The best recent picture books with a message

Who am I?

I have written 60 books over the past 20 years. My titles include picture books, poetry books, and dozens of nonfiction books covering a wide range of history and social studies topics. My picture books deal with concepts such as counting and colors. I enjoy rhyming and wordplay and conveying ideas in simple terms. 

I wrote...

Raindrops to Rainbow

By John Micklos Jr., Charlene Chua (illustrator),

Book cover of Raindrops to Rainbow

What is my book about?

Raindrops are falling outside, but there’s still a world of color to experience! Delightful rhymes and brilliant illustrations detail how a gloomy, rainy day actually might not be so gloomy after all when you get to spend time with Mom, Brown Bear, and the colors around you. And when a “beaming rainbow, bold and bright” cuts through the sky, everyone gets to experience the joy of all the colors that can only come after the rain.

The books I picked & why

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The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

By Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, Nikkolas Smith (illustrator)

Book cover of The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

Why this book?

An outgrowth of the 1619 project, this masterful picture book traces a family’s roots from Africa through generations of enslavement in the United States to today. A young girl’s grandmother tells stories in the form of poems that convey joy, terror, heartache, persecution, struggle, and triumph. Illustrations move from light during the times in Africa to dark during the decades of enslavement and back to light in the present. The book ends on a positive note with the girl drawing an American flag—the flag of the country that her ancestors helped build and “that I will help build, too.”

The One Thing You'd Save

By Linda Sue Park, Robert Sae-Heng (illustrator),

Book cover of The One Thing You'd Save

Why this book?

It begins with a simple assignment—a teacher asks her class the one thing they’d save if their home were on fire. The answers, ranging from practical items such as cell phones, laptops, and wallets to priceless mementos such as a sweater knitted by gran, a baseball star’s autograph, and a lock of hair from a younger brother who died, reveal a lot about the students’ backgrounds and priorities. The text is written in a line structure called sijo—an ancient form of traditional Korean poetry. Simple black-and-white illustrations provides a nice complement to the text. This is a great book to get kids thinking about what is really important in their lives. 

The Stars Beckoned: Edward White's Amazing Walk in Space

By Candy Wellins, Courtney Dawson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Stars Beckoned: Edward White's Amazing Walk in Space

Why this book?

From the time he was young, Edward White loved outer space and dreamed of traveling there. In simple poetic language, this book tells how Edward’s life led him to serve in the U.S. Air Force and ultimately in the NASA program, where he became the first American to walk in space. Nonetheless, the book emphasizes that while he was always reluctant to stop doing anything related to outer space, he was eager to return from his journey to spend time with his greatest treasure of all—his family! Back matter gives more details about White’s life and a timeline of his accomplishments.

Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

By Gary Golio, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Book cover of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

Why this book?

A talented saxophone player, Sonny Rollins left a successful performing career at age 29. He believed he could improve his craft by constant practice, and he found a unique place to do so—the Williamsburg Bridge that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City. Inspired by the sights and sounds of the city, Rollins played his heart out. Gary Golio’s lyrical text captures the rhythm and flow of Rollins’ saxophone, while Ransome’s vibrant watercolor and collage artwork provides a perfect complement to the text. Back matter offers further information about Sonny Rollins’ life and career and about the Williamsburg Bridge. 

Three Ways to Be Brave: A Trio of Stories

By Karla Clark, Jeff Östberg (illustrator),

Book cover of Three Ways to Be Brave: A Trio of Stories

Why this book?

This engaging book presents three young children being brave in three scary situations—a thunderstorm, the first day of school, and getting a shot at the doctor’s office. Using very simple rhyming text, Karla Clark captures the fear of these events and shows the children overcoming that fear. This is a great book for parents to use with preschoolers in discussing ways to deal with being frightened. Jeff Őstberg’s artwork effectively portrays the children’s fear, as well as their pride in overcoming it. The cover art is especially striking.

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