Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda by Margaret Atwood. This is simply one of my favorites for its joyful romp through language. An alliterative masterpiece, the book is also notable for its illustrations. The artist uses color to represent the nature and transformation of each character.
Everything Charlie and Lola by Lauren Child. I love the relationship between this brother and his younger sister. Every story is packed full with creativity, acknowledgement of age difference between the two, patience, dependence, love, and compassion. They make great points of discussion for sibling relations; we can look to each character and talk about how they felt and behaved in the stories’ situations.
On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole. This is a fun story about a family who decides to late nature reclaim their yard, reaps the benefits of their diverse new ecosystem, and inspires their neighbors to do the same. As a result of this book, we let a large portion of yard do the same thing, and we now have a lovely meadow full of happy little critters.
This Old House by Pamela Duncan Edwards. I so love this book, and the illustrator in particular (Henry Cole). It’s about an old, neglected house that wallows in self-pity until the right family comes along with the vision to turn into a place of love and warmth. I love the connection between family and home, as well as the beauty in seeing potential in what other people can’t.
The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman. This story’s strengths are built on the fabulous characters that rule the narrative. Each kid is eccentric in his or her own way, and these eccentricities – these passions and talents – prove extremely useful in their collective mission to outsmart their Evil Teacher. I love this book for its celebration of seemingly obscure interests.
The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke. This delightful book follows the story of a princess who really just wants to be a knight. She follows her dream in her own unique style, mixing compassion with bravery. I love all the stuff Cornelia Funke writes. As your kids get older, follow her wonderful novels for junior readers, middle school readers, and the young adult crowd too.
Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman. I’m a big Gaiman fan; all of his picture books are very fun! This one deals with the question, “what if there really were wolves in the walls and they come out?” The artwork by Dave McKean is also worthy of noting for its strange and beautiful qualities. In both text and pictures, this is a great choice for kids dealing with fear issues.
Mattland by Hazel Hutchins. This beautifully illustrated book explores building community through creative endeavors. It’s about a new kid who collects friends simply by creating an imaginative city in the mud. I especially love the fact that he builds using whatever’s around him. Transforming.
Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson. This Cinderella story has a positive, girl-power twist. It follows the stories of two young women, one who gets the prince and royal connection, the other who follows a less glamorous yet happy path. Who in the end is happier? Hint: the cover art gives you a clue. Beautiful illustrations, comedy, and a lovely moral message of the things that matter in life.
Green Truck Garden Giveaway by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. This one’s out of print, so I’m sending you to ABE Books, which can hook you up with booksellers of used copies. This is a fantastic story about a couple of eager gardeners who bring buckets, boards, dirt, seeds, and seedlings to a depressed and depressing neighborhood. They gift these gardens to the neighbors, and the story follows the community’s transformation as the gardens grow and build relationships.
Zen Shorts by Jon Muth. The book’s plot is very simple: it’s about a panda who teaches sweet lessons to a small group of kids. I think I love him so much because he’s so patient, even when the kids aren’t behaving beautifully, and it served as a great model for me as a parent. The stories the panda tells can open up some interesting discussions about ethics as it relates to personal contentment.
Any book by Todd Parr. I especially love It’s Okay to Be Different and The Peace Book; Parr is known for his bright, childlike illustrations that captivate the younger crowd. I appreciate how the simplicity of the illustrations matches the simplicity and beauty of his messages. In It’s Okay, Parr tells how it’s ok to be anything – tall or short, big or small, dark or light. Eva’s favorite line: “It’s ok to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub.” This of course, she had to try out for herself.
Patricia Polacco. Polacco is famous for her depth of cultural studies and depictions of very real human connections. I have no specific titles for you; she is a prolific author and worth a wide perusal. I will confess that I’m not personally drawn to her illustration style, though her narrative and characters still bring her to the top of my picture books picks. If you can find it, there’s a great Reading Rainbow episode on Rechenka’s Eggs, pictured to the right. Check that one out near Easter for a fabulous art/cultural study.
Dumpster Diver by David Roberts. This is a quirky story of an eccentric neighbor who finds and repurposes junk from dumpsters. He forms a friendship with some neighborhood kids, who create right along with him. Kind of odd plot now that I write this out, but honestly I’ve always loved this book for the way it embraces eccentricity, community, and seeing treasure in other people’s trash.
There’s a Dragon About: A Winter’s Revel by Richard Schotter (This one’s also out of print, but so worth the search; a play that kids can just read or act out. Illustrations are adorable, and you can feel the warmth pouring out of every page)
Red Sings from Treetops: a Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman. In this beautifully illustrated book, colors have sounds, smells and tastes. Absolutely wonderful. It’s a delightful way to experience our senses in new and unexpected ways. You’ll also “see” the world with fresh perspective. A piece of art.
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. The artwork in these books is brilliant, using urban, black and white photography as a backdrop to the bright, quirky character illustrations. The trilogy follows a young girl and her adventures with her beloved stuffed animal; the animal gets lost (book 1), becomes confused with a classmate’s own toy (book 2), and then is finally finds a new home when the girl gives it to another child (book 3). Though the plot summaries might sound trite, the artwork and innovative storytelling turns the storyline to pure magic.
Elephant and Piggie series also by Mo Willems. Mo Willems is frankly a genius when it comes to funny books that appeal to kids of all ages (even us older kids). This particular series is perfect for kids learning to read, as there are few words on a page, and they are quite simple. However, the characters are rich and entertaining; there are many subtleties to be explored.
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood. This was one of our favorite choices when the kids were 1-5, and honestly still as teens and pre-teens they can still happily quote it. The plot: just what it says – a king who won’t get out of the bathtub and his court’s continually thwarted attempts to get him out. The narrative and artwork are equally fantastic. It’s a great read-aloud, hilarious, rhythmic, brilliant.
The Napping House by Audrey Wood. This one is also for that younger crowd, maybe ages 1-5. Don Wood is a genius illustrator, and that sets most of the Wood books apart. Be sure not to settle for the board book, because you really need the larger pictures to see what all is going on here. It’s just a house where everyone’s sleeping until a flea comes in and bites the dog, which sets a crazy domino-like set of events in motion. Fun, beautiful, and really funny.
Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry by Jane Yolen. This is another treasure, and would make a wonderful gift for the very youngest of children through age 5 or 6. Sweet, short poems complimented by lovely illustrations, this is a great read-aloud experience for children with their parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, etc. There are countless children’s poetry books waiting for your children; this is the one I would start with first.
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