When did kids' books get so fucking awesome?
I guess there were cool books when I was a little kid, but I'll be damned if I can remember what they were. Picture books were not exciting to me when I was a wee Doppelganger. But these days, it seems like there's been a renaissance in children's books, and I'm finally all worked up about them.
Take Got Your Nose: A True Story, in which "a game of Got Your Nose between two brothers spins out of control when one brother inflicts greater and stinkier abuses on the other's nose." Great title... check. Great story... check. Great art... check. The author, Ragnar, apparently has "a large, international following of fine art collectors." That's... well, that's pretty cool, actually.
And oh my god, speaking of cool, the so-hip-it-hurts creative merging of photography and illustration in Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale absolutely blows my mind. Caldecott medal winner Mo Willems, whose other titles include Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, has created compelling artwork that is at least as attractive to grown-ups as it is to kids.
Vancouver-based publisher Simply Read Books has a set of winners with authors Robin Mitchell and Judith Steedman's Windy series. Young Master Sam has all three books in the set: Windy, Sunny, and Snowy & Chinook. These are simple, feel-good stories accompanied by beautifully photographed tableaux of hand-crafted people, animals, and settings. Even better, both Sunny and Snowy & Chinook come with CDs featuring tracks by up-and-coming indie bands like Young and Sexy and The Secret Three. Both CDs are great, but my favourite is the one that comes with Snowy & Chinook. Sometimes I listen to it when Sam's in bed. It's that good.
One Little Bug is a deceptively simple counting book by another Vancouver writer/illustrator, Paola Van Turennout. I think the story kind of goes over Sam's head right now, but I test-drove it on our two-year-old friend Saelin just this past weekend, and she was captivated. Some day, Sam! In the meantime, you keep on chewing on those board books, little buddy.
Everyone knows that babies are illiterate, and babies use this fact to get out of doing a lot of work. No more! With simple, easy-to-follow illustrations, Baby, Make Me Breakfast and Baby, Mix Me a Drink (both from the McSweeney's Baby Be of Use series) mean that your little shirker no longer has an excuse to keep from earning his or her keep. (I have to mention that, since these books arrived from Wing Chun and Glark at Christmas, I've been meaning to do a photo shoot with Sam surrounded by martini shakers and various bartending accoutrements, with the books open at various recipes. Unfortunately, I'm at least as lazy as my baby. But in my head the photos are awesome!)
Of course, you still can't go wrong with Dr. Seuss. So far, we've collected Green Eggs and Ham (of course), Fox in Socks (per Wing's reliably excellent recommendation), Horton Hears a Who (which always makes me cry), The Cat in the Hat (though that cat has always bugged me, I have a strange affection for Thing 1 and Thing 2), One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (still my favourite), and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
I am, as you might expect, always on the lookout for cool picture books, old and new. Fire your recommendations my way.
Anything by William Steig (Pete's a Pizza is great for 2-3 yo's)
Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day - Judith Viorst (4 up)
Anything by Pamela Allen (Australian author and illustrator)
Hey Willy, see the pyramids - Maira Kalman
Curious George (but he may drive you insane)
Where is the green sheep? Mem Fox (and all her other books)
Dig, dig, digging - Margaret Mayo
Anything by Alison Lester (Australian author)
Where's my teddy? - Jez Alborough (the best of the teddy books, in my opinion)
Anything by Shirley Hughes (especially the Alfie and Annie Rose series)
I could go on, but I won't. Have fun!
Oliva by Ian Falconer
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen
The Remarkable Farkle McBride by John Lithgow
Once Upon a Fairy Tale: Four Favorite Stories
The Spider and the Fly by Tony DiTerlizzi
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
I was wondering how long it was going to take you to start blogging about kids' books! (you can get through a lot more than 50 in a year, for one thing)
You've got some great recommendations here, I'd add:
A Bad Case of Stripes (David Shannon)
Duncan Rumplemeyer's Bad Birthday (Alexander Stadler)
A Giraffe & a Half (Shel Silverstein)
...just for starters
I just bought 'When you were small" by Sara O'Leary. It brought tears to my eyes when I first read it... Not letting Sam near it though til he promises to stop drooling.
"When you were small we let you sleep in one of my slippers. The left one. You used a fuzzy washcloth for a blanket and a tea bag for a pillow."
Isn't that just awesome?
"Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type" by Doreen Cronin
"The Sneetches and Other Stories" by Dr. Seuss
And Here's to You! by David Elliot. Just a fun, joyous, beautiful book.
For board books, anything by Leslie Patricelli. They're bright, funny, and adorable, and I give them as baby shower gifts all the time.
I'll add Eric Carle -- he has lots of great titles, but I was always particularly fond of Rooster's off to See the World. You also need to get Maurice Sendak's "Nushell Library," which includes Pierre Who Didn't Care, Alligators All Around, One Was Johnny, and Chicken Soup with Rice. In the Seuss category, don't forget A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer & P. D. Eastman. Another favorite is That's Mine, Horace! by Holly Keller. I could go on and on...!
Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman
The Three Pigs and Tuesday by David Wiesner
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
If You Give A Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff
Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
Chester's Way and any of Kevin Henkes' mouse books
I adore Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but my children never liked it as well as I do.
Some of their favorites when they were preschoolers were:
Go Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Catch the Ball! by Eric Carle (I had thought The Very Hungry Caterpillar was kind of boring, but my boys LOVED it. It was the first book that they memorized and would "read" to me.)
Lift-the-flap boardbooks (we had some by Mercer Mayer, but I think they are out of print)
What about Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things are? Also, any of the "How Does a Dinosaur" books are good, and you can also get DVDs from Scholastic that have the stories in animated form. Another Seuss: Hop on Pop.
Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty.
I'm a grown man with no children, and I bought a copy for myself last year. Its cityscapes are absolutely filled with tiny, hysterically funny little dada cartoons. The one I always quote is a sign that says "NO LOITERING! ANYONE CAUGHT LOITERING WILL BE SUBJECT TO THE PREDICATE 'IS LOITERING'!" You could spend hours with it.
Thanks for the recommendations, everybody! Keep 'em coming!
Lisa, I thought about Where the Wild Things Are but that book has been slightly poisoned for me ever since I was forced to appear in a live-action stage production of it in high-school drama class. It was possibly the lamest public spectacle of... er, lameness... that I've ever been party to. And that's saying something.
The Really Rosy series by Maurice Sendak
The Love of Tiger Flower by Rober Vavra with Art by Fleur Cowles.
Of Course the Free To Be... Books they used to come with music, I don't know if the reprints do or not.
I am afraid these may be out of print, sad to say...but they were my favorites growing up, and if you can find them on ebay they are so very very worth it.
"Wuggie Norple" by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Tomie dePaola. The family in it is so very early-70's psychedelic hippie: the dad's name is Lunchbox Louie, the mom is named Bigfoot the Chipmunk, the son is King Waffle, and the whole story revolves around a cat that just won't stop growing.
"Professor Wormbog and the Search for the Zipperrumpa-Zoo" by Mercer Mayer. Another one of those awesome kids' books where the illustrations have so many little hidden sight gags and funny little details that make kids feel clever every time they find a new one.
Also include other Doreen Cronin titles: Giggle, Giggle, Quack
Duck for President
And we LOVE "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!"
Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson - my grandmother used to read this to me - by my demand - every time I came to her house. I loved Ferdinand.
King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood - I would read this to my Sam with much uproar. The kids loved the repetition - King Bidgood's in the bathtub and HE WON'T GET OUT! (The Napping House is another good choice).
The Tale of Desperaux by Kate Di Camillo - for a little bit older kid (or you) - but so lovely and charming.
Tikki Tikki Tembo (no sah rembo...) I can still get my boys to chant it back to me and they are 14 and 9 now!
This might not be proper for a book blog, but did you know that Horton Hears a Who was animated before How the Grinch Stole Christmas? I got the Grinch this year for Christmas, and HHW was on the DVD as well. Absolutely heartbreaking, and sweet.
The Happy Hocky Family, by Lane Smith!
Something From Nothing, Pheobe Gilman
Revenge of the Small Small, Jean Little
Sign of the Seahorse: A Tale of Greed and Adventure in Two Acts, Graeme Base
Pancakes, Pancakes!, Eric Carle
Open Me...I'm A Dog
by Art Spiegelman
The Monster At The End Of This Book
by John Stone and Michael Smollin
Herbert, The Timid Dragon
One Monster After Another
by Mercer Mayer
Scaredy Cat by Joan Rankin - might be out of print, but absolutely charming
Here are some deeply beloved by my sons (3 and 1)that have not yet been mentioned:
Janet and Alan Ahlberg's Peek-a-boo and Each Peach Pear Plum.
Caps for Sale, always entertaining to act out.
Anything by Simms Taback
Kevin Henkes's Kitten's First Full Moon
Happy reading! There's lots more great stuff out there...
anything by Sheree Fitch (she's Canadian) especially Mable Murple, Monkeys in the Kitchen,and Sleeping Dragons All Around
Our favourite Dr Suess: Hand,Hand,Finger,Thumb
and the board book Owl Babies - but don't read it just before you drop your first child off at the babysitters for the first time ever
I forgot to mention:
Anything by Sandra Boynton - especially Birthday Monsters, The going to bed book and Snoozers
Anything by Bob Graham (fantastic Australian author)
Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline books
The Hairy MacLary books by Lynley Dodd
Kipper books by Mick Inkpen
This is the last one from me, I promise. Any of the Large family books especially "Five minutes peace" by Jill Murphy. Priceless
Hooray! Picture books!
If Where the Wild Things Are has been tainted for you (and what a tragedy that is!) try Sendak's Outside Over There, which is lesser known but every bit as beautiful. He also illustrated E.T.A. Hoffman's Nutcracker, which I would heartily recommend for giving Sam nightmares in later years.
I'd like to second King Bidgood.
I have no words for how wonderful Leo Leonni's Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse is. The art is done in a fantastic collage style, very simple, but spellbinding; the writing is much the same.
When the Sky Is Like Lace, by Elinor Lander Horwitz and Barbara Cooney, is still one of my favourite books. Like, er, all of the ones I've mentioned so far, it has an incredible sense of the mysterious and hushed. It's just insanely beautiful. It coins the word 'bimulous' to describe a particular sort of night. You must read it.
Man oh man, do I love kid's books. If I ever have children, it will be so that I can read these to them.
Oh oh oh! Also, anything by Kevin Henkes, but especially Julius, the Baby of the World. I still say 'I am the Queen, and I hate Julius' quite a bit due to this book.
And this might be for an older kid, but you should have a copy of Jules Feiffer's A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears anyway. It's the best kid's book you've never read. It's like The Princess Bride for 8-year-olds. And it just gets better with time - I'm at uni now, and it's still the book I reread when life is shitty.
From my bookshelf and childhood (some of these are for older kids):
-The Bat Poet
-Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
-Go Dog Go
-The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes
-Guess How Much I Love You
-The Giving Tree
-A Wish for Wings that Work (Opus!)
-A Child's Garden of Verses
-Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me
-The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin
-Alligators All Around: An Alphabet Book
-Have You Seen my Cat?
-The Gashlycrumb Tinies (just kidding folks!)
I've got to second Bob Graham -- try Let's Get a Pup, Said Kate in particular.
Harold and the Purple Crayon scared the living shit out of me when I was three or four. But I could not stop reading it. Harold is so very, very alone in his world--and there is only what he can create. I think what scared me is the idea of having to live wholly within the limits of one's imagination. Because mine was a spooky place back then.
I have to second both The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Ferdinand the Bull, but my absolute favourite book as a child was The Balloon Tree by Phoebe Gilman, and also Jillian Jigs by Gilman. Robert Munsch was also a favourite, particularly Love You Forever and Mortimer.
The short people at my house have declared that "Rolie Polie Olie: Polka Dot! Polka Dot! : A Giant Lift-the-Flap Book" by William Joyce is the best board book ever. (No, I don't completely get it either, but they are adamant: it's a must-read. In fact, it's usually a must-read-multiple-times-daily.)
We all agree on seconding the nomination for Sandra Boynton. (Especially "Moo, Baa, Lalala" and "But Not The Hippopotamus.") Boynton's "Philadelphia Chickens" CD/book is great too, although it's not a board book. We listen to it in the car a lot and I play it at school for my fourth-graders. They all love it.
Other picture book authors I love:
Judy Schachner -- Her book, "Skippyjon Jones", was the smash hit of our elementary school last year.
Chris Van Allsburg (All his books are cool, but "Two Bad Ants" and "Bad Day At Riverbend" are my personal favorites.)
Finally, my favorite all-ages picture book -- "Flawed Dogs: The Year End Leftovers at the Piddleton 'Last Chance' Dog Pound" by Berkeley Breathed. The poems are probably better appreciated by the over-three set, but the illustrations are hilarious no matter what age you are.
And I just have to add that "Professor Wormbog and the Search for the Zipperrumpa-Zoo" by Mercer Mayer was one of my favorite picture books as a kid. And I'd totally forgotten all about that until a few months ago. The week after Thanksgiving I was sitting in the waiting area of Seattle's Swedish Hospital while my mom had surgery. The waiting room had one of those carts full of donated books for children and right there in front was a battered old copy of "Professor Wormbog." It all came rushing back in an instant: me and my brother stretched out on the baby blue carpet of my old bedroom giggling at the Kerploppus, Ickky, and Little Laff. I haven't had a memory slam into me quite that clear in a long time and it was a little weird, yet it was also so perfect at that moment to have this warm little reminder of my childhood.
I can kind of trace the history of my life through books and I like how a book I've read in the past reminds me of who and where I was when I read it. It startles me a bit to think that such a significant book had slipped from my mental library. I mean, I used to fill notebooks with my endless drawings of Little Laff. How could I have forgotten that?
Anyhow, the Professor rocks. So sorry to have misplaced you, dude.
I don't know if they're available in Canada, but the Jolly Postman series was a gigantic treat for me and the sibs.
One of my favorites from growing up that I didn't see in the list was "The Bed Book" by Sylvia Plath. Such a cute book from such a strange source! The version I had had wonderful illustrations. Fortunately I still have it and will read it to my kidlet when he is over tearing up paper for sport.
The Princess and the Bobbo at my house have always loved the "Toot and Puddle" series by Holly Hobbie. I think the pigs are a little weird, but the kids love them. Also, laugh-inducing "Walter the Farting Dog" never fails.
The chicklets love:
Polkabats and Octopus Slacks, Calef Brown
The "Seasons" books by Kit Allen
The "food" books by Amy Wilson Sanger (My First Book of Sushi is committed to memory, we read it that often)
In The Night Kitchen, Sendak
And we are YOUGE Boynton fans over here. Moo, Baa, La La La and Doggies in particular
I don't think I saw any mentions of Mary Murphy, but we LOVE "I Kissed the Baby".
My son is two months old today, but he knows that "I kissed the Baby" will be followed by "And I'm going to do it again!", because I just can't stop kissing on him.
Delurking, sort of, to add my two cents. Some of the books my 7 year old twins loved:
Two Cool Cows by Toby Speed and Barry Root. Fabulous retelling of why the cows jumped over the moon.
To Market To Market by Anne Miranda and Janet Stevens. More photography and illustration combined.
Maira Kalman--anything and everything, although Next Stop Grand Central, What Pete Ate A-Z and Smartypants: Pete in School were the most beloved. Amazing illustrations and hilarious text. She has a true sense of the absurd.
Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp by Carol Diggory Shields
I Love You Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt (skip the sequels though)
I'd also second the Seuss titles mentioned, Kevin Henkes' mouse series (Lily is fabulous, as are her friends), Click, Clack, Moo and Olivia.
Delurking to tell you I immediately ordered the Baby Be of Use books for friends. The books came today and they are great. In addition, I am enjoying other selections from McSweeney's, so thanks for the recommendation!
The Watertower by Gary Crew. It's freaktastic in a noirish, 1950's B-movie horrorish way. I was introduced to it in a graduate children's lit class and immediately fell madly in love.
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