Jan 12, 2021

A small list of Miss Katie's Favorite Picture Books

When I was two years old my grandfather visited.  As children do, I wanted to show him everything I owned.  I sat down on his lap and presented him my favorite book.  It was Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells.  Nowadays, parents would gasp at the refrain, “Nora, why are you so dumb?”  To me this book was about as perfect a story as you could get.  I remember loving the rhyme and rhythm, the humor, the way the just-my-size book fit in my hands, and the big word “monumental” at the end.  My grandfather let me hold the book and I am sure he adjusted his aging eyes so as to prepare to read it aloud to me, but to his surprise I started out “Jack had dinner early…”  I had memorized this wonderful little tale about the middle child who yearns for the attention of her parents.  To this day I still have the book memorized.  My grandfather, however, thought that I, a child of two, could read.     

I do not remember this incident, but my parents like to relay the details.  I, however, remember loving this book to no end.  Over the years, I realized that my two year old self could “read” this story to my grandfather because of the pictures.  Picture books are wonderful tools for helping children of all ages, not only tell the story, but understand the concepts.  While chapter books are great for encouraging listening skills, I cringe at the thought of moving past the picture book once a child is able to read.  While I cannot prove a correlation between the expanding collections of graphic novelizations of classics and the devaluation of picture books among society I cannot help but wonder if this notion that picture books are just for small children has had its hand in this phenomena.  The facts remain that the picture book audience expands across all ages and many times there are concepts contained within the pages that only an adult may recognize.  The art alone is a cultural experience that should be given as much credence as the words contained within.  

Having said all of that, please enjoy this list of some of my favorite picture books.  It was a real struggle narrowing this down for this post.  I guess I will save the others for another day.  I have also opted to leave Mo Willems out of this.  Sorry, Mo.

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer is a classic picture book for the very young child.  This is one of my favorites for live storytimes.  The book has it all, simple illustrations, animal sounds, foreshadowing which allows the children to tell the story as they go, and an outrageous plot-line.  Much to his mother’s chagrin, the title character, George, is having trouble doing a very simple thing that all dog’s do.  He cannot bark. The reason for this is UNBELIEVABLE!

Another great title is the ever popular Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney.  Is there anything sweeter than that cuddly title character in red pajamas?  Any parent can relate to the mother in this story who tucks her child in and goes about her evening, but more importantly the young child can relate to the anxiety that ensues just before bed.  Told in rhyme with spot on illustrations that depict the emotions of our little llama perfectly, this bedtime story helps little ones know that feelings of fear and anger are experienced by everyone, but at the end of the night, those feelings cannot rule our behavior.

If you are looking for a retelling of classic fairy tales or fables look no further than Jerry Pinkney.  His version of The Little Red Hen is my favorite of this award winning illustrator’s retells.  I am always amazed by his talents with watercolor. The realistic illustrations of the farm animals bring this story to life about a hen who does all the work and then asks who should reap the benefits.  Meant for the very young child, I have seen this story read at the college level in an ethics 101 class.


For preschoolers through grade three (again these are for everyone), I have three titles to share.  Posthumous Ohio author Jan Wahl’s book The Art Collector presents a story of a young child who, though frustrated with his own art making abilities, embarks on a lifelong journey of art appreciation.  Rosalinde Bonnet illustrates the story and the dynamic art collection accrued by the character.  It shows us that even though we may not always have the skills we want we can appreciate and find connection with the beauty around us.

Dan Santat is no stranger to creating beautiful illustrations.  The next book on my list from this Caldecott Medal winner is After The Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again.  Every child and adult can relate to the setbacks Humpty experiences.  It is the way he works through his fear that we can all take guidance.  This book would also make a great graduation gift.

Last on this list of early childhood books is by none other than Bob Shea, the author of the Dinosaur Versus series.  (Did I tell you that Bob Shea is visiting us in March of 2022?!)  His most recent title Who Wet My Pants? made it to my list.  Illustrated by Zachariah Ohora this “crime” mystery is told in hysterical fashion.  It is up to the reader to solve the mystery.  The only way to find out who wet the main character’s pants is to pay close attention to the illustrations.

For the sake of making my earlier point about picture books being written for all ages I have included a book from one of my all time favorite authors/illustrators.  I think I may actually own all of his books which are extensive.  Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say did not win the Caldecott medal for nothing.  Each page is a pure work of art on its own.  This story, though not as wordy as many of his other books, tells the story of a young boy’s trip from Japan to his new home in San Francisco.  While there is no doubt that the very young child may enjoy the illustrations, the deeper struggle of the character caught between two worlds is something only an older child or adult can really understand. 

I hope this list will help you to reconsider the value of a picture book and see its worth amongst a wide variety of audiences.  I like to think of each picture book as a wing on a great art museum.  The art can tell a story.  It can open your eyes to new ideas.  It can reflect a feeling you hold deep inside.  It can teach you something new about the world around you and all its beauty. all books do, it can enrich your life and create meaning.  I tell you, there is nothing better than a picture book.