The best picture books for ages 6 to 106

The Books I Picked & Why

Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built

By Angela Burke Kunkel, Paola Escobar

Book cover of Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built

Why this book?

Digging for Words is the beautifully written and illustrated story of how one person can make a difference. Former sanitation worker José Alberto Gutiérrez found a discarded book on his route and realized he could fill a gap—the absence of a library in his Bogotá, Columbia barrio. Collecting books he found, he created a library to empower himself and countless others. Angela Burke Kunkel frames the story with Gutiérrez’s work and the life of a young boy, also named José, who loves to read and can’t wait for Saturday when Señor José’s library is open. I love this book for its true and inspiring nature, its emphasis on recycling/reusing, its celebration of the importance of stories (and access to stories), and the way books sustain and connect us.

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The Rabbit Listened

By Cori Doerrfeld

Book cover of The Rabbit Listened

Why this book?

When someone you love is going through a hard time, it can be hard to know how to support them. It’s uncomfortable and heartbreaking. We can’t make their pain go away, but this book is a powerful reminder that just being there, listening, and acknowledging their rollercoaster of valid emotion can go a long way toward helping a person heal in their own time and at their own pace. With a gender-neutral child protagonist, this deceptively simple book is inspired in its pacing, spare text, use of white space, and sprinkling of humor. All in the space of 32 pages, you’ll feel vicarious frustration, rage, exasperation, helplessness, hope, and love. Cathartic. 

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I Want My Hat Back

By Jon Klassen

Book cover of I Want My Hat Back

Why this book?

I have read this hilarious book to first graders, sixth graders, college students, and adults, and everyone laughs—then gasps at the end. (If you haven’t read it, you’ll find no spoilers here!) Brilliant in its simplicity, I Want My Hat Back is a superlative example of an artist playing to his strengths; Jon Klassen has said he’s not good at drawing emotive faces, and you’ll be glad he isn’t. He achieves so much with minimalist art, well-placed eyeballs, and a smashingly deadpan voice. This book is a masterful example of the picture book form, and an absolute pleasure at any age. I still laugh each time I read it—and that’s often.

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By Andrea Wang, Jason Chin

Book cover of Watercress

Why this book?

This tender, touching autobiographical tale recently won the Caldecott medal for most distinguished picture book of the year and a Newbery honor for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature, but it was a favorite of mine many months before it acquired its much-deserved hardware. Realistic illustrations and poetic text tell the story of a Chinese American girl’s embarrassment, heartbreak, shame, and resilience, all in the space of a day in which she learns a great deal about herself, her family, and her heritage. Straddling cultures and expectations, she opens her heart and mind to the importance of perspective and the gift of gratitude, no matter what our personal situations or challenges. The story’s well-chosen details and raw emotions pack a powerful punch you won’t soon forget.

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Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music

By Margarita Engle, Rafael López

Book cover of Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music

Why this book?

The riot of color and texture of Rafael Lopez’s immersive, full-bleed spreads in Drum Dream Girl feed my soul. I only wish the book were bigger so I could crawl right in! In this story, inspired by Chinese-African-Cuban musician Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who broke Cuba’s taboo against female drummers, one little girl’s rhythmic passion leaps off the page. The vibrant Cuban environment, in which even the sun and moon smile upon and support our protagonist, are a perfect, jewel-toned complement to Margarita Engle’s dynamic, alliterative text. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, of course, and there’s plenty of onomatopoeia and vivid descriptions to reward readers of all ages who return to these pages again and again. 

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