Cozy up for story time with these delightful picture books

From “Wild Symphony” Copyright © 2020 Dan Brown; Illustration by Susan Batori
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Sharing a brightly colored picture book is soothing and stimulating for both children and adults, as they turn over the pages to enter new worlds. These five books offer not only great stories but also imaginative artwork to explore and appreciate. A boy who stutters is helped by walks with his father; a child is assured that he matters; a girl and her grandmother transform the life of a crabby seaman; endearing animals burst into song; and a skunk and a badger discover an unlikely friendship.  

Why We Wrote This

Reading aloud with children helps nurture a love of books. Today’s picture books have expanded to include young people who may have felt left out in the past, widening the circle of empathy and understanding.

No matter the weather or the season, books for younger readers delight little ones and their grown-ups. It’s a great moment in children’s literature, with a wider range of voices than in the past. Here’s a selection to warm your heart, make you smile, and inspire poignant discussion.

I Talk Like a River (ages 4-8) 
By Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith

Canadian poet Jordan Scott’s picture book, “I Talk Like a River,” is truly written from the heart. Gorgeously illustrated by Sydney Smith, this story will help young readers understand what it feels like to be different, to sit in the back of a classroom hoping the teacher doesn’t ask you a question, or to wake up mornings, like the young narrator, with “word-sounds stuck in my mouth.” 

Neal Porter Books
“I Talk Like a River” by Jordan Scott and illustrated by Sydney Smith, Neal Porter Books, 40 pp.

Why We Wrote This

Reading aloud with children helps nurture a love of books. Today’s picture books have expanded to include young people who may have felt left out in the past, widening the circle of empathy and understanding.

Based on the author’s own experiences as a person who stutters, the poetic language and stunning illustrations make it a joy to read and share. The fold-out spread, of a freckle-faced boy whose words evade him, is breathtaking. In his note at the end, the author explains what stuttering feels and sounds like, as well as how his dad helped him discover what it means to talk like a river.  

It’s a beautiful love letter to a parent who showed his son how to be quiet and walk along a riverbank. A gift to those who struggle with any kind of difference, “I Talk Like a River” is full of joy and rich with encouragement.

All Because You Matter (ages 4-8) 
By Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Tami Charles’ latest picture book, illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner Bryan Collier, is a tribute to the love and care of a parent for a child. Charles’ words are poetic and empowering: Children are told, “They say that matter is all things that make up the universe: energy, stars, space. ... If that’s the case, then you, dear child, matter.” 

Scholastic Books
“All Because You Matter” by Tami Charles and illustrated by Bryan Collier, Scholastic Books, 40 pp.

In an endnote, the illustrator explains how he tells the story visually and credits growing up with a grandmother who was a quilter for his exquisite collages. “All Because You Matter” is an exceptional book to guide grandparents or parents sharing family history, and it’s a relevant read-aloud for these times.

Swashby and the Sea (ages 4-7) 
By Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal 

Swashby is a cranky recluse who’s perfectly content with his “salty and sandy and serene” sea. When interlopers appear in the form of a girl and her granny and they dare to set up umbrellas and beach chairs on his stretch of sand, Swashby doesn’t like it a bit. So what does the old sailor do? He writes messages to the unwanted visitors who are disturbing his peace and solitude, admonishing, “No trespassing!” and “Keep Away!” But the mischievous waves have other ideas. Lesson learned! No one controls the sea. 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
“Swashby and the Sea” by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 32 pp.

Caldecott Honor winner Juana Martinez-Neal’s illustrations, from the swirly ocean wave endpapers to the sandy beach scenes inside, make this a perfect summery story to share, reminding us of carefree days at the beach. A delightful tale with a just-right ending, “Swashby and the Sea” swept me away.

Wild Symphony (ages 4-8) 
By Dan Brown, illustrated by Susan Batori 

Bestselling novelist Dan Brown, of “DaVinci Code” fame, has written a charming children’s book, “Wild Symphony,” with illustrations by Susan Batori. A moray eel, a mouse, a blue whale, and a frog – and every animal you’ve always admired or feared – jump off the exuberant pages of this oversized picture book. 

Rodale Kids
“Wild Symphony” by Dan Brown and illustrated by Susan Batori, Rodale Kids, 44 pp.

Young musicians and poets, children who love word puzzles, and admirers of whimsical animals can turn pages and hear the music that Brown composed for each animal by aiming a smartphone camera at the page. (Watch the delightful preview and download the book’s accompanying free app at 

Bits of advice are excellent jumping-off places for discussion. On the spread about Wondrous Whale, Maestro Mouse says: “If you listen carefully to nature, you’ll hear conversations all around you.” 

Skunk and Badger (ages 7-10)
By Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen

When Badger, who’s set in his ways and determined to carry out his very important rock work, opens the front door of his aunt’s home, he’s in for a surprise. A visitor, Skunk, has come to stay. If only Badger had read the correspondence from his aunt alerting him she was sending a roommate. 

A geologist who needs space to observe and catalog his large rock collection, Badger temporarily hands over the box room. But he wants no part of this chatty roommate until Skunk serves up a candlelit supper. Now Badger begins to think he might be OK. They make deals: You cook; I clean. Badger even relinquishes his rock room. 

Algonquin Books
“Skunk and Badger” by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Jon Klassen, Algonquin Books, 136 pp.

Thus begins a rollicking good adventure and an unlikely friendship story reminiscent of a slightly prickly “Frog and Toad” tale. Amy Timberlake’s language is delightful – a “Chicken Coop d’Etat”? Be still my heart. As they tip-claw around, testing their living arrangement, Skunk and Badger begin to appreciate each other. 

While not truly a picture book, the clever illustrations by Caldecott winner Jon Klassen perfectly complement the story. Newly minted readers with a sense of humor, who appreciate read-alouds that make their adults smile, will enjoy this one. I can only hope this marks the beginning of an enduring if unconventional relationship that will play out in many more books.

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