10 picture books we really love right now

Here are ten recent picture books that collectively demonstrate the enormous depth and variety in this category, and individually stand tall. We think there are a few future favourites in this list.


stickandstone

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenfeld

Some things never change, and the tradition of a certain type of kid keeping a collection of sticks, stones and other found items in their pockets is one of them. Sometimes these sticks and stones even need a place at the dinner table, or a spot by the side of the bed. Sometimes they get names. It’s all good. Maybe this was what inspired Beth Ferry’s delightful story about a stick and a stone who become friends. She throws in a bullying pinecone and a thunderstorm for tension, and a really sure-footed, uncomplicated rhyming text.

Stories that personify inanimate objects are risky, but this one – like Stick Man and The Day The Crayons Quit – works a treat. Fun and extremely sweet for 3+.


wordfromsophia

One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail

Sophia is the best kind of precocious, and her One True Desire is to get a pet giraffe but first she has to convince her notoriously hard-to-impress family: Mother (a judge), Father (a businessman), Uncle Conrad (a politician) and Grand-mama (very strict!). Sophia makes a series of intelligent, erudite speeches to each one of them, but is told every time that she’s too verbose. Pie charts, foot rubs, polls and complex presentations – none of these are enough to convince her family that she should get a giraffe. And then Sophia remembers the one word she needs: Please!

This is exceptionally charming and funny, and the illustrations depicting a multi-racial family are joyful. The illustrator, Yasmeen Ismail, features twice in this list. Ages 4+ will be enthralled and adults will be amused reading this aloud too.


crayonshome

The Day The Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

Sequels to popular books have such huge expectations placed on them. This one rises to the challenge in every way – some (including me) may find it even more hilarious and charming than The Day The Crayons Quit.

Duncan’s crayons send him a stack of postcards from all over the place, pleading for assisted passage home. Maroon, for instance, who was once used “to draw a scab”, has survived two years in the couch and grown a maroon beard. Neon Red, last used to “draw Dad’s sunburn”, is much further afield having been abandoned on a family holiday. And Glow-In-The-Dark has been in the basement since last Halloween (this page is glow-in-the-dark)! Drew Daywalt writes with great humour, and Oliver Jeffers draws with great humour, and together they are brilliant.


suriswall

Suri’s Wall by Lucy Estela and Matt Ottley

This book is special in every way, from the cloth cover (stroking it is impossible to resist) to Matt Ottley’s stunning artwork. The story is equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful, and it would be fascinating to share with a child and see the story through their eyes.

Suri’s life is enclosed by a stone wall, in a guarded, partly ruined fortress on a mountain. Many other children live there with her but Suri is isolated, she feels, by her height. She’s so much taller than everyone else, they don’t invite her into their games and “her heart ached to join them”. But when one child asks Suri to tell her what’s on the other side of the wall, Suri’s height and her amazing capacity for storytelling gives her an unexpected new role. They recognise her value; they love what she tells them about life on the other side. Finally she is part of the group.

What is particularly poignant is that Suri is spinning them beautiful tales in order to protect them from the reality of what’s happening over the wall. When questioned by a guard as to why she won’t tell them the truth as they’re going to find out as soon as they grow tall enough, she gives an answer many parents would agree with: “Yes, perhaps… but not today.”

Suri’s Wall, like My Two Blankets, is a story that is as timeless as it is apt for the situations many children are in at this moment around the world.


imagirl

I’m a Girl! by Yasmeen Ismail

This is going to become my instant go-to for every new baby girl in my life. I wish it had been around when my daughter was small – she would have identified so well with this t-shirt and shorts wearing, bouncy, messy, joyful character who defies expectations of what little girls should be like.

Although I hope I’m a Girl! is followed swiftly by I’m a Boy!, that’s not to say that boys are excluded from this story. There’s one boy who declares that dolls are for girls but another who is happily playing with dolls and obviously a little shaken in his confidence by this confrontation. What works is how realistic this is, but that the characters are not human makes it lovely safe ground to explore these challenges with young children. It’s vivid, it’s bold, it’s life-affirming and it makes me picture a new generation punching the air and shouting, “I’m a girl!”


bearreport

The Bear Report by Thyra Heder

If homework is a constant source of aargghhh! in your house, you’ll really appreciate this one. A little girl gloomily fills out her homework sheet, which asks for three facts about polar bears. She writes: 1. They are big; 2. They eat things; 3. They are mean. Yep, she’s not really pulling out all the stops with this one. She just wants to kick back and watch some telly.

So she’s most surprised when an actual polar bear shows up in her sitting room. “We’re not ALL mean,” he says and takes her on an incredible journey to the Arctic, where she learns first-hand about the life of a polar bear. They become firm friends; it’s adorable. The artwork is stunningly atmospheric. The little girl arrives home and has another go at her homework.

The Bear Report is one of the best picture books I’ve seen in a while for children in Prep and over.


weallsleep

We All Sleep by Ezekiel Kwaymullina and Sally Morgan

This book is an explosion of colour and shape, rather like a beautiful quilt made up of so many distinct parts, seamlessly stitched together. The text is spare and made up of words that are satisfying to say out loud – mangrove, kookaburra, slithers – taking the reader on a journey through rivers and the rich, red earth. Meanwhile the artwork is unashamedly vibrant, a riot of uneven shapes.

I can see this book being a favourite in a classroom, with children copying each animal activity (dingo howls, goanna hides…), but it would also be a lovely ritual, one-on-one, as a bedtime story, as it comes to that natural conclusion: “Beneath the stars, we all sleep.”


drumdreamgirl

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez

The palette and style of Mexican artist Rafael Lopez is pure magic. The story is based on a true one – a Chinese-African-Cuban girl in 1932 who challenged Cuba’s rule that said girls could not be drummers. This girl lives “in a city of drumbeats” and longs to be part of that rhythm and noise, but because of the rules she can only dream her way in and make imaginary music. She hears different beats wherever she goes – the clack of woodpecker beats / the dancing tap of her own footsteps / and the comforting pat of her own heartbeat. Each page is a work of art. And finally, thanks to her father, the drum-dream-girl is allowed to take drumming lessons and show the world what an amazing talent she has.

Empowering and truly stunning.


worldsecond

The World In a Second by Isabel Minhos Martins and Bernardo Carvalho

And now for something completely different…

This is not a story but a series of snapshots that, together, form a profound impression of the enormity and connectivity of our frenetic world. A child’s world starts off small and centered, but gradually they take in bits of confusing information about where they fit in, what else is out there, how far away things are, and the fact that as each second passes millions of different things are happening: good things, bad things, mundane things.

Children who love grappling with these profound thoughts will be captivated, and the package is arresting, the graphics dynamic. A volcano erupts, an old woman sleeps, a package arrives, an elevator gets stuck – some of the second-long events will lead to dramatic discussions about what happens next, while others are more quietly profound. Highly recommended for any primary school child.


bobrailway

Bob the Railway Dog by Corinne Fenton and Andrew McLean

Corinne Fenton expertly captures those little-known stories of Australian life, like the one about the dog who sat patiently awaiting her master’s return – The Dog On the Tuckerbox (he didn’t, by the way; bring tissues for that one). Or, the one about the elephant who gave ride after ride to children at the zoo, back when that was common practice – Queenie: One Elephant’s Story, set in the 1940s.

Corinne is obviously a dog lover, because following last Christmas’s Little Dog and the Christmas Wish, which is also gorgeous, she is back with another dog – Bob, the true story of a scruffy brown stray who became a bit of a legend on the South Australian railways during the late 1800s. Corinne lends her factual tales such an assured storyteller’s voice that it’s gorgeous to read aloud. Andrew McLean’s illustrations are instantly recognisable and take the reader immediately to that time and place. The power of one relatively short life to tell the story of a different time is remarkable.

Suri's Wall

Suri’s Wall

Lucy Estela, Matthew Ottley

$24.99Buy now

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