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january 2020 Best Picture Books

Big Papa and the Time Machine book
#1
Big Papa and the Time Machine
Written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Shane W. Evans
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Discover the true meaning of being brave in this tender and whimsical picture book from Daniel Bernstrom (One Day in the Eucalytus, Eucalyptus Tree) and Shane Evans (Chocolate Me!) that follows a grandfather and grandson who travel through time in a beloved 1952 Ford.

A little boy who lives with his grandpa isn’t reprimanded for being afraid to go to school one day. Instead, Big Papa takes him away in his time machine—a 1952 Ford—back to all of the times when he, himself, was scared of something life was handing him.

Full of heartfelt moments and thrilling magical realism, Big Papa and the Time Machine speaks to the African American experience in a touching dialogue between two family members from different generations, and emerges as a voice that shares history and asks questions about one family’s experience in 20th-century black America.

*“Wasn’t you scared?”

“Oh, I was scared,” Big Papa said. “Sometimes you gotta walk with giants if you ever gonna know what you made of. That’s called being brave.”*

Black Is a Rainbow Color book
#2
Black Is a Rainbow Color
Written by Angela Joy and illustrated by Ekua Holmes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A child reflects on the meaning of being Black in this moving and powerful anthem about a people, a culture, a history, and a legacy that lives on.

Red is a rainbow color. Green sits next to blue. Yellow, orange, violet, indigo, They are rainbow colors, too, but

My color is black . . . And there’s no BLACK in rainbows.

From the wheels of a bicycle to the robe on Thurgood Marshall’s back, Black surrounds our lives. It is a color to simply describe some of our favorite things, but it also evokes a deeper sentiment about the incredible people who helped change the world and a community that continues to grow and thrive.

Stunningly illustrated by Caldecott Honoree and Coretta Scott King Award winner Ekua Holmes, Black Is a Rainbow Color is a sweeping celebration told through debut author Angela Joy’s rhythmically captivating and unforgettable words.

Hosea Plays On book
#3
Hosea Plays On
Written by Kathleen M. Blasi and illustrated by Shane W. Evans
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-9

This heartwarming picture book (based on a true story) depicts a day in the life of Hosea Taylor, a musician who—with his charm, talent, and generosity—brought joy to everyone he met.

Every day, Hosea takes the Number 42 bus into the city to play his shiny brass saxophone—and to hopefully earn enough money. Setting up in his favorite place, Hosea makes sweet music as people greet him with a smile, a little girl dances, and crowds surround him. A surprise ending reveals what the money is really for. Kathleen Blasi’s delightful text and Shane Evan’s colorful images capture the real-life closeness between the much-loved Hosea—who shared his passion for music and life with everyone—and his community.

An Author’s Note explains how Blasi learned about Hosea Taylor (1948-2016), and what compelled her to write his story.

Freedom Bird: A Tale of Hope and Courage book
#4
Freedom Bird: A Tale of Hope and Courage
Written by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by James E. Ransome
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-9

In this inspiring story in the tradition of American black folktales, an enslaved brother and sister are inspired by a majestic and mysterious bird to escape to freedom in this dramatic and unforgettable picture book.

There was nothing civil about that war. They should have called it what it was: a big, bad war.

Brother and sister Millicent and John are slaves on Simon Plenty’s plantation and have suffered one hurt and heartbreak after another. Their parents had told them old tales of how their ancestors had flown away to freedom just as free and easy as a bird. Millicent and John hold these stories in their hearts long after their parents are gone. “Maybe such a time will come for you,” their parents said. Then one day a mysterious bird appears in their lives. The bird transforms them and gives them the courage to set their plan into motion and escape to freedom.

Are Your Stars Like My Stars? book
#5
Are Your Stars Like My Stars?
Written by Leslie Helakoski and illustrated by Heidi Woodward Sheffield
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

“We look at the world every day. You and me. Do we see the same things? Do you see what I see?”

In beautiful, evocative rhyme, this lovely picture book helps children consider the colors of their everyday lives . . . and imagine how others around the world experience the very same things.

No matter where they live, all children gaze at the blue sky, bask in the warmth of the golden sun, dig in the rich dirt, and watch clouds grow soft and rosy at end of day. Through the eyes of one inquisitive and thoughtful young narrator, young readers explore the idea of perspective, and come to realize that all of us, everywhere, share the colors of the world. The gentle, poetic text and gorgeous collaged illustrations make this just right to say goodnight.

  1. Fred's Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers - An inspiring picture book biography about the inimitable Fred Rogers, beloved creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was a quiet boy with big feelings. Sometimes, he felt scared or lonely; at other times, he was playful and joyous. But when Fred’s feelings felt too big, his Grandfather McFeely knew exactly what to say to make him feel better: I like you just the way you are. Fred grew up and created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the television program that would go on to warm the hearts and homes of millions of Americans. But one day, the government threatened to cut funding for public television, including Fred’s show. So, Fred stepped off the set and into a hearing on Capitol Hill to make his feelings known. In a portrait full of warmth and feeling, Laura Renauld and award-winning illustrator Brigette Barrager tell the story of Mister Rogers: a quiet, compassionate hero whose essential message—that it is okay to have and to express feelings—still resonates today. This book is not associated with or authorized by Fred Rogers Productions.

  2. Where Lily Isn't - Lily ran and jumped and barked and whimpered and growled and wiggled and wagged and licked and snuggled. But not now. It is hard to lose a pet. There is sadness, but also hope—for a beloved pet lives on in your heart, your memory, and your imagination.

  3. The Girl and the Dinosaur - This evocative, beautifully illustrated picture book celebrates one girl’s limitless imagination, perfect for fans of the Fan Brothers. Anything is possible and nothing’s as it seems . . . In a town by the seaside, Marianne is often seen digging for buried treasure on the beach. One day, she finds the most wonderful treasure of all—a dinosaur skeleton! That night, Marianne makes a wish upon a star that her dinosaur will come to life. She wishes it with all her heart—and it comes true. Together, Marianne’s adventures with her new friend are limited only by their imagination. This enchanting picture book will take you on a magical journey far beyond the page.

  4. A Voice Named Aretha - A beautiful picture book biography about the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and how she fought for equal rights throughout her life. Aretha Louise Franklin grew up in a house of music. The shy daughter of a famous Detroit preacher and civil rights activist, Aretha’s big voice surprised those around her, and everyone agreed: her powerful singing would someday make her a star. After relocating to New York City and signing a record deal, Aretha relentlessly pursued her dream of stardom. But it took many years of tireless touring and recording until her hit record “Respect” finally brought her the acclaim she deserved. Along the way, Aretha used her talents to fight for respect and equal rights along the way by refusing to perform for “whites only” audiences. With six decades of hits, countless memorable performances, and millions of lives touched, Aretha’s legacy of resilience and respect will inspire for generations to come.

Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe book
#10
Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe
Written by Vivian Kirkfield and illustrated by Alleanna Harris
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike—full of hopes and dreams and plans of what might be.

Ella Fitzgerald’s velvety tones and shube-doobie-doos captivated audiences. Jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington couldn’t wait to share the stage with her, but still, Ella could not book a performance at one of the biggest clubs in town—one she knew would give her career its biggest break yet.

Marilyn Monroe dazzled on the silver screen with her baby blue eyes and breathy boo-boo-be-doos. But when she asked for better scripts, a choice in who she worked with, and a higher salary, studio bosses refused.

Two women whose voices weren’t being heard. Two women chasing after their dreams and each helping the other to achieve them. This is the inspiring, true story of two incredibly talented women who came together to help each other shine like the stars that they are.

Brown Baby Lullaby book
#11
Brown Baby Lullaby
Written by Tameka Fryer Brown and illustrated by A.G. Ford
picture book
Recommend Ages: 2-6

From sunset to bedtime, two brown-skinned parents lovingly care for their beautiful brown baby: first, they play outside, then it is time for dinner and a bath, and finally a warm snuggle before bed.

With Spanish words sprinkled throughout and featuring warm art by New York Times–bestselling and NAACP- Award–winning illustrator AG Ford, Brown Baby Lullaby is the perfect new baby or baby shower gift.

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver book
#12
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver
Written by Gene Barretta and illustrated by Frank Morrison
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

The inspirational story of George Washington Carver and his childhood secret garden is brought to life in this picture book biography by the author-illustrator team behind Muhammad Ali: A Champion Is Born.

When George Washington Carver was just a young child, he had a secret: a garden of his own.

Here, he rolled dirt between his fingers to check if plants needed more rain or sun. He protected roots through harsh winters, so plants could be reborn in the spring. He trimmed flowers, spread soil, studied life cycles. And it was in this very place that George’s love of nature sprouted into something so much more—his future.

Gene Barretta’s moving words and Frank Morrison’s beautiful paintings tell the inspiring life and history of George Washington Carver, from a baby born into slavery to celebrated botanist, scientist, and inventor. His passion and determination are the seeds to this lasting story about triumph over hardship—a tale that begins in a secret garden.

    Did you enjoy our children's book recommendations? Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!