Picture books for children almost always impart lessons, but the best ones do so in a way that allows the lesson to unfold naturally as the story progresses. Sometimes these lessons are straightforward. Other times they are subtle. But all of them are written by thoughtful authors who trust their audience to "get it" without having it spelled out for them. These books should be celebrated. Starting with these!
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
This book is the perfect example of a picture book that tells a story while allowing the "lesson" to work itself out naturally. But that doesn't mean this book is shallow. It's a profound yet simple story about dealing with loss.
Another story--told completely through illustrations--about dealing with loss, in this case the loss of a pet. The book is imaginative and heartfelt, and addresses the issue of losing a beloved pet with tenderness and hope.
The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Kayla Harren
This book tells an inspiring true story that will show young readers how much one person can make a difference if they are determined enough.
Grandad's Island by Benji Davies
This is an imaginative and colorful story about a young boy's adventure with his grandfather, with a subtle message about saying good-bye.
The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
This is the story of a little boy and his grandfather, who is slowly losing his memory. This metaphorical tale is engaging and lovely. This book would be great for fostering discussions about what happens when someone suffers from memory loss caused by a disease like Alzheimer's. The story addresses the issue gently and with a message of hope.
In a Jar by Deborah Marcero
Another gorgeously illustrated, imaginative story. This one is about collecting and sharing experiences as part of the joy of friendship. It is also about that difficult but inevitable part of most friendships: moving away. But this book is hopeful too, in the way it shows how friendships can continue over distances and that new friendships are always a possibility.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
This story is very simple and relatable. Who hasn't been frustrated or disappointed and just needed someone to be there to wait, and to listen when you're ready to vent? This book is about the stages of grief and the value of a friend who is simply there to listen.
The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry, illustrated by The Fan Brothers
This is a gorgeous and poignant story about an unlikely and unexpected friendship. It beautifully illustrates the value of helping others and shows that differences don't have to be a hindrance to friendship.
Almost Time by Gary D. Scmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
A simply, lovely book about the value of patience in a story that shows that good things (like real maple syrup) are worth waiting for. Also, life keeps on going even when you're waiting, so don't miss out.
Why? by Adam Rex
Don't let the simple title and cover deceive you. This book is both poignant and hilarious!
Ernestine's Milky Way by Kerry Madden-Lunsford, illustrated by Emily Sutton
A lovely, empowering story about bravery, neighborliness, and freshly churned butter!
After the Fall by Dan Santat
If you can only choose one book from this, make it this one. It's a brilliant, gorgeously illustrated book about overcoming fears.