The best picture books for ages 6 to 106

Who am I?

Oh, how I love picture books! I am a children’s book author who has worked in children’s publishing for 25 years. I’m also incredibly lucky to co-teach a picture book writing and illustrating course at Rhode Island School of Design. Although I write everything from board to chapter books, picture books are my passion. They’re a unique art form, where words and pictures each tell part of the story, neither operating alone. The best picture books touch our hearts with poetic, universal nuggets of wisdom, no matter our age. Their symphonies of carefully chosen words, brushstrokes, design, and production result in printed gems we’re never too old to savor.


I wrote...

Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing

By April Jones Prince,

Book cover of Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing

What is my book about?

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, it was the longest, tallest suspension bridge in the world. Fireworks and top hats filled the air in celebration after fourteen years of construction. The magnificent structure was an engineering marvel and a true work of art. But some people wondered just how much weight the new bridge could hold. Was it truly safe? One man seized the opportunity to show people in Brooklyn, New York, and the world that the Brooklyn Bridge was in fact strong enough to hold even the heaviest of passengers. P.T. Barnum, creator of “The Greatest Show on Earth” and lover of spectacle, would put on a parade too big for the Big Top and too wondrous to forget!

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

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.


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. 


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.


Watercress

By Andrea Wang, Jason Chin (illustrator),

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.


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

By Margarita Engle, Rafael López (illustrator),

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. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Chinese Americans, bears, and Cuba?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Chinese Americans, bears, and Cuba.

Chinese Americans Explore 29 books about Chinese Americans
Bears Explore 48 books about bears
Cuba Explore 38 books about Cuba

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like I Am Peace, Hands Around the Library, and The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey if you like this list.