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15 Of Our Favorite Picture Books For Curious Kids, By LA Authors
Prowl with P-22, trace the life of a famed Black architect, Paul R. Williams, and meet a flower-spouting monster. There’s an illustrated story for readers of all kinds.

It's often said that picture books can be windows and mirrors — an opportunity to explore the vast diversity of the world and see ourselves reflected back.

These experiences are particularly important for children, but also ageless.

We wanted to showcase colorful stories from L.A.-area creators and turned to local authors, librarians, booksellers and LAist readers for their top picks. Most of the titles came out in the last few years and we included a few oldies, but goodies.

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Anzu the Great Kaiju

A book cover depicting a yellow dinosaur-like monster with orange spikes reaching toward a pink butterfly. The title reads Anzu The Great Kaiju.
(Courtesy Roaring Brook Press)

Benson Shum (Roaring Brook Press)

Kaiju are supposed to be terrifying monsters, but instead of striking fear into people’s hearts, Anzu showers them with flowers. My eyes got misty reading about the gentle yellow monster with an appreciation for nature’s small wonders.

Disney animator and illustrator Bensom Shum’s book has been a storytime favorite at Montrose children’s book institution, Once Upon a Time, all year and was recommended by two others LAist talked to.

“His family is trying to figure out what to do with him,” said manager Jessica Palacios. “They learn that he can be the best kaiju… just by being who he is.”


Brown Is Beautiful

A book cover shows a girl with medium skin tone and hair in pig tails holding up a rust-colored autumn leaf. She is surrounded by pink, orange and teal flowers and more fall leaves. The title reads Brown Is Beautiful.
(Courtesy MacMillan)
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Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Noor Sofi (Macmillan/FSG)

A young girl and her grandparents set out for an adventure, camera in hand. Burbank illustrator Noor Sofi’s expansive landscapes show the many rich shades of brown that color our natural world from twisted tree roots to fall leaves and the tips of eagle wings.

“Because I never saw heroes that looked like me, it was hard for me to believe that I could be the main character in my life,” Sofi wrote on Instagram. “Here’s to the kid who will read this book and realize they are beautiful and have so much to offer the world!”


Cougar Crossing

A book cover depicting a large tan mountain lion walking down a brown slope with a cityscape in the background. The title reads Cougar Crossing.
(Courtesy Beach Lane Books)

Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Alexander Vidal (Beach Lane Books)

A pictorial origin story of L.A.’s most famous, twitchy tailed big cat. Los Angeles illustrator Alexander Vidal captures the perfect feline, flat-eared look of annoyance when researchers dart and collar P-22.

The book is packed with facts about our puma neighbors and doesn’t shy away from P-22’s less-flattering moments, like the suspected killing of an L.A. Zoo koala. The story ultimately ends with a message of harmony with nature, but doesn’t skimp on the factors that make such peace challenging, whether it’s failed wildlife crossing projects, rodent poison or L.A.’s infamous highway crossings.


Courageous Camila

An illustration of a young medium skin toned girl with curly hair that falls just above her shoulders and small hoop earrings reading a book. Images of a female martial arts fighter, a knight and an indigenous warrior float about her head.
(Courtesy Naibe Reynoso
/
Con Todo Press )

Naibe Reynoso and Giselle Carrillo, illustrated by Maria Tuti (Con Todo Press)

When Camila Guerrera spots a martial arts studio on the way home from the laundromat, she’s intrigued, but hesitant. Camila’s journey to find her courage has a few bumps along the way.

“You shouldn’t be afraid,” Mamá tells her. “You come from a long line of warriors.” That line includes Mamá, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, learned a new language, and started her own business.

“It's an encouraging story, especially for girls, to try things that they're not comfortable with,” said MiJa Books owner Stephanie Moran Reed. It’s a “Spanglish” book — written mostly in English with Spanish words sprinkled in.


Curve and Flow

A book cover depicting a young boy with a dark skin tone and pencil behind his ear, holding up a drawing of a building. The title reads Curve and Flow.
(Courtesy Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

This biography of Paul R. Williams richly illustrates his journey from orphaned Black boy to famed architect sought out by mid-century celebrities. L.A. author Andrea J. Loney details the racism of the time — whether it’s Williams’ doubting guidance counselor or his inability to visit as a guest the Beverly Hills hotel he helped redesign.

Housing covenants stopped Black families, including Williams’ own, from owning homes in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles. Loney writes that while researching the book, she found her own Inglewood home’s deed barred anyone who wasn’t Caucasian from living there. Regardless of age, this book is an opportunity to examine the wrongs of the past, how people navigated them, and contemplate how those challenges still exist today.

Bonus recommendation: Joanna Fabicon, a senior librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library, also loves Loney’s Double Bass Blues, an onomatopoeic adventure about an aspiring young musician.


Families, Families, Families!

A book cover depicting several groupings of animals including two large pandas and a smaller panda, a large pink pig and a gray hairy pig holding a baby pink pig, two small pink pigs, a small gray hairy pig and a green pig. There is also two turtles and spider and a framed photo of a male and female lion each holding a cub. The title reads Families, Families, Families.
(Random House Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.)

Suzanne and Max Lang (Random House Books For Young Readers)

Through a series of animal portraits, L.A. husband and wife duo Suzanne and Max Lang show that families come in many shapes and sizes whether it’s with two roosters (dads) or walrus grandparents.

“I'm a single parent and early on, I wanted to demonstrate different family structures outside the nuclear family,” San Gabriel Valley mom Kathy told LAist. “My daughter loves this book because of the rhyming and the illustrations.”

Bonus recommendation: Early childhood engagement producer Stefanie Ritoper’s family is also a big fan of Lang's book Grumpy Monkey.


It’s In You: A Story For Big Dreamers

The cover of a book with an illustration of a girl with dark skin tone and curly hair. She wears a pink shirt with purple sleeves and blue shorts. She reaches a hand toward a yellow, purple and pink butterfly. The title is It's In You A Book For Big Dreamers.
(Courtesy Sharifa Anozie
/
The Sacred Word )

Sharifa Anozie, illustrated by Claudio Espinosa (The Sacred Word)

Curious Ella wonders what the small white cocoon she finds outside might turn into one day. The caterpillar that emerges insists he’ll fly, and even touch the sky, but he is met with skepticism from the other garden residents.

“The story is using the metaphor of a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly to discover that, you know, all the power and beauty, you had it within you this whole time,” Moran Reed said.


Lil Libros — assorted titles

Two women with medium-light skin tones sit on a pile of shipping boxes marked Lil Libros holding colorful picture books. There is also three books to the right site of that image. From top to bottom their covers show a skull with a large hat decorated in flowers, a medium-light skin tone woman holding a microphone in a purple jumpsuit and a menorah.
(Brian Feinzimer/ Lil Libros)

L.A. moms Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein teamed up in 2014 to found a bilingual children’s press that would create the books they wanted their families to grow up with.

They've reportedly sold more than 1.5 million books, including a series of board book biographies of famous Latinos like singer Selena, artist Basquiat and labor leader Dolores Huerta. Other books are lessons in foundational developmental concepts. In “La Catrina,” a rosy-cheeked version of the skeleton figure introduces kids to emotion words — curiosa, scared, and sorprendida!


My Papi Has A Motorcycle

A book cover depicting a girl with medium skin tone, a purple helmet, green glasses and a pink shirt. Her long brown hair blows in the wind as she holds into her Papi, who has a white shirt, goatee and black helmet. The title reads My Papi Has A Motorycle.
(Courtesy Kokila)

Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña (Kokila)

When Daisy Ramona’s Papi buckles on her helmet, his hands "feel like all the love he has trouble saying." Together they zoom past neighborhood favorites — the tortilleria, carnicería, Abuelita’s church, and the mural commemorating the farmworkers foundational to the community.

Inland Empire author Isabel Quintero’s book is inspired by her hometown of Corona. The book ends with Daisy’s reflections on the city’s changes and all those yet to come.


Paper Kingdom

The cover of a book shows a boy with medium-light skin tone and dark hair that sticks up a bit in the front sitting on a stack of books, wearing a crown. A man and woman with similar features mop and vacuum in the background. Paper flutters int he air and a dragon flies overhead. The title reads The Paper Kingdom.
(Courtesy Random House Books For Young Readers
/
LAist)

Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Pascal Campion (Random House Books For Young Readers)

Though this book was written in pre-pandemic times, the catalyst for the plot is something many parents are now familiar with — balancing work with scarce child care. But with a little imagination, the towering glass office building Daniel’s parents clean transforms into a mythic kingdom.

L.A. author Helena Ku Rhee draws from her own experiences growing up as the daughter of Korean immigrants in L.A. “I know that life was hard for my parents,” Rhee says. “But as a child, your imagination is running free and wild.”


Rafa Counts on Papá

A book cover depicting a young boy with medium skin tone, glasses, jeans, suspenders and white shirt on clutches an orange from the tree above while siting on Papá's shoulders. Papá has a green shirt, glasses and a yellow hat. He holds a basket of oranges. The title reads Rafa Counts on Papá.
(Courtesy Little, Brown and Company)

Joe Cepeda (Little, Brown and Company)

Rafa and his Papá can measure the length of a toy train, tree branches, and fluffiness of pillows, But can they measure love?

Is it comparable to the scrumptiousness of a sandwich? The pair aim to find out. Book creatorJoe Cepeda was born and raised in East Los Angeles, calls Claremont home now, and has illustrated more than 30 children’s books.


Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

The cover of a book shows a Chinese American woman in a peach colored dress with long sleeves. There is a pink flower in her short black hair and she holds a glowing paper lantern. The title reads Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story.
(Courtesy Lee & Low Books Inc.)

Paula Yoo, illustrated by Lin Wang (Lee & Low Books)

Anna May Wong grew up working at her family’s laundromat in L.A.’s original Chinatown and went on to become “Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star.”

Author Paula Yoo writes at the end of the book “many scholars and fans have realized how much Anna May struggled in her fight against discrimination in the movie industry. Critics now praise Anna May’s ability to portray her limited roles with humanity and sympathy.”

Earlier this year Wong earned another first — first Asian American to appear on U.S. currency. The Anna May Wong quarter is one of the first in a line of coins honoring American women.


The Trouble With Penguins

A book cover showing a boy with a hooded white knit jacket holding a forked stick with a marshmallow on it. A penguin places his flippers on the boys shoulders. Five penguins peak in from the right and left edges of the frame. One is attempting to eat the boy's marshmallow. The title reads The Trouble with Penguins.
(Courtesy Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group)

Rebecca Jordan-Glum (Roaring Brook Press)

What starts as a few roasted marshmallows among penguin pals turns into an ice-shattering disaster. It’s a story about our shared climate emergency, but it’s also one about what can be accomplished through goodwill and cooperation.

“This book doesn't offer the solutions,” L.A. author and illustrator Jordan-Glum told us last year. “It gives us hope that maybe we can find them ourselves.”


The Veterinarian Fashion Designer

A book cover depicts a girl with medium-dark skin tone and curly dark brown hair pinned back by white barrettes. She wears a white coat and a stethoscope. She holds a clipboard. Two dogs sit at her feet, a parrot and bug are perched on her shoulder. The title reads The Veterinarian Fashion Designer.
(Courtesy Nadine A. Luke
/
NJ Luke Publishing)

Nadine A. Luke, illustrated by Laraib Fatima (NJ Luke Publishing)

A veterinarian fashion designer? In the words of protagonist Tiara, “Yes, you heard me right.”

The book is the first in Southern California educator Nadine A. Luke’s "I Can Be That Too" series, which explores different careers. “We're in the age of representation,” said Malik Muhammad, who owns the eponymous book store. "There are very few books showing, you know, Black girls being doctors, dentists, in any other science field.”


What Riley Wore

A book cover depicts an illustration of a shirtless child with medium-light skin tone and short black hair wearing yellow star-shaped sunglasses. Their left hand is on their hip. The title reads What Riley Wore.
(Courtesy Beach Lane Books)

Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Linda Davick (Beach Lane Books)

Riley’s closet offers many options: mismatched socks, purple jeans, a spiked hat, red rubber boots, aviator goggles and “the world’s best tutu.” When Riley dons them all, the kids at the park ask “Are you a girl or a boy?” Riley replies “Today, I’m a firefighter. And a dancer. And a monster hunter. And a pilot. And a dinosaur.” Iconic.

“[The story] supports being led by the child's imagination and the child's choices,” said Joanna Fabicon, a senior librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library. ”It's just a great supportive message.”


Still Stumped? Try These Local Children’s Book Shops

Here are a few questions to consider while browsing — what is the recipient interested in? Are you trying to start a conversation about a larger topic?

“A good book means that you go to reread it [and] you find something new,” said Once Upon A Time’s Jessica Palacios.

The booksellers LAist interviewed say they love helping people find something to match a reader's interests — whether it’s superheroes or slugs.

"We want to make sure that they find a book to feed their soul to feed their spirit," Muhammad, of Malik Books, said.

The convenience of online shopping is mighty tempting, but if you have time, visit these local children’s book sellers irl.

  • Children’s Book World— A west L.A. outpost for children’s books. In Rancho Park: 10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd.
  • LA Librería— Specializes in Spanish-language books for kids. In Mid-City: 4732 W. Washington Blvd.
  • Malik Books— African American books and gifts, including for children. In Crenshaw: 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite 245. In Culver City: Westfield Culver City Mall, 6000 Sepulveda Blvd.
  • MiJa Books— Multicultural and diverse children’s books. In Lakewood: 500 Lakewood Center Mall Space 039
  • Once Upon A Time Bookstore—The oldest continuously running children’s book purveyor. In Montrose: 2207 Honolulu Ave.

And while this is a gift guide, you can also find many of these books at your local library— for free!

LAist made the final call on which books to include, but we got recommendations from several people. Thanks to authors Helena Ku Rhee and Rebecca Jordan-Glum, MiJa Books owner Stephanie Moran Reed, Once Upon A Time Bookstore manager Jessica Palacios, Malik Books owner Malik Muhammad, Los Angeles Public Library Senior Librarian Joanna Fabicon, Leland R. Weaver Library Children’s Librarian Stephanie Lien, and Lee and Low Books Marketing Director Jenny Choy for their suggestions.