Book List

Best Picture Books of 2019 That Celebrate Family

Atinuke has bottled the delightful energy of the Anna Hibiscus books and poured it into this treat for younger readers.

B IS FOR BABY

A circular tale of family love with visual rewards for sharp-eyed listeners. 

In this story that looks like an alphabet book but focuses exclusively on the letter B, a smiling woman, probably mama, stands in a yard, holding Baby cheek-to-cheek, as another woman chats with four children under the awning of a small tin-roofed house in the background. Many visual details hint at this book’s African (probably Nigerian) setting. After Mama Beads Baby’s hair, Brother loads a Basket of Bananas onto his Bicycle while bopping to the beat of what’s playing through his headphones, oblivious to everything else—especially the fact that Baby climbed into the Basket to have a Banana for Breakfast. On the road, he passes a Baobab tree, Birds, a Butterfly, Baboons, a Bus brimming over with brown-skinned riders crossing a Bridge, and more sights—few of which Brother notices. Nothing, however, escapes the keen eyes of Baby. Only when Brother lifts the Bananas from the Bicycle rack does anyone discover the stowaway. A surprised Baba happily welcomes both grandchildren, who join him for Biscuits and bottles of something bubbly. Brooksbank effectively avoids stereotypes while adding humor and cultural specificity to the story with her detailed and lively, colorful, mixed-media images. Safety-conscious caregivers may suck their teeth, but there’s no denying the joy in this book.

Atinuke has bottled the delightful energy of the Anna Hibiscus books and poured it into this treat for younger readers. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0166-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

An extra-tasty book for bao lovers everywhere.

AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO

A little girl wants to make perfect bao, just like the ones her mom, dad, and grandma make.

Making bao is a multigenerational affair in the Wu family. Amy’s mom, dad, and grandma make perfect bao that come out “soft and fluffy, and so, so delicious.” Amy “could eat them all day.” However, the bao that Amy makes are always too small or too big, and sometimes they “fall apart before they reach her mouth.” One day, Amy is determined “to make the world’s most perfect bao.” (The typeface is determined too.) First, Amy’s dad mixes flour, water, and yeast to make dough for the bread (yay for dads in the kitchen!). Then “Amy’s mom seasons meat for the filling.” Finally, everyone gathers around the table to work. Everyone makes perfect bao…everyone except Amy. Amy is about to give up when she thinks of the perfect “Amy-size” plan and gets to work! Zhang’s buoyant, bubbly text is complemented by Chua’s charming, animated characters, who include an equally expressive kitty as sidekick. In one scene, Amy slumps on the floor with flour-covered face and clothes, cradling a misshapen bao. Her forlorn face exemplifies despair, while kitty mirrors her. Step-by-step illustrations, combined with the author’s family recipe, provide readers with a guide to making bao. The Wus all appear to be East Asian.

An extra-tasty book for bao lovers everywhere. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1133-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

A quietly radical, eminently delightful book.

BILAL COOKS DAAL

Novelist Saeed makes her picture-book debut with this delicious tale about a boy and his beloved daal.

When Bilal’s father begins to make the South Asian legume stew, Bilal and his friends Morgan and Elias are eager to help, but Abu tells them, “This dish takes patience.…This dish takes time.” The children choose to make chana daal (with split chickpeas) and line up the spices: turmeric, chili, cumin. But when Morgan and Elias wonder aloud why the daal “looks” and “smells” funny, Bilal becomes concerned that his friends won’t like his favorite food at all. The daal simmers all day—as Bilal, Morgan, and Elias play hopscotch, swim, and hike and other friends join them—and once the sun begins to set, Bilal’s father calls them all home. They break naan around the table and share the steamy, soupy, garlicky, salty, sweet, creamy daal. “Bilal, you were right—daal tastes great!” they say. The tale centers on a situation familiar to many children of immigrants—the othering of the foods of their homes—and validates young readers’ cultural experiences. Saeed’s inclusion of a South Asian father engaged in domestic work is radical and welcome, and Syed’s inviting, bold, cartoonlike illustrations depict brown-skinned Bilal surrounded by children of a variety of skin tones (Morgan presents white and Elias presents black).

A quietly radical, eminently delightful book. (author’s note, recipe) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1810-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

A stunning and necessary historical picture book.

FREEDOM SOUP

A Haitian grandmother and granddaughter share a holiday, a family recipe, and a story of freedom.

It’s New Year’s Day, and Belle and Ti Gran are sharing in the annual tradition of making Freedom Soup. Though Belle jokes that the dish is named because “It’s free,” Ti Gran informs her that it is anything but. What follows is a breathless recounting of family slave history before the Haitian rebellion, with Freedom Soup as the conduit between the historical past and present day. Charles’ prose and Alcántara’s illustrations work perfectly in tandem to re-create a Haiti that is heartbreakingly lush and tropical. The mellow brown of the main characters’ skin contrasts with the darkness of their slave ancestors’, and the vibrant blue waters and endless yellow sugarcane fields are both breathtaking and oppressive when viewed through this historical lens. One particularly affecting double-page spread uses the sweep of the fields to draw readers’ eyes up to the white slave-owning family, to whom the soup is served by a girl young enough to be Belle herself. This tale features characters for whom cooking is an elaborate dance as well as family bonding, and the soup looks so tempting readers will swear they smell it.

A stunning and necessary historical picture book. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8977-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

A deep and beautiful book modeling grandmothers as heroines.

MY GRANDMA AND ME

Love, childhood adventures, religion, and tradition are the centerpieces of this book about the author and her late grandmother, with whom she grew up in the same household in pre-revolutionary Iran.

The narrator joins her grandmother, whom she loves dearly, in everything as she goes about her day. When grandma sweeps, she does too; when grandma wakes up for prayer at dawn, she does too; and when grandma sews herself a chador, she helps, even if nominally. The delicately lined illustrations gracefully evince both the mundane and the magic in the details of the narrator’s everyday life as a child: the boy delivering towers of bread on his bike; Ramadan meals with her grandma, both at home and at the mosque; and playtime with her friend Annette while both of their grandmothers chat, knit blankets, and drink coffee. This sweet story is intermingled naturally with details about Iranian and Islamic traditions and values and supported by such visuals as an easy mix of traditional and Western attire and thoughtful inclusion of Persian design elements. It peaks in a moment of solidarity between the two grandmothers, each praying for the other to go to heaven, but via their different Muslim and Christian religions: a poignant, inclusive note. In its celebration of specific manifestations of universal love, this is highly recommended for families and educators, Muslim and non- alike, looking to teach children about Islam.

A deep and beautiful book modeling grandmothers as heroines. (Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9494-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

Joyful and affirming, Aidan’s story is the first of its kind among books for welcoming a new baby.

WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER

A transgender boy anticipates his new job as a big brother by helping his parents prepare for his baby sibling’s arrival.

Aidan “felt trapped” in his old name, clothes, and room before he told his parents “what he knew about himself.” Some girls never wore dresses, “but Aidan didn’t feel like any kind of girl” because he was “another kind of boy.” With his parents’ support, he embraces his identity and takes on a new, important role, becoming a big brother. More than anything, he wants the baby to feel loved and understood. This picture book sets a new standard of excellence in transgender representation by centering the feelings of Aidan, a biracial (black and South Asian) transgender boy. Juanita’s (Ta-Da!, 2018) digital illustrations have the look of ink and watercolor, and they bring the love in Aidan’s family to life. Bright, mixed patterns in Aidan’s clothes capture the vibrancy of his personality and his excitement to welcome a baby into the family. Lukoff (A Storytelling of Ravens, 2018) breaks away from binary language and stereotypical gender roles, highlighting within the text and in an author’s note that there is more than one way to be a person of any gender. The hopeful message at the end emphasizes love and the importance of staying open to learning.

Joyful and affirming, Aidan’s story is the first of its kind among books for welcoming a new baby. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62014-837-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

A warm, loving, necessary reminder of the power in families coming together.

GOING DOWN HOME WITH DADDY

A young boy ponders the perfect tribute to his great-grandma for their annual family reunion.

This year everyone’s prepared something special for Granny’s anniversary celebration “down home”—everyone except Lil Alan. As he considers what to give, Lil Alan’s weekend is marked by memories connected to the land and his family, those who are still alive and ancestors that have passed on. Ultimately, he gifts an object lesson that emphasizes the legacy of love that brings them together as a “mighty family.” Imagery is presented in marvelous metaphors (“I watch as we drive from city streets to flowing highways under a sweep of sparkling stars”), while lighthearted ribbing (“ ‘Got a head just like your daddy,’ Uncle Jay teases me”) and soul food ( “smoked turkey, mac and cheese, okra and tomatoes, and biscuits oozing mayhaw jelly”—yum) set the scene for a celebration of myriad African-American and family traditions. Minter’s acrylic-wash prints soar as stenciled cotton bolls, okra, and pecans dot the pages alongside images of family members in sepia and blue-black hues. One striking spread details silhouettes of Lil Alan, Sis, and Momma layered on top of one another, same eyes, lips, and textured hair and same reunion T-shirt imprinted with a simple, familiar, deeply rooted tree.

A warm, loving, necessary reminder of the power in families coming together. (Picture book. 4-11)

Pub Date: April 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-56145-938-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

Like a garden, this meticulously composed work will bring readers serenity and joy.

OJIICHAN'S GIFT

A young girl finds a new way to stay connected to her ojiichan, or grandfather.

When Mayumi van Horton was born, her ojiichan in Japan built her a garden. Instead of flowers, “Ojiichan had made the garden out of stones—big ones, little ones and ones in between.” The gently flowing narration continues as watercolors illustrate how Mayumi grows between each summer visit with Ojiichan. Mayumi also gains insight as they care for the garden together. As a toddler she learns “that moss on a rock was a gift of time.” As a school-aged child she learns “that clipping shrubs to look like clouds was the best of all reasons to prune.” But later Mayumi notices that Ojiichan’s house, once full of life and luster, is now “dusty and dull” and the garden “left alone.” Realizing she is powerless to meet Ojiichan’s changing needs, she directs her frustrations on their once fastidiously maintained garden, kicking and “spraying gravel everywhere.” Eventually she finds solace in creatively preserving their beloved project, cementing their bond despite the impending transition. Simms’ paintings capture the spirit of the quiet yet emotionally layered text, providing colorful patterns atop simple shapes and compositions. The result is an understated story that delivers a powerful message of love. Mayumi is biracial, with a white father and Japanese mother.

Like a garden, this meticulously composed work will bring readers serenity and joy. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-77138-963-1

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

A luminous celebration of what we share and inherit from our elders. (Picture book. 3-9)

I MISS MY GRANDPA

A grandmother tells a young child all the amazing pieces that were a part of the grandpa the child never met.

One by one, Grandma points out each element of Grandpa’s appearance in a living relative: youngest uncle Mason’s moonlike face, cousin Aiden’s listening ears, and on until she finally comes to the wavy hair the child she addresses inherited. Grandma assures the child that Grandpa can be found in their hearts: “He is still living within us who love him.” Layers of media, including colored pencil, watercolor, oil pastel, and dip pen, are applied and then scratched away, creating bold, striking textures and patterns. The strong use of shapes, in both positive and negative space, draws readers’ eyes and creates a compelling visual throughline. For instance, tiny dots of light create constellations depicting how aunt Zai-zi can turn her voice into a duck or a lion or the wind, just as Grandpa did. The appearances of the child and grandmother, both paper-white and outlined with a rainbow of swift, simple lines, are racially ambiguous, but the mixed Chinese and Western names of relatives point to a multicultural family. Although her works have been published in China, this title marks New York City–based Xiaojing’s U.S. picture-book debut. The text appears in Mandarin translation (both characters and pinyin) on the rear endpapers.

A luminous celebration of what we share and inherit from our elders. (Picture book. 3-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-41787-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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