This one’s for you, Team P! 🙂
First my disclaimer(s): I am really picky about picture books! Life is too short to read bad books. And if your kids are like mine, when they latch on to a particular book, you will be reading it overandoverandoverandoverandOVER!
Inaccuracies bug me. Here’s my confession for the day: I got rid of The Very Hungry Caterpillar because I couldn’t stand the upside down butterfly illustration and the reference to a butterfly emerging from a cocoon…if it’s a butterfly, it’s a chrysalis! Ugh. Don’t get me started on bison vs. buffalo and pronghorn vs. antelope, either. We have some really nice Smithsonian nature books, but in one the text says “maple tree” while the illustration shows a oak tree. What’s up with that? I’m keeping that one, but am seriously considering correcting it with permanent marker. Some people cover up nudity in their art books; I just want some accuracy in my science books! OK, moving on…
Branded books don’t stay around here. Nor any other book whose main purpose is something other than storytelling. If it’s My Little Pony, Disney Princess, Strawberry Shortcake, Little People, Nickelodeon, Barbie, or anything else based on a movie or TV, it’s outta here. Not because we are so anti-media, but because they are horribly obnoxious to read aloud, and their main reason for existing is to hook my children into major marketing schemes and consume their little lives with shallow consumerism.
Educational books are also iffy for me. This is sort of a hazy category, but I’m thinking of Usborne, DK, Magic Schoolbus types. If a book’s purpose is to educate a child, in general they seem more textbooky than storybooky. I’m fine with the kids looking at them or reading them, but for reading aloud, I usually stick with stories. Unless they are really interesting non-fiction, with cool photos and stuff 🙂
And the last thing that annoys the crap out of me is poor editing. Where have all the editors gone?! Seriously, there must be a worldwide shortage of them, because in the last two years I have read so many books that are filled with typos, misspellings, fragments, and so on. Are you listening, Mom? Your dream job awaits. We have beautifully illustrated versions of Brer Rabbit and The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, but they may be going in the discard pile too, because I hate reading around the typos and lousy sentence structure 😦
Whew! So what’s left after all my anti-this and anti-that? Plenty 🙂 My favorite picture books tell a great story in an engaging way, have wonderful illustrations, are fun to read aloud, have a unique approach to the world, are nostalgic for me (books I loved growing up), have amazing photos, or all of the above. Here’s a rundown of some great picture books, in no particular order (you can read reviews on Amazon or wherever; I’m just including little blurbs about why we like them):
Tikki Tikki Tembo: I don’t think this qualifies for outstanding Chinese cultural awareness, but it is the most fun book ever to read fast, and have your kids memorize his name 🙂
The Day the Babies Crawled Away: So fun to read, and unique illustrations.
Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, King Midas: When the older girls were getting into princesses, I started hunting for alternatives to Disney. These have stunning illustrations, and are well told. The font is a bit difficult to read.
Rumplestiltskin: Again, fabulous illustrations and a good story. I’d like to get Rapunzel, too.
The Falling Stars: Classic, and lovely watercolors.
Hans Christian Anderson Fairytales: The un-disneyfied versions. Beautiful pictures.
anything by the Provensens. We started with A Year at Maple Hill Farm.
anything by Robert McCloskey. We started with Blueberries for Sal.
Mike Mulligan and More: If you are ok with reading anti-capitalist and Luddite-esque stories to your children, Virgina Burton is your woman!
Going on a Lion Hunt: Every single child of ours has been obsessed with this one even though it fits none of my criteria. So I kept it.
Least of All: Kind of an odd book, but the kids love it.
The Pumpkin Runner: I have a huge weakness for anything remotely Australian. And running and true stories. This one is all of the above.
Flip Flap Body Book: I do like this Usborne book, if for no other reason than it convinced my children that boy babies are made from orange sperm and girl babies from pink sperm! (It’s actually highly age-appropriate).
anything by Richard Scarry. Try What Do People Do All Day?
anything by Tomie de Paola. I like The Clown of God, Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, and The Cloud Book. Great stories and fun illustrations. I skip the Italian words because I don’t know how to prounounce them
Whose Garden Is It? Every time we read this, my kids seem to have a discussion about who the garden belongs to.
A Ride on Mother’s Back: If you wear your babies, this is a refreshing antidote to the bottle-and-stroller illustrations in most children’s books.
Fancy Nancy: some are better than others. My girly daughters relate to her. And the kids’ bedroom frequently looks like hers. 🙂
The Jesus Storybook Bible and Egermeier’s: After much perusing of children’s Bibles (No offense, but I can’t stand any of Kenneth Taylor’s blah-blah-blah versions) these are the two we read regularly. They are very different from each other.
Mama, Is It Summer Yet? and some others by Nikki Mclure: I love her amazing paper-cut illustrations. The stories are so-so, but sweet. BTW, if you need a baby book, hers is the nicest out there, IMHO. I got it for each of my three youngest kids.
anything by Beatrix Potter: Classics. Reading them felt a bit stilted at first, but they grew on me. I think the kids’ favorite is The Tale of Two Bad Mice. I prefer the little individual books over the big collection, though it is nice too.
The Little Pig, The Little Duck, The Little Goat, etc., by the Dunns. : My animal-lover especially loves these. Great photos.
Manatee Winter, Little Black Ant on Park Street, etc. Smithsonian books: The stories aren’t the most engaging, but they are informative, and the illustrations are great. If you ignore the oak/maple mix up 🙂
Olivia: A sophisticated, slightly naughty pig.
Eloise Wilkin Stories: I love her books mainly for the beautiful, detailed watercolors that look like my grandmother’s house.
Arm in Arm, Fortunately, and probably others by Remy Charlip. Kid Dos loves language–rhyming, punning, etc. This author is a recent addition I got mainly for her, and we’ve had fun reading these two. Older and unique.
An Edward Lear Alphabet: This is for Kid Dos, too. I’d like to get more of his books.
So Many Bunnies: Rhyming, counting, and the alphabet.
Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature: We don’t do Berenstain Bears around here (DH does not appreciate the negative portrayal of papa) but we do read this one…the bumbling, lame father is toned down, and the science is great for this age. I think all the kids learned learned solids, liquids, and gases from reading it.
Eric Carle’s Animals Animals: Most of his books are so formulaic, I passed them on, but this is a nice collection of short poems (by other poets) illustrated by him.
How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World by McNulty, and anything by Robert E. Wells…such as What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? : Physical science for little kids…and me! Love these. Except now Kid Tres thinks he can get through the other side of the world if he has the proper suit. He also was afraid to go to sleep one night because he’d convinced himself there was a black hole under his bed…but that was from a library book.
Children’s Book of Virtues: Classic stories, very moral.
A Child’s Book of Art: We use this for their first introduction to picture-study. It’s a game, at this age.
Anno’s Counting Book, Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar: I guess these are old too, but I never heard of them till I started hunting for some interesting math books. They are pretty cool. No words. I just got a couple others of his, but haven’t looked at ’em closely yet.
anything by Lois Lenski. Kid Tres likes Mr. Small.
Marguerite Makes a Book: Interesting and beautiful.
Owl Moon. Fun to look for the semi-hidden animals.
The Listening Walk: Any book about listening is good, right? 🙂
Johnny Appleseed by Will Moses. The illustrations in this version are great. And we are supposedly distant relatives of Johnny Appleseed, so it’s fun telling the kids he was real AND he was their great-great-something.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Kid Uno thought this was pretty funny.
The Llama Who Had No Pajama. Fun poetry.
any collection of Mother Goose
The Ark: Very cool pop-up, though the story is kinda long.
As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps. This one is newer for us, and was an instant hit.
Harold and the Purple Crayon: A book that doesn’t grow old.
Millions of Cats: An oldie but a goody.
Madeline series. A classic.
How Do Dinosaurs…formulaic and obviously have an agenda (teaching manners and social skills) but my kids love them, so they stay.
Saint Nicholas: We need some more saints books…this is the only one we have. It’s a good one.
any of Laurence Anholt’s artist books, such as Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail. Very interesting.
Finally, I think the Five in a Row booklists are amazing. We’ve read about one third of them, and have liked almost all of them. And our library has a lot of them, which is extra nice.
OK, that’s enough books for the day…or for a couple years! Have fun looking 🙂
An aside: Did you know Charlotte Mason recommended not reading much to children under age five or six?! This is where I part ways with her 🙂