10 picture books to shine a positive light in 2020
Published on: 17 February 2020
Author Rachel Bright picks her top positive picture books to share with little ones in 2020
As a storyteller, professional optimist (!) and parent, I think that books which shine a positive light for our little ones are more important than ever to bring into any home. The ripple effect of a beautiful message can be enormous and there is a poetry all of its own to picture books. Every word has to earn its place on the page and somehow, that has this magical distillation effect… it brings thoughts into sharp focus. When we sit down to share a story, which we so often do with picture books, we share big ideas. Often they are read many times over and so they become mantras in our lives without, perhaps, even consciously knowing it.
I was compelled to collaborate on The Worrysaurus with the amazing Chris Chatterton to take a positive look at anxious feelings. We wanted to create a story which shows it’s normal to feel anxious sometimes, but that often those feelings stem from worrying about past or future or things (which haven’t even happened yet!) and things we can’t control. As Mark Twain put it, "I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened"!
Finding ways to come back to the wonder of the present moment is a choice we can all make with the right tools. We have all felt the blue butterfly of worry inside at one point or another and finding ways to release it is a gift you can take into your everyday life. If our book helps even one little worrier (or big worrier for that matter!), then something amazing will have happened.
When considering the best of positive picture books out there I found it a challenge to choose only ten, since there are so many amazing books to choose from - but in the end, I went to my daughter's shelves to seek out the ones which are dog-eared and well-thumbed. The ones that bring a smile to our faces every time we share them together, since this seemed like a good place to start. I hope you enjoy some or all of these… they never fail to make a day better for us:
Oh! The Places You'll Go! - Dr Seuss
This is just such a classic tale told with such quirky imagination. It is a fable and a guide for a life well lived and as much for small ones as grown-ups. It beautifully captures the up-and-down nature of life and how, ultimately, as long as you keep moving on your journey, then you are doing very well indeed! I have gifted this book so many times and we have no less than three copies in our house which have been gifted to me and my girls!
Harold and the Purple Crayon - Crockett Johnson
This is just perfection in picture book form for me, along with my other Crockett Johson selection in this list. It speaks of the power of imagination, and how we create our own worlds through what we think and perceive – an incredibly empowering idea for little ones. Imagine knowing, right from the beginning of life, that the power is in your hands to change everything and anything for the better. I have based whole talks and courses on this book! A must-have for every shelf.
The Carrot Seed - Crockett Johnson
Another deceptively simple stroke of genius in picture book form. All about perseverance and believing in your own dreams, this book has so few words but so much power. I wish I’d known it as a child. I revisit it regularly now.
Little Answer and Cyril the Lonely Cloud - Tim Hopgood
I absolutely love Tim’s work. Always joyful. Always beautiful. I actually stumbled across his prolific works when I got Little Answer out from the library whilst on holiday with my eldest daughter, River. We snuggled up in bed to read it and it had us laughing and latterly, once she had fallen asleep, it had me marvelling at Tim’s deft lightness of touch with such a profound message. Really – I encourage you to look at all his books, but these two in particular.
Extra Yarn – Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
I have long been a fan of Jon Klassen’s illustrations which hold so many layers even in their graphic simplicity. When I saw this one I had to get it and boy, it doesn’t disappoint. Mac Barnett has woven (or knitted!) a wonderful story about perseverance and the importance of following your bliss, doing what you love and why that prevails. A wonderfully rich tale for all ages.
Mr Tiger Goes Wild - Peter Brown
This book as everything! It’s just so funny and profound at the same time. It’s about being true to yourself. It’s about being part of a community and how shining your own light can change your world for the better. It’s also about a tiger who takes off his dinner jacket to dive into a fountain! Amazing illustrations too. I highly recommend it.
Two Frogs - Chris Wormell
Though not an obvious choice perhaps, this is a hilarious and ultimately positive story about two frogs – one is carefree and the other one worries about every conceivable worst-case scenario. I found my copy in a second-hand book shop even before my children were born. It’s been treasured ever since and is picked by both River (5) and Sky (2) all the time. It reminds us all of the dichotomy of being present in the now, yet excited about / prepared for the future. Gorgeously masterful illustrations too.
My Heart - Corinna Luyken
I read very recently a review of this book and it spoke to me immediately. Gosh it’s breathtaking in its simplicity. Totally different to the funnier, more raucous ones in this selection, it’s quiet and thoughtful, but in the best possible way – a great one for a bedtime choice. If we all embraced every feeling and understood that our heart wears many coats (and that that’s ok), I think we’d all enjoy the journey of life a little more. A wonderful read.
How to Heal a Broken Wing – Bob Graham
I’m a big fan of Bob Graham’s work. He captures something otherworldly in the way he uses words so sparingly and pictures so ethereally. Somehow his stories inhabit the real world and the world of the imagination all at the same time… which, of course, is what small children do so well too! This tale is all about noticing the small things in life, which are often the big things. It’s about hope, optimism and compassion and caring for others. Such a delight!
Nothing - Mick Inkpen
Sometimes, especially when we are small, we can feel like we’re not heard, not seen or that we don’t know our true place in the world yet. So is life for Nothing, a forgotten toy cat in the attic. Little does he know he is actually a treasured family companion who is seen in all his glory by the end of this tale. So touching and so empowering all at the same time. Brings home the importance of connection to make us all feel loved and important. A good antidote to worry and stress!
Matilda - Roald Dahl
I know this is sort of cheating as this is all about picture books and Matilda is a chapter book – but I couldn’t not include it here. Matilda has been read over and over to my now 5 year old, ever since she was only 4. It tells the story, in Dahl's inimitable style, of a little girl overcoming incredible odds and circumstances to shine in life! And she does it all through a love of books and reading. What more can I say… a must have for those ready for a chapter-or-so-a-night with an adult who’s going to enjoy the story and be itching to read the next instalment just as much!
Try these happy books
Looking for an uplifting read for your little one? Explore our booklist below.