Picture Book Review: Because We All Need to Smile

Slow Down – and Breathe

Today, I forced my 15 and 17 year-old daughters to listen to me read them a book out loud. (They were trapped in the back seat of the car with nowhere to run). As I paged through The Mindful Mr. Sloth by Katy Hudson with its beautiful illustrations and message – I saw my girls smile. The book made a teenager smile!

That’s a superpower.

In Mindful Mr. Sloth, Sasha is always in a hurry. She multi-tasks and finishes things as fast as she can so she can move onto her next adventure.

Then she meets Mr. Sloth. Sasha immediately plans tons of activities and pulls Mr. Sloth behind her. 

Until Mr. Sloth yells, “STOOOOOPP!” He wants Sasha to stop and smell the flowers. He wants her to listen to the birds sing. But Sasha keeps moving.

Sasha enters them in the big race – and she plans to win. As they speed past the others, Mr. Sloth forces Sasha to stop again. This time Sasha listens – to the quiet. And pauses.

Sasha learns that sometimes it’s okay to be fast, but it’s also okay to slow down and soak up the world around her.

My girls might have smiled from a connection to the story, the meaningful message, the cute sloth, or because they believed their mother had lost her mind as she read a picture book out loud. It’s all good.

The Mindful Mr. Sloth is a good lesson for everyone. I need to slow down. Some days it’s okay to miss a party, a game, or a meeting. The moments spent reconnecting with family, friends, or nature will be the moments we remember.

Find a Familiar Language

Drawn Together by Minh Le and Illustrated by (the fabulous) Dan Santat is a picture book that shows how art can bridge barriers. 

When a young boy is dropped off at his grandfather’s house, they struggle to communicate. Until… the boy grabs his marker to draw. Grandpa grabs his paintbrush and they talk – through pictures.

The boy and his grandfather develop a bond – without words. The illustrations are amazing and the interactions of the rich deep colors with the black and white line art is fascinating. Art teachers of the world would love this book to demonstrate that art is a language of its own. 

There are few words in this book, but it speaks volumes. 


A Wise Man of the Sea

I instantly fell in love with the grumpy seaman in Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. After he retires, Captain Swashby lives quietly on his secluded beach with his good friend – the sea.

Until a little girl moves in next door. She has the audacity to play near his shanty and build sandcastles (and she does it wrong!) Swashby decides to leave notes in the sand.

But his old friend, the sea, plays with Swashby’s messages. Over and over Swashby writes messages in the sand, and the next morning the sea has “fiddled with it.”

One day, the little girl splashes her way into the water – and gets swept away. Swashby is there immediately to save her. 

A friendship develops and his hard heart softens. He shows her how to build sandcastles and they become friends. 


Not only does this book have gorgeous, soft illustrations with fun characters, but it plays with language. There is alliteration on almost every page such as: “Neighbors were noisy, a nuisance, annoying” or “It was easy to share his special sea glass.”

The altered messages in the sand are a great lesson for kids to see words hidden within words.  “Now Vanish!” becomes “Wish!” and “Please Go Away” becomes “Play”. And to wrap it up “Thank ye, friend” becomes “The end”.

These picture books brightened my week and found a permanent residence on one of my (many) bookshelves. It should be mentioned that each book includes a diverse cast of characters – because it reflects the world in which we live.

Books are precious – and powerful. Have you read to your teenager today?

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Stay tuned for more picture book reviews and an upcoming installment of scary middle grade and young adult books to help us prepare for Halloween!

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