What I’m Reading Wednesday: Picture Book Edition

These are the top four picture books we’ve been enjoying in our home this summer. There’s dozens more I wish I could highlight, so maybe next time, but here are my favorites.


Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that’s all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn’t mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.

But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name…a name that is sure to light up the sky.

National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie’s lyrical text and Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales’s striking and beautiful illustrations celebrate the special relationship between father and son.

My boys really liked this one, especially because it has a one-liner with a little potty humor. But they also liked the rhythm of it, they were immediately catching on and reading along. My oldest is named after his father, and after his father before him, so this made for interesting conversation in our home, how he wants to choose his own name now. I loved how it highlighted what the boy thought he was good at, connecting it to how he could name himself. We played this game after and it was a good spark for some creative thinking. The diversity of it was a plus, and also led to some cultural discussions. Definitely a re-readable book, loved it.


Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat takes readers on the road trip of a lifetime!
“Are we there yet?” Every parent has heard this classic kid question on a long car ride–and after reading this astonishingly inventive new book (that even turns upside down for several pages!), you’ll never look at being bored the same way again.

Let’s face it: everyone knows that car rides can be boring. And when things get boring, time slows down. In this book, a boy feels time slowing down so much that it starts going backward–into the time of pirates! Of princesses! Of dinosaurs! The boy was just trying to get to his grandmother’s birthday party, but instead he’s traveling through Ancient Egypt and rubbing shoulders with Ben Franklin. When time flies, who knows where–or when–he’ll end up.

We read this before, during, and after a 12-hour road trip (each way) to see family. The words were so genuine, straight out of my kid’s mouths, I swear. But aside from the words, which are perfect, the illustrations were full of images to keep the kids busy, and they loved the twist of flipping the book upside down and sideways. Plus, time travel is always a win for my kids. They wanted to live in this book.

We’re huge Beekle fans in this house, so we’re happy to be continued fans of Dan Santat.


When a young boy embarks on a journey alone . . .
he trails a colony of penguins,
undulates in a smack of jellyfish,
clasps hands with a constellation of stars,
naps for a night in a bed of clams,
and follows a trail of shells,
home to his tribe of friends.

If Lane Smith’s Caldecott Honor Book Grandpa Green was an homage to aging and the end of life, There Is a Tribe of Kids is a meditation on childhood and life’s beginning. Smith’s vibrant sponge-paint illustrations and use of unusual collective nouns such as smack and unkindness bring the book to life. Whimsical, expressive, and perfectly paced, this story plays with language as much as it embodies imagination.

This book is so peaceful and lovely. It’s quiet, so it wasn’t a huge hit with all of my boys, but my four-year-old loved to read it over and over. He loved the art and that each page connected to the next, with an idea or image. He felt so happy to make that connection. He also caught on to the fact that all of it was happening in their imagination, this tribe of kids, living in the wild. I know he didn’t appreciate the beautiful words like I did, but they were there, and they were dreamy.


One day, a young bear stumbles upon something he has never seen before in the forest. As time passes, he teaches himself how to play the strange instrument, and eventually the beautiful sounds are heard by a father and son who are picnicking in the woods. The bear goes with them on an incredible journey to New York, where his piano playing makes him a huge star. He has fame, fortune and all the music in the world, but he misses the friends and family he has left behind. A moving tale of exploration and belonging from an exciting debut author-illustrator.

I have to say, I think this one is my favorite, even though I hate picking favorites, and am actually quite horrible at it. But all of my kids fell in love with this story, and so did I.

It was so well-written that it didn’t even feel absurd, a bear finding a piano in the woods and becoming famous over how talented he had become at playing it. The boys were rooting for him and when he went back to the forest, they were holding their breaths. Seriously, my kid’s reaction to this book was pure magic.

As were the illustrations. Every once in  while, a book comes along where I want to just frame every page and have a whole room in my house dedicated to the illustrations in this book. They were soft, and sparkly, and immersive, and exciting, and just, purely perfect. Sigh.


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