8 Picture Books that Saw Us Through 2020
Despite these stormy 2020 months, an abundance of picture books released this year has managed to reflect resilience, joy, and love. Here are some favorites for your delight and shelter:
The Old Truck by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey
Iowans, we’ve all seen this old truck: rusty and overgrown with grass and weeds after a lifetime of hard work on the farm. The passage of time and generations in this cyclical story makes it both dreamy and grounded, like the nature of working the land itself. The hand-stamped artwork and spirit of the determined young woman and her toolbox make this one a standout.
Lift by Minh Lé, illustrated by Dan Santat
A gem for those 6-8-year-old early readers: you will want to live inside Iris’s comic-strip world and Iris wants to live inside her very own personal elevator in her bedroom. The perfect celebration of the rich imagination of children and the love and responsibility of the “older sibling.” Flip to the last page and you’ll understand when I say: this story is luminous.
I am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordan C. James
A celebration and affirmation of young Black men filled with stunning poetry and sweeping paintings throughout – a true pleasure to read aloud: “I am brave. I am hope. I am my ancestors’ wildest dream. I am worthy of success, of respect, of safety, of kindness, of happiness.” This one belongs in every home library, and I would especially encourage teachers and librarians to feature it in classrooms.
Bess the Barn Stands Strong by Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia, illustrated by Katie Hickey
A Des Moines author showcasing Iowa strength: the barn herself, Bess, is the major character whose walls and rafters sing with harvest celebrations and the birth of new animals. Lush illustrations of our beloved Midwest landscape showcase rolling fields dotted with cattle and tractors. In light of this year’s Derecho, the way Bess weathers the storm in this book feels even more meaningful.
A follow-up to Julian is a Mermaid: Julian meets a new friend, Marisol, while at a wedding with his Abuela. The two get caught up in their imaginations, playing outside, as the story welcomes a gentle exploration of identity with the swapping and strutting of outfits. Lovingly, Julian, and Marisol return to the open arms of joyous family members who celebrate the children and also embrace their own identities. With soft swoony illustrations and spare prose, the romantic setting of this outdoor wedding party will make this sequel a new favorite about the power of familial love and support.
Nothing in Common by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Consider this premise: “they had nothing in common, except …”
And so the story unfolds with an adventure including a hot air balloon, a marvelous flying dog, and helmets for thinking. Two characters discover that they see a similar kind of magic in the world, a whimsy illustrated in unexpectedly vivid night-sky sweeps and small character expressions. They travel far only to return home again, realizing they have more in common than they thought.
The Bear and the Moon by Mathew Burgess, illustrated by Cåtia Chien
It’s a simple idea: a baby bear delights in a small red balloon. But by the conclusion of the story, you’ll be reaffirming your little ones, and yourself, that a mistake does not mean you’re a bad bear. The way this story speaks of goodness and kindness feels like a hug straight from Fred Rogers’ legacy. It’s forthright without resolving in fixing problems, but rather in rejecting shame and accepting difficulty. I even recommend this for grown-ups who are going through hard times.
What We’ll Build by Oliver Jeffers
A letter from father to daughter, the words roll with rhythm and rhyme while each illustration sparks little stories of its own. This one definitely resonates with an eye on the horizon that is both hopeful and grounded in how families can store up love for hard times. It has a timeless allegorical feeling (“let’s build a boat that can’t be broken/ that will not sink or be cracked open.”) without losing the joy of specificity. Keep an eye out for the mysterious little fox.
As 2020 comes to a close, let’s all take a deep breath, open a favorite book, and let ourselves rest for a minute in imagination, illustration and hope.
As the moon says to the bear in The Bear and the Moon, “Good bear. Kind bear.
Don’t worry, bear.”
About the Author
Abigail Paxton is the owner of Storyhouse Bookpub and loves nothing more than handing the perfect book to a fellow reader at just the right time. She is an enthusiastic bookseller and writer, and in her spare time, you can find her reading, running, or hunting out the best beaches in her 1957 camper with her husband & big fluffy dog. Follow Storyhouse Bookpub’s journey in Des Moines on Instagram @storyhousebookpub and at storyhousebookpub.com.