have a friend who moves at his speed. This Old Dog gives us a dog’s-eye view of love as an old dog falls fast for his little girl. From his big grin to his floppy, wagging tail, it’s clear that what the old dog lacks in elegance, he makes up for in loyalty.
Gabriel Alborozo’s art is petal-soft, with a sketchy feel and a subdued tone. Colors tumble together to create a delightful chaos of fields and flowers, while quick lines emphasize action: wagging tails, fast-walking people, a happy somersault down a hill. Martha Brockenbrough writes in an unassuming voice, and her unpretentious, casually poetic lines will catch you off guard with their tenderness and honesty.
This Old Dog is a book that walks calmly into the room and warms your heart with its easy camaraderie before settling into a much-loved napping spot. After all, love doesn’t need to be fancy or extravagant. Sometimes, it’s as simple as having someone by your side.