The Top Ten Picture Books of 2017 for the Elementary Classroom (and Beyond)

Picture books are powerful tools for children to start understanding the world around them. Authors and illustrators of picture books covered a wide range of topics in 2017. They tackled fears, friends, family, and fun. Picking out the best ten picture books of the year was no easy task because so many important books were published and need to be read to our students. After reading these ten books, take a trip to your local library to find even more tools to help your students understand the world God has created.

Where Oliver Fits by Cale Atkinson

Where Oliver Fits has been one of the most circulated picture books in my library this year. Oliver is a puzzle piece who doesn’t know where he fits. He wants to be part of “something exciting . . . something wild . . . something out of this world!” (4-6). But everywhere Oliver looks, he is told no. Oliver tries everything to fit in, but nothing seems to work! He eventually decides to change who he is in order to find his place, but is he happy? How long can he keep up with this disguise? Where Oliver Fits is a must-read-and-discuss book. Cale Atkinson has filled this book with delightful illustrations, which provide a springboard for great discussions. Where do we fit? To what lengths do we go in order to find our place? Are we aware of others who are also looking for their place? Where Oliver Fits should be in every classroom and home.

Triangle by Mac Barnett

When Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen create a book together (i.e., Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and Extra Yarn), magic happens! Triangle is their first book in the Shape Trilogy. Square will be released on May 8 this year, and Circle is due out in 2019. In Triangle, we meet Triangle and Square, who are friends but live in different places. Triangle leaves his triangle house one day to play a sneaky trick on his friend Square. We journey with Triangle past big and small triangles and then past shapes that have no names until we finally reach Square’s home. Triangle successfully plays a trick on Square, but when Square figures out it was Triangle, he chases Triangle and plays his own trick. The book leaves the reader wondering, Was Square’s sneaky trick part of his plan all along or did it just work out that way? Students at different grade levels pick up on different aspects of this book. Younger students enjoy debating the ending while older students wonder why Triangle and Square both live in places with their specific shapes. Triangle is sure to have your students asking questions and looking for answers in the next two books.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

How do we deal with our fears? How do we treat others’ fears? Jabari has completed his swim lessons and is ready to jump off the diving board. The only problem is that the diving board is very high and Jabari is nervous. Jabari acts brave while finding all sorts of excuses for why he isn’t climbing the ladder to jump. Jabari’s dad is patient and encouraging and never acknowledges that he knows Jabari is afraid; instead he gives great advice for overcoming fears. With bright illustrations that give great perspective, Jabari Jumps is a perfect book to leap into discussions about fear, overcoming fear, perseverance, and never giving up.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt

Drew Daywalt, author of The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home, has written a clever story of how the game rock-paper-scissors came to be. Three great warriors—Rock, Paper, and Scissors—are all undefeated in battle. Each warrior longs for a worthy opponent but is unable to find one in his or her own realm. When the three warriors find each other and epic battles ensue, they realize that they have each found their match. Adam Rex’s whimsical illustrations add to the humor and fun of this book. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors is fun to read aloud (be prepared with different voices) and would be a great way to kick off a legend and folktale unit.

You Don’t Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman

No book made students laugh louder this year than Ame Dyckman’s You Don’t Want a Unicorn! A little boy makes a wish and throws a coin into a water fountain . . . POOF! A unicorn appears. Having a unicorn seems like a fun idea, but the little boy soon learns the truth about owning a unicorn: they shed glitter, poop cupcakes, and throw wild unicorn parties. He has to make a decision to quickly wish all the unicorns away before his house is completely destroyed. Will he wish them away in time, or will he be stuck with these cute but destructive animals? You Don’t Want a Unicorn! is a hilarious read-aloud book, especially if you ask students to read the sound effects! Look under the dust jacket before reading this book in order to learn the names of the unicorns, and I would also suggest watching the book trailer on YouTube, which adds to the hilarity of the book.

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Mary Jo Staal is a pre-K–5th librarian at Hudsonville Christian School in Hudsonville, Michigan.