Best Walker Picture Books

Carole Stephens
• Saturday, 28 November, 2020
• 8 min read

The last children’s book roundup of the year boasts some tingling good titles and last-minute gifts, many with voyage themes to carry us onwards into 2021. For Phobias of nine-plus, Dave Sudden’s The Wintertime Paradox (BBC Children’s) is a gorgeous anthology of Christmas-themed stories with the unpredictable flair of the Tar dis itself.

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Encompassing terrors from Plasmavores to Autos, and with appearances from River Song and Davos, it’s full of delicious fear and complex emotion conveyed in Sudden’s trademark bell-clear prose. For (sophisticated) readers of seven-plus, there’s yet another journey in Peter van den End’s The Wanderer (Pushkin), a wordless picture book filled with intricate, transporting, textured monochrome detail.

A paper boat sets out to sea on a voyage encountering every kind of fearsome, beautiful marine creature, as well as ships, starlight and threatening strangers, in its quest to find safe harbor. In picture books, Flotilla Benjamin’s superb autobiography Coming to England (Macmillan) is condensed for younger children and made still more accessible by Diane Even’s lively illustrations.

Forty years after Dagger’s first appearance, Hughes’s unimpeachable gift for observing and communicating the small, warm joys of children’s domestic life remains as strong as ever. Finally, from the zanier end of the festive spectrum comes Alex T Smith’s retelling of The Twelve Days of Christmas (Macmillan).

Pulling no punches, but inspiring the reader to fight for nature against all odds, the book is delicately balanced between sorrow and hope. First released as a free e-book, this dreamlike vision of a girl and fox travelling from darkness and difficulty to a blaze of morning light offers, with its few well-chosen words and heart-lifting illustrations, a moving message of perseverance and eventual joy.

(Nosy Crow) by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Isabelle Fol lath, is a delightful collection of bouncy feminist nursery rhymes. It answers the title question: “Sun and rain and heart and brain”, and features a BO Peep who wades into slime to rescue her flock, and a medically qualified queen who can put Empty back together.

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For eight-plus, spectral charm, stolen inheritance and recalcitrant geese all feature in The Ghost of Goldwater (Chicken House)by Lucy Strange. When Life Gives You Mangoes (Pushkin) by Karen Gotten is a gorgeously evocative debut set in a Jamaican fishing village.

Clara loves her home, her secret hideout and her best friend Gay nah; but she can’t remember last summer, or why she’s frightened of the sea. When an unusual girl arrives from England, Gay nah gets angry with Clara, and suddenly all the past’s secrets are dragged into the light in this instantly compelling story.

Wheatley’s characteristic Jennings and coinages (the overseers’ whips are “back-rippers”, for example) heighten this intense, affecting story of courage, bloodshed and commitment to freedom at all costs. The Black Kids by Christina Hammond's Reed, Simon & Schuster, £7.99 Los Angeles, 1992: Ashley Bennett and her friends are privileged teenagers, fooling around by the pool as high school draws to an end.

Christian Robinson’s creative signature artwork is combined with poetic text that reassures readers that each of us has value. This is a sensational story of a family of turtles who emerge on a radiant spring day and begin a trek that crosses through the seasons until they finally reach their destination.

With its warm and inviting illustrations that skillfully capture the beauty of each season, this delightful tale is a good choice for comparing and contrasting spring, fall, winter, and summer. This charming story stars a cheerful snail who bravely attempts to cross a road to reach a field of crunchy cabbages.

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Despite the ants’ rudeness, the snail invites them into his shell during a rainstorm and his kindness is later returned in an unexpected and gratifying way. The dazzling illustrations are perfectly paired with the playful text that provides a whimsical feeling to this sweet tale of intergenerational friendship.

Striking illustrations illuminate a boy’s inner thoughts describing his self-confidence in this powerful book that begs to be read out loud. When a child wakes up with gum in their hair, family members offer up comical solutions for dislodging it that end with disastrous results.

I continue to be in awe of Adam Rex’s clever, quirky storytelling and could not love his latest creative tale more. In this beautifully illustrated treasure, an unseen narrator gives sage advice to a young girl inspiring her to be her best self.

The emboldening text urges children to try new things, stand up for themselves and others, be a good friend, and love themselves just the way they are. Filled with clever word-play, delightfully charming illustrations, and a message of embracing differences, Every Little Letter is an extraordinary read aloud.

In this stunning story, readers follow along as a child writes a letter to a visitor from outer space, eloquently capturing what it means to be human and live on planet Earth. In the author’s note, Sophie Blackball explains that she wanted to create “a book that would bring us together.” This story demonstrates that no matter how different we all may be, everyone shares the commonality that we all live on Earth proving that we are all connected.

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This delightful story is not only entertaining, but also provides teachers with an excellent way to introduce adjectives or work on descriptive writing. The expressive illustrations exemplify each adjective in the most charming way, drawing the reader into this outstanding alphabet book.

With its beautiful illustrations, captivating story that is full of imagination, and memorable characters who demonstrate how to make the best of a difficult situation, there is a lot to love about The Paper Kingdom. When their babysitter cancels, two night-janitors bring their son to the office they clean and regale him with creative tales of the people who work there.

Our entire family loves this exceptional book, and it sparked a meaningful conversation about different types of jobs. Nana Aka has scars on her face from an old African tradition of marking children with special symbols.

To Aura’s surprise, her classmates are fascinated by Nana Aka’s stories of life in Africa and are delighted to receive their own painted symbols on their faces. Whether shared in a classroom or at home, this standout tale is an excellent conversation starter on heritage and cultural differences.

Despite this fact, the bestseller list at most bookstores consists of mostly classics that were published before I was born. But a few years ago, I realized that if we just keep buying classic picture books there won’t be any new Eric Charles or Maurice Sends or Ludwig Perelman in the future.

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So when you are thinking of what to request at the library or buy for holiday gifts this year, consider picking a contemporary picture book to go along with your beloved classics. Through rhymes, this book gives nine steps for babies to grow up to be antiracist, emphasizing noticing people’s differences, talking about the issue, and admitting when we make mistakes.

A rhyming picture book that explores what things might look the same for children living in different parts of the world. With beautiful collage illustrations, this book looks at the world from the clouds in the sky to the dirt on the ground through the eyes of a child.

A confident Black narrator proudly affirms his future plans, his positive attributes, and the way he learns from his failures. The tidal wave of positivity in this picture book proclaims that Black boys are worthy of love, respect, safety, kindness, and happiness.

After a few tries that don’t feel quite right, Katie figures out the criteria to form her dream pet. From both characters’ gender nonconformity to representation of two brides in a lesbian wedding, this beautifully illustrated book celebrates love and acceptance in all forms.

Vibrant illustrations and free verse poetry work together in this book to tell the stories of many girls. Iris is mad when her roll as designated elevator button pusher is usurped by her toddler little sibling.

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This is a hilarious story with sweet illustrations about how hard it can be to accept new people and new habits into our lives. When a young girl and her grandma move next door, he misses his quiet solitude.

He leaves notes for them in the sand, but his old friend the sea washes away some letters to make them friendlier. Inspired by a real life animal friendship about a grumpy goat and a blind horse.

Eventually the two get over their rocky beginnings to become friends, with Jack leading Charlie to his favorite spots around Open Bud Ranch. This rare picture book was written by an author who struggled with fertility treatments and IVF before becoming a mother.

Although it doesn’t go into specifics, it’s a poetic celebration of parents who need to work hard and overcome challenges to have a child. When venturing to a friend’s superhero birthday party, Brock finds himself overwhelmed with worries and fears.

This book focuses on emotional intelligence skills to help kids like Brock move past their anxiety through ideas like deep breathing or finding a safe person to tell about your feelings. Inspired by recent Indigenous-lead environmental movements, including the water protectors at Standing Rock, this story mixes the legend of a black snake that will come to poison water with the current day reality of oil spills.

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The Indigenous author and illustrator team create a story that honors the sacrifices and hard work of many Native American activists. Inspired by Smith’s big hit for adults Wreck This Journal, this picture book helps young readers explore all five senses, contribute their own unique ideas to the story, and reject perfectionism.

A perfect book to remind kids (and the adults in their lives) the importance of learning to pronounce every name in its correct, beautiful form. African, Asian, Black American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names are discussed on their walk home.

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1 nypost.com - https://nypost.com/2021/01/14/how-wandavisions-plot-folds-into-the-marvel-universe/
2 www.ign.com - https://www.ign.com/articles/marvel-wandavision-what-is-cast-show-series-explained
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4 www.esquire.com - https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a35217171/wandavision-mcu-timeline-wanda-vision-backstory/
5 www.menshealth.com - https://www.menshealth.com/entertainment/a35230565/how-is-vision-alive-wandavision/