2021 gave our book shelves countless numbers of a m a z i n g new picture books to share with our littles! With so many to reflect on throughout the year, I spent some time narrowing my top 27 by splitting them into three TOP 9 categories. The categories include: overall favorite for a read aloud, stories celebrating self/identity and a group with the dreamiest of illustrations for all you art lovers.
Regardless of category, I whole heartily recommend any and all of these books for your primary classroom (K-2 + beyond) or home library. You can shop this entire collection via my Amazon Affiliate Bookshop by clicking here.
Top 9 | Overall Favorite Read Aloud Stories
Funny, uplifting and engaging are a few words that describe the gems in this category to a T. This is my narrowed down list of my top 9 picture books for littles that deliver an amazing read aloud experience for both the classroom & home.
Paletero Man by Lucky Diaz and Micha Player (HarperCollins, 2021)
I’ve been obsessed with this book since its summer release! It gives us some culture, a cozy community, palenta and lots of kindness! Truly a sweet treat of a book with such fun, bright artwork from Micha.
The Littlest Yak by Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley (Peachtree, 2021)
I can’t say enough amazing things about this story! It’s so sweet, it rhymes, it flows and promotes self love! As a very petite human, I really identified with little Gerdie the Yak!
The Leaf Thief by Alice Hemming and Nicola Slater (Sourcebooks, 2021)
Top LOL story of 2021! It’s a charmer, great for seasonal change (Fall to Winter) and one you’ll want to pull year after year!
Out of Nowhere by Naylor Ballesteros (Simon Schuster, 2021)
Beautiful story about c h a n g e s and friendship! Black, Gray and White illustrations with pops of red that help play up the storyline.
Coqui in the City by Nomar Perez (Penguin, 2021)
This one tackles moving and the feelings associated with leaving your home and arriving at a new one. In this case, it’s an entire new country (Puerto Rico to USA). It’s gorgeous, has vibrant illustrations, splashes of Spanish on each page and is based on Nomar’s personal experience.
Listen by Gabi Snyder and Stephanie Graegin (Simon & Schuster, 2021)
A mindfulness story with illustrations perfect for showing littles (& beyond) what it can look like to listen beyond a noise and be mindful each day.
The Collectors by Alice Feagan
Friendship, adventure and girls in STEM! This one really made me want to get outdoors and just go exploring for beautiful things in nature.
Hardly Haunted by Jessi Sima (Simon & Schuster, 2021)
Candy toned color palette, a lot of charm and feel good story about loving yourself just as you are!
Carla & The Christmas Cornbread by Carla Hall and Cherise Harris (Simon & Schuster, 2021)
A new Christmas classic celebrating tradition! I’m a girl from the south and Carla Hall hit home with her cornbread tradition! She also shared its yummy recipe in the back – great for getting the family involved.
Top 9 | Identify, Self-Love & Celebrating Y O U!
2021 gave us many stories of kiddos celebrating themselves from loving their body to sharing their culture – it was a HUGE year for the identity and self worth category in children’s lit. Again, my narrowed list of 9 that are perfect for your little learners and beyond! These are not only great for SEL topics but also creating windows & mirrors for little readers.
Fatima’s Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq and Stevie Lewis (Kokila, 2021)
Being proud of who you are, your differences and embracing who you are!
Eyes that Kiss the Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho (HarperCollins, 2021)
Beautiful intergenerational story celebrating identity
Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown (Little Brown, 2021)
Embracing yourself, touches on gender norms, and shows a supportive family for Fred who is more drawn to his mother’s wardrobe than his dad’s!
La Maxi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand and Nabi. H. Ali (Kokila, 2021)
A must read for all on body hair, embracing your true self and letting go of those insecurities.
Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon by Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua (Simon & Schuster, 2021)
Staying true to you! We also get a little cultural background on Lunar New Year.
When Langston Dances by Kaija Langley and Keith Mallett (Simon & Schuster YR, 2021)
Discovering what you love and going after your dreams despite what others might say/think!
Beautifully Me by Nabela Noor and Nabi H. Ali (Simon & Schuster YR, 2021)
Body image and self love!
The Smart Cookie by Jory John and Pete Oswald (HarperCollins, 2021)
I mean, this duo does no wrong!
Isabel and her Colores go to School by Alexandra Alessandri and Courtney Dawson ( Sleeping Bear Press, 2021)
A classroom must and perfect for back to school and beyond! As an educator of many EL kiddos, EL’s and English speaking students need this story to create both windows/mirrors.
Top 9 | Captivating Artwork
I’m a H U G E art fan and have always been drawn to the medium of paint. When it comes to kids books, I fall hard for mixed media illustrations (especially with paper cutting to give depth) and vibrant, painted pieces that pull you more into the story. Each of these picture books feature stand-out artwork to support a great text! Here you’ll find some feel good stories, a couple of biographies and dreamy summer inspiration.
May your Life Be Deliciosa by Michael Genhart and Loris Lora (Cameron Kids, 2021)
A delicioso Christmas tradition unfolds in the story making this sweet holiday read aloud! The illustrations are what hooked me instantly. I’m a big mid century modern fan and Lora’s color choice and style is spot on. Lovely, Lovely all around.
Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson (Penguin Random House, 2021)
One of my favorite picture book duo’s! I will buy all things Christian Robinson because he’s soul, vision and art is the bees knees. Milo Imagines the World is another great collaboration that really will have the reader reflecting with its unexpected ending.
Awake by Mags Deroma (Roaring Brook Press, 2021)
Dark and moody artwork with a relatable storyline about a girl finding a SPIDER in her room before bed!
Vampenguin by Lucy Ruth Cummins (Simon & Schuster, 2021)
This is seriously such a fun story to read and has lots of hidden & important details in the candy colored illustrations!
A Boy Name Isamu: a story of Isamu Noguchi by James Yang (Viking, 2021)
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd and Christian Robinson (Penguin Random House, 2021)
When Lola Visits by Michelle Sterling and Aaron Asis (HarperCollins, 2021)
The dreamiest summer book of all times! Michelle evokes all the senses with her writing and Aarons illustrations depict a beautiful summer celebrating tradition and culture.
Grandad’s Camper by Harry Woodgate (Little Bee Books, 2021)
Beautiful story, beautiful art from writer/illustrator Harry Woodgate! A girl inspires her Grandad to get out his camper after the loss of his husband.
Bubbles… up! By Jacqueline Davies and Sonia Sanchez (HarperCollins, 2021)
More minimal in text but the illustrations depict an amazing day at the pool!
*BONUS* CHRISTMAS PICKS:
& If you’re a Christmas picture book fan, you really cannot go wrong with any of the new 2021 releases. I was beyond impressed with so, SO many of them this year! Carla and the Christmas Cornbread (above) was my top pick from my Top 9 overall reads of 2021 but here are a few other Christmas gems of ’21.
The Real Santa by Nancy Redd and Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (Random House, 2021)
Black boy joy and the illustrations are pure Christmas Magic!
The Christmas Owl by Ellen Kalish, Gideon Sterer and Ramona Kaulitzki (Little Brown, 2021)
Charlotte and the Nutcracker by Charlotte Nebres and Alea Marley (Random House, 2021)
*informational story from first hand accounts*
Santa in the City by Tiffany D. Jackson and Reggie Brown (Penguin, 2021)
It’s especially great if you live in the city and do not have a chimney! I did find it a little wordier but it does really flow when reading it!