The Underdogs: 10 Great Picture Books You May Have Missed in 2017

2017 was an excellent year for picture books: beloved authors and illustrators such as Kate DiCamillo, Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen, and Kadir Nelson released some true gems.  Unfortunately, not all authors receive the same amount of funding or marketing materials to promote their work.  While award committees do an excellent job identifying “underdogs,” it would be virtually impossible for them to read the 27,309 children’s books published last year.[1] Librarians are in a prime spot to identify these small but mighty reads.   Last year, I selected ten of my own favorite “hidden gems” and am back with ten more for 2017. Which ones did you enjoy? Feel free to chime in in the comment section!

Cover image of You Don't Want a UnicornYou Don’t Want a Unicorn by Ame Dychman and illustrated by Liz Climo

In this classic “be careful what you wish for” story, a young boy is urged by the narrator to not wish for a unicorn.  They shed glitter and poop cupcakes, and that is just a lot of work to keep up with.  The sass and banter really make this book: grownups will appreciate the subtle humor, and kids will be rolling on the floor in laughter watching the catastrophe that is owning a pet unicorn unfold. Unicorns are very 2017, and this book feeds perfectly into this cultural phenomenon with humor and wit.


Cover image of Grandma's Tiny HouseGrandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Priscilla Burris

Grandma’s family is gathering together for a meal but as relatives slowly start to spill into her house, she starts to worry that not everyone will fit.  I need to credit my coworker Tara for introducing me to this book. She makes some great points about its content: it is a rhyming counting book that goes up to 15 which is unusual, the daughter is the one to find the solution to the space dilemma, and the occasion of the family get-together is intentionally unspecified which means that the story is well suited for any occasion.

Cover Image of Warts and AllWarts and All: A Book of Unconditional Love by Lori Haskins Houran and illustrated by Sydney Hanson

In a follow-up to “Next to You,” Lori Haskins Houran expresses her unconditional love for her child.  Through simple text and Hanson’s soft illustrations, she details her love amidst the ups and downs of life.  Some baby books can romanticize parenthood but this little book acknowledges its struggles while celebrating the daily joys.

Cover image of 2017 Underdogs book, MarloMarlo by Christopher Browne

Marlo has been a bad boy and is covered in dirt.  His owner sticks him in the bathtub for what seems like a routine bath, until Marlo’s imagination takes him on a wild ride through the ocean. Throughout his aquatic adventure, he meets a jelly fish, an octopus, and even a whale! The illustrations are perfect for a seek-and-find game: a rubber duck and a lobster are hidden on each page.  With limited text, Marlo is a great book for silent reading for children of all ages.

Nope by Drew ShenemanCover image of Nope!

It is a well known fact that baby birds learn to fly by being pushed out their nest by their mothers.  The young avian protagonist of this book is not having it, and resists the mother’s pushing and prodding as much as possible until… she kicks baby right out of the nest! This book reads like a comic strip – it is fast paced with few words, and undergirded by a great moral arc about trust and courage.

Cover photo of There's a Monster in Your BookThere’s  A Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher illustrated by Greg Abbott

The title is fairly descriptive: there’s a monster in the book and the reader needs to try to get him out! The narrator encourages the child to tickle him, shake him, and blow him out.  This is a wonderful interactive story ideal for storytimes.


Cover image of Things to Do with DadThings to Do with Dad by Sam Zuppardi

Good books about dads can be difficult to come by.  They often resort to clichés: dads have no idea how to parent, they aren’t nurturing, and they are incapable of doing housework.  Things to Do with Dad is a wordless book that shatters these stereotypes. It begins with a dad tackling his to-do list for the day.  He invites his son to tag along and they work hard to clean and do chores. The son transforms these mundane tasks into games through creativity and humor.

ABC Pasta: An Entertaining Alphabet by Juana Medina

It’s difficult to write an original alphabet book but Juana Medina has pulled it off with incredible creativity and wit.  ABC pasta features a plethora of different pastas positioned against ink drawings to represent circus scenes.

Cover image from Balderdash!Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Market and Nancy Carpenter

Balderdash portrays the fascinating life of John Newbery and his love for children’s books, which revolutionized the publishing industry.  This picture book biography is perfect for a classroom or school library and is a beautiful celebration of the power of literature and reading.

Cover image of DeliveryDelivery by Aaron Meshon

A grandmother is determined to get a care package in the hands of her grandson, and travels the world to deliver it. This book features many different means of transportation making it a great choice for any child who loves trains and cars.

Cover image of Nutcracker MiceThe Nutcracker Mice by Kristin Kladstrup and illustrated by Brett Helquist

The Nutcracker Mice is an exceptionally creative seasonal middle grade book that captured my heart.  Esmeralda is a young mouse ballerina who is eager to save her slowing eroding ballet troupe. The mice always perform the ballets put on by the human dancers at the St Peterburg’s ballet, but this time the humans are performing a show that is clearly offensive to mice: The Nutcracker. Esmeralda does everything she can to adapt the show for a mouse audience and to convince her fans that the only way the ballet will survive is if they break out of their box and try something new. The author’s precision and attention to detail regarding the world of ballet is evident, and will resonate with any reader.

This is just a sampling of some of the picture books I think deserve additional recognition from 2017. What “hidden gems” do you think should be talked about more? Let us know in the comments below.


Headshot of Katherine HickeyToday’s guest post was written by Katherine Hickey. Katherine is a children’s librarian at the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library Systems.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


[1] Barr, C. & Harbison, C. 2017. Book Title Output and Average Prices: 2012-2016. In Catherine Barr (Ed.), Library and Book Trade Almanac (311-325). Metford, NJ: Information Today.

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