The best picture books with purpose

Who am I?

In my kidlit writing, I am someone who almost exclusively writes more difficult topics, grounded in reality. My debut deals with the police-sanctioned murder of Black people. My second book deals with mental illness and how to bounce back from sad days in a way that’s accessible to young people. I thoroughly enjoy reading and writing more thoughtful picture books with much to say about our greater world. 

I wrote...

Sarah Rising

By Ty Chapman,

Book cover of Sarah Rising

What is my book about?

Sarah starts her day like any other day. But today isn't a day like any other day. Today, her dad brings her to a protest to speak out against police violence against Black people. When Sarah spots a beautiful monarch butterfly and follows it through the crowd, she finds herself inside the no-man's land between the line of police and protesters. Sarah is confronted with the cruelty of those who are supposed to protect her and learns what it feels like to protect and be protected.

Inspired by the protests that happened during the Minneapolis Uprising after the police killing of George Floyd, Sarah Rising provides a child's-eye view of a protest and offers an opportunity for children to talk about why people take to the streets to protest racial injustice.

The books I picked & why

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A Different Pond

By Bao Phi, Thi Bui (illustrator),

Book cover of A Different Pond

Why this book?

A Different Pond is a terrific picture book that focuses on a Vietnamese family—specifically, a little boy and his father, going on a fishing trip to catch dinner. This picture book does an incredible job speaking on complex issues like war, the (non-monolithic) refugee experience, and poverty’s widespread impact on many communities. This book was a big inspiration as I went about writing my own debut picture book.

If We Were Gone: Imagining the World Without People

By John Coy, Natalie Capannelli (illustrator),

Book cover of If We Were Gone: Imagining the World Without People

Why this book?

Another picture book dealing with difficult themes. John Coy’s, If We Were Gone speaks to what would happen should humanity fall into environmental catastrophe. While this is a very real and frightening topic for many of us, it handles the subject with a gentle tone and so much care, the reader can’t help but feel comforted. John’s book reminds us that we need the environment much more than it needs us, and that one day or another, there will be greener days ahead.

Ten Beautiful Things

By Molly Griffin, Maribel Lechuga (illustrator),

Book cover of Ten Beautiful Things

Why this book?

Ten Beautiful Things is a gorgeous picture book with a gentle tone and much to say. It follows a little girl and her grandma as they go on a road trip together. The ride is long, and at first there seems to be little to admire about the trip. But then Grandma suggests they intentionally seek out ten beautiful things as they roll through sprawling landscapes. A terrific reminder for children and adults alike that so many of our experiences are a matter of perspective.

Hair Love

By Matthew A. Cherry, Vashti Harrison,

Book cover of Hair Love

Why this book?

Hair Love is a heartwarming and gentle book about a little girl named Zuri and her father struggling to do her hair. It is filled with an abundance of humorous and joyful moments, but where the book really shines for me is in its unabashed celebration of Zuri’s hair. In a country where Black femmes are constantly being labeled as less-than, the importance of this book cannot be overstated.

All Because You Matter

By Bryan Collier, Tami Charles (illustrator),

Book cover of All Because You Matter

Why this book?

This is a gorgeous book of affirmations in narrative form. It speaks to the magnificence of Black youth, as well as the ancestors who would love to know them. This book blends fantastical spreads like a mother and son rocketing into space with the power of reading, and more somber grounded family scenes to great effect. In many ways, this book helped me see what feelings I would want my young readers to leave my stories with. 

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