Tuesday was Veterans’ Day, and the library was closed. A librarian friend was in town, so what did we do? Went to bookstores, of course. This friend is a children’s librarian, so naturally we ended up in the picture book section, discovering new titles and sharing our favorites. She read Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s newest, Sam and Dave Dig A Hole, but I decided to wait for the library copy to come in so I could read it with my husband. (He’s hooked now too. We just read Barnett and Klassen’s Extra Yarn and loved it.)
I tried Paul Schmid’s Oliver and His Egg again, but I still didn’t love it as much as Oliver and His Alligator, one of my all-time favorites (“…a lady who was NOT his mom…”). I finally read And Tango Makes Three, the oft-banned nonfiction book about penguins in the Central Park Zoo, and thought it did a beautiful job telling the story in a straightforward way. (The illustrations of the fuzzy-headed baby penguins didn’t hurt, either.) I discovered Marcel the Shell in print (The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been), and Birgitta Sif’s Oliver, about a little boy whose only friends are toys and puppets…until he chases his tennis ball into another little girl’s yard and finds someone who’s different in the same way he is.
At home, we’ve been on an Emily Gravett (Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear) kick; my favorites so far are The Odd Egg and Meerkat Mail. The latter might be the first epistolary book I’ve seen for the picture book crowd: Sunny the meerkat goes visiting relatives and sends postcards home to his family.
Before Gravett’s books, I brought home a stack of Peter Reynolds’ books, after seeing him speak at this year’s NELA conference. We both loved The Dot and Ish, colorful books with lots of white space that encourage readers to let their creative and artistic sides flourish.
Reading picture books as a grown-up is different from reading them as a kid (or having them read to you), when pattern and rhyme are particularly important. As an adult reader of picture books, I like a blend of cute, funny, and sincere: too much of one quality and not enough of the others makes the book less enticing to me. (However, I remember reading Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt and Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw’s Love You Forever as a kid and not finding them cloying at all – though Love You Forever did make my parents tear up. And don’t even mention Bob and Jack: A Boy and his Yak by Jeff Moss and Chris Demarest to my father unless you want to see a grown man cry.)
The best books are those that maintain their appeal, reading after reading. One way to achieve this lasting appeal is by making the reader do the work: books with minimal text, such as David Wiesner’s Mr. Wuffles and Aaron Becker’s Journey, let the reader narrate from the illustrations alone. The story can change from reading to reading, depending on who is reading it. (Mr. Wuffles can get particularly vehement at our house.)
Stories that encourage a lot of expression in the reader, and reaction or participation in the listener, are also sturdy favorites; one of these is Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer, which always seems to be checked out of the library. George is a dog, but instead of barking, he meows, quacks, and moos. George’s mom hauls him to the doctor/vet, who reaches deep down inside George and pulls out the true cause of George’s curious sounds. George’s mom’s mounting frustration and surprise, and George’s own innocent surprise, make this book a favorite, even before the ending – but I won’t ruin it for you. Read it yourself!
Got any favorite picture books I haven’t mentioned here (or here)? Please share in the comments.
The title of this post comes from Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes’ book Library Lion, which should be the default graduation gift for any library school student.