Friday, May 1, 2015

My picture book pantheon

Picture books are scattered across this blog as plentifully as ketchup splatters on a preschooler’s shirt.

There was the time I analyzed the visual language of picture books. The time I challenged you to guess the picture book based on only one page from it. The time I reminisced about books (picture and otherwise) that were special (one way or another) in my life. Even a grand proclamation about biographies.

What I have not done is a simple list of my favorite picture books. Until now. (I did do this for another site, but my list has changed since then.)


  • My list isn’t ranked.
  • This is fiction only. Nonfiction list possibly to come.
  • The stars indicate the first 10 that came to mind, even though those didn’t align exactly with my eventual top 10.
  • These are not only the picture books that became favorites in childhood. These are my all-time faves.

My ten:

Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James (1991)—Deftly and sweetly captures the logic of a child; the ending still chokes me up after many reads. *

Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (2007)—A tender look at life’s biggest transition. *

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)—For lyrical prose, for “less is more,” for trusting your audience…still the gold standard. *

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz (1972)—Tied for funniest.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (2011)—Tied for funniest. *

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957)—Reading it aloud never gets tedious. * 

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (1939)—Tied with The Cat and the Hat for most fun to read aloud; it’s dancing for your mouth. *

Starring Mirette and Bellini by Emily Arnold McCully (1997)—From political imprisonment to a daring child-hero rescue, this is sophisticated stuff…and could be a movie; second in a series of three highly recommended, girl-centered historical adventures.

The Milkman by Carol Foskett Cordsen and Douglas B. Jones (2005)—The subject is bold in its retro-ness and the rhymes ooze charm. *

The Blizzard by Betty Ren Wright and Ronald Himler (2003)—An unofficial reboot of the 1976 Little House on the Prairie episode “Blizzard,” this wholesome childhood fantasy makes the cold and the coziness palpable, also throwing in a healthy dose of urgency.

Decade tallies:


Honorable mentions:

Harry and the Terrible Whatzit by Dick Gackenbach (1977)—Despite what I feel is a significant narrative flaw, this invitingly illustrated book makes overcoming a common childhood fear seem attainable. *

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (1978)—Haunting, heartbreaking, and a precursor to (or inspiration for) the graphic novel.

The Enemy by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch (2009)—Sensitively lays out the folly of war with appealing art that seems both 1940s throwback and timeless at once. 

Three Little Ghosties by Pippa Goodhart and AnnaLaura Cantone (2007)—The story is no great shakes (or shivers) but the wordplay is joyfully inventive. *

Moose by Michael Foreman (1971)—Hard to find today, it’s the most sentimental choice here; the story is not pioneering but it did stay with me since my wee days. *

The Bravest of Us All by Marsha Diane Arnold and Brad Sneed (2000)—Though the twist of the ending is not a huge surprise, the book is winning due to its folksy writing and superb if subtle use of the back cover to fill in a gap from the story. 

When I Am Old With You by Angela Johnson and David Soman (1990)—The premise alone is a tearjerker.

Decade tallies:


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