This is another favorite about unlikely friends — Bear has a sign on his front door that says No Visitors Allowed! But little Mouse just keeps ignoring the sign and popping up at the most inopportune moments in the most inopportune places. (Hmmm…Just like real life!) When Mouse finally shows up in the teapot and begs to have tea with Bear, Bear relents — mostly because he is just tired of being badgered.
But amazingly enough, he discovers that he actually likes little mouse’s company. Becker has written a just right book for cuddling and laughing and perhaps having a tea party together…
The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson; illustrated by Vladimir Vasilʹevich Vagin.
Katherine Patterson is famous in the children’s literary world for winning the Newbery Award twice — Bridge to Terabithia in 1978 and Jacob Have I Loved in 1981. She didn’t write very many picture books — most of her books are for older children — and this selection is longer than the traditional picture book; indeed, this is best as a family read-aloud, for everyone in the family (older than six) will enjoy it.
An original “fairy-tale” The King’s Equal tells the story of Prince Raphael, the haughty, prideful son of the beloved King. Alas, the old king knows of his character — on his death bed the king tells the Prince that he may reign as king, but he can never wear the crown until he weds someone who is his equal in beauty, intelligence, and wealth.
Of course, Raphael has to be humbled before that person can be found, and this wonderful book is the story of how he finds humility — and his queen.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe.
Another story of pride, this beloved book is often called an African Cinderella story. All the daughters in the land are called to the city, where the king will choose a wife. Two sisters — one gentle and humble, the other prideful and selfish — go their own way to the city, meeting the same people and the same situations along the way. The King, however, knows their temperaments because he has met both of them before…
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojieczowski; illustrations by P.J. Lynch.
When this book was published in 1995, my children were past the picture book stage. But too bad, I made them listen to this every Christmas anyway… In our house, it supplemented The Christmas Carol. It is longer than an average picture book, but oh my, it is SO worth it! Each Christmas season I scour the new releases hoping that there will be another Christmas book that equals this one. So far I haven’t found it. (And whatever you do, don’t pay any attention to the movie that was made with the same title…). P.J. Lynch’s illustrations are magnificent!
This is the story of Jonathan Toomey, the best woodcarver in the valley, who has a terrible secret that has made him withdraw from society. But the widow and her young son have lost their beloved nativity set in their move and they come asking him to carve them another, hoping it will be done in time for Christmas. They shower love and acceptance and simple gifts upon him — even though he is a reluctant receiver.
Oh, such transformations love can accomplish!
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.
When I was researching the books on this list, I was astonished to find that Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was on the Banned Books List! How can that be? I wondered. It’s such a fantastic book AND it won the Caldecott Medal in 1970. When I discovered why it was banned, I burst out laughing. Any guesses? (Answer is at the bottom of this post…)
If you’ve lived under a rock and have never heard of this book (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) it is the story of a young donkey who finds a lovely magic pebble; he discovers accidentally that it is magic and has a few minutes of terrific excitement thinking how this wish-granting pebble will change his life.
Then disaster strikes. To get away from the mean, hungry lion who appears out of nowhere, he panics and makes a bad decision. He wishes himself into a rock. “And there was Sylvester, a rock on Strawberry Hill, with the magic pebble lying right beside him on the ground, and he was unable to pick it up.”
Everyone in town searches for young Sylvester, but no one thinks to go to Strawberry Hill and look for a rock… It’s a wonderfully happy ending though, with his parents actually doing the finding. (And you will give your child an extra big hug when you finish reading it.)
My (adult) kids would probably disown me if I left this off the list. We read this over and over. We owned a copy and when that copy fell apart, we bought a hard-cover edition. And we wore that one out too… I’ve heard that this book was
ruined by a movie made into a movie also, but I would never go see it…
How can anybody resist the story of the weather bringing food? Tomato tornadoes? A giant jello setting in the west? Or storms of hamburgers becoming heavy at times?
It was tough picking my favorite Patricia Polacco book. I’m not sure why she has been shunned by awards committees, for her illustrations and her stories are almost always great. I also really like Just Plain Fancy, and Thunder Cake, but Chicken Sunday wins out for several reasons.
It is a story of unselfconscious inter-racial friendship and love that is heartwarming. Young Tricia hangs out with Stewart and Winston; their gramma, Miss Eula, often cooks dinner for all of them. The three kids are running through the neighborhood one day and get falsely accused of throwing eggs at Mr. Kodinski’s hat shop. Gramma looks at them sternly when they deny throwing the eggs and then decides to believe them. But, she says, Mr. Kodinski thinks you threw those eggs, so you’ll have to do something to make up to him, so he will know that you are good children.
The three were hatching a plan to buy Miss Eula her favorite hat for Easter (from Mr. Kodinski’s Hat shop!) so they decide to be brave and try it. Courageously they march into the hat shop with handmade Pysanky eggs (made with the help of Tricia’s mother). Mr. Kodinski is instantly transported back to his homeland at the sight of the Russian eggs. He is impressed by the children’s chutzpah and a friendship begins.
As always, Polacco’s water colors glow with warmth and color and light. And you can just hear Miss Eula’s voice that “sounded like slow thunder and sweet rain…”
Phil Vischer is the creative genius behind Veggie Tales; Justin Gerard’s wonderful illustrations glow, and together they have written just about the perfect picture book for Christian parents and teachers to read to their kids. The two pigs are as different as can be: Norman is the perfect pig; Sidney has trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Norman always did well in school and has a good job; Sidney spent many hours in the principal’s office, and he fears his boss now doesn’t like him much either. They are neighbors, though they rarely meet until one day God invites both of them to meet him on Tuesday at noon on Elm Street…Regardless of which pig you identify with, or your child identifies with, God has something interesting to tell them both. Think of it as a modern day Prodigal Pig Parable. Vischer has written a winner–with not only a message, but style, heart, and two darn cute pigs.
The Frog and Toad Treasury by Arnold Lobel
The Frog and Toad series (along with the Little Bear books by Else Holme Minarik) helped change the style of beginning books for children to read for themselves. First published in 1970, Frog and Toad Are Friends was an instant hit. The two friends are as opposite as Sidney and Norman (see above) and they don’t always get along. They disagree, they hop off in disgust, they say the wrong things; but at the end of the day, they are still best friends. Each story is an understated golden lesson in friendship that children need to hear. They need to hear that it isn’t always easy to be a friend, that sometimes we mess up, and that we need to be kind. The frog and the toad couldn’t be more human. Buy the Treasury — it includes Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, and Frog and Toad All Year. (There is one more that is missing in this trilogy — Days with Frog and Toad, published in 1979.) These are technically Beginning Readers, so your first grader will be able to read it, but for goodness sake, sit down and read it with them. You don’t want to miss these great stories and wonderful discussion starters.
Barbara Cooney’s delicate primitive style illustrations are part of why Ox-cart Man made this list. It was a tough call between this book and Cooney’s own Miss Rumphius. But ultimately I think I chose this one because I love what it represents. On an old New England farm, the family spends the year making what they need and being self-sufficient. Then in late fall, the father packs all the extras that they have made and grown that year into his ox-cart and walks many miles to the town of Portsmouth where he sells it all. Even the cart. Even the ox. With the money he makes, he buys what supplies they will need and small gifts that will please his wife and children. Then he walks back home, and the seasons of making begin again.
The rhythm of country life, satisfaction in craft, industriousness, and learning to make do with what you have — our modern American urbanized children need to hear this over and over. Ox-cart Man won the Caldecott for best picture book in 1979.
Right next to Frog and Toad, are George and Martha. Simply written and simply illustrated by the illustrious James Marshall, these are the stories of two hippos who are friends. One of the best sidelights of the George and Martha books is that it lets kids know that it is fine to be friends with the opposite sex. George and Martha don’t always understand each other, and their friendship goes through many trials as well. In one story, Martha is determined that their friendship is over — she just can’t take George’s tricks any longer. But then she realizes how much she misses him, and so he is forgiven (but not without consequences!)
Marshall was a master at drawing one squiggly line to tell the story. His hippos are hilarious — Martha walking a tightrope comes to mind — and the pictures are lovingly created cartoons that fit the tongue-and-cheek stories perfectly. Again, buy the treasury which contains seven of the individual books. And laugh!
Bill Peet has such an amazing body of work that it was difficult for me to choose my favorite. My children and I loved Farewell to Shady Glade (an ecological tale told from the animal’s point of view) and No Such Things (a hilarious book filled with crazy, made-up animals). But The Ant and the Elephant is the classic story of the large and the small, with the ant saving the life of the elephant. Kids love it!
This book is filled with other gentle lessons as well. The elephant goes through his day fixing the lives of other animals who have gotten in trouble. None of them are grateful; in fact, this book might be filled with some of the orneriest critters ever drawn. But at the end of the day, the elephant is feeling pretty smug and self-satisfied — and sure enough — then he gets into trouble! Ant comes to the rescue, and all ends well.
Peet was an early illustrator with Disney Studios, and his illustrations are done entirely in colored pencil. They are amazing! (Be sure to have a set of colored pencils handy for your child after reading this book).
And now I’ve come to Number 26. I’ve dithered very much about this last book — some have come on the list and gone off the list at least three times…But now, there’s no hesitation. This might be the only book on this list that isn’t easily obtainable. I know, because I don’t have it and I can’t get it (unless I want to pay $50.)
The horse narrates this satirically funny take on the cow who jumped over the moon. And he thinks Mother Goose did a terrible disservice to the cow by relegating her to one line in the nursery rhyme. After all, it was no mean feat to jump over the moon! Especially a cow! As he notes, horses have been jumping over the moon for thousands of years, but horses are born to jump — cows are most certainly not jumpers.
This is wonderfully hilarious; it has great wordplay, funny puns, and a good lesson — if at first you don’t succeed, practice. And if you practice, practice, practice, you might just be able to jump over the moon!
My worst fear in making these lists and writing these posts is that I will have forgotten one of my very favorites that I haven’t read for awhile and isn’t in my personal collection. Knowing how forgetful I am, it is bound to happen…
But there are also four books which didn’t make the cut — Honorable Mention, as it were — that I feel I just can’t leave off the list — no review, but they are wonderful just the same: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A Wolf (Jon Scieszka); Edward and the Pirates by David McPhail ; Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema ; and Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.
I have also intentionally left off non-fiction and poetry. They might have their own lists later…
How about you? Do you have a favorite picture book of all time?