A Golden Age of Picture Books: Shopping Through Our Favorite Books

One of our favorite things to do here in the Brazos Bookstore Treehouse is helping customers buy new picture books. Okay, we love helping you buy all books, but picture books are especially fun for us because we love them so much, for a variety of reasons from story to art to the delight of reading them aloud. Truly, we are in a Golden Age of picture books, with amazing books coming out every week!

So it’s great fun for us to help you pick just the right book. But we know it’s not always as simple as it sounds! Sometimes our customers haven’t read a picture book since they were a child. Or they’re not sure how to figure out the best match between child and book. So Laura and Joy present a brief conversation about exactly that. We hope you enjoy! 


Joy: Hey, Laura! So what do you suggest when you’re looking for just the right picture book for a customer?


Laura G.: The first thing I usually ask is if they know about the kid. 


Joy: Me, too. But as we both know, sometimes they don’t, which is fine. 


Laura G: Definitely! It’s always nice to get books for kiddos, even if you don’t know them. If that’s the case, I usually ask what sort of book they're looking for. Maybe they’re looking for picture books that are more artistic or they prefer to focus on the story, or maybe a combination of the two. Personally I’m the type of picture book reader that requires stunning artwork, so I like to recommend a lot of books by our indie presses. They tend to focus a bit more on the art, usually with a bit more of a European sensibility.


Joy: Although obviously, it’s the illustrations that help elevate the story regardless. Like the brilliant work of the Fan Brothers, whose new Lizzy and the Cloud I was just sighing happily over with a customer. Or the sweet and clever work of my favorite, Lucy Ruth Cummins. I’m thinking how much I love how in Vampenguin she tells one story with the text and quite another with the illustrations! So who are some of your favorites, Laura?


Laura G: There are so many, but Katie Harnett, Esmé Shapiro, Júlia Sardà, and Nicola Killen immediately come to mind! I’m particularly drawn to gouache, watercolors, and occasionally, like with Beatrice Blue, vibrant digital art.


Joy: Yes to all of those! Katie Harnett’s Franklin’s Flying Bookshop is one I’ve gifted many times. The artwork is soooo swoony! And I adore Esmé Shapiro’s Carol and the Pickle Toad with its charming bright colors and whimsy. But let’s say a customer is more focused on the story itself. Who are some of your favorite recommendations then?


Laura G: For storytellers, I’d recommend Bob Shea, debut author Monica Silvie, and Jonathan Stutzman. They’re all great combinations of funny and clever, and they feature often on our Summer Reading or Holiday Lists.


Joy: Oh yes to all of those! Clever and funny with just the right surprises at the end! We both have so many favorites it’s hard to narrow down, isn’t it? I’m quite fond these days of the trope of objects/animals who want to be something else than what they are, such as Sarah Hwang’s Toasty, about a piece of toast who really wants to be a dog! Or sweet, kind stories like our mutual favorite Truman, Jean Reidy’s lovely tale about a very brave tortoise (also illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, might I add). And the brilliant work of Philip Stead, Matthew Cordell, and so many more!

Obviously, we can both go on and on, and I know we both like to gently remind customers that while we, too, still love the old classics like Madeline or Make Way For Ducklings, there are so many, many other choices, a whole new world of fabulous picture books reflecting our wide, diverse world! Joanna Ho’s Eyes That Kiss in the Corners is such a beautiful story, and I love the fabulous collage art work of Oge Mora’s Thank You, Omu!.


Laura G: It’s definitely nice to see so much inclusion in picture books (and other kidlit!) these days. And it’s always nice to get customers out of their comfort zones as far as not just choosing classics. Good things usually happen when we go outside of our comfort zones.


Joy: And there’s so many books, right? Which means that sometimes we love so many titles that it’s like handing our customers a meal that’s too big to eat! 

So my last question is, what else do you recommend in terms of process? Anything you might suggest to someone who’s looking through a picture book for the first time, seeing if it’s a good fit?


Laura G: You have to read it aloud. And if you’re an adult, it should be a book you like, too, because chances are good that you’ll be reading it aloud many, many times (maybe until you have it memorized, like our co-worker Amy and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!). So it should have something for the kiddo, but something for you, too.


Joy: Totally agreed on all counts! A random flip through probably doesn’t do it. You need to be able to hear the language, savor the art work, get a sense of where the story is going, and also decide your goal: Do you want a cozy lap read? Something rollicking and laugh-aloud funny? Something kind and gentle? Something with a bit more edge? Reading aloud is key! 


Laura G: And even if you’re not going to be the one reading the book aloud most days (maybe you’re a family friend or a grandparent who lives a ways away), I think it’s always nice to be able to give a book you’ve read yourself. You can tell the parents what made you pick it up, how excited you were to discover it–give your gift that perfect personal touch!

I think that’s what picture books are about: creating connections–between words, art, and people!


Joy: Thanks for such a great picture book chat, Laura! And the rest of you–come on in and stock up on picture books! They’re great for everyone!

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