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31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Picture Books

Oh. We made it, readers. We made it. That was 31 days, all right. 31 days that covered loads of books. Good ones and weird ones, but all of them worth reading in some way. Not a bad book in sight. Nothing to yawn at. And so, as a reward, here are the best beloved. The picture books. The titles closest to the heart of the children’s book community.

Thank you, all of you, for reading.

 2018 Picture Books

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

As seen on the list: Bilingual Books


Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex

As seen on the list: Funny Picture Books


Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger


It’s funny that the lists I produce include things like CaldeNotts but never actual Caldecott contenders. Ms. Seeger wowed the world back in 2012 with her book Green, and earned herself a Caldecott Honor for her efforts. She returns with Blue, and darned if it isn’t better than its predecessor. With roughly two words for every two pages, different shades of blue, and carefully placed die-cuts, she manages to tell the story of a boy and his dog, grief, and moving on. A Herculean task filled with thick, luscious paints. Cannot be missed.

El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin, ill. Crash McCreery

As seen on the list: Bilingual Books


The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, ill. Rafael López


Some of the books on today’s list have never appeared on another list this month because they defy categorization. Where would you put Woodson’s latest picture book? On the Books with a Message list? Maybe, but what I found here seemed less messagey and more just good, clean advice. It’s also one of the most practical books I’ve ever encountered. At some point in their lives, children will find themselves to be the outsider. It could be because of race or culture or gender or age or something else entirely. So what do you do, when you are alone in a crowd? How do you connect? This may well be the most useful book on today’s list.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê, ill. Dan Santat


I love these dudes! The generation gap cranked up to eleven, and then you add in a language divide as well. A boy and his grandfather struggle to connect. It’s one of those books that I  know has words, but that I imagine as wordless after the fact. Appearing on all the Best Of lists, I couldn’t not include it.

The Field by Baptiste Paul, ill. Jacqueline Alcantara


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Totally should have been named Futbol Mud Match. Because the mud, man, the mud is practically its own character. Set in the Caribbean, it follows the kids that participate in an impromptu soccer game. Girls, boys, everyone’s in on it. If I’d made a sports list this year, this definitely would have been included. The action and power in the art has even given some people some Caldecott ideas. One to watch.

First Laugh, Welcome, Baby! by Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood, ill. Jonathan Nelson


Members of a Navajo family compete to be the first to get the new baby to laugh. Not only was I taken with the story and the backmatter (which covers other baby ceremonies in other cultures) but it was the art of debut illustrator Jonathan Nelson (Diné) that really caught my eye. I want to see more books by this guy in the future. Particularly if the books are as good as this one.

The Fishing Lesson by Heinrich Böll, adapted by Bernard Friot, ill. Emile Bravo

As seen on the lists: Translated Picture Books & Books with a Message


Follow Finn: A Search-and-Find Maze Book by Peter Goes


This is a bit of an oddity on today’s list. I suspect you might not have seen it, and that would be a pity. As you can see by its little subtitle there on the cover, the book just advertises itself as a simple “search-and-find maze book”. Nothing more to see here, right folks? Then you open it up. I know not what brains Goes has to conjure up such mazes as these, but clearly the man is a genius. The story is fine, but the art and architecture of the mazes defies categorization. For the right child, this is a book to get lost in for hours at a time. Like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, ill. Violeta Lopíz & Valerio Vidali, translated from Italian by Debbie Bibo

As seen on the lists: CaldeNotts & Translated Picture Books


The Funeral by Matt James

As seen on the list: CaldeNotts


Get On Your Bike by Joukje Adveld, ill. Philip Hopman, translated by Laura Watkinson

As seen on the lists: Translated Picture Books & Books with a Message


Hazelnut Days by Emmanuel Bourdier, ill. ZAÜ

As seen on the list: Books with a Message


A Home in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. Jerry Pinkney

As seen on the list: Rhyming Picture Books


A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, ill. Lane Smith


Funny. I reviewed the book, and even wrote up a piece for it at Calling Caldecott about its award potential, but this is the first time it’s appeared on a list this month. More’s the pity as it’s unique and wonderful. I’ve read it to my own kids a couple of times and I think its biggest takeaway is its mood. Mood, however, is hard to convey. You can’t really tell someone about how a book makes you feel in a concrete manner. So, with that in mind, I’ll just say that I loved it. That’s clear enough, I think.

I Hate Everyone by Naomi Danis, ill. Cinta Arribas

As seen on the list: Oddest Books of the Year


If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino


I’ve said before that I can get the librarians on my various book committees to read anything except sports or horsey titles. Consider this the horsey title that breaks the mold. Artists are always saying how difficult it is to draw a horse. This book tackles the problem by featuring all silhouettes, with a sky that changes colors in the background. You know what would be a fun class to teach to grad students? Variations in Watercolor Techniques in 21st Century Picture Books. And this book would be one of the first you’d have to look at.

Imagine! by Raúl Colón

As seen on the list: Wordless Picture Books


Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love


Who could have predicted that in 2018, Drag Queen Story Hours would be the rage of the library nation? Or that the book that appears the most on their reading rosters is a debut picture book? The love people feel for this book is palpable. We will have to see where Ms. Love takes us in the future. I’m very intrigued.

The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi

As seen on the list: Wordless Picture Books


Little Brown by Marla Frazee

 LittleBrownOf all the picture books on this list, this is the one I wish I’d reviewed the most. I know you yahoos are all gaga over her The Farmer and the Clown, but to my mind this is the better, gutsier, more interesting book. Now kids love resolution, right? They like books with clear-cut beginnings, middles, and ends. They particularly like books where there is a solution to the problem. Frazee is giving you none of that here. The problem remains. The solution is there, but what it is is a matter of some debate. You want a book that will cause a conversation amongst your kids? That could get a group talking about what it means and where it might end after the last page is turned? This is the book for you. One of the most interesting of the year.

Look by Fiona Woodcock


This is a pretty good case of a book appearing near the end of the year when I was ready to put a stamp on my favorite picture books and be done with them. It had gotten a starred review or two, so I figured I’d just slip it into my reading pile, mark it on a sheet, and forget about it. No go. Woodcock decided to play fast and loose with interesting typography and simple words. Or, rather, simple letters. It’s a story told entirely in words with double o’s, where the words are part of the art. Reading that description, I still don’t know how better to tell you about this book. Better read it for yourself. Miss it and you’re missing out.

Love by Matt de la Pena, ill. Loren Long


I sometimes have a very childish reaction when I see a children’s book getting a big publicity push as well as rave, starred reviews. Instinctively I want to dislike it, for whatever small, petty reason I can come up with. And yes, that happened at first with Love. Then I considered it solely on its own merits and liked what I saw. It’s strange and sad at times, which isn’t a bad thing in a picture book about a complex emotion. As the year has worn on, it’s dropped out of award conversations, so I’m dusting it off so we can appreciate it, if only for one last time. It was good. I appreciate that.

A Most Unusual Day by Sydra Mallery, ill. E.B. Goodale


We see a lot of adoption books that simplify the feelings of the siblings involved. Mallery’s book is interesting, first off because it takes you a long time to realize that it even is an adoption tale. You begin it and think that it’s just going to be a variation on Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. When it finally does reveal its true purpose, you’re already hooked. This is how you cover subjects that have been done many times before, people! There’s always a new way to tackle ’em.

My Hair Is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera

As seen on the list: Books with a Message


New Shoes by Chris Raschka


Weirdly, it wasn’t the only foot p.o.v. picture book this year. I like Chris Raschka, but the man’s an artist. And, like any artist, he can kinda get wrapped up in his own artistic sensibilities. You know he’s capable of appealing to young readers (A Ball for Daisy, for example) but he only does that kind of book once in a while. This book felt very young, and it did a marvelous job of literally putting you in the shoes of its young character. New shoes have never looked this good.

New York Melody by Hélène Druvert

As seen on the list: CaldeNotts


Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers


I assume other folks have already mentioned this, but has anyone else been pairing this book with Minh Lê and Dan Santat’s Drawn Together? Both books concern boys and their relationship to their grandfathers. Both have magical elements to the tale that intertwine perfectly with the heart. This book, truth be told, reminded me more of the work of Shaun Tan. It retains that same dreamy quality, though there’s a safety net to this story you won’t necessarily find in Tan. And then there’s the quality of the art. Gorgeous.

Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet by Sara O’Leary, ill. Jacob Grant

As seen on the list: Alphabet Books


P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, ill. Maria Beddia

As seen on the list: Alphabet Books


The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke, ill. Van Thanh Rudd


My daughter, watching me construct this list, commented that she was disappointed that this book never showed the process of the bike’s construction. Noted. But what you do get to see, at least a little, is the process of the book‘s construction, at least insofar as it involves painting on cardboard. Every time I stand before a group and get to show them how the ridges in the cardboard replicate speed lines, I sigh a happy sigh. There is no art out there this year to compare to this. In retrospect, I should have put it on the CaldeNotts list.

Petra by Marianna Coppo


The simplest story with the biggest impact. Petra is a self-possessed charmer. It does not demand your attention. It is not flashy or bold. It is quiet and funny and memorable. That is all.

Play This Book by Jessica Young, ill. Daniel Wiseman

As seen on the list: Picture Book Readalouds


Potato Pants! by Laurie Keller

As seen on the list: Funny Picture Books


The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

As seen on the list: Books with a Message


Sleep Train by Jonathan London, ill. Lauren Eldridge

As seen on the list: Fabulous Photography


A Storytelling of Ravens by Kyle Lukoff, ill. Natalie Nelson


That Kyle Lukoff, man. Keep an eye on him. If you missed it the first time around, this is a collective noun picture book. I think we’ve seen enough of those to choke a whale, but this one has the distinction of being funny, clever, and beautiful. That should probably count for something as well.

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, ill. Ekua Holmes

Stuff of Stars

Handmade paper replicates the very birth of the universe and our relationship to the stars. It is, perhaps, a bit of a graduation  picture book (the kind you hand a high schooler that is going off to college for the first time) but that is only one of its many uses. Just look at that cover. Isn’t it amazing? If I could, I’d buy up all the art in this book and hang it on my walls.

Summer Evening by Walter de la Mare, ill. Carolina Rabei


Walter de la Mare! That’s the guy I keep quoting whenever I say, “Only the rarest kind of best is good enough for our children” (which is a bit of a paraphrase, but I’m sure he’d forgive me). This book was a sleeper hit for me. Rabei took a Walter poem and turned it into a perfect consideration of what a summer evening can consist of. When summer comes around again, I’ll definitely be reading it to my own kiddos.

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, ill. Madeline Valentine

As seen on the list: Books with a Message


They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki


They say blue. They also say “Caldecott contender” when you’re paying attention. Tamaki got an Honor already for a YA novel, which she was not expecting. This book is a bit more standard in that regard. If it gets an Honor alongside Seeger’s Blue, I predict the rise of a hundred think pieces about why the 2018 picture books returned to that color (and sentiment) over and over again.

This Is My Eye: A New York Story by Neela Vaswani

As seen on the list: Fabulous Photography


The Truly Brave Princesses by Dolores Brown, ill. Sonja Wimmer, text edited by Eva Burke and Rebecca Packard

As seen on the list: Bilingual Books


The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker, ill. Mark Pett


You didn’t honestly think I would put a list together of this magnitude and not include my buddy and fellow SLJ blogger Travis Jonker, did you? I saw the man perform this book for a crowd in Allegan, Michigan and it was standing room only, my friend. I’ve been seeing his work for years, waiting patiently for a proper book. After all this time, this makes it worth the wait.

The Visitor by Antje Damm, translated by Sally-Ann Spencer

As seen on the lists: CaldeNotts & Translated Picture Books


The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

As seen on the list: Picture Book Readalouds


We Are All Me by Jordan Crane

As seen on the list: Oddest Books of the Year


We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

As seen on the lists: Picture Book Readalouds & Funny Picture Books

WeDontEatClassmates copy


Walter sez: “Happy 2019 reading, delicious people.”

Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!

December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Wordless Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – CaldeNotts

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Books for Kids

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – Translated Picture Books

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Poetry Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Comics for Kids

December 21 – Older Funny Books

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Fiction Reprints

December 30 – Middle Grade Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


And now, if you will be so good as to excuse me, I am off to get some rest.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Rebecca Redinger says

    Thanks for your great lists, Betsy! I enjoy reading them every year!

  2. Thank you, Betsy! Look forward to these lists each year 🙂

  3. Well done! Thank you so much for all of your hard work. Your lists are much appreciated!


  1. […] to Betsy Bird for her fabulous blog, A Fuse 8 Production, and her incredible series, 31 Days/31 Lists. Many of these titles came from these posts. The Nerdy […]