January 07


OUR TOP TEN FAVORITE FICTION PICTURE BOOKS OF 2016 by Holly Mueller and her 6th Grade Class

For several weeks in December my 6th graders have been reading and reviewing many of this year’s picture books in order to choose contenders for the 2017 Caldecott Award, which will be announced on January 23rd.  I always like to watch the ALA Youth Media Awards with my classes, but it’s way more exciting to watch if you have read the winners!  I gathered about 50 “buzz” books from book lists and blog posts and piled them up on the front table in my classroom. We concentrated on fiction picture books before our holiday break, and after break we will take a look at nonfiction.  It’s always interesting to see what kids pick as their favorites!  Here are our top ten titles:



Ida, ALWAYS by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso


Lauren finished this book and looked up from it at the end with big tears in her eyes.  She immediately picked it as her favorite.  Abby, Braden, and Viktoria all agreed.  Although it is very sad, we all thought the friendship Ida and Gus shared was extremely special and that the zookeeper played a special part in helping Gus cope with his great loss.  Consider pairing it with the beautiful book, Always Remember by Cece Meng and Jago.

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen


My students LOVE Klassen’s hat trilogy.  The dark humor, the hilarious expressions on the animals’ faces, and the discussions about what the endings really mean make these books favorites every year. Marah, Hailey, and Sophia picked this as their favorite and loved how it ended the trilogy.  Even though they enjoyed the dark humor of the previous two, they liked the happy compromise that came with the finale.  I will continue to share this trilogy with students every year!



King Baby by Kate Beaton


Lots of laughter surrounded this book.  Peyton, Nicole, Kayley, Emi, and Connor all picked this as their favorite.  This book has great “kid appeal” with the funny King Baby expressions and haughty, kingly announcements, the good-intentioned, loving, but exhausted subjects (parents), and twist ending.  If King Baby thinks he can keep ruling, he’s got another thing comin’ with the arrival of…(I won’t spoil the finale.)



Dear Dragon by Josh Funk and Rodolfo Montalvo


What a clever book!  Aaron, Hunter, and Braden loved this book best.  They thought it was fun to see how each character reflected his own perspective through his thought bubbles when reading his pen pal’s letters and contrasting that with the reality of what really happened.  Aaron noticed one of the things that showed a friendship developing was the letter greetings and closings.  That’s close reading!  This is a wonderful book for discussions on acceptance and celebration of differences.  I’d like to use it in the future for our 5th grade Empathy and Diversity unit.



A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins


We couldn’t help but compare this to Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat with its dark humor and sarcastic tone.  We loved the turtle.  Kyle and Luke chose this book as their favorite.  Another similar book popped up as a favorite, but I don’t think it’s eligible for a Caldecott: Little Red by Bethan Woollvin.  You can tell my 6th graders enjoy these kinds of tales!



The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas


This book captivated Sophia.  She loved the idea of having the job of uncorking ocean bottles and delivering messages. Can you imagine all the amazing messages that come floating over the waves? The quiet tone and muted colors capture the man’s loneliness, but we love how his sad eyes and tired face lifts into joy when he arrives at the party.  Wonderful cast of characters, too!  It’s a beautiful book in story and pictures; Erin Stead is one of my favorite children’s illustrators.  Every book she illustrates is something special.  

The Storyteller by Evan Turk


The Storyteller is Christopher’s top choice, along with the next book featured.  

Evan Turk implores us to remember the storytellers.I love the beautiful illustrations – reds, browns, greens, blues. lots of movement.  The repeated line, “…that is a story for another day”, reminds me of the read alouds my students love, and how they accuse me of stopping on cliffhangers to torture them. I always tell them, “Now you have a reason to come back tomorrow!”  Turk has another 2016 book out, Be the Change: A Grandfather Ghandi Story that I’m going to use in the future for our Social Responsibility unit.


Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis


We all had fun trying to figure out the bug language in this one.  Carson Ellis’s illustrations are gorgeous.  I remember loving Ellis’s book Home from last year.  This book is certainly unique, and kids and adults alike won’t be able to look at it just once; it’s one that begs multiple readings!  This was Christopher’s other favorite book.  Interesting that he picked two very different kinds of stories!



I Am Pan by Mordecai Gerstein


Sixth graders LOVE mythology, so this is Karlie’s favorite.  Sophia asked if this is our introduction to the mythology unit we’re going to delve into later this year.  I loved Gerstein’s 2014 Caldecott Medal-winning book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.  I read it aloud almost every year to my students to commemorate September 11th.  This one is FULL of high-spirited, colorful, playful illustrations, reflecting the wild character of Pan.

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Christian Robinson


This book was originally published in 1965, but was newly illustrated this year by 2016 Caldecott Honoree, Christian Robinson.  This was a controversial pick by Isabella.  Not all of us loved it, but it was her favorite because she felt like the theme was to show kindness.  Some other kids chimed in and thought it celebrated childhood.  At first it bothered me that the kids were smiling as they carried the bird to the grave, then they cried profusely, and then they smiled and laughed again. I guess that is true to young children, though – life is meant to be celebrated, death mourned, emotions are full and swift.  I like that my students helped me look at this book in a new light.


Holly Mueller is a gifted intervention specialist who teaches accelerated 5th/6th grade ELA at Columbia Intermediate School in Kings Local School District in Ohio.  She loves to read, teach, write, learn, hang out with friends and family, walk her dog, and travel. Holly is a frequent presenter at literacy conferences.  Books cover every corner in her house and classroom.  She blogs at Reading, Teaching, Learning and tweets as @muellerholly.  She is a recent recipient of the District 4 Ohio Teacher of the Year award.