Once again I have been reading through a selection of recently released picture books. Here are nine of my newest favorites from 2021 that I hope you and your family will enjoy.
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Cat’s Cookbook by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Cat’s Cookbook is the latest title in the Tales From Acorn Wood series by Julia Donaldson—the author behind The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom. These super-short lift-the-flap board books are perfect for the littlest readers and will introduce them to Donalson’s iconic rhyming writing style and Scheffler’s always adorable illustrations.
In Cat’s Cookbook, Cat wants to learn how to cook after receiving a red cooking pot. She and a friend visit Acorn Library to find a cookbook but keep finding different types of books instead, until Frog the librarian helps her find just the right book for her.
Not only will Cat’s Cookbook be a fun, interactive read for parents and children, but the story itself will also hopefully inspire little ones to want to take a trip to their local library and pick up some more books as well. If you like this one, be sure to consider picking up others in the series including Rabbit’s Nap, Fox’s Socks, and Postman Bear.
I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun, translated by Deborah Smith
Subways are fascinating pieces of infrastructure, transporting millions across dozens of cities all over the globe every day, but have you ever wondered what the trains themselves think of their daily work? I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun is told largely from the perspective of the Seoul subway itself as it welcomes passengers on an average day.
The train trundles along from station to station picking up businessmen, grandmothers, busy mothers, and tired school children. As each passenger steps aboard, we catch a snapshot of their life: Mr. Wanju is late again because loves spending time with his little daughter, Granny is bringing some fresh fish to cook for her family, and Lee Do-young is looking for work and worried about what his future holds. Alongside the named passengers whose lives we glimpse are others whose names and backgrounds we do not learn, offering the opportunity to guess at these people’s identities for ourselves—who are they and where are they going, both on the train and in life itself?
I Am the Subway encourages us to think about the strangers around us and feel empathy toward them because every stranger is a person with a full and complicated life we cannot begin to imagine. The watercolor artwork captures both the bustling character of Seoul and the strange, liminal nature of a subway train making it unique and full of personality—perfect for a book that personifies the subway itself. This is a beautiful book that will make for an interesting addition to your shelf.
I Believe in You by Elias Barks, illustrated by George Bletsis
As someone who grew up fascinated by all manner of paranormal mysteries (the Tunguska explosion, the Marie Celeste, the Bermuda Triangle…), this might be the greatest board book I’ve ever come across. I Believe in You is written by Elias Barks, who has rapidly become my favorite picture book author, and I’m pretty sure he would be Fox Mulder’s too given that his back catalog includes books about the yeti, chupacabra, aliens, and bigfoot!
This beautifully illustrated book shows us the Loch Ness Monster and their child having fun together in their home. They watch the sunrise, hide from Nessie spotters, and have fun with their other cryptid friends including a ghost, bigfoot, and a unicorn. Throughout all of this, the parent affirms their belief in their child. When others doubt them or make false claims about them, the parent reassures their child that they will always believe in them, no matter how much things may change and how strange things may seem.
This is such a positive message that all children need to hear from their parents and caregivers, and it is presented in such a fun and unusual way through the metaphor of the Loch Ness monster. I especially love the final illustration which shows the two Nessies embracing now the child has grown up and their parent turned older and grey, reminding us that even as adults, we still hope that our parents will believe in us.
Too Much Stuff by Emily Gravett
Too Much Stuff by Emily Gravett is a wonderful story with an important lesson about consumerism and how easy it is to buy into the belief that you always need more.
Meg and Ash are a pair of magpies who have just built a nest in preparation for raising a family. They line their new home with pages from a magazine that are covered in adverts but soon decide that they and their children will need more things. They’ll obviously need a pram, bikes too if the chicks want to learn to ride, a car for the family, a teddy bear, ornamental clocks, a bag of pegs, the list just keeps on growing—much to the consternation of their woodland neighbors—until the nest simply cannot take any more. The magpies quickly learn what is most important to them after all and also discover that giving things away to help others feels much better than simply accumulating stuff.
Kids are shown so many commercials today that the need for a never-ending supply of stuff begins at a startlingly young age. Too Much Stuff is the perfect antidote for this as it shows how ridiculous the need for “more stuff” is without ever coming across as lecturing or talking down to readers, instead, it allows young readers to see for themselves how ridiculous the need for more and more can become, and how it can even lead to danger. This will be a great book for every library and home bookshelf.
The Dragon Who Didn’t Like Fire by Gemma Merino
The Dragon Who Didn’t Like Fire by Gemma Merino is a heart-warming story of acceptance about an adorable little dragon, her father, and her siblings.
The nameless protagonist of this sweet story is a little dragon who doesn’t like fire. Not only does she not like it, she cannot produce even the tiniest spark of flame no matter how hard she tries, and she also doesn’t appear to be growing wings like her siblings either. However, when an accident causes her to fall into some water, the place her dad warned her not to go because it is cold, wet, horrible, and extinguishes fire, the little dragon is shocked to find that she feels completely at home for the first time ever. Initially afraid of what her dad will think, the little dragon soon discovers that she is exactly who she is meant to be.
The Dragon Who Didn’t Like Fire is an incredibly sweet story that has at its heart a tale of discovering who you really are, even if that ends up being very different from what you and others initially expect. The book is in many ways a sister story to the author’s previous book The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water and if you look closely at the end pages, you might get a clue as to what has been going on to cause such a mix up across both books.
This story could also easily be read as an allegory for transgender issues, giving it an extra layer of meaning for parents looking for a way to explain these to very young readers.
My Voice Is a Trumpet by Jimmie Allen, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson
In the fights for equality, racial justice, preventing climate change, and every other issue you care to name, we are always told that we must speak up and speak out. That is the message behind My Voice Is a Trumpet by Jimmie Allen (yes, the famous country music star Jimmie Allen), which advocates for using your voice wherever possible.
In this rhyming story, we meet a bunch of youngsters and see the ways they are using their voices for good. They make new friends, ask questions when they don’t know things, use their words to comfort one another, and speak together to instigate change. The pictures show a diverse range of faces with kids of different races, genders, and cultural backgrounds all playing together. I was also pleased to see some disability representation as the author shows kids using sign language and explains that there are ways to still use your voice even while staying silent.
This is a wonderful book that will help young readers develop the confidence to speak up for themselves and for others. I would especially recommend it for shy youngsters, but even the boldest of kids will benefit from seeing the myriad of ways in which they can take their voices and use them for good.
Sometimes I Am Furious by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Joe Berger
Sometimes I Am Furious by Timothy Knapman is a bright and bold book about a young girl struggling to handle emotions that feel much bigger than her and discovering ways to do just that.
In Sometimes I Am Furious, our protagonist is a young girl who finds that many things make her absolutely furiously angry. There are just so many things out there that are unfair or downright wrong with the world around her, and coping with them makes her want to explode with rage. Afterward, however, she feels miserable and upset, until a helpful grownup shows her some better ways of coping with her feelings.
The story of Sometimes I Am Furious will be instantly relatable to anyone who has had to deal with a toddler tantrum, and this book is supposed to help young readers find coping strategies to help them handle those big feelings in a better way. However, I didn’t find that to be the case. Instead, I thought it focused more on showing scenarios that made the protagonist angry or upset (other kids getting a larger ice cream or taking her toys, parents telling her what to do) with the coping strategies as more of an afterthought than a key component of the book. So while I feel that both kids and parents will relate to this one, I can’t see it being as helpful as the blurb makes it out to be.
Negative Cat by Sophie Blackall
Negative Cat by Sophie Blackall is a heartwarming picture book about a boy and his rescue cat Maximilian Augustus Xavier (or Max for short) that made me want to drive straight to my nearest shelter and adopt the grumpiest cat she could find.
The young protagonist of this book has been desperate for his very own cat for a long time and finally convinces his parents to let him adopt one. In exchange, he must agree to take care of it, keep his room tidy, and read for twenty minutes a day—the latter being a particular challenge because it is implied that he is dyslexic. When Max arrives at the house, he is kind of negative. He doesn’t play with his toys or purr, but he does leave hairballs on the rug, stick his tail in the butter, and poop inside.
The boy hasn’t been keeping up with his agreement either, prompting his parents to call the shelter. In a panic, the boy frantically tidies his room then sits down to read out loud, sounding out each word. To his surprise—and the delight of his parents—Max comes over and sits with him, listening to the book right until the end.
Negative Cat is a wonderful story about the bond between a child and their pet that was inspired by the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Pennsylvania where children were encouraged to practice their reading by coming in and reading to the cats. I found the adults in the book deeply dislikeable but loved reading a story with a dyslexic protagonist and hopes that this book will encourage other children who struggle with reading to try reading out loud to their pets.
The Cat Wants Cuddles by P. Crumble, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford
Cats are clearly something of a theme this summer as here we have yet another cat-themed picture book! The Cat Wants Cuddles by P. Crumble immediately caught my attention thanks to its hilarious cover feature a grumpy cat who absolutely does NOT want any cuddles, thank you very much!
Across the pages, Kevin the cat’s young owner tries to entice their feline friend into having cuddles, being petted, and being tickled, but Kevin is having absolutely none of it. He hides on the bookshelf and behind the goldfish bowl, getting annoyed with the family dog for giving away some of his cunning hiding spots. Finally, in an attempt to get some peace and quiet, he jumps out of the window.
However, once outside in the pouring rain, Kevin looks back into his warm, cozy house and spots the dog curled up on their owner’s lap, being stroked and clearly loving every second of the fuss he is receiving. Could Kevin have been wrong about being cuddled after all?
This was a hilarious book that will appeal to all cat owners, but especially those of us who have experienced living with our very own grumpy cats. The story is narrated by Kevin and filled with his scathing responses to everything around him, all of which are exactly the kind of thoughts I imagine one of my own cats has every time he enters a room. The ending is sweet but manages to pull that off without losing any of the biting aloofness you’ve come to expect from Kevin throughout the rest of the book.
The Cat Wants Cuddles has already become one of my favorite picture books of the year so far.
GeekMom received a copy of all these books for review purposes.