Great New Picture Books That Teach, Without Preaching

Written and illustrated by Sara Varon

Varon’s singular visual style — bright, friendly and completely zany — and her deft, economical writing make this simple ode to holding hands burst with originality and charm. The book’s goggle-eyed creatures are identifiable as rabbits, elephants, ducks and so on, but they wear clothes, ride the bus, go to play dates and day care. All the while they demonstrate the many uses of hand-holding: helping when you’re scared, keeping you safe when you cross the street, showing your mom you love her. This world is funny and askew enough to grab and hold a toddler or preschooler’s interest, and orderly and reassuring enough to make that same kid feel protected and cared for.

32 pp. First Second. $17.99. (Ages 2 to 6)

Written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock

A girl and her racecar are at the center of this satisfying book, gorgeously illustrated as always by McClintock (“Adèle & Simon”). “It was a fine evening for a drive,” so our heroine zooms right out her window, bushy red hair streaming out of her helmet. She goes through mountains, a desert, a forest and a city, ending up back at her own house, where she settles in for story time with Dad (a book called “Cars,” of course). The tone is marvelously matter of fact, about both the girl’s feats of driving and her automotive passion.

32 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $17.99. (Ages 3 to 7)

Written and illustrated by Katie Harnett

As any owner of a beloved, breed-indeterminate rescue mutt knows, dogs can be a good entree into stories about inequality and prejudice. In this beguilingly written and illustrated tale, Monty is a scraggly black-and-white street creature who stumbles upon some poodles living in luxury at Poodle Mansions. Friendship ensues, against the wishes of the snooty Miss Lillabet. Monty gets a blowout and passes as a poodle, but that just feels wrong. So justice and friendship prevail: The pooches turn an old movie theater into a place where “everyone was welcome.”

40 pp. Flying Eye. $17.95. (Ages 4 to 8)

Written and illustrated by Eva Eland

“Sometimes sadness arrives unexpectedly,” this wise, spare book announces. Eland draws sadness as a pale blue blob, rather gentle looking, that shadows a little girl. Lots of white space on each page keeps the mood soothing and thoughtful as the girl tries to figure out what to do. Hiding it doesn’t work, but she soon sees sadness as nothing to be afraid of — sadness can’t help itself, and means no harm. There’s lots of useful advice for sad days: going for a walk through the trees, or just sitting quietly together. Best of all, there’s the calm reminder that tomorrow, “when you wake up it might be gone.”

32 pp. Random House. $17.99. (Ages 3 to 7)

By Stephanie Parsley Ledyard
Illustrated by Chris Sasaki

Halfway through this tribute to all that makes a place home, like “a table with something good and the people gathered there,” it becomes clear that the family in its pages is moving to a new house. New definitions for home follow — “the shirt that smells like your old room” — as we see the family singing in the car, and eating takeout picnic-style at their new place. Ledyard’s (“Pie Is for Sharing”) words hit every right note; Sasaki’s illustrations are earthy and enchanting.

32 pp. Neal Porter/Holiday House. $18.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

An Ode to the National Parks
Written and illustrated by Evan Turk

Invoking herds of elk and forests of aspen as well as a kid living in a city, Turk captures the grandness of the very idea of our national parks. With bold, freewheeling painting and equally bold, concise poetry, plus informational pages, he has made a book as majestic and inclusive as its subject.

56 pp. Atheneum. $18.99. (Ages 4 and up)

By Tanya Valentine
Illustrated by Jorge Martin

It’s about time food trucks took their rightful places in the pantheon of picture-book vehicles. In this whimsically illustrated story an innocent taco truck is dismayed to find there’s competition for his usual spot: a falafel truck, oblivious to her trespass! Rest assured, Valentine’s story is about making space for everyone, even if it’s a bit of a squeeze, and enjoying all the goodness the world has to offer.

32 pp. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

By Kwame Alexander
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Alexander’s lush poem captures and pays tribute to the sensual pleasures of reading: finding the right comfortable spot, opening your book “like you would a clementine,” savoring the beauty and richness of its words. Sweet’s colorful multilayered collages and artful lettering do justice to the message, inviting readers of all ages to linger in these lovely pages. “Don’t rush through,” Alexander reminds us. “Your eyes need time to taste. Your soul needs room to bloom.”

32 pp. HarperCollins. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

Maria Russo is the children’s books editor of the Book Review.

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