Each year, Cracking the Cover compiles a list of books that make great gifts. The following are picture books published and/or reviewed in 2021. Scroll down for the complete list or click or tap the following links to directly visit a section. BOARD BOOKS • AGES 2 AND UP • AGES 3 AND UP • AGES 4 AND UP • AGES 5 AND UP • AGES 6 AND UP • AGES 7 AND UP • AGES 8 AND UP
Editor’s Note: Supply chain issues are going to be a problem this year. Every publisher I’ve spoken with has encouraged buying early to ensure you get your gifts in time. Once suppliers are out of specific books, they won’t be able to get more until sometime in 2022. Please plan accordingly.
ODD BEASTS: MEET NATURE’S WEIRDEST ANIMALS, by Laura Gehl and Gareth Lucas, Abrams Appleseed, Nov. 2, 2021, Board Book, $8.99 (ages 0-4)
Barnyard animals — move over! Odd Beasts introduces babies and toddlers to more unusual species, including the glass frog with transparent skin and the pangolin—the only mammal with scales! Gentle rhyming verses provide the comforting repetition that little ones crave, even as their minds are opened to new and fascinating creatures from around the world. At the end of the book, readers will find photographs of each animal, along with more detailed factual information. The eight animals featured are the pangolin, ocean sunfish, glass frog, anglerfish, long-horned orb-weaver spider, Eastern snake-necked turtle, bush baby, and giant jumping stick. —Synopsis provided by Abrams Appleseed
Bold illustrations are the highlight of this engaging board book. The addition of photographs and animal facts at the end widen the appeal for 3- and 4-year-olds.
AGES 2 AND UP
TEN IN A HURRY: AN INTERACTIVE COLORS AND COUNTING BOOK FOR TODDLERS, by Lo Cole, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Oct. 5, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 2-5)
Ten in a hurry, swimming in a line… Watch out, Red! GULP. Now there are nine.
Watch the fish get eaten as the pages turn! In this hysterical, deceptively simple picture book, ten little fish are minding their own business when a much bigger fish comes up behind them. As the pages turn, he eats them one by one, until the littlest fish takes a dramatic stand! —Synopsis provided by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
This fun, interactive picture book is also available as a board book ($8.99). With snappy, rhythmic text and clever die-cuts, each turn of the page, exposes young readers to colors and counting. It’s a great option for fans of Eric Carle.
Construction Site: Road Crew, Coming Through! by Sherri Duskey Rinker and AG Ford, Chronicle Books, Oct. 12, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 2-4)
The hard-working crew of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site joins up with seven new road-building trucks to finish a BIG job: a brand-new road!
The construction team is taking on their biggest challenge yet—building a brand-new superhighway! With the help of new rough-and-tough road-building machines, the crew gears up for an action-packed day of rolling, building, paving, painting, and all the jobs that go into making a strong new road that will get everyone home safe in time for bed! —Synopsis provided by Chronicle Books
What’s not to like about this newest addition to the Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site line. Bright colors bring graphic illustrations of construction vehicles to life. And rhythmic text makes for an enjoyable read-aloud for children and adults. This is a no-brainer for construction-loving kids.
AGES 3 AND UP
GOODNIGHT, ASTRONAUT, by Scott Kelly and Izzy Burton, Crown Books for Young Readers, Feb. 2, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 3-7)
Astronaut Scott Kelly explores all the adventurous places he’s slept in his latest picture book, Goodnight, Astronaut.
Scott Kelly was born for adventure. But exploring takes a lot of energy — and sleep is the super fuel to turbocharge dreams. Luckily, sleeping can be exciting if you’re drifting off in the right place.
Scott has fallen asleep at the bottom of the ocean, in the cockpit of an F-14 fighter jet, in a yurt on Mount Everest, and of course in space! Join Scott on his many adventures, and maybe they’ll inspire dreams of your own! —Synopsis provided by Crown Books for Young Readers
Goodnight, Astronaut is a must-have book for aspiring space explorers. It’s a little below my 7-year-old’s reading level (she’s transitioning to middle grade), but that didn’t stop her from picking it right up and saying, “coooooooooool.”
Goodnight, Astronaut is an easy read that’s perfect for anytime of the day.
ITTY-BITTY KITTY-CORN, by Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham, Harry N. Abrams, March 23, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 4-8)
From bestselling superstar duo Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham comes a delightful kitty and unicorn story that celebrates the magic of friendship—and being exactly who you want to be!
Kitty thinks she might be a unicorn. She feels so perfectly unicorn-y! “Neigh!” says Kitty. But when Unicorn clop clop clops over, sweeping his magnificent tail and neighing a mighty neigh, Kitty feels no bigger than a ball of lint. Can this unlikely pair embrace who they are, and truly see one another? —Synopsis provided by Harry N. Abrams
Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham have collaborated before, but this is their first foray into picture books together. You’d never know that, though. Hale’s sweet, silly tale pairs perfectly with Pham’s sweet characters. It’s a great option for kids who aren’t quite old enough for the duo’s Princess in Black series.
Though the publisher’s suggested age range for this is 4-8, I think it skews slightly younger, ages 3-6. And I could see kids as young as 2 being drawn in by Pham’s adorable illustrations.
LINE AND SCRIBBLE, by Debora Vogrig and Pia Valentinis, Chronicle Books, May 11, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 3-5)
Are you a line? Or are you a scribble? Don’t know? You will after reading Debora Vogrig and Pia Valentinis’ delightful Line and Scribble.
Line and Scribble do things differently. Line goes straight while Scribble wanders. Line walks a tightrope as Scribble bursts into fireworks. Line likes to draw with a ruler, and Scribble, well . . . doesn’t. But no matter how different they may seem, Line and Scribble always have enough in common to be best friends. —Synopsis provided by Chronicle Books
The power of this book comes in its simplicity. Both text (in red) and illustrations (black and white) provide the framework for much more.
Though the suggested age range for Line and Scribble is 3-5, older readers will love it, too. My 7-year-old was enamored, deciding which camp each family member fell into after reading it. It has great applications for classroom learning — differences in personality, thinking, learning, etc. This would be a fun gift for a growing family, as well.
OUT TO SEA, by Helen Kellock, Thames & Hudson; Illustrated edition, June 15, 2021, Hardcover, $17.95 (ages 3 and up)
A young girl rides the waves of emotions that come with loss in Helen Kellock’s brilliant Out to Sea.
Out to Sea follows the journey of a young girl named Lara who is so sad after the death of her grandmother that her tears flood her room, her house, her town, and eventually sweep her out to sea. Adrift, she struggles to overcome her sadness until she discovers a pearl at the bottom of the ocean that triggers happy memories of her grandmother and the times they shared. With that pearl tucked in her pocket and the realization that she’s not alone, Lara finds the strength to pick up her oars and row herself back home. —Synopsis provided by Thames & Hudson
Out to Sea explains loss in such a simple and profound way. Helen Kellock’s sparse text and encompassing illustrations speak right to child’s — or adult’s — heart. And while exploring social and emotional issues, Kellock’s use of color and movement is exceptional. I highly recommend this book for families going through the grieving process.
GOODNIGHT GANESHA, by Nadia Salomon and Poonam Mistry, Philomel Books, Aug. 31, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 3-7)
Goodnight Ganesha, by Nadia Salomon and illustrated by Poonam Mistry, celebrates the nighttime rituals of two children visiting their grandparents in India.
Seen through the eyes of the two children, India comes to life as they settle down to gently say goodnight to the world around them. They start by saying goodnight to a framed picture of Hindu god, Ganesha, then they bid adieu to everything around their grandparents’ home from the windows, to the bowls of fresh marigolds, and to the droning planes. Whether they light incense, tell traditional stories, snuggle with nana, or look at the night sky, there are many moments that make this time together special. —Synopsis provided by Philomel Books
Goodnight Ganesha is probably one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve come across in recent memory. Illustrator Poonam Mistry’s talent is undeniable. Each turn of the page delivers incredible detail through line and rich color. It’s one of those books where you’d be happy to hang a framed print of the artwork on your wall.
INSIDE CAT, by Brendan Wenzel, Chronicle Books, Oct. 12, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 3-5)
Explore the world from a cat’s point of view in Caldecott Honor author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel’s Inside Cat.
Inside Cat is just that: an inside cat. But while the cat’s life is bound by the walls of an unusual house, it’s far from dull. As the cat wanders, wonders, stares, and snacks, roaming from room to room and place to place, both cat and reader discover worlds and sensations beyond what’s right in front of them. And just when Inside Cat is sure it knows everything, another surprise awaits! —Synopsis provided by Chronicle Books
Inside Cat is one of those books that you never knew you needed, but you do. I’m not even a cat person, but I would have loved it as a child. Heck, I love it as an adult. I love all the different perspectives presented through mixed media. There’s so much to see in this imaginative book.
AGES 4 AND UP
FINDING HOME, by Estelí Meza, Orchard Books, Jan. 5, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 4-8)
Estelí Meza’s Finding Home tells the story of friendship and courage in the face of adversity.
With the arrival of fall comes a storm that blows Conejo’s house away. Conejo follows a trace of wind until he begins to tire and feel frustrated. Luckily for Conejo, his friends are there to help. Each in their own way provides shelter and support. Despite his friends’ good cheer and thoughtful gifts, Conejo still grieves. When the rain clears, so do Conejo’s thoughts, and he rebuilds, filling his new home with treasures he collected along the way.
There are a lot of things to like in Estelí Meza’s Finding Home. The sweet tales of friendship; the whimsical illustrations; and expressive text. My favorite part, though, is the emotion conveyed throughout.
One line in particular stands out: “Conejo sat with sadness for some time.” It’s a seemingly simple sentence that offers so much. With those seven words, Meza lets readers know that sitting with sadness (or any emotion) is not only normal, but OK. She gives children permission to sit with their own sadness.
Finding Home is an excellent way to teach emotional intelligence without actively teaching it. I can think of numerous applications in which it would be appropriate. I recommend this as a household staple.
NO BUDDY LIKE A BOOK, by Allan Wolf and Brianne Farley, Candlewick, Feb. 9, 2021, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 4-8)
No Buddy Like a Book takes young readers on a journey through imagination. It explores how people grow through science, travel, culture and art. It encourages exploration of any world one could wish.
Alan Wolf’s text is full of rhythm and texture, making it a joy to read aloud. And Brianne Farley’s illustrations are deliciously detailed and full of life.
The publisher’s suggested age range is 4-8. I would skew it down to 3-6, depending on how interested older readers are. My 7-year-old would have loved this as she started reading, but is drawn more to chapter books at this point.
THE HOUSE OF GRASS AND SKY, by Mary Lyn Ray and E. B. Goodale, Candlewick; Illustrated edition, April 13, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
The House of Grass and Sky, by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by E. B. Goode, follows the ups and downs of a house through time.
Every house has a story. This house — an old one hunkered in the deep grass below a wide country sky — is a waiting house. Once it was full of laughter and song. The sounds of life rang within its walls. Now it stands quiet and still. The house has sheltered many families over the years and remembers them fondly, especially the children. New families arrive to look, but none stay. Perhaps the house, too, now belongs to the Long Ago and Used to Be? Or will the “right” family move in to honor its past and build new memories? —Synopsis provided by Candlewick
In The House of Grass and Sky, author Mary Lyn Ray takes advantage of passive and active voice, switching from remembering to making new memories. It works well with her poetic text, causing the reader to pause when the shift occurs. Goodale’s gorgeous illustrations have an impressionistic flair that offer hints of what was and could be. The lovely spreads are sure to draw in adult and children alike.
WISHES, by Muon Thi Van and Victo Ngai, Orchard Books; Illustrated edition, May 4, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 4-8)
Wishes, written by Mượn Thị Văn and illustrated by Victo Ngai, follows a family that is forced to leave its homeland in search of a better life.
If you had to leave everything behind and travel by boat across rocky waters to find safe harbor… What would you wish for? In the middle of the night, a family quickly packs up what they can carry and leaves their entire world, traveling to a new and unknown place. The voyage is perilous, but the heart’s wishes prevail. —Synopsis provided by Orchard Books
Inspired by actual events in Mượn Thị Văn’s life, Wishes looks at secret escapes through a different lens. The author packs this emotional story into only 75 words, and yet encapsulates so much more. (Back matter includes more on Muon’s own journey from Vietnam to the United States.)
Victo Ngai’s powerful illustrations are the perfect match for the lyrical text. The bold use of color, texture and perspective are as beautiful as they are haunting.
WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET, by Rajani LaRocca and Archana Sreenivasan, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Aug. 24, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
Three generations travel to the end of the earth in Where Three Oceans Meet, by Rajani LaRocca and Archana Sreenivasan.
Sejal, Mommy, and Pati travel together to the southern tip of India. Along the way, they share meals, visit markets, and catch up with old friends. For Pati, the trip retraces spaces she knows well. For Mommy, it’s a return to the place she grew up. For Sejal, it’s a discovery of new sights and sounds. The family finds their way to Kanyakumari, where three oceans meet, and delight in making it to the end of the earth together. —Synopsis provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Where Three Oceans Meet not only celebrates India, but the generations of people who live there. In each step along the way — via car, train and boat — readers are treated to the differences and similarities across the ages. Where Three Oceans Meet is a celebration of family and culture. Its loving text holds a universal appeal while paying tribute to a land many in America know little about.
IT FELL FROM THE SKY, by Terry Fan and Eric Fan, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Sept. 28, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
The insect world is all aflutter when a strange object appears out of nowhere in It Fell from the Sky, by Terry and Eric Fan.
It fell from the sky on a Thursday. None of the insects know where it came from, or what it is. Some say it’s an egg. Others, a gumdrop. But whatever it is, it fell near Spider’s house, so he’s convinced it belongs to him. Spider builds a wonderous display so that insects from far and wide can come look at the marvel. Spider has their best interests at heart. So what if he has to charge a small fee? So what if the lines are long? So what if no one can even see the wonder anymore? But what will Spider do after everyone stops showing up? —Synopsis provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
It Fell from the Sky is told through both words and pictures. From the intricate graphite drawings to the charming story, each element is pitch perfect. The use of color is spectacular, serving to emphasize the tale. You could spend hours examining the exquisite illustrations which would could easily be hung on the wall.
As gorgeous as the book is, there’s more to It Fell from the Sky than meets the eye. Themes of community, consideration and what constitutes art make this a lovely addition to any home library.
BETWEEN THE LINES, by Lindsay Ward, Two Lions, Oct. 1, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
Author/illustrator Lindsay Ward imagines a world without color in her latest picture book, Between the Lines.
A young boy who loves his community notices that as neighbors stop interacting, the colors around them slowly fade. Then a thunderstorm sweeps away the last hints of bluebird skies and lemon-Popsicle days and leaves a rift in the road that doesn’t get fixed. As the adults around him move on, the boy dreams of the way life once was. He decides that he doesn’t want to live in a world without color, so he sets out to change things… —Synopsis provided by Two Lions
Lindsay Ward’s use of color — and lack thereof — is inspired. Her black-and-white line drawings practically beg to be colored in, emphasizing both what is lost and what is found.
Between the Lines is a celebration of community, friendship and reinvention. It’s a book that kids — and their parents — will immediately be drawn to.
THANKFUL, by Elaine Vickers and Samantha Cotterill, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, Sept. 7, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
Thankful, a picture book by Elaine Vickers and Samantha Cotterill, celebrates the season of giving and reflection.
When the first snow falls, a little girl writes down the things she’s thankful for on strips of paper and links them together. As one idea leads to another, her chain grows longer. There’s so much good in her life: a friend, things that are warm, things that are cold, color, things that can be fixed. —Synopsis provided by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Thankful is a beautiful book from beginning to end. From the idea that, “Every year when the first snow falls, we make thankful chains to last us through December,” to listing all the things — big and small — to be grateful for, this book oozes joy and appreciation.
Elaine Vickers’ gentle and loving prose sets the framework for some amazing art by Samantha Cotterill. And when I say amazing, I mean it. Her hand built three-dimensional sets photographed with a digital SLR camera are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There’s such a sense of movement and space that you feel almost like you are watching a movie, even though the pages are static. It seriously is so cool.
OUR TABLE, by Peter H. Reynolds, Orchard Books, Nov. 2, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
Violet longs for the time when her family was connected: before life, distractions, and technology pulled them all away from each other. They used to gather at the table, with food and love, to make memories, share their lives, and revel in time spent together. But now her family has been drifting apart, and with nobody to gather around it, the table grows smaller and smaller. Can Violet remind her family of the warmth of time spent together, and gather around the table once more? —Synopsis provided by Orchard Books
This beautiful picture book is a gentle reminder to parents of the magic that happens when sitting around a table. And it’s a call to action for kids who may feel like something is lost or missing within their own family.
As always, Peter H. Reynolds is on point with his illustrations. This time creating emotion and divide through his use of color. This is an excellent read for families of all shapes and sizes.
THE CHILDREN’S MOON, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Jim LaMarche, Scholastic Press, Oct. 19, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
There once was a time when the sun alone ruled the day, the moon graced the night, and little children were sent to bed before sunset. Then early one dawn, the moon heard sounds of children laughing, and she yearned to see them by daylight. “Certainly not!” snapped the sun. “The day is mine. The night is yours!” But the moon had a clever plan… —Synopsis provided by Scholastic
The Children’s Moon is a beautifully illustrated tale that will appeal to children and their parents. Carmen Agra Deedy’s tale is both charming and heartwarming. Kids will love the “explanation” as to why they can see the moon during the day. Jim LaMarche’s illustrations are stunning. The sun and moon’s expressions are a delight. This is a lovely book through and through.
I AM COURAGE: A BOOK OF RESILIENCE, by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds, Harry N. Abrams, Sept. 7, 2021, Hardcover, $14.99 (ages 4-8)
When we picture someone brave, we might think they’re fearless; but real courage comes from feeling scared and facing what challenges us anyway. When our minds tell us “I can’t,” we can look inside ourselves and find the strength to say, “Yes, I CAN!”
From the New York Times bestselling team behind the I Am series comes a celebration of everyday courage: believing in ourselves, speaking out, trying new things, asking for help, and getting back up no matter how many times we may fall. —Synopsis provided by Harry N. Abrams
As with all the other books in this series, I Am Courage is an empowering and thoughtful read that can help children find their inner strength and confidence through mindfulness. As always, Peter H. Reynolds’ illustrations are strong and engaging.
THE BIG BOOK OF BELONGING (THE BIG BOOK SERIES), by Yuval Zommer, Thames & Hudson, Nov. 23, 2021, Hardcover, $19.95 (ages 4 and up)
The Big Book of Belonging is a timely celebration of all the ways that humans are connected to life on planet Earth. With children at the heart of every illustrated spread, this book draws parallels between the way humans, plants, and animals live and behave. We all breathe the same air and take warmth from the same sun, we grow, we adapt to the seasons, and we live together in family groups. —Synopsis provided by Thames & Hudson
As the sixth book in Yuval Zommer’s The Big Book Series, The Big Book of Belonging is sort of the culmination of the series, uniting all the books together. This book celebrates how nature and humans collide. It focuses on how interconnected everything is.
Like all of the books in the series, The Big Book of Belonging pairs beautiful illustrations with informative text that is accessible and thoughtful. The minute my 7-year-old saw this book, her eyes got big and a huge smile lit up her face. She loves this series and can’t wait to dive into this newest selection.
AGES 5 AND UP
EVERY LITTLE KINDNESS, by Marta Bartolj, Chronicle Books, Oct. 12, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 5-8)
When one act of kindness sparks another, anything is possible! As a girl searches for her lost dog, a simple act of generosity ripples into a wave of good deeds. In the course of a single day, each considerate action weaves lives together and transforms a neighborhood for the better. —Synopsis provided by Chronicle Books
Every Little Kindness plays out through illustrations, and that’s just the way it should be. This allows readers to provide their own text, and that can change with every reading. This beautifully rendered story shows how small kindnesses can blossom, creating a connection among strangers and community. This lovely book should be part of everyone’s library. The publisher’s suggested age range is 5-8, but I think it will resonate with 4-year-olds, too.
HIDDEN HABITATS: WATER, by Lily Murray and Lara Hawthorne, Big Picture Press, Nov. 16, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 5-8)
The smallest areas of the natural world can contain a diverse web of life. Peer into a tide pool, explore the roots of a mangrove tree, take a swim through a water hole, climb to a leaf pool in the rain forest, dive down to the dark ocean floor, visit a peat bog, plunge deep into an underwater cave, and snorkel near a coral reef. What creatures will you discover? —Synopsis provided by Big Picture Press
With more than 70 flaps, this book gives kids the chance to explore eight very different aquatic ecosystems up close. On its face, Hidden Habitats: Water does look like it skews younger. Its board book design and lift-the-flap nature do give off that vibe. But once inside, you understand the need for heavy construction. And the amount of text is certainly too much for kids younger than 5. Beautiful illustrations and facts galore make this a no-brainer.
AARON SLATER, ILLUSTRATOR (THE QUESTIONEERS), by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, Harry N. Abrams, Nov. 2, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 5-7)
Aaron Slater loves listening to stories and dreams of one day writing them himself. But when it comes to reading, the letters just look like squiggles to him, and it soon becomes clear he struggles more than his peers. When his teacher asks each child in the class to write a story, Aaron can’t get a single word down. He is sure his dream of being a storyteller is out of reach . . . until inspiration strikes, and Aaron finds a way to spin a tale in a way that is uniquely his. —Synopsis provided by Harry N. Abrams
Aaron Slater, Illustrator is the fifth book in The Questioneers picture book series, featuring Iggy Peck, Architect; Rosie Revere, Engineer; Ada Twist Scientist; and Sofia Valdez, Future Prez. (The Questioneers also feature a line of chapter books and project books.) Fans of the series will notice a slight change when it comes to Aaron Slater, Illustrator. This time around, the book features a dyslexia-friendly font. Aaron has dyslexia, but learns to use his passion for drawing as his way of communication.
Aaron Slater, Illustrator is a wonderful tale of creativity, acceptance and overcoming adversity. Kids with and without learning disabilities will be drawn to this heartfelt book and strong new character.
AGES 6 AND UP
LET LIBERTY RISE!: How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty, by Chana Stiefel and Chuck Groenink, Scholastic Press; Illustrated edition, March 2, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 6-8)
On America’s 100th birthday, the people of France built a giant gift! It was one of the largest statues the world had ever seen — and she weighed as much as 40 elephants! And when she arrived on our shores in 250 pieces, she needed a pedestal to hold her up. Few of America’s millionaires were willing to foot the bill.
Then, Joseph Pulitzer appealed to his fellow citizens. He invited them to contribute whatever they could, no matter how small an amount, to raise funds to mount this statue. Soon, Pulitzer’s campaign raised enough money to construct the pedestal. And with the help of everyday Americans, the Statue of Liberty rose skyward, torch ablaze, to welcome new immigrants for a life of freedom and opportunity! —Synopsis provided by Scholastic Press
Chana Stiefel’s text is not only accessible but inviting. She’s managed to convey a lot in a small space. Back matter, including a timeline, factoids and historical photographs add to the interest. And Chuck Groenink’s charming illustrations bring life and humor to the tale. This is a lovely picture book that will serve well in both home and school settings.
JUNE ALMEIDA, VIRUS DETECTIVE!: THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, by Suzanne Slade and Elisa Paganelli, Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2021, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 6-9)
From an early age, June Almeida loved learning about science and nature. She dreamed of attending university but economic hardships caused her to leave school at age 16. Still, June was determined to pursue her passion for science. She was hired by a local hospital to work in its lab, using a microscope to magnify and examine cells. Her work helped doctors treat patients. June later worked in labs in London and in Toronto. Her skill in using the electron microscope to examine cells and help identify viruses earned her promotion and respect in the science community. When June was 34 years old, she discovered the first human coronavirus. Her groundbreaking work continues to help researchers today in the fight against illnesses caused by viruses, including COVID-19. —Synopsis provided by Sleeping Bear Press
This timely book not only celebrates June’s passion for learning but also puts into perspective how long coronaviruses have been around. Lively text paired with engaging illustrations make this a joy to read. Back matter includes more about June including photographs and her work with the electron microscope. An illustrated timeline provides an excellent overview of June’s life.
THE STUFF BETWEEN THE STARS: HOW VERA RUBIN DISCOVERED MOST OF THE UNIVERSE, by Sandra Nickel and Aimée Sicuro, Abrams Books for Young Readers, March 2, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 6-9)
There once was a girl who liked looking at the night sky. That like turned to love and then to passion. And that passion led to observations that changed the way we look at the universe. The Stuff Between The Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe, by Sandra Nickel and Aimée Sicuro, is the story behind the discovery of dark matter.
When Vera Rubin was a girl, she noticed “the stars were stirring, and something bright stirred in Vera too.” Vera studied maps of the night sky and observed stars’ movement. But when she’d fall asleep, she’d dream about what she’d not seen. “She dreamed about the mysteries between stars.”
By asking questions no one else was posing, Vera found answers, and more questions, to some of the universe’s biggest mysteries.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, by Georghia Ellinas, illustrated by Jane Ray, Candlewick; Illustrated edition, April 20, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 6-9)
William Shakespeare’s beloved comedy is retold for a younger audience in Georghia Ellinas and Jane Ray’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
There’s trouble in the Fairy Kingdom. King Oberon wants to teach Titania, his proud wife, a lesson. Things heat up when four young nobles arrive in the enchanted forest from Athens. They’re all in love — but with the wrong person. It’s up to Puck, a playful sprite who isn’t above a bit of mischief after dark, to do his master’s bidding, trick Queen Titania, and dial down the drama among foolish lovers. With a certain potion at his disposal, what could go wrong? —Synopsis provided by Candlewick
A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is retold from Puck’s point of view, which gives the book a nice little flair. The story has been condensed and simplified. Quotes from the original play are sprinkled throughout. Ray’s illustrations are magical. There’s a whimsy to them that makes you smile, and their composition often makes you feel as though you are watching a play.
HOW TO BE AN ART REBEL, by Ben Street and Jay Daniel Wright, Thames & Hudson, May 18, 2021, Hardcover, $17.95 (ages 6-8)
Introduce children to the world of art through the eyes of someone who thinks outside the box in How to Be an Art Rebel, by Ben Street and Jay Daniel Wright.
Under the playful guidance of Leo, an art rebel cat with a cause, this book takes young readers on an alternative tour of an art museum to discover eight different types of art: portraits, surrealism, ancient sculpture, abstract art, naked people in art, still-life paintings, and contemporary art. Instead of telling children what they ought to know, Leo equips his readers with enough knowledge to respond to art on their own terms. Along the way, they’ll learn about a diverse range of artists from around the world and art movements throughout history. —Synopsis provided by Thames & Hudson
How to Be an Art Rebel demystifies art, bringing it back down to the fun most of us remember from creating our own art in school.
While How to Be an Art Rebel does feature some familiar pieces, its real strength comes in focusing on the unfamiliar. It helps kids understand that art is truly in the eye of the beholder. This is a fun romp told through conversational prose that makes this anything but boring.
POP-UP EARTH, by Anne Jankeliowitch, Annabelle Buxton, Oliver Charbonnel, Thames & Hudson; Illustrated edition, April 6, 2021, Hardcover, $29.95 (ages 6-8)
You live on it, but how much do you really know about the planet Earth? In this pop-up book, discover why the Earth is so special by learning about how it’s changed over time, how all living things are connected, how tectonic plates form mountains, and about different ecosystems around the world. —Synopsis provided by Thames & Hudson
At almost $30, Pop-up Earth is kind of pricey. However, the intricate pop-ups warrant the price and really make the book special. From a 3D Earth and water ecosystem to the Earth’s core and a rainforest, these colorful structures make a big impact. This 20-page book offers an “every other” format where a pop-up spread is followed by a traditional 2D one. The 2D pages still offer intricate illustrations, and provide detailed text, too.
KING TUTANKHAMUN TELLS ALL!, by Chris Naunton and Guilherme Karsten, Thames & Hudson, June 8, 2021, Hardcover, $16.95 (ages 6-8)
What would happen if the famous people of ancient Egypt were given the opportunity to tell their version of historical events ― in their own words? In King Tutankhamun Tells All! readers hear firsthand what it was like to be rudely awakened from the afterlife by archaeologist Howard Carter, who discovered Tut’s tomb in 1922. Listen to Tut brag about his collection of blingy 18-carat gold sandals; discern the fake news from the truth about Tut’s premature death; and relish the gory detail of Tut’s mummification in this book by Egyptologist Chris Naunton. —Synopsis provided by Thames & Hudson
Bright, bold and humorous illustrations add interest, as does page layout. King Tutankhamun Tells All! is one of those books where you learn without feeling like you’re learning. It’s a great option for budding Egyptologists and enthusiasts alike.
POP-UP MOON, by Anne Jankeliowitch, Annabelle Buxton, Olivier Charbonnel, Thames & Hudson, June 8, 2021, Hardcover, $29.95 (ages 6-8)
You see it almost every night, but how much do you really know about the moon? In this incredible pop-up book, discover where the moon came from, why it appears to change shape, how it affects our oceans, and what a blood moon is. Shoot into space with the Saturn V rocket and travel back in time to join the first astronauts to set foot on the moon. —Synopsis provided by Thames & Hudson
From the phases of the moon on the endpapers to the bold pop-ups inside, it’s a visual and educational treat. The book features four two-page spread pop-ups. These intricate paper designs focus on where the moon came from; the moon’s changing face; the moon’s place in the solar system; and space exploration. Traditional 2D spreads include how well we know the moon; the moon’s power; eclipses; and rocket travel.
FEARLESS WORLD TRAVELER: ADVENTURES OF MARIANNE NORTH, BOTANICAL ARTIST, by Laurie Lawlor and Becca Stadtlander, Holiday House, May 11, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 6-9)
Fearless World Traveler: Adventures of Marianne North, Botanical Artist tells the story of a woman who overcame obstacles of the time to follow her dreams.
In 1882, Marianne North showed the gray city of London paintings of jaw-dropping greenery like they’d never seen before. Images of flowers, birds and insects from around the world delighted viewers. As a self-taught artist and scientist, Marianne North subverted Victorian gender roles and advanced the field of botanical illustration. Her technique of painting specimens in their natural environment was groundbreaking. The legendary Charles Darwin was among her many supporters. —Synopsis provided by Holiday House
Author Laurie Lawlor and illustrator Becca Stadtlander bring Marianne’s story to life through engaging text and intricate images. Lawlor expertly balances facts with fun, adding just the right amount of content to draw in readers. Stadtlander’s ink, watercolor and colored pencil images truly bring the book to life. Her use of color and movement help this book stand out among contemporaries.
A HISTORY OF MUSIC FOR CHILDREN, by Mary Richards, David Schweitzer, Rose Blake, Thames & Hudson, Sept. 21, 2021, Hardcover, $19.95 (ages 6-8)
Embark on a musical journey around the world to meet the diverse cast of composers, musicians, and performers who are famous for making the music we love. A History of Music for Children looks at music’s transnational and boundary-breaking qualities. All over the world and throughout time, music has been recorded and passed down through different oral traditions and forms of notation. It has always been a powerful catalyst for change and connecting people. Exploring the technology used to listen to and create music, the authors imagine new possibilities such as computer-generated compositions and robot musicians. —Synopsis provided by Thames & Hudson
A History of Music for Children is divided into seven sections — What is Music; Exploring Music; Creating Music; Feeling Music; Seeing Music; Performing and Listening to Music; and What’s Next for Music. It also includes a timeline, glossary and ideas for listening. Most importantly, the book goes beyond general knowledge, introducing readers to a large cross-section of music and musicians.
NANO: THE SPECTACULAR SCIENCE OF THE VERY (VERY) SMALL, by Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillón, Candlewick, Sept. 15, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 6-9)
Nano: The Spectacular Science of The Very (Very) Small introduces readers to the tiny building blocks that make up the world around us. Friendly text and illustrations explain atoms, the elements, and other essential science concepts and reveal how very (very) small materials are manipulated to create self-washing windows; stronger, lighter airplanes; and other wonders of nanotechnology. Further explanation in the back matter gives more detail about various scientists’ roles and the tools they use. —Synopsis provided by Candlewick
There’s a lot to like about Nano: The Spectacular Science of The Very (Very) Small. Not only is it full of compelling information that children and adults will like, but that information is presented in a fun and accessible way.
Author Jess Wade starts out by making things relatable. And Melissa Castrillón’s pencil and digitally colored illustrations help put nanoscience into context.
WHEN WE SAY BLACK LIVES MATTER, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, Candlewick, Sept. 7, 2021, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 6-9)
A loving narrator relays to a young Black child the strength and resonance behind the words Black Lives Matter. In family life, through school and beyond, the refrains echo and gain in power, among vignettes of protests and scenes of ancestors creating music on djembe drums. —Synopsis provided by Candlewick
When We Say Black Lives Matter is a WOW book. The wow comes in its simplicity. It comes in the imagery. It comes in the poetic prose. It comes in the whole package. When We Say Black Lives Matter is helps explain some of the inequities among Americans. Beyond being a moving read, it’s an excellent starting point for discussion.
AGES 7 AND UP
CODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER: HOW ELIZEBETH FRIEDMAN CHANGED THE COURSE OF TWO WORLD WARS, by Laurie Wallmark and Brooke Smart, Harry N Abrams Inc; Illustrated edition, March 2, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 7-11)
As long as people have been writing, they have been writing in codes. Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Brooke Smart, tells the story of a woman who changed the course of history by breaking some of the hardest codes ever created.
With the exception of the first page, which is an introduction of sorts, author Laurie Wallmark’s text is clear and accessible. Her writing rings with excitement and confidence. Brooke Smart’s stylized illustrations set the tone and bring life to elements that could otherwise be less interesting.
MOLLY AND THE MATHEMATICAL MYSTERIES: TEN INTERACTIVE ADVENTURES IN MATHEMATICAL WONDERLAND, by Eugenia Cheng and Aleksandra Artymoska, Big Picture Press, March 30, 2021, Hardcover, $24.99 (ages 7-10)
Join Molly as she ventures into a curious world where nothing is quite as it seems. A trail of clues leads from scene to scene, presenting Molly with a number of challenges. But who is leaving the clues, and where will they lead? This interactive mystery shows math isn’t just about numbers — it’s about imagination! An explorative and creative approach to the world of mathematics. — Synopsis provided by Big Picture Press
From the beginning, Molly and the Mathematical Mysteries goes beyond numbers and equations. In fact, it begins with: “Math is really about exploring ideas and using our imagination. It’s a way of making sense of the world — or of making seemingly impossible things possible.”
The adventure begins with turning things inside out, followed by impossible objects, hidden shapes, endless doors, cubes, carpet weaving, counting combinations, symmetry, fractals, and time as a fourth dimension. Each topic flows into the next, so it should be read from front to back rather than jumping around. A section with more math at the end helps readers look beyond what’s in the book.
A WORLD OF PLANTS, by Martin Jenkins and James Brown, Candlewick Studio; Reprint edition, March 23, 2021, Hardcover, $25 (ages 7-10)
There are some books you want to own just for the art alone. There are some books intended for young readers that resonate with grownups alike. A World of Plants does both.
Created by a conservation biologist and a printmaker, A World of Plants features brief, but fascinating, information on everything from propagation and pollinators to trees and climbing plants. Informative and engaging text is paired with vintage-style illustrations that are so bold and beautiful, you’ll want to frame them and hang them on the wall. Each spread features a few tones. This helps emphasize each topic.
AFRICA, AMAZING AFRICA: COUNTRY BY COUNTRY , by Atinuke and Mouni Feddag, Candlewick; Illustrated edition, Nov. 16, 2021, Hardcover, $19.99 (ages 7-10)
A Nigerian storyteller explores the continent of Africa country by country: its geography, peoples, animals, history, resources, and cultural diversity. The book is divided into five distinct sections — South, East, West, Central, and North — and each country is showcased on its own bright, energetic page brimming with friendly facts on science, industry, food, sports, music, wildlife, landscape features, even snippets of local languages. The richest king, the tallest sand dunes, and the planet’s largest waterfall all make appearances along with drummers, cocoa growers, inventors, balancing stones, salt lakes, high-tech cities, and nomads who use GPS! —Synopsis provided by Candlewick
There’s a tendency to lump everyone who lives on the continent of Africa together. But there are, in fact, 55 distinct countries made up of different cultures, histories and landscapes. This brightly illustrated book is full of fascinating facts and includes maps and an index.
STITCH BY STITCH: ELIZABETH HOBBS KECKLY SEWS HER WAY TO FREEDOM, by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Elizabeth Zunon, Holiday House, Nov. 9, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 7-10)
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in 1818, enslaved to a Virginian plantation owner. As a teenager, Lizzy was sent to work as the only slave on a small plantation. A new master, learning Lizzy could sew, sent her to work for a tailor, who paid the master, not Lizzy, for Lizzy’s work. The beautiful gowns that Lizzy created were displayed in the tailor’s window and soon attracted the attention of the wealthiest women in Virginia. Among them was Mrs. Jefferson Davis who also introduced Lizzy to Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Lizzy first had to borrow money from her wealthy patrons to buy her freedom, once she was free, she was able to earn money of her own and pay them all back. —Synopsis provided by Holiday House
Stitch by Stitch is a beautifully written and illustrated biography of a woman whose talents brought her fame, and eventually, her freedom. This inspiring story is drawn from Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly’s own autobiography. The illustrations are a tapestry of mixed media including oil paint, paper, fabric, ribbon, embroidery, lace, and appliqué. This biography is one my 7-year-old was immediately drawn to. It’s an excellent choice for a large cross-section of readers.
AGES 8 AND UP
FUNGARIUM: WELCOME TO THE MUSEUM, by Ester Gaya and Katie Scott , Big Picture Press; Illustrated edition, April 6, 2021, Hardcover, $35 (ages 8-12)
Explore the magical and mysterious world of Fungi in Big Picture Press’ fantastic Fungarium.
If you’ve ever read any of Big Picture Press’ Welcome to the Museum series (Planetarium, Dinosaurium, Botanicum, Historium, Animalium), then you already know how amazing they are. Each follow the same sort of setup with the book divided into sections. You begin at the entrance, or introduction. From there you enter four galleries focusing on fungal biology, fungal diversity, fungal interactions, and fungi and humans. Last comes the library, which features an index, curators and ways to learn more.
Each spread generally features a page of informative text that’s informative, accessible and, most importantly, interesting. The text is paired with Katie Scott’s incredibly detailed artwork. These are the sort of botanical images you want to cut out of the book and hang on your wall.
SIGHT: GLIMMER, GLOW, SPARK, FLASH!, by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv, Chronicle Books; Illustrated edition, July 13, 2021, Hardcover, $19.99 (ages 8-12)
Sight: Glimmer, Glow, Spark, Flash! by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv explores the science behind one of the five senses.
From how the eye sees and how it interprets color to visual aids and optical illusions to blindness and beauty, Sight: Glimmer, Glow, Spark, Flash! explores all aspects of sight. Each spread is treated almost like an infographic, with large, bright images and smaller, punchy text.
Sight: Glimmer, Glow, Spark, Flash! is a really cool book. Eye-catching illustrations and unique layout make it a fun read for kids and adults.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS ANIMAL ENCYCLOPEDIA 2ND EDITION: 2,500 ANIMALS WITH PHOTOS, MAPS, AND MORE!, by National Geographic; 2nd edition, Sept. 28, 2021, Hardcover, $24.99 (ages 8-12)
Thousands of animals come to life right before your eyes in the new edition of National Geographic Kids Animal Encyclopedia.
Updated and reviewed by experts in the field for the most accurate, up-to-date information, this comprehensive reference book features 2,500 species, 1,000 photos, and more than a dozen engaging maps.
Like all Nat Geo books, National Geographic Kids Animal Encyclopedia is highly visual. It’s the sort of book you’d use as a conversation starter with adults or kids. Nat Geo photographers are pros at catching the individual personalities of their subjects, and that’s on full display in this book.
EARTH’S AQUARIUM: DISCOVER 15 REAL-LIFE WATER WORLDS, by Alexander Kaufman and Mariana Rodrigues, Harry N. Abrams, Sept. 28, 2021, Hardcover, $24.99 (ages 8-12)
Discover the wonder of 15 real-life aquatic habitats all around the world, from mysterious deepwater vents to majestic coral reefs, teeming with life. Award–winning environmental writer Alexander C. Kaufman takes us on a tour of rainforest waterways, oyster reefs, seagrass meadows, and more, then introduces the incredible species that live there, each specially adapted to their unique ecosystems. —Synopsis provided by Harry N. Abrams
This spectacular picture book is not only a visual feast, but one full of fascinating facts, too. I appreciate the author’s willingness to explore areas and water life that may not always get top billing. Because of that, readers will learn about things they’ve never seen before. While tailored for children, it’s easy to see Earth’s Aquarium as a coffee table book in homes of people of all ages.
PAPER WORLD: SPACE, by The Templar Company LTD and Gail Armstrong, Big Picture Press, Nov. 2, 2021, Hardcover, $24.99 (ages 8-12)
Paper World: Space uses paper cutouts to reveal the wonders of space, from the planets that make up our solar system to distant galaxies to the moment that started it all, the Big Bang. With detailed art by Gail Armstrong, a fact-filled text, and flaps and die-cuts on every spread, this one-of-a-kind novelty book will appeal to readers of all ages. —Synopsis provided by Big Picture Press
Paper World: Space is one of those books you won’t regret spending the money on. This intricately designed picture book offers visual surprises with the turn of every page. It’s full of fascinating information about our solar system.
KLUTZ LIGHT UP ROCK & GEM COLLECTION: MAKER LAB STEM KIT, by Klutz, $24.99 (ages 8-12)
Packed with 29 unique rocks, gems, and minerals, this is the perfect kit to start or expand a rock collection. Build a color-changing light-up display with an agate slice: use it as a lamp, or study the stones up close with the included magnifying glass. Learn fun facts about each rock in the fully colored 32-page book including 6 experiments and activities with easy-to-find ingredients from home. —Synopsis provided by Klutz
I’ve purchased a number of different “rock collecting” books for my daughter, who must bring back at least one rock from every outing we go on. This collection takes things to a new level. By providing a wide variety of rocks with field guide explanations, kids get a head start on what to look for. The rocks, gems and minerals range from opal and jade to pyrite and jasper. The color-changing display light is an added bonus. I know my almost-8-year-old will shriek with delight when I hand it to her.