It takes a lot to successfully create a picture book for very young readers—rather, listeners, since I’m talking about primarily the preschool set here, whose stories will be read to them by someone older. They’ll want eye-catching art; a story that resonates with the main concerns of a toddler’s or preschooler’s life; and, most importantly, writing and illustrations that don’t condescend. Today, I want to write about three new picture books that do all of these things—and do them well.

First up is Stephen Savage’s Supertruck. Let’s hear it for the underdog, shall we? Savage’s story opens with a city “full of brave trucks.” There are bucket trucks, fire trucks, and tow trucks. They are capable of tasks that can pretty much save the day: they can fix power lines, put out fires, and rescue vehicles—all very high-profile jobs. But what about the garbage truck? “He just collects trash.”

Just? Never fear. It’s actually the garbage truck that slips away in the dark of night, during a monstrous city-stopping snowstorm, and becomes Supertruck, the mysterious hero who “digs out the whole city.” No small task, to say the least. He doesn’t even get credit the next day for his epic and gutsy deeds, but he’s happy to go back to “just collecting the trash.”

This story of the secret identity of an unassuming hero—he even wears giant glasses on his frame, à la Clark KentMonkey and Duckis laid out with simple shapes, appealing lines (I love how the superstar trucks have harder lines and block shapes, yet Supertruck emanates the friendliness and comfort that come from more rounded lines), uncluttered compositions, and simple sentences in big, bold lettering. Keep this one in mind for your vehicle-obsessed toddlers, in particular.

Next up is a story in rhyme from Jennifer Hamburg, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Monkey and Duck Quack Up! (on shelves in late February) is written in rhyming couplets, and very young children tend to enjoy the rhythms and predictability of such writing. Even some older elementary-aged children who have probably seen their fair share of such rhymed pictured books will be pulled in by the endearing characters. Best of all, the book’s final page has a surprise that turns the rhyming on its head and is likely to generate laughs in your preschool story times.

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Fotheringham is best-known, though not limited to, his illustrations for many nonfiction titles, several written by Barbara Kerley, such as last year’s A Home for Mr. Emerson. His style in those books for older readers is quite different from this one, but he really delivers. The book’s color scheme is dominated by cooler, more muted colors but with the two main characters, Monkey and Duck, in deeper, richer yellow and rust hues so that they really pop off the page. Fotheringham is an exceptionally talented illustrator, and there’s a great deal of sophistication at work in these spreads; there’s a lot he does here with line and even shadows to make these appealing to young eyes.  Smick

Finally, there’s Doreen Cronin’s Smick!, illustrated by Juana Medina and releasing in early February. This is a story that communicates loads (to be precise about it) of information with very little. There are few words, and the illustrator creates irresistible characters in ample white spaces, using loose, bold, sweeping lines—plus one flower petal, animated with a few simple lines, and one photo of a rosemary tree stick. It tells a story of friendship between a dog, who is the Smick of the book’s title, and a chick. The spare text is light and playful, rhyming simple words in a rhythm that begs for this to be read aloud. As the Kirkus review notes, less is definitely more in this fetching book.  

Find your favorite toddler or preschooler, and you just might make their day with these entertaining and inviting stories.

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.