Off the Shelf: Best picture books of 2019

It’s no big secret that I’m a huge picture book fan. Growing up, I enjoyed nothing more than checking out huge stacks of picture books and poring over the pages, and talking about them with my family.

As an adult, I love the artwork and the enormous opportunity for conversation between reader and listener that a picture book provides.

The following are a few of my favorite titles this year:

“B is for Baby” by Atinuke; illustrated by Angela Brooksbank

Take a trip to Africa in a concept book about the letter “B.” This book was made for toddler storytime and I’ve had it on constant rotation since it hit library shelves. Atinuke understands what it takes to create a successful read-aloud and her text is pitch-perfect. Illustrations by

Brooksbank transport the reader to Africa in full-page spreads filled with activity.

“Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story” by Kevin Noble Maillard; illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

This is my favorite pick for the Caldecott Medal. At its core, it’s a love letter to fry bread and family. The author poetically breaks down the different aspects of fry bread into bite sized pieces that make this a great read-aloud. In the end pages, the author explains the history and role of fry bread in the lives of American Indians. Illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner Juana Martinez-Neal depict the diversity of modern Native American family life with joy and humor; end papers include a list of both recognized and unrecognized Native American Tribes (look for local Tribes). Is this the year Martinez-Neal gets the shiny medal?

“The Undefeated” by Kwame Alexander; illustrated by Kadir Nelson

In a powerhouse pairing, Newbery Award-winning poet Kwame Alexander and Caldecott Honor recipient Kadir Nelson pay tribute to African American “dreamers and doers” throughout history and their resilience in the face of adversity. Upon the birth of his daughter and the election of Barack Obama, Alexander was inspired to write a poem about black Americans. Nelson is a master at using picture book real estate and his artwork is masterful.

“Vroom!” by Barbara McClintock

Who hasn’t fantasized about getting into a race car and driving off into the sunset? A girl gets into a car and drives over mountains, through deserts and cities, to a race car track and finally home to bed. Well-defined illustrations with lots of small details make this one sure to be a classic.

“You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks” by Evan Turk

Illustrator Evan Turk continues to astound in his homage to the National Parks. Each page captures the wonder of a different national park, celebrating the awe and beauty of the outdoors. Spoiler alert: Olympic National Park is depicted as what looks like Ruby Beach enveloped in a pink sunset — lovely!

For more information or suggestions about picture books, visit, call 360-683-1161 or email to

Jennifer Knight is Youth Services Librarian for the North Olympic Library System.

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