Another year in the books, and what a year it was! 2018 brought stunning reads to our bookshelves. There were picture books that touched our hearts, spoke to our souls, illuminated our world with wonder, and made us laugh until we cried. Perhaps most importantly, there were books that helped us navigate our current climate and talk with our children about challenging topics, some of which have affected our daily lives no matter where you may live around the world. This year brought us stories featuring more diverse characters than ever before, works written and illustrated by marginalized authors and illustrators, and most of all, a multitude of books highlighting the goodness that shines so brightly within each of us.
At the close of every year, I truly believe the quality of books can’t possibly get any better. But, alas, as one year slides into another, the new stories that find their way onto our shelves exceed my wildest expectations. These new stories become cherished treasures for our children, books they hug to their chests and sleep with under their pillows because they make bedtime magical and reflect their own experiences and identities through beautiful words and illustrations. I am forever grateful to those who write, illustrate and publish these amazing stories.
What do I look for when selecting our favorite books of the year? Books that are surprising, timely and unique, of course. Books that resonate with my own children and my students. Books I can’t stop thinking about even months after the story has been put down. Most importantly, books that delight, enlighten and convey messages of goodness in wondrous ways.
And now, in alphabetical order, here are our favorite picture books published in 2018. It’s a big list, but it’s been narrowed down from hundreds!
Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal: A little girl complains to her father about her long name -- Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela. “It never fits,” she tells her Dad. Her frustration prompts a discussion between father and child as to why Alma was given such a long name, and Alma's eyes suddenly open to the legacies she carries with her and the beloved ancestors for whom she was named. Upon learning all about her vibrant name, Alma realizes that it may be the perfect fit after all. For our full review of Alma and How She Got her Name, click here!
Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, by Marcy Campbell and illustrated by Corinna Luyken: Adrian Simcox tells his classmates he has a horse - the best and most beautiful horse in all the world. But Chloe knows Adrian is lying. After all, Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house and has holes in his shoes, so there’s no way he has a horse in his backyard. The more Adrian talks about this beautiful horse, the angrier Chloe gets... and the more she wants to prove him wrong. Will vindication give Chloe the satisfaction she so desires? For our full review of Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, click here!
Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill: A young girl is in despair after spilling grape juice on her new dress. Seeing her sadness, one of the girl’s classmates wonders what it means to be kind- even when others aren’t. This book explores acts of kindness big and small and beautifully imparts that even our youngest children have the power to make an impactful difference simply by making kind choices. For our full review of Be Kind, click here!
The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez: So many of us have felt anxiety upon standing in a doorway about to enter a room where the blanket of faces staring back at us look wholly different from our own. This book tells that story, that of a young girl who walks into a new classroom and finds no one like her. But eventually she sits down and her classmates begin talking, and as their words fill the air, shared sentiments become bridges to building connection. A breathtaking read, both in pictures and prose. For our full review of The Day You Begin, click here!
Drawn Together, by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat: A young boy visits his grandfather, only to find a giant chasm between them as they do not speak the same language. But then the two sit down to draw, and that’s when magic happens. Drawn Together is a testament to the power of art to transcend words and bridge divides, and this stunning book perfectly encapsulates that bonds can be found and formed even when we may not share the same language.
Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales: This is an exquisitely crafted and collaged book about immigrants and the way in which words and stories changed the lives of a mother and her son upon arriving to the United States. It is a beautiful and poignant testament to the power of libraries, the magic of books, and the enormous promise that lies within the pages of every piece of literature.
Everything You Need for a Treehouse, by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Emily Hughes: In this achingly beautiful and wondrous story, readers are given "instructions" on what they need to build a treehouse, beginning with time, a look up, and a hefty imagination. The book breathes life into each and every requirement for the house. Together, the story and illustrations spark magic and awe. For our full review of Everything You Need for a Treehouse, click here!
Hello Hello, by Brendan Wenzel: This was one of the very first books we read in 2018, and it blows me away every time we read it. The story is so simple, yet it’s message is profound. Even when we meet someone so very different from ourselves, there is one simple word we can say to combat differences and create a connection: hello.
I’m Sad, by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Getting children to understand and talk about sadness - what it means to be sad, why they feel sadness and how to cope with it - is no easy feat. But it is ok to feel sad, and this wonderful story reminds us that we won’t always have these tough feelings. Sometimes the best thing to help alleviate sadness is knowing you have a pal who will stick by your side no matter how you feel. And when this message is conveyed through a fun story line, silly characters, and vibrant illustrations, you have a winning picture book on your hands.
I am Human: A Book of Empathy, by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds: This is the most beautiful book to remind us that we are all human, all works in progress. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we even hurt others — but we can always improve and better ourselves through good choices, thoughtfulness and kind actions.
Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, by David Ezra Stein: In this sequel to the Caldecott Honor Book, Interrupting Chicken, everyone’s favorite little red chicken can’t wait to tell her father what she learned at school: every great story has an elephant of surprise! Or is it an “element” of surprise, as Papa tries to explain? The little red chicken insists she is right and Papa sets out to convince her otherwise. After all there are definitely no elephants in Rapunzel or The Ugly Duckling. Or are there? This work of brilliance and hilarity cracks us up every single time!
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness, by Kerascoet: This stunning wordless book explores how a single act of kindness by one upstander can be a change agent for an entire community. The illustrations are simple enough that even your youngest readers will be able to work out what is happening on each page. Even better? Because it is wordless, you may find your kids writing their own experiences of bullying and subsequent acts of kindness into the story. A truly brilliant work — listen closely as your kids and students read this one.
Julian is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love: While Julian, a young boy, rides the subway one day, he is dazzled by a glorious sight: three women dressed up as beautiful mermaids. Julian can think of nothing better than dressing up just like them, with his own tail and a magical headdress, so he attempts to do just that. But what will Abuela think about the way Julian sees himself? Such an important book, so perfectly executed!
Kate, Who Tamed the Wind, by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Lee White: An old man lives at the tippy-top of a steep hill where a strong wind blows and blows, turning his world upside down and leaving him throwing his hands up in frustration. What to do with all this wind? A young girl in an itty-bitty town at the bottom of the hill finds the man's hat that blew out of his house - and after hearing his cry of "what to do?!" carrying on the wind, she finds a solution. A rhythmic story of friendship, ingenuity and problem solving make this book a treasure. For our full review of Kate, Who Tamed the Wind, click here!
Love, by Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Loren Long: This is a meditation on love- that transcendent, all encompassing, powerful emotion so integral to who we are as humans, an emotion so easy to feel but so difficult to adequately express in words. The prose is poetry in its purest form, the message is timeless, and the notion that love can be found in both the familiar and the unexpected is masterful. The stunning illustrations will be mirrors for kids worldwide. For our full review of Love, click here!
Mixed: A Colorful Story, by Arree Chung: There are three colors that started it all- red, yellow and blue. All were special and all lived harmoniously, until one fateful day a fight ensued among the colors and they all retreated to separate parts of the city. There was no more interaction between the colors - ever. But one day, a yellow noticed a blue, and the two realized how happy and calm they made each other. Can you guess what happens next? For our full review of Mixed: A Colorful Story, click here!
Moon, by Alison Oliver: Moon is a young girl who leads a busy, busy life between school, homework, music lessons and other afterschool activities. One night, though, she goes astray when she happens upon a wolf. The wolf takes her deep into the forest where Moon gets a little lesson in letting loose -- how to be wild, how to be free, and how to howl. And once she learns how good it feels to live a little, Moon doesn't want to let go. For our full review of Moon, click here!
The Rabbit Listened, by Cori Doerrfeld: Something bad has happened to Taylor: she cannot get over her devastation when a tower she worked so hard to construct crashes to the ground. Her friends try to help. They offer suggestions and unsolicited advice, trying everything in the books to get her to calm down. But only when the rabbit sits and listens -- just listens, quietly, calmly and patiently - does she begin to feel better. How I love this one!
Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy, by Drew Daywalt and Scott Campbell: If your child hates bedtime, you need this book in your life! Roderick hates going to sleep by himself, and after trying endless ways to stall and distract his parents, they decide to get him a goodnight buddy so Roderick won’t be alone in his room. But Roderick’s new buddy, Sleepy, also happens to be the king of distraction, and his antics will have you and your kids in stitches. When Sleepy’s shenanigans are too exhausting to entertain any longer, Roderick’s bedtime buddy may live up to his name after all.
Thank You, Omu!, by Oge Mora: Everyone in the neighborhood follows the delicious scent of stew to Omu’s doorstep, where Omu (meaning “queen” in the Igbo language of the author’s parents) dishes her meal out with love. But when it comes time for Omu to sit down to eat her own dinner, she realizes she left no stew for herself! This is a gorgeous, timeless story of generosity and community. For our full review of Thank You, Omu!, click here!
Time for Bed, Miyuki, by Roxanne Marie Galliez and illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh: This gorgeous book tackles a universal problem and is set against an exquisite backdrop adorned with images depicting Japanese culture on every page. Sweet Miyuki just doesn’t want to go to sleep, despite her grandfather’s pleas. Why? There are too many things to do, like water the vegetables, gather the snails and prepare for the arrival of the Dragonfly Queen. With gentleness and patience, her grandfather indulges Miyuki’s antics until finally, she is ready for bed and sleep overtakes her. Exquisite. For our full review of Time for Bed, Miyuki, click here!
The Wall in the Middle of the Book, by Jon Agee: In this powerful story, there is literally just what the title says - a wall running along the gutter of the book. On one side of the wall stands a knight who proudly proclaims he is safe. The dangers, after all, live on the other side of the wall. So what exactly is on that other side? Angry animals and evil ogres, of course. What the knight doesn’t realize, however, is the rising water and the crocodile looming on his side of the wall. When the knight finds himself in need of serious help, the one who comes to his rescue is someone much different than the knight anticipated… and the other side of the wall may possess a lot more fun than fright. For our full review of The Wall in the Middle of the Book, click here!
What Would You Do With a Chance, by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom: Here, a young child is confronted with a chance out of the blue. But the boy doesn't embrace it; he is uncertain, and thus pulls away. When the next chance comes around, he reaches for it and falls. He is overcome with fear, never wanting to feel so foolish again. The chances keep appearing, though, but because he keeps ignoring them, they eventually cease. Only then, of course, does the boy realize that as scared as he is, he does want to take a chance. Will he be brave enough to seize a new opportunity? For our full review of What Would You Do With a Chance, click here!
Zola’s Elephant, by Randall De Seve and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski: When Zola moves into the neighborhood, her new neighbor is too shy to go introduce herself and say hello. After all, Zola has an elephant to play with, so why would she need a new friend? Things aren’t always what they seem though, and sometimes, the things we imagine may not be reality. By summoning a bit of courage, two little girls embark on a new friendship that leads to an imaginary world they can discover together. Zagarenski’s stunning art will forever be a Happily Ever Elephants’ favorite!
Which of these books were YOUR favorites of 2018? What would you add to the list? Make sure to let us know on our Facebook page!
If you liked this post, we think you will love these too! Top 20 picture books of 2017, Happily Ever Elephants Favorite Picture Books (when we began this blog in 2016), and 21 Books to Promote Kindness, Inclusiveness and Equality.