100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

The Circs So Far: The 11 Most Popular Picture Books at Our K-4 School

Books Opening GIF

Why do books get popular in a school library? Aside from just the obvious “It’s entertaining”, there are all sort of reasons why a particular book can get checked out a lot. Here’s a quote I often reflect upon while gazing into the distance:

The unexamined library is not worth librarianing in.

-Travis (with apologies to Socrates – sorry ‘crates)

So I’m going to try to do some detective work on why the following 11 picture books have been the most checked out at our K-4 school library this school year.


Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues by Kimberly & James Dean

No “Most Popular” picture books list is complete without an appearance by Pete. He’s become one of the most recognized characters in children’s literature.


Monster Trucks by Anika Denise, illustrated by Nate Wragg

Great title. Great cover. A natural choice for Halloween time. I read it aloud last school year, and sometimes that little bit of familiarity can last for a long time, which is why every librarian and teacher should be reading picture books to their students all the time (I’m hot saying anything new here).


Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama love seems to be a character that a lot of kids love from home. I think the Llama’s status as a home library mainstay means that more kids pick the book when they see it on our shelves.


Tek: The Modern Caveboy by Patrick McDonnell

Here’s the truth: gimmicks work. And I don’t use gimmick here as a slander. Sometimes a clever gimmick can create a delightfully memorable reading experience (think Robo-Sauce‘s transforming cover). The gimmick here is appropriate: a book that looks like a tablet computer for a story about a technology obsessed cave boy. Some kids think it’s cool. Some think it’s funny. We field a lot of “is the book that looks like an iPad in?” requests.


Words by Christoph Niemann

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell why a book is popular. Usually when an unexpected book gets popular, I assume it’s because a teacher talked up the book or author in class. But with this book, I know exactly why: it’s the longest book in our picture book section. This thing is a brick. I knew when we put it on the shelf that it would get a lot of checkouts because if there is one eternal truth it’s that kids like super long books to carry (and/or read). But it still would be a shelf-sitter if not for Niemann’s playful execution.

Creepy Carrots

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown

We read Creepy Pair of Underwear to classes in October, and that drove renewed interest in its predecessor. Not that it needed much of a boost – this book was already in most checked out of the year territory since it came out.


Mix It Up! by Hervé Tullet

At first I thought these books had huge popularity in our library because I was encouraging it. But man I haven’t talked about the Press Here quadrilogy in a looong time and they are always checked out. I think I was giving myself too much credit – kids are finding these books on their own because they are smart and love fun books.


Disney Frozen: The Enchanted Guide

If you put a Guide to something popular on the shelf, a kid will check it out. This is a fact. We have other guides (for LEGOS, Pokemon, etc.) and the results are similar.


Stable by Ted Lewin

Horse books have always done well at my school – it’s located in an area where horses are a fairly common sight. But man, this year we have been getting a lot of requests for them. This is one of my go-tos when a student asks for horse books (along with this book).

My Pet Book

My Pet Book by Bob Staake

Two big reasons:

  1. I read it aloud at the beginning of the year.
  2. We have a cardboard standee of this book in our picture book section.

Of course, if the book wasn’t as fun as it is, even those two things alone wouldn’t put it on this list.

All Saw a Cat

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

There’s something about this book. We read it during our Mock Caldecott program last year and it continues to be one of the books kids ask for specifically. I think kids get into the idea of different animals perceiving the world differently – it’s definitely unique in that way. And each turn of the page is such a reveal – it’s like the book transforms every time.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Suzanne Tecza says:

    I have all these books on my wishlist! Thanks!