It can be tempting to consume picture books quickly, flipping through their pages and lingering no longer than necessary to get a sense of the illustrator’s style and the gist of the story. “Wasn’t that nice?” we say to ourselves, then open another book. Far be it for me to dictate to anyone what to read or how (although it could be argued that is literally my job here at BookPage), but should you wish to pick up one of the 10 best picture books of 2019 listed and linked below, I’d encourage you to slow down a little.
Sit with the book awhile. Feel the paper under your fingers. Look under the dust jacket; did the illustrator hide a surprise for you under there? Consider the endpapers, a paper curtain you’ll pull back yourself to unveil the stage of the title page. Try thinking of the book like a 32-course tasting meal, each spread of a dish prepared meticulously for your nourishment and delight. Ask yourself about the line breaks, the typography, why the author chose this word and not that word, why the illustrator chose a green coat, a pink dress, watercolors instead of acrylics, a sequence of images here but a two-page spread there.
A picture book is a symphony of artistic choices that rewards deep engagement. It’s not quite a poem with images, not quite a sequential visual narrative with explanatory text. It’s something else, and its magic is singular and life-changing.
These are 10 of the year’s best enchantments. Let yourself fall under the spells they cast.
Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’s atmospheric and sensitive My Heart explores the fears, joys and emotional vulnerabilities of children through spare rhymes and softly rendered illustrations.
Eliza Wheeler’s lush and detailed picture book, based on her own grandmother’s personal experiences, follows a Depression-era family who make the most of having little.
Author-illustrator James E. Ransome explores a week in the life of a young girl who is a slave in this strikingly illustrated story that centers on the endurance and humanity of enslaved people.
In simple yet lyrical prose full of understated perceptiveness, Stephanie Parsley Ledyard reflects on what, exactly, it is that turns a house into a home as a young girl prepares to move.
Caldecott Honor illustrator Oge Mora’s Saturday is a bighearted ode to parent-child bonding, accompanied by Mora’s signature collage illustrations.
Small in the City is a parable as hushed as falling winter snow, offering hope and reassurance in the face of uncertainty and fear.
Caldecott Honor illustrator Christian Robinson makes his authorial debut with this wordless tale of a multilayered, mind-blowing and truly out-of-this-world adventure.
Patricia C. McKissack’s contributions to children’s literature cannot be understated, and her final picture book shines with the generosity of spirit that defined her as a writer.
This picture book biography of Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown captures the respect Brown had for her young readers as well as the essence of her legacy, and is full of refreshing and important truths.
The award-winning team of Philip C. and Erin E. Stead triumph again in this understatedly surreal tale of unexpected friendship, imagination and courage.