Summer must-reads: 10 of 2021’s best picture books so far

Summer break means more time for story time, so we’ve rounded up 10 of the year’s best picture books till date, giving you and your kiddo a selection of adorable titles to bond over. Enjoy!
When we think ‘summer’, particularly summer vacation, we think ‘the great outdoors’, but there’s oodles of fun to be had at home too. In fact, there’s book-loads of fun to be enjoyed this summer, and you and your kiddo can enjoy it together. We’re about to take you through a list of picture books that are ideal for story time and bonding time. Bursting with glorious illustrations, memorable characters, rich moments, and wonderful opportunities for learning, these are books that will move and transport you and your child. Keep reading to discover 10 of the best picture book titles that 2021 has to offer.

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

Illustrated by Dung Ho

The beauty of this picture book goes far beyond its title. Eyes That Kiss in the Corners is about a little Taiwanese girl who notices that her eyes are different from everyone else’s. Her realization soon turns into love and joy as she learns that her (and her family’s) “eyes that kiss in the corners” are beautiful. A journey towards self-acceptance and self-love like few others, this little picture book is sure to delight your child (and you!).

Line and Scribble by Debora Vogrig

Illustrated by Pia Valentinis

A book that is sparse in its illustrations and warm in its exploration of friendship, Line and Scribble carries a sweet lesson of diversity among its pencil-drawn pages. While it appears like a book about hardly anything, it is, in fact, a book about a lot of things, and it places the spotlight on these things in a way that is as imaginative as it is effective. This is yet another read about beauty in diversity, and it makes its point with just a few lines and scribbles.

Whole Whale

Karen Yin, illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff

It’s the 2020s. A buzzword we see splashed across the internet — now more than ever before — is ‘inclusion’. At such a time, a picture book about inclusion becomes more than a picture book; it transforms itself into essential reading. And with Whole Whale, inclusion is only one delightful aspect of a work of art for the ages. The joy of this picture book is its living language. The words seem to have an energy of their own, and the rhymes are addictive. Get ready to have a whale of time reading this one aloud to your toddler.

Your Mama

NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

Your Mama is a book that turns a phrase with a derogatory connotation (Thanks to Wilmer Valderrama’s Yo Mama) on its head, spinning an ode from it — an ode to mamas. This is a book whose illustrations catch the eye and whose rhythm makes its reader want to rap; at the same time, its words are loaded with honesty. Every line has personality, every page has warmth in this celebration of mothers and their efforts for their kids, making it the perfect book for mother-daughter bonding.

Outside, Inside

LeUyen Pham

Pandemic literature is spurting out of pens and computers fast and freely, with numerous writers and poets painting honest portraits of an unprecedented time in global history. One such honest portrait is Outside, Inside. Drawing sweet parallels between the ‘OUTSIDE’ and ‘INSIDE’, LeUyen Pham achieves a cozy read filled with feelings of oneness and hope while dealing with a very serious topic. Oh! And the baby and cat in this picture book are extremely cuddle-worthy!

Don’t Hug Doug: (He Doesn’t Like It)

Carrie Finison, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

Another picture book that takes on the not-so-easy task of tackling a serious topic, Don’t Hug Doug: (He Doesn’t Like It) makes the most of the genre to teach kids and parents alike the importance of consent. But it’s not so much what this book does that makes it memorable but how it does it. The rhymes stick, the illustrations hit home, and the message carries weight. If you’re in the process of explaining personal boundaries to your child, this book will help.

The Invisible

Tom Percival

Tom Percival is a veteran at the art of writing picture books that are felt more than they are read. The Invisible is a towering reminder of this. In a few words and fewer pages, the book tells the story of a girl who makes “One of the hardest things that anyone can ever make… a difference”, and all it takes is a little bit of kindness. We won’t be surprised if this picture book — with its moving narrative and expert illustrations (creations of Percival’s himself) — leaves you with a lump in your throat.

What Happened to You?

James Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George

It is clear from the start that this is a story about a child with a missing leg, but this biographical children’s story goes beyond merely telling the child’s story; it also pinpoints the question he doesn’t like answering and it helps you see why he doesn’t like it. A gentle depiction of the reality of being disabled, What Happened to You? does a lovely job of showing children (and grownups) how to be kinder and a little less intrusive around people with disabilities, making it a very warm read.


Mượn Thị Văn, illustrated by Victo Ngai

This just might be the book on this list with the most powerful illustrations. In Mượn Thị Văn’s Wishes, the words are quiet and sparse (only 75 in total!), but the pictures seem to scream their meanings. Coming at a crucial juncture in refugee history, this immigration story seems a little heavy for a child at first, but it is such a timely, brave narrative that it becomes essential reading instantly. You and your little one will be drawn to these pages for their stunning artwork, but you’ll stay for the emotional depth of those 75 words.

Bodies Are Cool

Tyler Feder

The final picture book on our list is a celebration of the fact that all of humankind comes in varying shapes, sizes, and colors. In a way that’s simple and 100% inclusive, writer-illustrator Tyler Feder has penned (and painted!) an ode that’s just as fun and honest as the drawings that accompany it on every page. A body-positive masterpiece that seems to joyfully chant “Love every body, kids!”, Bodies Are Cool is a happy realization that, indeed, “My body, your body, every different kind of body... BODIES ARE COOL!”
2021 has been generous in its supply of picture books. We hope this list adds a little happy to your child’s summer, and we can’t wait to see what more 2021 has in store...

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