To my mind, there are very few pleasures equal to the joy that comes with sharing picture books with small children, either snuggled together in a lap or at storytime with a group. I have said it before, but I don’t mind repeating it: There is magic in that sharing. Watching a child’s face go incandescent with wonder at the turn of the page or the completion of a rhyme never grows old. And happily, every year there are new books that kindle that delight.
You’ll find our complete list of the 100 Best Picture Books of 2020 here. And now for some highlights:
Bedtime books are a staple of the literature, and this year’s crop has some lovely ones. A balloon becomes first a source of delight for a little bear and then an object of mourning in Matthew Burgess’ The Bear and the Moon (Chronicle Books, Sept. 29); Catia Chien’s soft, dreamy illustrations are full of emotion. In Bedtime for Sweet Creatures (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Jan. 14), Nikki Grimes enacts a bedtime game between a Black mother and her child, the child pretending to be one animal after another, as Elizabeth Zunon’s glowing art paints their faces full of love. Alice McGinty allows the hibernation preparations of a bear mother-and-child duo to mimic familiar human bedtime rituals in A Story for Small Bear (Schwartz Wade/Random, Oct. 13), Richard Jones’ textured art making their forest home come alive.
Other picture books offer openings to discuss big ideas with little ones. Jason Chin uses a kid-friendly framework to help his readers contemplate Your Place in the Universe (Neal Porter/Holiday House, Sept. 1), inviting them to imagine ever greater comparisons, from an ostrich that’s twice as tall as the average 8-year-old to the immeasurable depths of space. A Last Goodbye (Owlkids Books, April 15) explores death in the animal kingdom; Elin Kelsey’s text is both scientifically sound and lyrical while Soyeon Kim’s intricate illustrative dioramas add emotional depth. Deb Pilutti wittily probes deep time in Old Rock (Is Not Boring) (Putnam, Feb. 4) as her titular character proves to its pals that its experiences—from its inception in a volcano through its acquaintance with dinosaurs and mastodons into the current day—are “not boring at all.”
Not all picture books need be soporific or profound—books that make children laugh are just as important. With The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish (Running Press Kids, May 5), Lil Miss Hot Mess and Olga de Dios offer a rousing spin on “The Wheels on the Bus,” the boisterous text begging for participation and the psychedelic illustrations inspiring it. Gabi Snyder and Robin Rosenthal combine dogs and transportation in Two Dogs on a Trike (abramsappleseed, May 19), challenging readers to count increasing numbers of dogs on a wild variety of conveyances. Sarah Lynne Reul invents a whole new language in Nerp! (Sterling, March 3), the titular (and emphatic) negative headlining a deliciously silly set of sounds—“garble snarfy barflecrunch,” anyone?—as a very cute reptilian toddler rejects foodstuff after foodstuff.
Other books among our gathering of the 100 Best Picture Books of 2020 inform their readers, inculcate literacy skills, build social-emotional awareness, introduce concepts, cultivate an appreciation for the wider world, and encourage dreaming big. Assemble a stack, settle down in the reading chair for a cuddle, and enjoy.
Vicky Smith is a young readers’ editor.