best of the year

My Favorite Picture Books of 2022

Snoozefest (Dial Books)
Written by Amanda Berger
Illustrated by Kristyna Litten

For ages: 4-8
Snoozefest is an annual sleeping festival similar to Bonnaroo or Coachella. Snuggleford Cuddlebun is a sloth and champion sleeper and is excited to attend her first Snoozefest. We explore the event through her eyes as she experiences the band Nocturnal Nesters who play lullabies. You can feast on warm milk & honey and even purchase designer PJs from Diane von Firstinbed. This is the kind of book that appeals to kids & adults through wonderfully expressive illustrations and clever puns. Snoozefest comes with my highest possible recommendation and if you only buy one of these, make it this book for sure!

The Upside Down Detective Agency (Kane Miller Books / EDC Publishing)
Written by Ellie Hattie
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney

For ages: 4-8
As a child, I loved books with intricate maze-like illustrations. You could spend hours on a single two-page spread pouring over the details. Within those illustrations were other small stories that sparked my imagination. As a teacher, I have seen that these types of books always draw in even the most hesitant independent readers. It gives them something to latch onto through the illustrations so that even if they cannot read every printed word they are experiencing storytelling. The Upside Down Detective Agency is exactly that sort of book and it made me grin ear to ear while I was reading it.

Stella & Stan are a pair of sloths that work as detectives. One day someone knocks on their office door. It’s Lady Veronica Velocity Speed, a famous race car driver whose specially designed diamond warp drive has been stolen. Stella & Stan rush into action…well, as quickly as sloths can rush and they need the reader’s help in noticing clues. There is no way this book can be read without audience interaction and that is going to make it a crowd pleaser in your home or classroom. It’s a book that helps children develop their observation and attention to detail, all while having fun in the process.

Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places (Two Lions)
Written by Katie Frawley
Illustrated by Laurie Stansfield

For ages: 4-8
Tabitha, a house cat, and Fritz, a jungle elephant, meet over the website LairBnB where they agree to trade houses for a while. They have come to find their respective homes boring, and they think the other animal lives somewhere exciting. Told through emails, Tabitha & Fritz ask questions about parts of the other’s habitat they don’t quite understand. I was reminded of Amelia Bedelia and her habitual misunderstanding of simple things that were just unfamiliar to her. Eventually, these two find their new home isn’t quite as exciting as anticipated, and they begin to yearn for their old place. I loved that this story is told in a non-traditional format, a great way to model different types of writing for our students. This would make an excellent starter for students writing back and forth in pairs as characters of their invention.

Rescuing Mrs. Birdley (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Emma Reynolds

For ages: 4-8
This is my vote for the best book on the list. Miranda loves watching nature shows, and she loves The Nature Joe Animal Show. Joe will rescue animals and return them to their natural habitats. One day, Miranda sees her teacher Mrs. Birdley at the grocery store. The poor woman has wandered too far from her natural habitat, the school. Miranda is convinced she has to get her teacher back home. And she does that in comical style, eventually locking Mrs. Birdley just as the weekend starts, hoping she gets reacclimated by Monday morning. This is the kind of book that will have teachers laughing along with the children—a must-own for every classroom, in my opinion.

The Rock From the Sky (Candlewick)
Written & Illustrated by Jon Klassen

For ages: 5-8
Author Jon Klassen’s books are some of the most remarkable children’s literature published at the moment. On the surface, they appear incredibly simplistic; his art style is very clear & direct. There aren’t many words in his books either. However, Klassen is taking big ideas and communicating them in ways that are easy to catch. Yet, his work also lends itself to some deep analysis; he seems deeply philosophical in his writing. The Rock From the Sky is a hilarious and thought-provoking book told in chapters that play with expectations and perspective.

We follow a turtle, an armadillo, and a snake through five chapters. In part one, the turtle has a spot he loves, but the armadillo feels uneasy. In the second part, the turtle falls but won’t accept help. In part three, the duo imagines what the future must be like, encountering something mean. In part four, the armadillo and snake enjoy watching the sunset. And things wrap up in the fifth part; the turtle gets annoyed with the titular rock and takes it out on his friends. This doesn’t sound like much on the surface, a series of disconnected episodes. However, Klassen spins comedic magic out of it all.

SumoKitty (Charlesbridge)
Written & Illustrated by David Biedrzycki

For ages: 4-8
An absolute classic! A stray cat in Japan becomes enamored with the sumo and follows them back to their training center. It turns out the sumo are terrified of mice, so they keep the cat to rid them of an infestation. He becomes close friends with Kuma, who wishes to unseat the current yokozuna (sumo champion). He offers words of wisdom to the cat. Eventually, our feline friend follows the practices of the sumo, including eating the same diet. One of my favorite things about this book is the contradicting art styles. Humans are drawn in a Japanese woodblock style, while the cat is presented in a much more cartoon-like manner. Amusing and informative book; if you don’t know much about sumo culture, you will after this read.

Gladys the Magic Chicken (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Written by Adam Rubin
Illustrated by Adam Rex

For ages: 4-8
An Adam Rubin book is always welcome in my house, and this is no exception. Gladys is a chicken who belongs to the Shepherd Boy and might be magic. Or it could just be that she happens to be in the right place at the right time. Her journey across the land sees Gladys becoming the pet of a Traveling Merchant, a Learned Princess, and even a Fearsome Pirate. Each of them experiences a boon or punishment that they connect to Gladys. By the time we get to the end, Gladys has come full circle, yet we still don’t know if she truly is a magic chicken.

The painted illustrations of Adam Rex are fantastic. I first became aware of his work in The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors and have not been disappointed by anything of his since. Rex’s work is a perfect match for Rubin’s clever writing. An unnamed narrator contributes their commentary on the events with a dry observant wit that adds to the comedy. Little flourishes help bring the reader into this silly world, from the map shown at the beginning to the characters’ expressive faces and even accents that evoke classical Greece. If you are looking for a fun story with many story elements, Gladys has what you need.

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) (Viking Books for Young Readers)
Written by Julie Falatko
Illustrated by Tim Miller

For ages: 5-8
Writer Julie Falatko plays with readers’ pre-conceived notions as she introduces us to Snappsy. The narrator tells us what a vicious predator he is, while the pictures by Tim Miller directly contrast this. Even Snappsy speaks up, telling the narrator he gets his food from the grocery store, not hunting down weak animals. Eventually, the narrator forces Snappsy into having a party, and the alligator goes along. The narrator is brought into the story at the end and gives up trying to frame Snappsy as a threat. This is an excellent introduction to unreliable narration for our young readers. Snappsy breaks the fourth wall, addressing the person holding the book and asking them to see if what they are being told is the truth or not.

This is a Squirrel Taco (Oni Press)
Written by Andrew Cangelose
Illustrated by Josh Shipley

For ages: 3-7
This is the story of Taco the Squirrel. But it’s also a book sharing actual facts about squirrels. Taco has agreed to help children learn about his species by being the focus of the book’s illustrations. Unfortunately, mistakes are made, and he is mislabeled as a flying squirrel, making him a hawk’s target. At this point, Taco finds a red marker and starts editing the book to add more of what he loves, tacos. The result is an excursion in silliness, wordplay, and irony.

This is a great fourth wall-breaking book that challenges readers’ expectations. They have become much more prevalent in recent years, but this one still feels fresh & funny. Taco’s anxiety is something readers can empathize with and find humor in as he becomes increasingly exasperated about how the text is putting him in danger. Aided by colorful & most importantly, expressive illustrations, I highly suspect students will be laughing wildly when they get a read-aloud of this one.

A Perfect Wonderful Day With Friends (Gecko Press)
Written & Illustrated by Philip Waechter

For ages: 4-8
Raccoon decides he wants to bake an apple cake to cure his boredom. However, there are no eggs in the house. Fox owns chickens, so maybe she will help him out. When Raccoon arrives at Fox’s home, he finds she has a leaky roof that needs repairs. The two head to Badger’s house, hoping he has a ladder. Well, Badger is having difficulty with a crossword puzzle. Fox thinks Bear might solve it, and the trio heads to visit him. They stop for a delicious blackberry picnic and find Bear isn’t home when they reach their destination. Crow is circling overhead and guides them to Bear, who is fishing along the river. Unfortunately, he’s not having luck catching anything. So, the friends jump into the water for a refreshing swim.

This light-hearted, easy-going book is about embracing the moment and not getting lost in anxieties. In these times, it’s easy for even our children to get caught up in legitimate uncertainty and fear. However, we can’t lose sight of hope and find precious moments of joy in simple pleasures. Whenever a problem arises, the characters roll with it and seek solutions by bringing more people into the circle. In the end, they manage to solve their problems and never break a sweat about them. Most importantly, they had fun and enjoyed fellowship with each other.

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando (little bee books)
Written by Andrea Wang
Illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

For ages: 4-8
Our children know about instant ramen. Food insecurity in America is widespread enough that almost every family in your classroom has relied on this cheap, quick meal to fill their family’s bellies. Andrea Wang shares the true story of Japanese chef Momofuku Ando who invented instant ramen in the wake of World War II. He saw that people were struggling to feed themselves and their loved ones. Ando experiments with ingredients, always getting close but not quite. When Ando watches his wife frying tempura, he strikes upon the solution for his noodles. The illustrations here are a classic evocation of Japanese manga (comic books), delivering a true story of innovation & creativity with the energy it deserves. Our children lack much knowledge about how their food is sourced, and books like these help them develop a greater understanding of where it comes from.

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