2021 Favourite Storytime Picture Books

We made it, friends. Another year of programming in a pandemic. Whether it was online, indoors, or outdoors, I feel like we should take a collective deep breath. We’re hanging in there.

I hope this list helps you feel reinvigorated to do a magical part of our jobs: sharing stories with families in whatever way makes sense for your community right now. I think of this annual blog post as my love letter to my fellow children’s librarians – I see you and I feel lucky to be part of this community. Cheers to us!

Before jumping in to this year’s favourites, a quick reminder that you can browse lists from years past here:

Here are my favourite storytime books published in 2021 listed in alphabetical order by title. Did I miss one your 2021 favourites? Please leave a comment and share so everyone can see!

A is For Anemone: A First West Coast Alphabet by Roy Henry Vickers & Robert Budd
The high contrast board book duo is back again! This simple alphabet book is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, especially at virtual storytimes where smaller pages translate well. Small babytime groups will also be drawn to the vibrant colours. A beautiful introduction to the natural world of the West Coast.

Amara’s Farm by JaNay Brown-Wood; illustrated by Samara Hardy
Brown-Wood might be my new favourite storytime book author. Follow Amara as she looks for pumpkins on the farm only to discover a whole slew of other produce. Rich vocabulary fills this sneaky STEAM title that’s all about comparing and contrasting. Best suited for preschoolers, but you could skip some of the text and focus on labeling the vegetables for a rambunctious toddler group. Follow it up with a Pumpkin Chant!

Animals Go Vroom! by Abi Cushman
Let me introduce you to your new favourite guessing game. A smash hit with toddlers on up, turn the pages to discover what (who?) is making the sounds. Fun and funny, this is a modern storytime classic.

Applesauce is Fun to Wear by Nancy Raines Day; illustrated by Jane Massey
A short rhyming read all about getting messy at mealtime. I think it’s one of those perfect books for older babies/little toddlers. Have caregivers point out the body parts mentioned as you read for extra interaction. The bathtime ending makes a perfect segue for some bubbles at storytime.

Best Day Ever! by Marilyn Singer; illustrated by Leah Nixon
A boy + puppy story perfect for preschoolers. Told from the puppy’s perspective, this book is all about unconditional love and it would work nicely in storytimes supporting social emotional learning. Nixon is a wheelchair user like the boy, and I enjoyed learning more about her story in this article.

Bird Show by Susan Stockdale
Nonfiction storytime gold. The short sentences and bold illustrations make this suitable for even young toddlers. Check the back matter ahead of time so you can label the birds as you read through for extra vocabulary oomph.

Cows Go Boo! by Steve Webb and Fred Blunt
A super fun title perfect for toddlers, preschoolers, and mixed-age storytimes. Kids will enjoy shouting “Boo!” with you every time the cows scare the farmer (who looks suspiciously like a lumberjack to me). It’s a comical take on a classic animals-make-noise-on-the-farm picture book.

Early One Morning by Mem Fox; illustrated by Christine Davenier
The second book on the list featuring a hunt around a farm! The little boy in this story is searching for his breakfast and like Amara finds things that just aren’t quite right. A good choice for mixed-age groups as the text is short but a bit of humour will attract older kids.

Five Little Chicks by Dan Yaccarino
Board book storytime joy. Count up to 5 with the little chicks who hatch and go about their day. You could easily do this as a felt story or finger rhyme following the book. Recommended for virtual storytimes, babytimes, and toddler storytimes. Watch the author read it.

Fluffy McWhiskers: Cuteness Explosion by Stephen W. Martin; illustration by Dan Tavis
I can’t recall the last time a book made me snort laugh so hard. Some called it “transgressive humour” but I thought the idea of a cat that’s so cute it makes things explode was hilarious. A surefire way to get giggles at your next preschool or school-age visit.

Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown
The fluorescent pink illustrations got me! And Fred looks like he is practically glowing. A story of self-expression and family fun that’s great for preschoolers. If you’re looking for stories about dress up, this is the one (as long as you and your audience don’t mind a little nudity).

The Froggies Do NOT Want to Sleep by Adam Gustavson
I have a thing about frog illustrations, but I’m letting it slide for this one because the outlandishness is too good. These frogs think of every excuse not to go to bed. A great choice for pyjama storytimes and mixed aged groups. I think it pairs nicely with the Pyjama Party song.

House Mouse by Michael Hall
Although this story appears simple on first read, I think there is a lovely message about making ‘warm and welcoming’ spaces for others. Hall uses his geometric illustrations to bring the story to life. Have kids make the onomatopoeic sounds to get them in on the building action. Recommended for preschool – Grade 1. If doing a home theme, try pairing with The Three Little Pigs Oral Story.

How to Be Cooler Than Cool by Sean Taylor; illustrated by Jean Jullien
This book is the epitome of the phrase, “trying too hard.” A pair of shades makes these animal friends go a bit above their limits which is depicted with a delicate mix of humour and caution. Thankfully Chick is there to set them right. Make sure your audience knows what the word “cool” means before reading (how about a few rounds of Cool Cat)! Recommended for preschool on up.

I Am a Peaceful Goldfish by Shoshana Chaim; illustrated by Lori Joy Smith
If you do yoga storytime or want to integrate mindfulness into your programs, grab this one. Practice deep breathing by mimicking animals and plants around us. Try incorporating one of the imaginative breathing techniques every week at storytime to extend the practice. I needed this book just as much as the kids.

I Could Eat You Up by Jesse Levison
An oversized board book filled with puns about how much we love babies? Sign me up! Super fun to read at babytimes to caregivers who will appreciate the language play. As an added challenge see if you can come up with more puns as a group! Pair with any of my best loved food songs and rhymes.

I Like Trains by Daisy Hirst
A toddler storytime top pick. Simple sentences, big pages, and a relatable story. I’m always looking for books for the locomotive enthusiasts in the crowd, and this one fits the bill. Introduce the book with a song like The Little Red Train Going Down the Track.

I Love You, Baby Burrito by Angela Dominguez
Grab this for your next babytime, especially if you speak Spanish or have Spanish speaking attendees. A sweet ode to welcoming a new baby home, you’ll find a mix of English and Spanish with a glossary in the back to help non-native speakers. Follow it up with Yo Te Amo and you’re golden!

I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner; illustrations by Michaela Goade
You might recognize the illustrations from Caldecott winning Goade, and this time she’s showcasing the welcoming of a child through Indigenous creation stories and traditions. A soothing read for a pyjama storytime or a baby welcoming program where you’ve got the attention of caregivers.

It’s So Quiet: A Not-Quite-Going-To-Bed Book by Sherri Duskey Rinker; illustrated by Tony Fucile
Reminscent of Too Much Noise, this story is filled with animal sounds and repetition. When mouse can’t sleep because it’s too quiet he realizes that sounds are all around him if he listens closely enough. It’s really fun to read faster and faster as the sounds build through the book to amp up the silliness. Good choice for toddlers and preschoolers.

I Want Ice Cream! by Elisabetta Pica; illustrated by Silvia Borando
Cycle through the emotions of wanting something and not getting in this Italian import. The child in this book desperately wants ice cream, and the page colours signal their increasing desperation. If read in the right voice I think kids will think it’s hilarious, while caregivers will appreciate the ending. A good choice for to add some social emotional learning for toddlers and preschoolers.

Listen Up! Train Song by Victoria Allenby
Bright photographs of trains, subways, and trestles fill this onomatopoeia adventure. The repeating instruction, “Let’s sing a train song” is a surefire way to get families ting-a linging with you. Grab for your transportation obsessed toddlers. And while you’re at it, don’t miss Allenby’s construction themed title from last year like I did!

Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor
I love books that you turn sideways and up and down as you read! You do just that in this tale as you follow Mel’s flight path. Tabor had one of my favourite books last year, and he’s done it again with this lovely pick for preschoolers sure to boost self confidence. Kingfisher fans, rejoice.

My Heart Beats by Rina Singh
Top pick for babytime! This board book is chalk full of the different sounds a heart makes AND it uses specific names. You can swap in the names of the babies at your program or expose them to the diverse sounds in the book. Great for virtual storytimes or anywhere pictures of baby faces are popular.

Off-Limits by Helen Yoon
This one is just too funny. When a child sneaks into an “off limits” office (work from home, anyone?) creativity abounds. The sparse text means it can work for a variety of ages, even up to school-age. A surprise ending is the icing on the cake! One of my favourites this year.

One-osaurus, Two-osaurus by Kim Norman; illustrated by Pierre Collet-Derby
A counting, hide-and-seek dinosaur extravanganza. The fun bouncy rhymes will attract the under 5 crowd for sure. Time to get your roar on! And maybe follow it up with the dinosaur ditty.

Paletero Man by Lucky Diaz, illustrated by Micah Player
A fabulous bilingual choice for preschool – grade 2. Follow the child as they search for the Paletero (Ice Cream!) man through town. I love the repetition and vibrant colours. But most of all I love the song version which we danced to at almost every babytime this fall.

The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Round by Wendy Wan-Long Shang; illustrated by Lorian Tu
My new favourite singable storytime book! Set to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus,” join a family as they share a meal together. Use it for any age group – babies, toddlers, preschoolers. A pronunciation guide in the back matter ensures you get the names correct,

Roar! by Katerina Kerouli
A wonderful lift-the-flap adventure through the jungle. The descriptive rhyming text is done well and flaps reveal sounds you can make as a group. Preschoolers will enjoy learning about each animal, while a restless toddler group will love the mouth reveals. I think it pairs perfectly with the animal-filled song There Was a Crocodile.

The Runaway Pea by Kjartan Poskitt; illustrated by Alex Wilmore
This British import is a rollicking adventure of a Pea-sized escape artist. Due to the length and complexity of the text, I recommend it for older preschool and school-age groups. They’ll have the most fun watching Pea get into all sorts of mishaps. And as Jessica from Storytime in the Stacks told me, “You know it’s gonna be a winner if there’s a butt.” Pair it with another great school-age read aloud.

Sad, Sad Bear by Kimberly Gee
Gee has made the list 3 years in a row, wow! Part of her Bear series, this one explores the emotions around starting something new. Caregivers always ask to take her books home with them, a tribute to how relevant they are for families. Runner up from Gee this year is Mine, Mine, Mine, Yours. Check them both out!

Shhh! The Baby’s Asleep by JaNay Brown-Wood; illustrated by Elissambura
I loved this book so much I bought it for my niece for Christmas. It was so much fun to read at babytime, with me and all the caregivers doing the repetitive “shhhh” part together. Wonderful sounds – swish, creak, whir – fill this story of a family trying to stay quiet for baby. There’s some humour in the illustrations that toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy too. A top pick.

Small Nap, Little Dream by Talia Aikens-Nuñez; Illustrated by Natalia Colombo
Bilingual toddler storytime gold. Short, simple sentences infused with Spanish words show things we love to do – run, climb, clap, and of course, nap! Get the little ones to act out the book with you for an interactive experience. I think Sleeping Bunnies is the perfect song to sing when done reading.

Snakes in Space by Kathyrn Dennis
Another 3-time list maker! The snake books have made the list every year they’ve been published, and the space version is no different. The combination of bold colours and hissing opportunities work too well for toddlers and preschoolers. This one would work great in a virtual storytime too.

Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises
A strong narrative structure makes this hair adventure a great choice for preschool and school-age visits. Stella roams the solar system to get help from her aunties who are sure to know the perfect hairstyle. The illustrations stood out to me the most – I love the bright pinks and purples – because they transported me into another world.

Strollercoaster by Matt Ringler and illustrated by Raύl the Third and Elaine Bay
I’m convinced there is one way to read this book and it’s to have all the little ones sit in their caregivers’ laps and pretend to be on their own stroller ride. The illustrations are quite detailed, so take advantage of the ups and downs and twists and turns caregivers can mimic. I guarantee kids will want to read it again and again!

Ten in a Hurry by Lo Cole
Cole’s first appearance on the list year features brightly coloured fish who are eaten in succession until a dramatic ending. The black sea background is highly effective at setting the mood. You can count, you can learn colours, and you can delight in the ever growing page size. This one works well with all ages, especially a mixed-age group. Why not follow it up with Slippery Fish?

Ten Little Dumplings by Larissa Fan, illustrated by Cindy Wume
Based on a true family story, this journey through childhood to adulthood shows how the one girl in a family of boys finds her own sense of self. Due to the length and subject matter, I recommend this one for school-age groups. I think it has a powerful message about what it’s like to be invisible and how to chart your own path.

Tiny Kitty, Big City by Tim Miller
Nice big pages showcase a cat’s time spent exploring the city. With two word phrases sprinkled on each page, you can encourage kids to help you tell the story based on the illustrations. A good choice for toddlers and preschoolers, especially those who live in big cities and will recognize the common sites and sounds.

The Tiny Woman’s Coat by Joy Cowley, illustrated Giselle Clarkson
One of my favourite books this year. I loved this story of a tiny woman getting help from her animal friends. This one’s going in my yearly fall and winter storytime rotation. The text is simple enough for toddlers, but I think it works well for all ages. A New Zealand import that’s well worth having on your shelves.

The Ugliest Monsters in the World by Luis Amavisca and Erica Salcedo
All it takes is one glance at the cover to know those monsters may be misleading us with the title. A trio of monsters all claim to be the ugliest and there’s only one way to settle it – a mirror! I found this story perfect for toddlers and preschoolers – it’s funny, cute, and just the right amount of text. Follow it up with The Monsters Stomp Around the House.

We All Play Kimêtawânaw by Julie Flett
A top pick for babies and toddlers, the repetitive rhythmic text celebrates playfulness and the natural world. Have families join you in shouting “We play too!” A glossary of Cree words and a pronunciation guide are included in the back. In a nutshell, buy everything Flett creates and lots of it.

We Say Hello and We Say Good Night by Salina Yoon
Meant as a language learning tool, these lift-the-flap books work great in storytimes too. Practice saying hello or goodnight in 7 different languages. Yoon has always wowed with her lift-the-flap creations and it’s cool to see some non-animal options. Works great with all ages and in virtual storytimes.

We Want a Dog by Lo Cole
A high contrast exploration of all the types of dogs one could have. The rhymes are jaunty and funny, quick and cute. A solid choice for mixed age groups and virtual storytime where the black and red colours will pop. Lo Cole is a storytime author to watch!

We Wear Masks by Marla Lesage
This timely choice explains the many different reasons, including Covid-19, that people wear masks. I like how it puts mask wearing in context and explains it in simple language for the youngest of children. Short sentences make it accessible to toddlers, while older kids will want to talk more about each example. Storytime is a place to help kids understand the world around them.

The Wheels on the Bus at Halloween by Sarah Kieley
I’m always on the lookout for holiday books to read at my outreach preschool visits where a specific theme is requested. Sung to the familiar tune, kids will catch on quickly as you sing about ghosts, bats, witches, cats, candy, and pumpkins. It’s the perfect length too – it doesn’t drag on forever but captures the Halloween spirit. Recommended for all ages 0 – 5, plus in virtual settings.

Whole Whale by Karen Yin; illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff
Can we fit a whole blue whale? This repeating question guides the onslaught of animals that try to squeeze onto the pages before a double fold-out spread answers the question. Filled with wonderful animal vocabulary, this book lets you take time labeling animals, asking kids which ones run, which ones fly, which ones they like best, etc. The pages are what I call “storytime size.” Encourage families to check it out after storytime and see if they can find all 100 animals. Great for toddlers up to grade 2.

If you made it all the way to the end of this post, I’d love to know something you’d like to share with the youth services community – a recent win, a current struggle, words of encouragement, whatever is on your mind!

37 thoughts on “2021 Favourite Storytime Picture Books

  1. Thanks for the post! I have a storytime tip: I cut plastic tablecloths into strips and give them to each toddler for the scarf song portion of my toddler time. They love the Popcorn Kernels and One Bright Scarf. Every child gets a “scarf” they can take home or throw away. I found my parents prefer this over egg shakers right now, less germ-y for sure!

    1. That is a fabulous tip, especially for those who don’t have enough of the more expensive options to go around. We’re not using scarves right now because we don’t have a washing machine at work and boy do I miss them! Thanks so much for sharing, Carolyn.

      1. I love the tablecloth idea! I have used crepe paper streamers as makeshift scarves. They are easy enough to tear and pass out quickly, float nicely like scarves, and can go home or get trashed at the end of the program.

  2. Thank you so much for putting together such a wonderful list that not only focuses on our youngest learners, but also on books that are excellent for reading aloud. Even as a veteran storytime host, I found it incredibly helpful and I’ve got most of them in my cart to order!

    1. I’ve been doing storytime for almost 9 years and I still learn new things all the time. That probably doesn’t count as a veteran, but I totally feel you! Thank you for your kind words 🙂

  3. A couple of my favorites this year have been: I’m a hare so there! by Julie rowan-Zoch
    There’s a mouse in my house by Ross Collins
    Book of Rules by Brian Gehrlein.

  4. So grateful for this list — have found so many favorites through you. I always look forward to it. Thanks so much for putting it together. Happy 2022!

  5. Thank you so much for this list and all the many gems on your website! I really appreciate all that you do to support our library community.

  6. One of my favorite days of the year. I truly appreciate all the work it takes to put this together. We are in the final stretch of a addition/remodel. It’s been a long process, started at the beginning of the pandemic. Anxiously awaiting the big finish!

    1. Oh thank you, Nora! And congratulations on the remodel. My library is at the very beginning stages of a years-long process for our main branch. It must feel so good to be in the final stretch!

  7. Here at our library we’re reading Listen Up! Train Song, and we cannot figure out how to sing it! What tune are you using? The publisher’s website doesn’t have anything! Thanks 🙂

    1. I do more of a sing-songy chant. It’s not to a specific tune and it took a little practice to get it right. I can ask around to see if anyone has a tune that goes with the lyrics. I think it’s cool to sing/chant/read it lots of different ways.

      1. At a storytime today I sang this book to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell.” The parents caught on quickly and all knew the tune. It worked!

  8. Thanks for this post, I’ve been immersed in chapter books so am happy to see this! I love finding new fun storytime books and they help me remember our roots during these difficult times, and the joy that comes from what we do!

    1. I feel the same way. Even if I’m reading them through a screen it’s still wonderful to connect kids with the best stories.

  9. This is a wonderful list! Thank you, Lindsey. One of my favorite books on this list is, “It’s So Quiet: A Not-Quite-Going-To-Bed Book,” by Sherri Duskey Rinker; illustrated by Tony Fucile. For storytime, we had the adults participate and make the different sounds of the “night noises”. When they were all making their respective noises, it sounded like total chaos until we turned the page and Mouse shouts, “Be Quiet! I am trying to sleep!” Then the parents went silent and the children’s eyes were wider than an owl’s. They loved it! And it was one of the few times we have had applause after a book in storytime. My favorite part, though occurred when I was imploring the parents for their participation, but some were on their phones. Seeing my attempts to get their attention, one adult elbowed the person next her and said, “Hey, she’s talking to you!” I almost fell out of my seat!

    1. This is the best story ever! When we go back to in-person storytimes (paused right now), I am definitely getting the adults involved with the sounds. I thought about trying it with a preschool group too and having different kids be responsible. There is just something magical about telling a story together as a group. So glad you shared this with me!

  10. Every year we just get better and better picture books for storytime! Thank you for gathering them all into this incredible resource. I look forward to this post all year long and appreciate your hard work!

    Some of my favorites from 2021: Hi-Five Farm by Ross Burach (interactive board book); Shapes and Colors by John Canty (great for TALK); Bye Car by Naomi Danis (love the everyday diversity and spatial vocabulary); Web Opposites by Rob Hodgson (more great vocabulary); THAO: A Picture Book by Thao Lam; Atticus Caticus by Sarah Maizes; Arlo Draws an Octopus by Lori Mortensen (great for WRITE); 1, 2, 3, Do the Dinosaur by Michelle Robinson (interactive board book); Not Now, Cow by Tammi Sauer (hilarious for toddlers); and Cold Turkey by Corey Rosen Schwartz. It really was a good year for bird books!

    My number one favorite storytime picture book of the year, however, goes to Everybody in the Red Brick Building by Anne Wynter and Oge Mora. Have you gotten to read it yet?

    Thanks for the mention on Runaway Pea! Just read it this week to many a giggle. 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing your favourites and for continuing to be an ALL STAR blogger. You are keeping the children’s librarian blogging community alive and inspire me to keep at it. I am putting holds on all the titles you mentioned and ordering the ones my library is missing (quite a few of them). I am still on the waitlist for Everybody in the Red Brick Building! I am not opposed to adding titles to this list as I discover ones I missed 🙂

  11. Some of my son’s favourites are in this list! He’s a train fanatic, and LISTEN UP, TRAIN SONG is read pretty much every night. We went on the skytrain for the first time since he was a baby, and he excitedly shouted “the chime sings TING A LING!” when the doors closed. ^_^

    1. awww, I love when book moments come alive like this. Can’t wait to get my hands on your upcoming publications for inclusion on next year’s list!

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