The ten titles presented offered here are varied in theme but are informative and inspiring and serve as sources for rich response in the classroom. ‘Shout Outs’ should go to each and every one of these books and I predict some  of these 2021 titles will be on top ten lists / award lists by year’s end.  (note: Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki has already been deemed an award-winning book (The Marilyn Baillie best picture book prize). A list of New York Times best illustrated picture books is provided at the end of this posting. 


BRIGHT STAR by Yuyi Morales

The art is astonishing. The story is of the migrant experience and the impact of  border barriers is important. The Mexican-American author/illustrator weaves the tale of a fawn making her way through a desert landscape that is both beautiful and dangerous. The frightened animal is urged onward by voices that help the fawn confront her fears and obstacles (“Child you are awake. Breathe in, then breathe out, hermosa creatura, you are alive.”). Eventually, the fawn is replaced by a young girl who stares out at the reader.   From the New York Times review (11/14/2021) “Bright Star does what very few picture books can do: “captivate the child while moving the adult who is reading to her.”  A Spanish version of the book has been published under the title Lucero. 

DEAR EARTH: From your friends in Room 5 by Erin Dealey; illus. Luisa Uribe

Sometimes, when I decided to buy a picture book, i recognize it to be ‘teacher friendly’, inspiring response and modelling writing procedures. The kids in Room 5 write letters to Earth asking what they can do to help save our planet and Earth writes back, each month, offering giving information, and about being caring citizens of the environment.  This book is a useful mentor text for letter writing and can serve inspire writers in classrooms a) to write letters and b) Earth Heroes who take care of the planet. 

I WISH YOU KNEW by Jackie Azua Kramer; illus. Magdalena Mora

There are things we keep inside, that others likely don’t know about us. Sometimes we like to keep these secrets. Sometimes we’d like to share our stories, our feelings but don’t feel comfortable revealing them until we know that we can trust others. In this picture book Estrella’s father and undocumented immigrant is forced to leave his family. behind. Estrella wishes others know how these circumstances affects her at home, at school. The author, with simple poetic text, has presented a story that many readers can connect to perhaps sharing their own “I wish you knew…” thoughts. 


OUR LITTLE KITCHEN by Jillian Tamaki

Winner of the Marilyn Baillie best picture book of the year

When jurors meet to decide on an award-winning book, It’s rather tough choosing the best.  Our Little Kitchen, the story of a mother and son who volunteer in the local soup kitchen, is a gem of book Lively illustrations, recipe instructions,  varied font size enhance the narrative. Tamaki is an illustrator and comics artist and the vibrant graphic power of this picture book comes through in speech bubbles and word display (e..g.,  Peel! Splash!, Squish!, Splash! ) A joyful and inspiring story about food, about community and about giving. Yes, deserved of an award. 


SEA LIONS  IN THE PARKING LOT: Animals on the move in a time of Pandemic by Lenora Todaro; illus. Annika Siems

A collection of twelve fascinating, real-life stories, to educate and inspire readers to help wildlife by fighting habitat loss.  We meet Sika deer ambling around a parkland romping on a subway in Japan; flamboyant flamingos roosting in the wetlands of India;  sea turtles hatching on an abandoned beach in Brazil, mountain gorillas iin Uganda, wild boars in Haifa, and sea lions sheltering in a parking lot in Argentina.  playful and stark one-page illustrations to introduce each story, and staggering double-page spreads to accompany each story add power to this picture book.  An introduction, epilogue and notes on habitates, biomes and wildlife behaviour help to make this a top-notch nonfiction, scientific picture book, helping young people to think about becoming a citizen scientist, helping to combat climate change.  What an artful, informative and entertaining book!  

THIS IS HOW I KNOW: Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh by Brittany Luby; illus Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley

A child and her grandmother explore the natural wonders of each season (wildflowers, bees, blueberries, hibernating bears, forest mushrooms, deer, birds and peepers. This book is presented as a bilingual story-poem written in Anishinaabemowin and English. A lovely tribute to childhood memories and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. The illustrators vivid colour palette and use of black outline, portray landscapes and animals from fall, winter, spring, and summer. 

UNSPEAKABLE: The Tulsa Race Masacre by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. Floyd Cooper

On May 31st June 1st, 1921 a mob of armed white attached the thriving African American Community of Greenwood Oklahoma, looting homes, and burning business to the ground. As many as 300 African Americans were killed and in this powerful picture book, recounts what was one of the worst incidents of racial  violence in US history. Weatherford has dedicated herself to documenting events from American history to inform readers of events and figures from African American struggles.  Floyd Cooper has written and illustrated his own books (e.g., Juneteenth for Mazie, Coming Home, Jump)  but has also provided evocative illustrations for  such titles  as The Blacker the Berry (Joyce Carol Thomas), Grandpa’s Face (Eloise Greenfield)  and Frederick Douglas: The Lion Who Wrote History (Walter Dean Myers). Unspeakable was hailed by the New York Times as one of the top ten illustrated books of 2021. It is sure to be recognized on future award lists (Caldecott?). Floyd Cooper died on July 16, 2021. 

A WALK IN THE WOODS by Hudson Talbott

When growing up, the author/illustrator Hudson Talbott found reading to be HARD. A ‘slow’ reader, he eventually came to read at his own pace ‘using familiar words as stepping stones to guide him into a story.’ This autobiographical story tells the tale of a young boy, drawn to drawing stories, who felt alone and lost in a world of words. His walk into the woods of words helped young Talbott to look for words that he know, jump over words he didn’t know, and overcome a fear of reading, a world where curiosity took over, a world where he could could tell a story with pictures, searn for new words and learn to ‘paint with words’. This is a book that honours struggling, reluctant readers and their literacy journeys.


WHAT THE KITE SAW by Anne Laurel Carter; illus. Akin Duzakin

It is war time. Soldiers fill the town and taken away the father and brothers of a young boy. who is left to stay inside his home, while tanks invade the streets.  However, at curfew time, the boy is allowed to visit the neighbourhood park and ply with his friends. One day a breeze, inspires the boy to fly kites, and so he prepares a gold-coloured, star shaped kite to dance and rise above the streets. Soon, other coloured kites rise and float until shot down by gunfire. The boy has a story about everything the kite saw.as it flew over the land. The shadowy, monochromatic art creates a mood for the story. The author notes: “This story was inspired by Palestinian children. It could take placer anywhere children love to fly kites and are threatened by war.”  A powerful  story of contrasts, of bullet sounds, a flying kite, a flying boy! 

THE WORDY BOOK by Julie Paschkis

When writing my book WORD BY WORD, I investigated many picture books that celebrated vocabulary, word collecting, and word power. In this book, artist, Julie Paschkis fills each page with words that delight and words that can be savored for their ‘sound and shape as well as for its meaning. Staggering illustrations where words are hidden within images (e.g., hovering, reverie, majesty, preyed, softening). Throughout the pages, the author poses questions to ponder (‘Does brown have a sound?’; ‘What tells me more – an if or an or?’; ‘What lies beyond beyond?’) Words that inspire , recognition and knowledge, curiosity and delight, wonder and art. I’d be surprised if this book doesn’t win recognition / awards for best illustration. I love the art, I love the design, i love the end pages, I love The Wordy Book.


Each fall, the New York times publishes a list of TEN BEST ILLUSTRATED BOOKS, judged purely on the basis of artistic merit. Here are the winners listed in the NY Times book section, November 14, 2021 (i only own ONE of these titles)

(If they’d  ask Dr. Larry:  Sea Lions in the Parking Lot by Lenora Todaro; illus. Annika Siems , The Wordy Book by Julie Paschkis, Bright Star by Yuyi Morales, Wishes by Muo Thi Van or anything by Julie Flett! We All Play; On the Trapline)


I Am the Subway written and illustrated by Kim Hyo0-Eun

It Fell from the Sky written and illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan

Keeping the City Going written and illustrated by Brian Floca

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess written and illustrated by Tom Gauld

The Night Walk written and illustrated by Marei Dorleans

The Other Side of the Forest by Nadine Robert; illus. Gerard DuBois

Time is a Flower written and illustrated by Julie Morstad

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. Floyd Cooper

Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge by Raul the Third, colors by Elaine Bay

While You’re Sleeping by Mick Jackson; illus.John Broadley