I debated making this list of picture books and chapter books releasing in 2021, but this year, I’ve enjoyed several exceptional picture books and chapter books. 2021 is shaping up to be even better. Happily, this list seems to be a more diverse selection and having read several of the picture books on this list, I can wholeheartedly recommend these books.
Publishers, please note that I am very open to accepting electronic ARCs of all of the books mentioned on this list (as well as any awesome realistic middle-grade selections).
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Picture Books and Chapter Books Releasing in 2021
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners
A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers’. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.
Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self-love and empowerment. This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages.
Off to See the Sea – Nikki Grimes, Elizabeth Zurnon
Bath time is full of magic.
The faucet flows like a waterfall, the bathroom floor is a distant shore, toy boats sail against the waves. An imagination-fueled adventure on the high seas is just what it takes to get little one clean.
I Love You Baby Burrito
¡Hola, bebé! Mi hermosa, my beautiful!
It’s time to swaddle you–tucking in each piernita, each bracito . . . everything except your sweet carita.
Welcome home, mi baby burrito. We promise to love you forever.
With gentle text, simple Spanish words, and irresistible illustrations, this new baby book is delectable.
Way Past Jealous
Yaz is jealous. Way past jealous. Yaz loves to draw, but no one ever notices her pictures. Everyone loves Debby’s drawings, and one even got put up on the classroom wall with a star on it. Now Yaz’s jealousy is making her think ugly things, and even act mean! How can she get past jealous?
Sisters Leah and Lilly have only one thing in common: they share a room. One day, Leah’s mess makes Lilly storm out. Only a wild animal could live with Leah. That’s not a bad idea! Leah posts a wanted ad, and the search for the perfect new zoo-mate begins. For anyone who’s struggled to get along with a sibling, this animal-centric picture book reminds us all why it’s worth trying.
The Electric Slide and Kai
Everyone in the Donovan family can dance–and has a dance nickname–except Kai, but his family helps him practice his moves to prepare for his aunt’s wedding reception.
Sunday Funday in Koreatown
Yoomi has planned the perfect Sunday! But the shirt she wants to wear is in the laundry. And she doesn’t have the seaweed she needs for a kimbap breakfast.
So Yoomi wears another shirt and eats a different breakfast, and she and Daddy take a bus to Koreatown, where they read Korean books, eat Korean treats such as patbingsu and tteokbokki, and visit Grandma. Though Yoomi’s perfect day is filled with mishaps and things don’t always go her way, Yoomi learns the advantages of being resilient and open-minded. Yoomi’s imperfect day is better than she ever could have imagined!
A family recipe for kimbap is included.
This charming picture book is about a little girl who loves her bindis (and the many creative shapes they come in!). The bindis are also a connection to her Nani who lives in India. When Nani comes to visit Bindu and brings the bindis to her, it is just in time to wear something new to the school talent show. Bindu and Nani work together to shine their brightest and embrace their sparkle, even when they stand out from the crowd.
Go Be Wonderful
When Daisy is born, Daddy says she’s wonderful for crying, sleeping, and playing peek-a-boo. When she’s one, Mommy says she’s wonderful for banging on pots and pans in a “rock ‘n’ roll band.”
Grandma and Grandpa say she’s wonderful for saying, “Nooooooooo,” when she’s two. Her uncles for taking a mud bath when she’s three, and her neighbor for riding her scooter all the way to the library when she’s four.
Then comes the biggest milestone of all. School! It takes a village to get her there–as parents, grandparents, uncles, and neighbors escort Daisy to the door. But will Daisy be wonderful at school? Yes! She shares, makes a friend, and reaches the toilet just in time!
“I was wonderful!” Daisy shouts.
Bright colors and joyful compositions filled with humorous details depict Daisy’s community of adoring family and friends.
Perfect for children entering preschool or kindergarten, for preschool graduation, or as a WONDERFUL baby shower gift. The jacket has a growth chart attached so you can measure your own child’s wonderfulness.
Preschool curriculum subjects include self-esteem, growing, family, community, starting school, all about me, and blended families.
A Garden to Save the Birds
When a bird flies into their window by accident, Callum and his sister, Emmy, learn that from the outside, the glass looks just like the sky. They also learn that the United States has lost a lot of birds in recent years—and that there are lots of things their family can do to help. First, they set out feeders and make the windows safe. Then, for the winter, they build a little shelter and put out a heated birdbath. By springtime, all kinds of birds are visiting their yard! But with such a big problem, is there more they can do to make a difference?
A Neighborhood Walk, A Musical Journey
One bright city morning, Penelope and her mom make their way to the farmer’s market. On street corners and train platforms, musicians and performers enchant Penelope, speaking to her through their floating, booming notes. The noise of the city keeps the pair moving—until Penelope hears a sound so magical she knows she has to play the instrument that makes it.
Beatrice Bly’s Rules for Spies
Beatrice Bly isn’t just a spy.
She’s a super spy.
She knows all the rules.
She sneaks. She observes.
She follows the clues to find the culprit.
But when the class hamster, Edgar, goes missing, will Beatrice’s spy training be enough to find out what happened?
Clever and determined, Beatrice Bly will win over young sleuths, teaching them problem solving and deduction skills as they scramble to figure out the case alongside her.
A young girl and her family arrive in an airport in a new country. They are refugees, migrants who have travelled across the world to find safety. Strangers greet them, and one of them gives the little girl a doll.
Decades later, that little girl is grown up and she has the chance to welcome a group of refugees who are newly arrived in her adopted country. To the youngest of them, a little girl, she gives a doll, knowing it will help make her feel welcome.
Inspired by real events.
When Lola Visits
For one young girl, summer is the season of no school, of days spent at the pool, and of picking golden limes off the trees. But summer doesn’t start until her lola—her grandmother from the Philippines—comes for her annual visit.
Summer is special. For her lola fills the house with the aroma of mango jam, funny stories of baking mishaps, and her quiet sweet singing in Tagalog. And in turn, her granddaughter brings Lola to the beach, to view fireworks at the park, and to catch fish at their lake.
When Lola visits, the whole family gathers to cook and eat and share in their happiness of another season spent together. Yet as summer transitions to fall, her lola must return home—but not without a surprise for her granddaughter to preserve their special summer a bit longer.
Charlie has a hard time choosing. It doesn’t matter if the choice is between flavors of ice cream, pairs of underwear, or whether to sleep with the lights on or off—the options are always overwhelming. In fact, it’s easier when Charlie doesn’t choose at all. However, with Charlie’s birthday fast approaching, he is determined to choose the absolute best gift for himself: a dog! And when a furry friend chooses him instead, making decisions suddenly becomes a little bit easier.
Bella’s Recipe for Success
Bella wants to find out what she’s good at. But she quits everything she (barely) tries because she’s a desastre. Her somersaults are like jirafas rolling downhill, her piano playing like elephant feet. When she decides to learn how to bake with her abuela, her first attempt at dulce de leche frosting looks like cocodrilo skin. She must learn it’s okay to try again or she won’t be good at anything. #growthmindset
Peppered with Spanish vocabulary and set in an intergenerational Latinx home, Bella’s Recipe for Success will show all kids the value of practicing to learn a new skill, and that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.
Geraldine Rodriguez will illustrate. Publication is planned for summer 2021; Andrea Walker at Olswanger Literary represented the author, and Lucie Luddington at the Bright Agency represented the illustrator.
Boogie Boogie Y’all
The city is alive with vibrant art in every corner of the parks, the shops, the trains. But most people are too busy to see it—or worse, choose to ignore it! When three children stop to marvel at the art around their community, they realize it’s up to them to show everyone else how truly special it is when art and reality dance together so seamlessly.
Are You a Cheeseburger?
Grub is a lonely racoon. Rumbling in the trash. Looking for food.
Seed is, well, a seed! Patiently waiting in the trash. Hoping someone will plant it.
When the two finally meet, they realize they might be able to help each other! Grub has just one big question first: What will Seed grow? Could Seed grow Grub’s favorite food, mouthwatering cheeseburgers? Seed isn’t sure what a cheeseburger is exactly, but . . . maybe!
And so begins a hilarious friendship following two unlikely strangers learning more about the other and discovering the pressure that comes with fulfilling expectations. Author-illustrator Monica Arnaldo will leave readers giggling and clamoring for more in this charming story that celebrates the unexpected—and how the most special friendships bloom only when we are unapologetically ourselves.
The Scrumptious Life of Azaleah Lane
Mama and Daddy are heading out of town, which means Azaleah and her sisters get to spend the weekend at Auntie Sam’s. The girls can’t wait for their special weekend! Azaleah even decides to bake cookies to surprise her parents when they return. After all, as Mama says, “Cooking for someone is like giving them a gift.” But the cookies are a disaster! Azaleah is stumped. She’s sure she did everything right. Can Azaleah get to the bottom of the cookie catastrophe before Mama and Daddy get back?
Camila the Record Breaking Star
After reading about kid record-breakers, Camila dreams of breaking a record of her own. But which world record should she tackle? No matter what she tries, Camila finds that breaking records is hard. Will she ever become a record-breaking star?
Journey to the Moon #1 (Astronaut Girl)
Val, aka Astronaut Girl, is just your typical eight-year-old scientist. She has her own laboratory and conducts experiments with her crew–her cat and baby brother. She loves science and knows everything about outer space. That’s why she’s surprised to learn that her new neighbor Wallace would rather talk about a fake space show than about real missions. But when Astronaut Girl, Wallace, and the Astro crew get lost on their own lunar adventure, they must all work together to find their way back home.
Exciting, easy-to-read books are the stepping stone a young reader needs to bridge the gap between being a beginner and being fluent.
Introducing Starla Jean!
She’s full of moxie, clever as a fox, and obsessed with catching a chicken she finds at the park.
When Starla first sees the scrawny bird wandering around, she just knows they’re destined for one another. Her dad says, “If you can catch it, you can keep it,” and Starla Jean is not one to back down from a challenge.
Knight of the Cape
All Dominguita wants to do is read. Especially the books in Spanish that Abuela gave to her just before she moved away. They were classics that Abuela and Dominguita read together, classics her abuela brought with her all the way from Cuba when she was a young girl. It helps Dominguita feel like Abuela’s still there with her.
One of her favorites, Don Quixote, tells of a brave knight errant who tries to do good deeds. Dominguita decides that she, too, will become a knight and do good deeds around her community, creating a grand adventure for her to share with her abuela. And when the class bully tells Dominguita that girls can’t be knights, Dom is determined to prove him wrong. With a team of new friends, can Dominguita learn how to be the hero of her own story
Too Small Tola
In a trio of droll stories, award-winning author and storyteller Atinuke debuts an endearing and enduring character with plenty to prove. Tola lives in an apartment in the busy city of Lagos, Nigeria, with her sister, Moji, who is very clever; her brother, Dapo, who is very fast; and Grandmommy, who is very bossy. Tola may be small, but she’s strong enough to carry a basket brimming with groceries home from the market, and she’s clever enough to count out Grandmommy’s change. When the faucets in the apartment break, it’s Tola who brings water from the well. And when Mr. Abdul, the tailor, has an accident and needs help taking his customers’ measurements, only Tola can save the day. Atinuke’s trademark wit and charm are on full display, accompanied by delightful illustrations by Onyinye Iwu. Too Small Tola evokes the urban bustle and rich blending of cultures in Lagos through the eyes of a little girl with an outsize will—and an even bigger heart.
Aven Green Sleuthing Machine
Third-grader Aven Green has been solving mysteries for a whole month—cracking such cases as The Mystery of the Cranky Mom. But can this perceptive detective solve two cases at the same time? First her teacher’s lunch bag disappears. Then Aven’s great-grandma’s dog goes missing. Fortunately, since Aven was born without arms, all the “arm” cells went to her super-powered brain instead. (That’s her theory.) This hilarious chapter book showcases a new side to Dusti Bowling’s unforgettable protagonist.
Maybe Maybe Marisol
Introducing eight-year-old Marisol Rainey—an irresistible new character from Newbery Medalist and New York Times–bestselling Erin Entrada Kelly! Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey is an illustrated novel about summer, friendship, and overcoming fears, told with warm humor and undeniable appeal. Fans of Clementine, The Year of Billy Miller, and Ramona the Pest will be thrilled to meet Marisol. Features black-and-white throughout by Erin Entrada Kelly.
Marisol Rainey’s mother was born in the Philippines. Marisol’s father works and lives part-time on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. And Marisol, who has a big imagination and likes to name inanimate objects, has a tree in her backyard named Peppina . . . but she’s way too scared to climb it. This all makes Marisol the only girl in her small Louisiana town with a mother who was born elsewhere and a father who lives elsewhere (most of the time)—and the only girl who’s fearful of adventure and fun.
Will Marisol be able to salvage her summer and have fun with Jada, her best friend? Maybe. Will Marisol figure out how to get annoying Evie Smythe to leave her alone? Maybe. Will Marisol ever get to spend enough real time with her father? Maybe. Will Marisol find the courage to climb Peppina? Maybe.
Told in short chapters, with illustrations by the author on almost every page, Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey is a must-have for early elementary grade readers. Erin Entrada Kelly celebrates the small but mighty Marisol, the joys of friendship, and the triumph of overcoming your fears in this effervescent new novel for readers of Kevin Henkes, Meg Medina, Andrew Clements, Judy Blume, and Kate DiCamillo.
Jo Jo Makoons : The Used-to-Be Best Friend
Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn—about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.
Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore…
Wednesday Wilson Gets Down to Business
In the first entertaining installment in a new early chapter book series, one unfortunate kale incident isn’t enough to stop the unbeatable Wednesday Wilson from pursuing her entrepreneurial dreams — or is it?
The most important thing to know about Wednesday Wilson is that she’s an entrepreneur. She hasn’t started any businesses yet, but she’s pretty sure today is the day. She and her best friend, Charlie (Wednesday’s future Vice President of Operations), with some help from her little brother, Mister, have made a list of potential businesses. But before they get to move forward on one, there’s an unfortunate incident in class with the Emmas (whose last initials happen to spell M.E.A.N.) involving a bearded dragon named Morten and a piece of kale . . . it’s a long story. It figures that Wednesday’s archnemeses would be the ones to mess up her plans! But maybe all is not lost. Maybe this is just the opportunity Wednesday and her friends needed to come up with a brilliant business idea that will save the day and make them millionaires. Or . . . not?
With its fresh voice, diverse cast of lovable and relatable characters and delightfully determined heroine, Bree Galbraith’s illustrated early chapter book series hits the spot for beginning readers (and their grown-ups!). Endearing black-and-white drawings by Morgan Goble add nuance and clarity and help guide the story forward for early readers. Definitions of vocabulary words, all related to business, appear as footnotes throughout the text.
Maya and the Robot
Maya’s nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year won’t be anything like the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends.
She tries to put on a brave face since they are in fifth grade now, but Maya is nervous! Just when too much seems to be changing, she finds a robot named Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac’s convenience store closet. Once she uses her science skills to get him up and running, a whole new world of connection opens up as Ralph becomes a member of her family and Maya begins to step into her power.
There they are: 30 of the best picture books and chapter books to read in 2021! If you missed it, you can also check out my list of 91 middle-grade books to read in 2021.
Which other 2021 picture books and chapter books are you excited to read? I’d love to hear your recommendations!