PROOF WE ARE LIVING IN THE 2ND GOLDEN AGE OF PICTURE BOOKS

A lot of people consider the golden age of picture books to be about 50 years or so ago, when the totally kickass editor Ursula Nordstrom ruled the game, working with authors like Maurice Sendak, Margaret Wise Brown, Crockett Johnson, Syd Hoff, etc. But I think we are absolutely in a second golden age right now. Here are some standouts since 2010:
  1. Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson
    This story is beautiful and charming and funny, from two of the most talented dudes in kidlit right now. The blue-based color palette and Leo's simple wish to belong somewhere, to be seen, to make a friend combine to hit me like a dagger to the heart.
  2. Journey by Aaron Becker
    This wordless wonder is so stunning. In an homage to Harold and the Purple Crayon, a young girl, hoping to escape her boring life at home, draws her way into a magical world and sets off on an incredible, vibrantly colorful journey.
  3. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet
    Who would have thought a picture book bio of the guy who created the first thesaurus would be a hit? But this amazing book is one kids pore over, and it won a Caldecott honor at last year's ALA youth media awards. Melissa Sweet's mixed-media collage style is perfectly suited to the lists and lists of words that Roget made.
  4. The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
    Another wordless book, this time from the super talented Marla Frazee. The unlikely friendship between an old farmer and a lost little clown boy is charming and entertaining, and the farmer's face when the clown rejoins his family in the end will break your heart. And the last page will mend it again.
  5. Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
    I'm a sucker for anything by Oliver Jeffers, but this alphabet book is a standout for me. Jeffers writes a little mini-story for each letter of the alphabet, with hilarious characters that pop up again and again as you make your way to Z.
  6. The Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, the Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes
    This picture book bio of Fannie Lou Hamer is both powerful and beautiful. Fannie Lou Hamer was an incredible activist, a Freedom Democrat who helped organized Mississippi's Freedom Summer. Her "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired" speech gained national attention at the 1964 Democratic National Convention when LBJ sought to quiet it by scheduling a press conference at the same time. His plan backfired when networks aired her speech during prime time instead, and far more people saw it 🙌
  7. Josephine by Paula Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson
    Another beautiful picture book bio, this one about Josephine Baker. Christian Robinson's beautiful illustrations are especially bold and bright in this book, doing justice to Baker herself.
  8. Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt
    Yo this book is awesome and all about girl power. Cinderella can fix anything and goes everywhere with her socket wrench, which comes in handy when the prince's spaceship dies. The two bond while talking shop, but when the prince proposes, Cinderella says "I'm far too young for marriage, but I'll be your chief mechanic!" Hell yeah. Plus it's set in space so there's hella crazy colorful space art!!
  9. Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
    I'm really into the recent move towards visually stunning presentations of information in children's lit. Tiny Creatures is a great example, featuring wonderful art by Emily Sutton depicting the secret lives of germs and microbes in the world around us, all on a scale and in a manner kids can wrap their heads around. More of this, please!
  10. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
    Jon Klassen is one of the most consistently impressive kidlit author-illustrators working today, and his books are just getting better. This was his first solo venture, and it features a darkly comic / noir element pretty unusual in American picture books. This book is hilarious, and both kids and adults love it. Klassen's masterful use of white space, manipulation of eye expression, and spot-on pacing make this unforgettable. The only book that matches it is...
  11. This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
    Klassen's second hat book, which won him the Caldecott Medal in 2013. With the same black comedy whodunnit vibe as the first, this one is a hilarious switch in POV to the thief who thinks he will get away with his misdeed. When you stop and think about these, you realize they are a VERY UNSUBTLE message to kids that stealing is WRONG and will lead to you being eaten by the bigger fish. Or bear, as it were. 🙏
  12. Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
    This picture book is all about Frida Kahlo, and it boasts an impressive and modern photography/illustration combo. Yuyi Morales is one of the most talented names in kidlit right now, and this delightful tribute is one not to be missed.
  13. Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
    Another wordless one, this time a fun and clever exploration of night and day, light and dark, the seen and unseen. The lines in this are so pleasing to look at, and Lizi Boyd's graphic style is so fresh and so clean.
  14. The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen
    Two of my faves--how could this book not be TOTALLY AWESOME? Another somewhat noir picture book, which is obviously where Jon Klassen shines. This book has the added bonus of skewing either totally charming or totally scary, depending on the tone the reader uses when reading aloud.
  15. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
    I'm tempted to apologize for all the Jon Klassen on this list, but like...no. He's just the best. This book is hilarious, and won a Caldecott honor this past year. Two brothers set out to dig a hole, in search of something spectacular, which they keep very narrowly missing. The ending is left open and up to interpretation; it can go any one of multiple ways. Kids love this book, and asking them what they think the end means after reading it aloud leads to some highly entertaining speculation.
  16. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
    Another by the Sam & Dave duo: this one won Klassen a Caldecott honor the same year he won the medal (2013). The plentiful white space allows the subtle rainbow color of the yarn to really shine, and Klassen's animals and people have all the classic deadpan visual humor that's par for the course with him. It's all in the eyes, folks. He and Mac Barnett are a fab duo, and great friends IRL. Every once in a while you can catch one on the other's Instagram. Super cute.
  17. Lenny and Lucy by Philip and Erin Stead
    I'm all about the muted color scheme in this absolutely charming new picture book from husband and wife duo Philip and Erin Stead (talk about ideal, ugh). It's all about the fear of the unknown, and how having a friend by your side makes everything more bearable.
  18. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
    I was a bookseller for like seven years, and I was so happy when this came out because it's such an easy handsell. Every parent is appreciative of a book that will make them laugh just as hard (or harder) as their kid, and this hilarious book does just that.
  19. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno
    A beautifully illustrated tale about Ben Franklin's trip to France, when he broke the spell Dr. Mesmer had over the French people with a little help from something called the Scientific Method. Makes critical thinking accessible and understandable to kids and also illustrates how useful it can be.
  20. The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak
    Yo, kids LOVE this book. Have you ever read it aloud? They cannot keep it together when you are saying all of the ridiculous words in this book. Makes me hope @bjnovak turns his clever, out-of-the-box ideas to easy readers and middle grade that will excite kids as much as this does.
  21. Home by Carson Ellis
    Carson Ellis has an incredible style that you might recognize--she does the album art for the Decemberists, which her husband Colin Meloy heads up. The two also created a middle grade fantasy trilogy called Wildwood. This is her debut picture book, and came out this past spring. It's got her classic palette of navy, browns, reds, and grays, and it's super whimsical and beautiful.
  22. Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer
    Tomi Ungerer has been around for a while, but this recent story is my favorite of his. Full of moody blues, greens, and grays, this is the story of a brother and sister who get lost at sea and end up on a strange and mystical island. The old dude's hair reminds me of the spaghetti in Strega Nona so maybe that's why I love it so much, but it's also gloomy and wonderful.
  23. Press Here by Hervé Tullet
    This creative and ingenious book is so fun and interactive and one that really gets kids' minds working, helping them understand cause and effect in an exciting way. It's been a hit since it came out and has definitely pushed the boundaries of what is and isn't standard in kidlit, putting pressure on others to be as clever and fresh.
  24. The New Small Person by Lauren Child
    An awesome new take on the standard new-baby tale, The New Small Person is super funny and super charming. It also features characters of color without ever calling attention to their skin, which is something we need more of: books for kids of diverse backgrounds about kids of diverse backgrounds, without making the diversity part of the plot. Kids from every walk of life need to be able to see themselves reflected on the pages of normal stories about normal kids doing normal stuff!
  25. Shadow by Suzy Lee
    Suzy Lee, also the author of Wave and Mirror, delivers with Shadow a beautiful, creepy exploration of shadows. It's breathtaking and a little eerie and accomplishes so much with only two colors.
  26. Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans
    What kid hasn't asked for a pet that their parent would rather not take care of? When the mom in this story vetoes fish, dogs, cats, hamsters, etc, the girl orders the lowest maintenance pet she can find online: a sloth. Hilarity ensues.
  27. The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
    Kate Beaton is a comedic genius and her first picture book is about a princess WARRIOR who wants a war horse and gets...a pony. Who proves surprisingly useful! Adorable. I love love love Kate Beaton seriously she can do no wrong.
  28. Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett
    Space + picture books are already a winning combo for me, but this new book by Emma Yarlett manages to also be super heartwarming. Orion is terrified of the dark, until the Dark turns out to be a wonderful friend and takes him on adventures all across the night sky.
  29. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder
    Another beautiful picture book bio, this is a recent one about famous prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, and the delicate art and muted colors are just lovely in their simplicity. The paintings of dancing are graceful and awe-inspiring enough to make any small reader want to take up ballet.
  30. The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen and Melanie Cataldo
    This is a recent picture book and much more subdued and solemn than the others on this list. A girl finds a beached whale in her small town, and does all she can to save it, rallying her town. But the whale is so big and she is so small and there is only so much she can do. Ultimately about learning to accept that sometimes you have no control, this meditation on grief and love will hit you hard. Jane Yolen's words are exquisite, and newcomer Melanie Cataldo's art will take your breath away.