#pb10for10 — 10 Picture Books You Can’t Live Without

This is my first year participating in the Picture Book 10 for 10 event. The idea is that you share 10 of your favorite picture books. Some participants develop themes, and I chose to go with 10 of the picture books that I am adding to my new school library. These are some of my favorites, and I think they will be great read-alouds as we start out virtually.

#pb10for10

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor

Mystery abounds for a group of orphans that have come to live in the mansion of a missing billionaire. While looking for hidden treasure, they come to discover what it means to be a family.

Chapter book, fiction, mystery
by Ally Carter
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020
4 out of 5 stars


Ally Carter is one of those authors where I will pre-order any book she writes. She always has strong female protagonists and plenty of suspense and action. Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor is highly enjoyable and written for middle grade readers, grades 4-6.

The only connection April has to her mother is a key with a crest on it. On a field trip to a museum, April is viewing the Winterborne Family Jewels, when she recognizes the crest that matches her key. She sneaks back at night and accidentally sets the museum on fire. Instead of getting in trouble for her actions, she meets a woman named Izzy who runs a charity and informs her that she is going to live at the Winterborne home.

Thus starts April’s new life as a ward at the Winterborne Home. Also at the home with Izzy, is a butler, and four other orphans. April begins searching the home to find what her key might unlock, and in the process meets a mystery man who has ties to the home as well.

The chapters are short and the story is filled with excitement, suspense, and new mysteries and connections that show up throughout the story. The connection between the orphans is the strength of the story, and the reader is rooting for them as they come together as a family.

There are places in the story that seem far-fetched, such as 12-year-old April being able to break into a museum in the dead of night, but if you are a fan of Ally Carter, you know that her characters usually have special skills and talents. Each of the characters in this book have special talents that come out and are used throughout the story.

The way this story ends hints at more books to follow, so I look forward to getting to know April and the other characters better in future books.

A Boy Called Bat

Featuring a neurodivergent main character, this well-written novel will make you want to adopt your own skunk kit and try to become as good of a animal parent as Bat.

Chapter book, fiction
by Elana K. Arnold
Walden Pond Press, 2017
YHBA nominee, 2020-2021
4 out of 5 stars


Bixby Alexander Tam goes by the nickname Bat for several reasons. They are his initials, of course, but also because of his sensitive hearing and the way he sometimes flaps his hands when he is excited or agitated, it reminds people of a bat. This doesn’t bother Bat, because animals are his favorite thing.

Bat is never defined in the book as neurodivergent, and Elana K. Arnold does an excellent job crafting a character who is well-rounded and easy to connect with. Many readers will relate to Bat’s love of animals, particularly the skunk kit that his mother brings home when it is orphaned. Bat also struggles with his parents’ divorce and gets frustrated at his older sister when she teases him.

The plot of the story revolves around the orphaned skunk kit that Bat’s mother, a vet, brings home. She warns Bat that they are only taking care of him temporarily, until a wildlife rescue has space to take him. Bat falls in love with the kit that he and his sister name Thor, and must find a way to convince his mother that they should keep him longer.

As Bat researches skunk kits in order to learn how to care for Thor, readers learn a lot about the animal. Bat even demonstrates how children can learn by reaching out to animal experts and sending them an email.

Bat is supported by a loving family and goes to a school that supports his individual needs. There is even a boy in his class who reaches out to form a friendship, which Bat must learn how to do. Overall, the story is heartwarming as Bat works to prove he will make a good skunk parent, and Arnold has created a complete and complex character that is very likable.

This would make a great read-aloud for 1st-3rd graders. Under 200 pages, the short chapters and small illustrations interspersed throughout make this a good book to recommend to students who are building independent reading stamina.

The Disability in Kidlit website has this book on its honor roll as a quality book that features a character with autism.

The Parker Inheritance

This is one of my new favorite reads! Varian Johnson has skillfully created a story that is part mystery, part historical fiction, part realistic fiction, and it is TOTALLY engaging. The issue of racism and the systemic oppression of Black people in America is presented in a way that is appropriate for intermediate/middle grade readers.

Chapter book, fiction
by Varian Johnson
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018
YHBA nominee, 2020-2021
5 out of 5 stars


Candice is 12-years-old and finds herself facing a horrible summer in Lambert, South Carolina. Her mother is trying to sell their home in Atlanta, so they have come to spend the summer in the house that belonged to her grandmother, who has been dead for two years. Being there makes her miss her grandmother, while she also misses her friends from home, and her father, who has been divorced from her mother for six months.

Candice is reluctantly introduced to the 11-year-old who lives across the street, and she finds that she and Brandon both share a love of reading and could use a friend to make the summer bearable. While exploring her grandmother’s attic one day, looking for books to read, Candice discovers a letter that her grandmother left for her.

The letter reveals a mysterious treasure hunt that centers around a woman named Siobhan Washington. Candice and Brandon work together to uncover clues that lead them to uncover way more than treasure. They learn about the history of Lambert and the Washington family, while they also learn more about themselves and each other.

The characters and town are well-developed, authentic, and engaging. Some chapters, which are on darker gray paper, are told from the viewpoint of different people from the past that Candice and Brandon learn about. It is in these historical chapters that we, the reader, learn details that fill in missing parts of the story that Candice and Brandon do not know about. It is really masterful the way Johnson provides the additional insight, while not giving away too many clues, keeping the puzzle solution just out of our reach.

Solving the mystery is the central focus of the book, yet Johnson also tackles themes of bullying, divorce, LGBTQ+, police brutality, death, segregation, and racism. He even includes one of my pet peeves — gendering of books (boy books vs. girl books). What makes this such a strong story is that all these themes are tied to a well-developed plot and characters and the story never lags or feels overwhelming, but tackles all of these issues in a authentic way. There are also plenty of humorous moments.

There is an extensive Author’s Note at the end of the book that provides more information about the racism and segregation that the reader encounters in the story, and how the story connects to the actual history of the 1950s and 60s.

I highly recommend this book as a read-aloud, especially for grades 3-5.

Home in the Woods

This is an exceptional historical fiction picture book that is set in the Great Depression. It celebrates family, resiliency, and finding treasure in life.

Picture book, historical fiction
by Eliza Wheeler
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019
5 out of 5 stars


The story is told by six-year-old Marvel, and is a memoir of how her mother moved her and her 7 siblings to a tar paper shack in the woods after her father died. When they first see the shack, Marvel describes it as “cold and empty, like I feel inside.”

Their mother encourages the family to look for treasures, and slowly, throughout the rest of the story, they are revealed. These are simple treasures, such as “crystal rains” that help their garden grow, and the discovery of a berry patch that lets them store preserves in the cellar like “buried treasure.”

The illustrations are stunning and fit the style and tone of the story well. The images have muted colors of green and brown at the beginning, but as the family settles in brighter colors make key appearances.

The Author’s Note at the end of the book reveals that the story is based on the life of her grandma Marvel. She encourages readers to start gathering family stories, especially from older generations, before they are gone. On her website, www.wheelerstudio.com, there is a 13-minute video that details her process writing and illustrating Home in the Woods.

I highly recommend this book as a mentor text for memoir writing in elementary or middle school, and it would make a great companion read for classes studying the Great Depression. Third grade classes looking for historical fiction for a genre study could also use this engaging book.

Stargazing

This graphic novel is a middle grade friendship story that highlights the confusion and hurt that can arise over shifting friend groups at this age. Stargazing is an #ownvoices book that celebrates and respects different types of Chinese American families.

Graphic novel, fiction
by Jen Wang
First Second, 2019
4 out of 5 stars


Christine Hong and Moon Li are opposite personalities who meet when Moon and her mother move into a small house at the Hongs. The two girls get along very well, with Moon providing Christine with an opportunity to step outside of her closely regimented life and discover nail polish and K-pop.

Friendship troubles arise as Christine becomes jealous of Moon’s easy-going will to include more people in their friendship circle. Moon struggles to control angry and violent outbursts. When tragedy strikes Moon, will Christine be there to help her cope?

An author’s note at the end of the book details Wang’s connection to Moon, and describes her goal of writing a story that shows the diversity of lives within the Chinese American community. She speaks to the struggle of not being viewed as Asian enough, and coming to treasure the parts that are “uniquely and wonderfully them.”

Say Yes Summer

This is a light, summer rom-com that fans of Kasie West might enjoy.

Chapter book, young adult, fiction, romance
by Lindsey Roth Culli
Delacorte Press, 2020
3 out of 5 stars


This story has a fascinating premise — what if someone who was very disciplined and focused on school and studying took a summer off and said “yes” to whatever fun and irresponsible activity someone suggested.

Rachel has worked hard to be the valedictorian and earn a college scholarship. She discovers a book that belonged to her grandmother Nonna which is about saying “yes.” When Rachel encounters her long-time crush Clayton, she comes to the conclusion that the book was a sign and decides to say “yes” to whatever experiences comes her way.

The positives of the book are the supporting characters. Nonna and Miles seem way more fleshed out and multi-dimensional as characters. Because Rachel says “yes” to activities she normally wouldn’t do, she gets to explore life and gain experiences that she missed out on during high school.

The character of Rachel feels a little less developed. Her transformation is minimal and makes the story feel somewhat underdeveloped. I believe that tweens will enjoy this foray into romance, but steer them toward Kasie West for stronger plots.

Moment of Truth

This is a feel good, young adult/tween romance, featuring personal growth, humor and seriousness. Kasie West excels in this genre, and this is honestly one of my favorites.

Chapter book, fiction
by Kasie West
Harper Teen, 2020
4 out of 5 stars


Young adults and tweens are drawn to romance. West’s books offer the right amount of romance for readers from age 10 and up. This is personally one of my favorites of hers.

Hadley Moore is a 16-year-old whose entire world is focused on swimming. It’s actually more than that though — she must win. Nothing stops her focus…not shoulder pain, or a boyfriend dumping her because she is too single-minded.

Until a Facebook-famous prankster dressed in an action hero mask interrupts an event at her swim meet. Her concentration is disturbed, she doesn’t win her race, and she becomes focused on discovering WHO this anonymous individual is. Hadley’s search leads her on a discovery of self.

West’s main characters always undergo a journey of discovery and growth. For Hadley, this means she must step outside of her comfort zone and engage in activities other than swimming. Even bigger than that though, she must confront the impact the death of her older brother had on her family.

What I really liked about this story is that it contains both humor and seriousness; walking a good balance between the two. At this time I was looking to read a lighter young teen romance, and what I got was that and so much more. Without being overwhelming.

Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug

Tiny T. Rex wants to make his friend feel better by giving him a hug, but his arms are too tiny, so he sets out to find a solution to his problem.

Picture book, fiction
by Jonathan Stutzman; illustrated by Jay Fleck
Scholastic, 2019
4 out of 5 stars


This is a charming tale of friendship and perseverance. Tiny T. Rex sets a great example of how to be a friend. When his father suggests math to cheer up Pointy, Tiny knows his friend well enough to know that math won’t cheer up Pointy. Tiny also does not back down even when he realizes that hard work is what he needs to do.

The illustrations are adorable and will appeal to young children. There’s enough humor and funny situations — such as hugging a cactus — that keep the book from being overly sappy.

It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk

Josh Funk is a master at delivering fresh, comedic stories that appeal to young readers.

Picture book, fiction
by Josh Funk; illustrated by Edwardian Taylor
Two Lions, 2017
5 out of 5 stars


This book is very funny, and I could never figure out what was going to happen next. Which makes it very refreshing. Children will love this story, and it would make a great read-aloud, if you can do different voices so the children can follow along easily.

In the classroom, this can fit in with a fractured fairy tale lesson, or students could turn it into a reader’s theater script very easily.