Tess’ Best Books of 2019


Tess’ Top 10 of 2019

10. The Frog Book

by Steven Jenkins and Robin Page

Everything you’d want to know about frogs with full-color, gorgeous illustrations.  According to the book, there are 6,000 species of frogs.  Several are represented here, along with snippets on how they protect their eggs, their diet, and their defense mechanisms.  Kids who enjoy learning facts and dropping knowledge will love this book.  Even adults can amaze friends with obscure frog facts.  Like, did you know a group of frogs is called an army? Or that the desert rain frog lives in sand dunes and gets all its water from fog? There is also a table in the back listing all the frogs in the book, their diet, size, and range, which is handy for fact-loving readers.


9. Does It Fart?: A Kid’s Guide to the Gas Animals Pass

by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

This book teaches about the ins and outs of the digestive system.  And it is HILARIOUS.  One of our regular moms here told me her kids were LOL’ing so much at bedtime while reading this book, and she highly recommended it!    Each page features a different animal, and asks the age-old question, “Does it fart?”  Answers are on the back.  My favorite “Does it Fart?” question is a tie between the Spider and the Unicorn, but I won’t spoil the answers!


8. A Boy Like You

by Frank Murphy and illustrated by Kayla Harren

This story encourages boys to celebrate all facets of their personalities and love themselves.  In the author’s note, Murphy wrote that as a youth basketball coach he saw boys struggling with society’s confusing messages on masculinity.  He wanted to show boys that being strong also means being thoughtful, kind, attentive, and helpful.  Some of my favorite lines are, “Fear and bravery are partners.  You can’t be brave without first being afraid.” Great book to share with all the kiddos in your life.


7. When Aidan Became a Brother

by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

“When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl…But Aidan didn’t feel like any kind of girl.  He was really another kind of boy.”  Aidan learns he will be a big brother, and he is worried about making his new sibling feel welcome right from the start.  The story follows Aidan and his family while they prepare for the new baby.  Great story about welcoming a new sibling with thoughtful transgender representation.  I really enjoyed the illustrations and Aidan’s loving family!  Lukoff himself is Trans and this book is part of the #OwnVoices movement that recognizes books written by a member of a community represented in the work.  Be sure to read his touching author’s note in the back of the book too!


6. Skulls!

by Blair Thornburgh and illustrated by Scott Campbell

This book is fantastic!  It looks like a graphic novel with the chunky, fun illustrations.  The text is pretty simple, which makes it a fun read-aloud too, but the back matter contains lots of great info for those who want to dig a little deeper into the subject.



5. Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh and Saturday by Oge Mora

I love both of these picture books so much, and I just could not decide between the two.  Since they both focus of spending time with loved ones, I am including them together but not to diminish the specialness of either in any way.


In Saturday, a child and her mother intend to spend the day together doing their favorite Saturday activities.  Mom only has one day off a week, so Saturdays are their day!  But, as so often happens, things just don’t go according to plan.  I appreciated the parenting realness Mora shows when Mom starts to melt down (because, as a parent, who hasn’t been there?) and also the super-sweet conclusion.


Our Favorite Day is a lovely, gently paced book about a grandfather’s daily routine compared to his routine on Thursday, the day his granddaughter visits.  I love the water-color collage illustrations and the simple, beautiful story.  Great representation of the special relationship between grandparent and grandchild.




4. August Isle

by Ali Standish

This book had me hooked!  It reminded me a lot of Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.  Miranda has grown up seeing postcards from August Isle, where her mom spent summers as a child.  She soon travels there to and begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding the seemingly perfect town and her mom’s life.   Mysterious and emotional story of loss and friendship.




3. Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando

by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

This book really surprised me!  I thought the story of ramen noodles would be pretty dry (ha ha!), but this book was anything but.  It tells the story of Momofuku Ando and his drive to create a nutritious, affordable, easy-to-prepare meal in post-WWW II Japan.  Lots of lessons in perseverance and helping others.  The illustrations are fantastic and bring the story to life.



2. New Kid

by Jerry Craft

Seventh grade is tough.  It is even tougher to be the new kid.  Jordan Banks, a gifted student and artist, is not only the new kid at his fancy prep school, but one of the few students of color.  This graphic deals with some complex issues on race and socioeconomics while being totally enjoyable, relatable, and funny!  As Jordan’s school year progresses, he tries new activities and makes friends, and we see his unique perspective on the situations in his drawings that are interspersed with the action of the story.


1. The Undefeated

by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

This ode to African-American resiliency was originally performed as a video poem for ESPN’s The Undefeated website and was made into this superb children’s book.  Nelson’s oil-painted figures are incredible and so life-like.  Alexander’s poem is powerful, and the book’s pacing with the accompanying images are just perfect here.  My favorite picture book of the year.  You can see the original video poem and read more about it here.


Miss Tess

Celebrating Black History Month

February is Black History Month.  Here are a few fantastic books you can check out at MPL to appreciate African-American authors and stories throughout the year.

Mama Africa! : how Miriam Makeba spread hope with her song by Kathryn Erskine; illustrations by Charly Palmer

The big bed  by Bunmi Laditan; pictures by Tom Knight

Dragons in a bag [sound recording] by Zetta Elliott

Young, gifted and black : meet 52 black heroes from past and present words by Jamia Wilson; illustrated by Andrea Pippins

Thank you, Omu! by Oge Mora

The Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Shaking things up : 14 young women who changed the world by Susan Hood

Radiant child : the story of young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

My hair is a garden written and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Mommy’s khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow; illustrated by Ebony Glenn

Memphis, Martin, and the mountaintop : the sanitation strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Little leaders : bold women in black history by Vashti Harrison

Black Girl Magic by Mahogany L. Browne; art by Jess X. Snow

If you want to learn more, the Brown Bookshelf is a nice resource for selecting works featuring Black voices.  During February, the contributors will highlight a different children’s author every day.

The Coretta Scott King Award is given each year to authors and illustrators whose books celebrate African-American culture and human values.  Check out the CSK award blog to find children’s books by African-American authors and illustrators.

We Need Diverse Books is a great website for learning more about the importance of diversity in children’s literature and finding new authors.

Miss Tess


Top 10 of 2018: #2


Thank You, Omu!

by Oge Mora

Omu is cooking a thick red stew on the top floor of her apartment building.  As it cooks, the smell brings people from the street to her door.  She shares her stew with each person until it is all gone.  This book reads like a folktale complete with a wonderful ending.  The visually attractive collage pictures help to tell the story of sharing and community.


No Truth Without Ruth: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

by Kathleen Krull

This short biography tells of Ruth’s determination to become the person she wanted to be and to help others achieve fairness in their lives. She grew up in a time that women were told to hide their intellect and were expected to marry, have children and take care of the home. At the time there were few opportunities for women to have careers. She wanted more for herself and others. The book gives a time line of her life, career, challenges and accomplishments.


She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein 

by Lynn Fulton

A lightly fictionalized version of Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein.  The spooky and atmospheric art is perfect for the story of the invention of science fiction!


A Parade of Elephants

by Kevin Henkes

“Hooray! The elephants are here.  Get ready!”

This one is destined to be a bedtime storytime favorite!  Lots of concepts like counting, shapes, opposites, and directions all in a short, simple, beautiful book.


Smiley: A Journey of Love

by Joanne George

This book was one that warmed my heart and was a feel good book that stuck with me all year.  It tells the true story of Smiley, a golden retriever who was born with no eyes.  Smiley was born in a puppy mill and rescued by the book’s author who knew exactly what help Smiley needed to live his best life as a one-of-a-kind therapy dog.  Real pictures of Smiley and his family are throughout the book.  Every elementary-aged kiddo I recommended this to fell in love with Smiley and his story.