My own must-read children’s picture books list
(Un)relaxed dad actually created a meme along these lines, and tagged me for it a while back. I thought it was a splendid idea, but never did the meme. Hopefully, this makes up for it.
Last week, I found three different lists of 100 must-read children’s books, but found them all somewhat unsatisfactory. Part of the reason is that they were all too broad — from toddler books to young adult novels. Below is my own list of greatly beloved children’s picture books.
I’ve tried to analyze my list to find a connecting thread, and haven’t really found any consistent one. I do love a compelling story, striking and detailed pictures, a bit of whimsy, and thoughtful, humorous, child-centered writing. I did notice that a number of the books have somewhat of a prodigal, lost-and-found or wandering theme. Hmmm…. Many of these books present a gentle moral without being preachy, and many of them picture loving families. Also, in many of the books on my list, the protagonist must independently overcome some sort of mild peril.
This list currently has 24 books, but, of course, I’ll probably add more as I think of them. Other than the first — my all-time favorite — the books are in no particular order.
- One Morning in Maine, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey.
~This is probably my favorite children’s book ever. The single-color drawings are lovely, the dialogue believeably childlike. Growing up as a girl in the desert, the idea of having to take a boat across the bay to go to the grocery store seemed like a fairytale. I’m so pleased that my three boys have all loved this book, too.
- Blueberries for Sal, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey.
~Close behind One Morning in Maine is this lost-and-found gem. Make Way for Ducklings is surely McCloskey’s best-known work, but these first two are more deserving, in my opinion.
- Harry the Dirty Dog, written by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
~A gentle lost-and-found prodigal story.
- Aesop for Children, illustrated by Milo Winter
~Originally published in 1919, Winter’s illustrations are perfect. And that Aesop guy was pretty bright! 😉 Even when I disagree with his conclusions, the little stories are perfect fodder for discussion.
- The Story about Ping, written by Marjorie Flack, illustrated by Kurt Wiese
~Compelling lost-and-found story which led us to investigate Chinese culture.
- Richard Scarry anything
~All his books are simply classic, full of detail and humor
- Mark Teague anything
~Mark Teague is one of my favorite illustrators, and has written a number of books himself, as well. His work is funny and fabulous. If you’re not familiar with him, do yourself a favor and click the link. We have read upwards of 20 books of his, and each is a delight.
- John Muir, America’s First Environmentalist, written by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Stan Fellows
~This is an absolutely perfect book — lushly detailed and colored illustrations, a compelling story, and non-fiction to boot! It is a perfect readaloud, detailing Muir’s life from his boyhood in Scotland to his travels across the U.S., ending in the Sierra Nevadas.
- Olivia, written and illustrated by Ian Falconer
~Hilarious. Wonderful pictures, too. It’s the board book version that we’re familiar with. We recently had to return this book to the library; we’d had it for the maximum nine weeks, and had read it several times a day. My 16mo daughter is mourning its loss, crying for, “Blee-bee-ah.”
- Magic Schoolbus series, written by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degen
~Nicely detailed, funny blend of fantasy and non-fiction.
- Chester by Syd Hoff
~This is more an early reader than a picture book. It’s my favorite of Syd Hoff’s many excellent children’s books. I named my childhood dog after the title character of this story.
- Parts, written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold
~I’m boggled by those who think this book is too gross. They obviously take themselves far too seriously and need to read MORE books like this to compensate for their lack of a childlike perspective. This book is a hilarious tale of a boy who thinks he’s falling apart because he finds some lint in his bellybutton, something “gray and wet” from his nose, etc. It’s a funny yet reassuring story, perfect for parents to read to their littles.
- Curious George by H.A. Rey
~The original, and still the best. This classic could certainly not get published today; as one Amazon reviewer chastises: “The whole moral issue of the illegal animal trade is ignored. Parents will also probably not appreciate episodes in which George smokes a pipe and engages in other unhealthy or foolish activities.” This wonderful book ignores reality — which many of the best children’s books do — and revels in the absurd.
- Elephants & Emus, collected and illustrated by Philippa-Alys Browne
~This short anthology of rhyming verse is accompanied by Browne’s vibrant and slightly stylized watercolors. Wondrous.
- Katy and the Big Snow, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
~This is Burton’s classic tale of perseverance, with an engaging story and detailed drawings. The middle of the book features a map of the town, where the child can match each of the town’s buildings to its spot on the map. (I’m a sucker for maps.)
- Cowboy Baby, written and illustrated by Sue Heap
~WHY is this book out of print??? Fantastic, colorful illustrations, whimsical, gentle story of a little boy who doesn’t want to go to bed.
- We Were Tired of Living in a House, written by Liesel Moak Skorpen, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
~Brightly and imaginatively illustrated book that, at its heart, proclaims, “There’s no place like home!” It appeals to the adventurous, as it follows four children who go exploring as their parents are distracted by painting their house. This is one of those books whose illustrations have their own story going, apart from the text. I LOVE it when illustrators give careful thought to their pictures; it can add immensely to the appeal of a book. I recently learned that this was originally published with illustrations by Doris Burn (See Andrew Henry’s Meadow, below).
- The Tortoise and the Jackrabbit, written by Susan Lowell, illustrated by Jim Harris
~Richly illustrated retelling of the Aesop fable, set in the Sonoran Desert. The fun and lovely pictures are full of actual native flora and fauna.
- Cowpokes, written by Caroline Stutson, illustrated by Daniel San Souci
~Cowpokes features simple, rhyming text, and lovely, colorful illustrations with native desert flora & fauna. There are “games” we discovered in the book, too, such as hidden animals amongst the cliffs, and locating the groundhog on every page.
- Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland written and illustrated by Tomie de Paola
~I’m not really a huge fan of de Paola, nor am I Catholic. But this stirring historical account of the life of St. Patrick is well-worth a read, and another read, and another…
- Have You Seen My Duckling? by Nancy Tafuri
~This sweet, almost wordless book, tells the tale of a duckling who becomes separated from his family while pursuing a butterfly. Young children will have fun finding him hiding among the pages, and rooting for the mother and the duckling’s siblings to bring him safely back to the nest.
- How I Became a Pirate, written by Melinda Long, illustrated by David Shannon
~This engaging, colorfully detailed book tells the story of a boy who joins up with a group of pirates, thinking that his parents wouldn’t mind “as long as I got back in time for soccer practice the next day.” It, again, is a “no place like home” story, imaginatively illustrated by David Shannon, who is perhaps best known for his slightly irreverent David series which feature childlike drawings.
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, written by Laura Joffe Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond
~This book is on many a best-of list, for good reason. It’s attractively illustrated, imaginative, and based on the “logic” of children (and mice).
- Andrew Henry’s Meadow, written and illustrated by Doris Burn
~My friend John gave this book to my boys a number of years ago, and it’s since been a perennial favorite. The story follows the young inventor Andrew while he basically builds his own reality. As John wrote in Doris Burn’s Wikipedia entry, “Her distinctive style consists of absorbingly detailed line drawings, often of children matter-of-factly doing extraordinary things.” Interestingly, this book is currently in production to become a movie headed by Zach Braff, slated for a 2008 release.
It took me a few days of working to compile this list and find the appropriate pics and links. If anyone is up for the challenge of putting up your own list — with or without pics & links, etc. — I’d love to see it.