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Best Picture Books of 2018 for Encouraging Kids to Dream Big

An enchanting, inspirational account of Jemison’s early life that illustrates the importance of encouraging and supporting...


Pioneering African-American astronaut Mae Jemison’s childhood love of space and supportive parents led to her illustrious career.

Little Mae’s pastoral childhood home is presented in warm yellows, blues, and greens, visually establishing the atmosphere promoted by her loving parents, who encourage her dreams. When Mae’s school assignment asks her to write about what she wants to be when she grows up, Mae responds that she wants to see Earth from space. Her parents tell her she must become an astronaut to do that, and when Mae asks if they think she can, their response weaves its way throughout the narrative: “Of course you can. If you can dream it, if you believe it and work hard for it, anything is possible.” Thus begins Mae’s obsession with space: reading about space, creating homemade astronaut costumes and spaceships, and drawing spacescapes. But when she shares her dreams in school, her white teacher discourages her, and her mostly white classmates laugh. Mae is crestfallen, her despondency captured with deceptively simple lines and a blue wash. Her dismay is short-lived, as she is buoyed up by her parents’ continued support and encouragement. Uplifted, Mae promises to wave to her parents from space one day—and she does just that, as the first African-American astronaut.

An enchanting, inspirational account of Jemison’s early life that illustrates the importance of encouraging and supporting children’s dreams. (biographical note) (Picture book/biography. 4-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-265173-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

A moving portrait of a true patriot who found ways to use her gift to work for change.



Barton introduces Congresswoman Barbara Jordan to children in this artful picture book illustrated by Holmes.

Jordan grew up in Houston, Texas, and “stood out” because of “that voice of hers. / That big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice. It caused folks to sit right up, stand up straight, and take notice.” As a young person, Jordan used it for poetry, speeches, and oratory contests. When a lawyer came to speak at her school, Jordan was inspired and thought she could use her voice as a lawyer. College and law school were challenging, but being a lawyer was boring. She got involved in politics. When she filled in for an absent speaker one night, she so inspired the audience that she decided that was how she should use her voice. She worked in the Senate and then in Congress, where she became famous for using her voice to speak up against President Nixon and for the Constitution. When illness called her back home, she taught, and her former students “still move among us, striving to do work that would have made her proud.” Striking mixed-media illustrations capture the relationships between people and the influence of place. Barton’s narration is colloquial, appropriately relying on rhetorical devices such as repetition and onomatopoeia to tell his tale.

A moving portrait of a true patriot who found ways to use her gift to work for change. (note, timeline, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-6561-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Thoughtful and affirming.


A young girl of color challenges the voice of fear and dissent in Dillon’s first solo picture book.

Readers are introduced to Zoe with her arms stretched wide as she declares, “I can be anything I want to be.” As she stands in the bordering white space, Zoe contemplates becoming a bird, and her exuberant vision of the possibility of flight fills the center of the spread. But down in the opposite corner, quiet but insistent, a little voice asks, “What if you fall?” When Zoe imagines becoming an archaeologist and unearthing dinosaurs, the voice insists that she is too little for such things. The entire book progresses thus, with Zoe imagining a possible feat or future for herself as a small, doubting voice questions her—but not once does Zoe give way. In response to “What if you fall?” Zoe confidently insists that she won’t fall and can always fly in a rocket ship; when the voice sneers that she is too little, Zoe counters immediately: “No, I’m not. I’m bigger than you.” Although skewed toward an adult perspective, Dillon’s prose leaves readers in no doubt of Zoe’s determination, and while the nagging voice is present throughout the book, the illustrations of Zoe’s dreams take up far more literal and figurative space than her self-doubt. Pair this with Molly Bang and Ann Stern’s When Sophie Thinks She Can’t… (2018) for the ultimate in can-do power.

Thoughtful and affirming. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-16690-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

A lovely story about courage and community with a darling protagonist.


A young girl named Ibb transforms her town when she dares to enter its very last castle, which no one has entered since anyone can remember.

Ibb wears stripes and polka dots, princess dresses, tutus and butterfly wings, and big yellow boots. She walks by the castle every day. It is the last castle, and it stands in the middle of her town, with a guard who watches passers-by from the tower. The townspeople, never having entered the castle, speculate about what is inside. “Monsters.” “Giants.” “Snakes.” Ibb wonders if it’s something else. One day, she floats across the moat and knocks on the big door. She is scared away. But soon, an envelope arrives in the mail, inviting her to the castle. Everyone tells her to stay away, but even though she is scared, Ibb wants to know what is inside. The guard welcomes her and shows her around. What he wants is for someone “brave” and “curious” to take his place. Ibb thinks and decides that she’ll help him if he lets the townspeople into the castle too. It turns out to be a win-win for everyone. The illustrations, in pen and ink and watercolor, render Ibb, a young brown girl with afro puffs who shows her fellow townspeople about bravery and kindness, and her story truly memorable. The guard and most of the other adults in Ibb’s life are white; a friend named Alex also presents black.

A lovely story about courage and community with a darling protagonist. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4197-2574-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

A musical journey perfectly aimed at young readers’ excitement to know what they will be.



From the three-way scrimmage among his great-aunt, his father, and his mother for the right to name him—his mother won—to his growth as a musician, Carlos yearns to hear the song of angels.

Instrument after instrument fails to resonate within his heart until the chords of a guitar stand his arm hairs on end. “An angel’s breath?” But not even his beloved guitar can drown out the English-speaking bullies in San Francisco schools, so he runs away and returns to Tijuana. His family, however disagrees. They’d left Mexico for a better life, and they will not let Carlos stay behind. Bit by bit, the city’s diverse cultural harmonies become one: “the soul of the blues,…the brains of jazz,…the energy of rock and roll…the slow heat of Afro-Cuban drums and the cilantro-scented sway of the music you’d grown up with.” The Santana Blues Band plays through Carlos’ homesickness, plays through Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, plays through Vietnam’s destruction and America’s unrest, until, in front of 400,000 people in Woodstock, the angels finally sing—not to but within Carlos. Ramírez’s double-page–spread acrylic-and–enamel-marker images evoke the vibrant electric energy of Huichol yarn art. The years denoting milestones in Carlos’ story subtly blend into the multicolored pages. Mahin’s second-person lyrical narrative unites the disparate elements that ultimately became Santana.

A musical journey perfectly aimed at young readers’ excitement to know what they will be. (author’s note, bibliography, discography) (Picture book/biography. 6-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0413-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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