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Remember when we were young and I conducted these craaaazy polls asking you guys to vote on your Top 10 Picture Books and Top 10 Children’s Novels? Remember when I enlisted the help of some talented survey monkeys and we calculated the results, coming up with some top 100 lists? And remember when I promised you that if you signed up you could get jaw-droppingly gorgeous PDFs, suitable for printing/framing of the Top 10 of each list with the full 100 along the side? Yeah, whatever happened with that?
Well the good news is that the people of SLJ have bent over backwards to make these PDFs as pretty as can be. They’re up. They’re amazing. And if you haven’t gotten a copy you can just fill out the form for the Top 100 Children’s Novels here and the Top 100 Picture Books here and they’ll be sent to you.
How easy on the eyes are they? A glimpse:
There are even quotes from readers included that didn’t make it into the online edition.
So sign-up! It’s free and colorful. My two favorite things in life.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Ayun Halliday
, Becky Quiroga Curtis
, book to film adaptations
, censorship issues
, Giant Dance Party
, James Dashner
, Lois Duncan
, Micah Player
, my books
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, Stephenie Meyer
, tattoos for every occasion
, The Infinity Ring series
, Tomi Ungerer
, Top 100 Children's Novels Poll
, Top 100 Picture Books Poll
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I apologize for the recent radio silence, folks. There’s something goofy in the state of Fuse 8. For one thing, I can’t seem to comment on my own posts. Most peculiar. I will assume that this is just a passing fancy of the blog and that all will be well and good from this day forward. Onward then!
This year, as some of you may know, I eschewed plastering myself with fake tattoos in favor of instead impaling myself with Shrinky Dinks at the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet. Shrinky Dinks: The classy choice. I did this because I was tired of picking clumps of multicolored skin off of my arms in airports, but if we want to get to the real reason behind the reason I can sum it up in three words: Becky Quiroga Curtis. More specifically, Becky Quiroga Curtis, the Children’s Book Buyer and Event Coordinator of Books & Books (also known as one of the only reasons to visit Miami). This is a woman who takes her love of children’s books and turns it hardcore. Oh, you think you love picture books? Really? Enough to have them tattooed onto your arm?!?! Just one arm, mind you. In any case, you can see how she convinces artists to draw on her arm here and you can see a feature on her at the Scholastic blog On Our Minds here and an older PW article on her here. You can also enjoy a slew of posts showing the tattoos if you follow the Becky’s Arm tag. Hard. Core.
- By the way, folk. A bunch of you signed up to get cool PDFs of my Top 100 polls, yes? You may be wondering where the heck those PDFs are, yes? Well fear not. I have it from on high that they are almost done, looking good, and you should see them within the next week or so. Stay tuned, faithful readers!
- On the One Hand: The recent news that Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan is being turned into a film is fantastic and I am very excited indeed.
- On the Other Hand: The book is being turned into a screenplay by . . . . Stephenie Meyer. Hubba wha?
- So I was looking at the very cool Spring 2013 Sneak Preview provided by PW, which offers a glimpse of some of the upcoming books next year. Fun stuff. And as I look I note several things of interest. The most notable is by far the fact that Yuyi Morales has a book coming out called Niño Wrestles the World that features a kid dressed as a Mexican wrestler . . . I’m beyond thrilled. Oh, and then there’s this little picture book coming out with Greenwillow called, um, Giant Dance Party. And who is it by? Well let’s see here. . . could it be by me? I do believe it could be. *smile*
#1 Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)
Arguably the single greatest picture book ever created. – Hotspur Closser
Some argue that Sendak did better work than Wild Things during the span of his career and while I agree on some level that this is true, I think his other books appeal to people on different, individual levels. In truth, there has never been a picture book made that has reached so many people on so many levels like Wild Things. I mean, we are all a little mischievous, we are all a little bit adventurous (even if only in our hearts), and we all have a deep longing to be taken care of and fed good things to eat. – Owen Gray
Because it makes my tongue happy to speak lines such as, “And sailed back over a year and out of weeks, and through a day into the night of his very own room.” And because it makes my heart happy to end a story with, “Where he found his supper waiting for him, and it was still hot.” – DaNae Leu
There is no moment in any picture book more perfect than when Max returns to his room and his dinner is still hot. Enough said. – Katie Ahearn
The evolution of picture books can be broken down into two time periods: Pre-Wild Things and Post-Wild Things. Sendak’s 1963 book was that instrumental in ushering in the modern age of picture books. While tackling themes of anger and loneliness, Sendak created one of the few picture books that still seems fresh after decades in print. – Travis Jonker
For me this has to be number 1, not only because it’s a wonderful adventure story for little ones, not only because it demonstrates the power of imagination, not only because love, anger, defiance, and love again are so inextricably intertwined, not only because it’s a amazing example of how an illustrator combines the elements of design so successfully, but because it does all these things in 32 pages and 1200 words, AND children love it! - Diantha McBride
It is what it is, and, it is the best. It reminds you every time you read it why it is the best. You want to read it to every child you love, every child you like, and every child who drives you crazy. - Laura Reed
What is there to say about such a classic? It deserves all the accolades it has gotten through the years. It allows kids to be wild and misbehave and go off to the jungle, but wake up in their very own room and dinner is still warm. A comforting but fun book. - Christine Kelly
You can’t beat how much fun this book is to read. And, amazingly enough, I still have it memorized (even though I don’t think I’ve read it aloud in a couple of years). – Melissa Fox
Classic. When I heard they were going to make a movie out of the book I thought, “What?” Part of what makes this book so special is the wordless page spreads… just wild things making a rumpus… I love that Sendak gives children the power to just absorb those images. Awesome stuff. – DeAnn Okamura
Still perfectly crafted, perfectly illustrated. It doesn’t really matter that Maurice Sendak is sick of the thing, this is simply the epitome of a picture book. Sendak, like Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl, rises above the rest in part because he is subversive. Max is not a sweet little boy, he’s a crazy little kid like so many are in real life. And yes, the monsters represent his wildness, but that’s boring from a young reader’s standpoint. The fact is, Max gets to go have a monstrous adventure, and then he comes home and finds, not only soup, but a slice of cake. Because p
#4 Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Moore (1947)
Well, it’s a classic for a reason. – Joanne Rousseau
This one I can still recite even though I last read at least 10 or more years ago. Again a classic that will endure and delight for a long time to come. – Christine Kelly
My daughter had this book read to her every night from the womb until she was almost 3. When I think of perfect bedtime stories, this is at the top of the list. – DeAnn Okamura
Time and again my readers would tell me that they loved this book because of what it did to their children. In March 1953, this book was spotlighted in Child Behavior, a syndicated parental-advice column with what I consider the sentence that defines this book. “It captures the two-year-old so completely that it seems almost unlawful that you can hypnotize a child off to sleep as easily as you can by reading this small classic.” And millions of parents walk around feeling guilt free.
A description of the plot (such as it is) courtesy of The Christian Science Monitor: “A little rabbit bids goodnight to each familiar thing in his moonlit room. Rhythmic, gently lulling words combined with warm and equally lulling pictures make this beloved classic an ideal bedtime book.”
The reference book I should really have on hand for this (and don’t) is Awakened by the Moon by Leonard Marcus, the definitive Margaret Wise Brown biography. I do not own it as I was never a Goodnight Moon fan (oh yeah, I said it!). In lieu of that, we shall have to look at other books instead for our info. 100 Best Books for Children makes note of the fact that when Clement Hurd first illustrated this book he made the boy and the grandmother human. This was changed into bunnies at a later date. And at editor Ursula Nordstrom’s suggestion the udders on the cow also became less anatomically correct (which is strange considering that Nordstrom would later defend the very human anatomical parts found in In the Night Kitchen).
Nothing popular is without controversy. Even something as sweet and innocent as Goodnight Moon. In the case of this book we have two controversial topics to refer to. #1 involves illegitimate children and an unworthy heir. #2 is the case of a missing cigarette.
Let’s look at #1 first. I’d consider the pedigree of this story sketchy, were it not so bloody well written. Apparently the article Runaway Money: A Children’s Classic, A 9-Year-Old-Boy And a Fateful Bequest appeared in The Wall Street Journal, though the sole copy I can find online appears on the reporter’s website. The long and the short of it is that Margaret Wise Brown willed a neighbor’s child as the benefactor of some of her books. Amongst them, Goodnight Moon. And for this particular kid, there couldn’t possibly have been a worse gift to give. It’s fascinating. Particularly when you get to his dubious claims regarding Ms. Brown’s relationship to himself.
Controversy #2 – Clement Hurd and his penchant for the smokes. Cast your minds back to 2005. An innocent time. A time when Harper Collins decided that maybe it would be a good idea to remove the cigarette from illustrator Clement Hurd’s photograph. CNET Ne
#17 The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (1936)
I remember liking this as a child, but I love it even more as a parent, when my children love to listen to it. It’s a gentle story, and can sometimes be calming at bedtime, but they also love to run around the house yelling “Wow! Did it hurt!” regarding the bumblebee scene. - Libby Gorman
What a beautiful message about being true to who you are! The simple sketches by Robert Lawson are fantastic. – Alexandra Eichel
Because, with a mix of humor and gravity, it sustains many very different interpretations. - Philip Nel
I was the Ferdinand in my family of birth. - Laura Gallardo
True story. I walk into the local Aveda to get my hair styled and the fellow they’ve given me is a chatty sort. Wants to talk to me about my job, librarianship, that sort of thing. And in the midst of our conversation I somehow steer it over to the Top 100 Picture Books poll and the books that did particularly well. He doesn’t remember the names of children’s books, but he brings up (of all things), “That story about the bull with the flowers.” “Ferdinand?”, I ask. “That’s the one!” That leads into a conversation of the book, the fact that his roommate has that bull tattooed onto his back (this is true), and the controversy surrounding it . . . but I get ahead of myself. In any case, clearly this book is on the minds of the non-children’s picture book reading public at large as well as the fans of the field.
Children’s Literature described the plot as, “Set in Spain, it is about a young bull named Ferdinand. All bulls in Spain aspire to one day fight in the ring with a matador. But not Ferdinand. All day long the young bulls play at fighting in hopes that one day they will be strong enough to be chosen for the bullfights. But Ferdinand prefers to quietly sit in the pasture and enjoy his surroundings. When the bulls all mature, they long to be selected for the bullring…all but Ferdinand. As the other bulls prance and preen, hoping to be selected, Ferdinand ignores the commotion. Suddenly, Ferdinand is stung by a bumblebee. He bellows and dances around like crazy. The matadors are so impressed with his machismo they select him as the strongest bull. He is praised all around for his power, until the day of the bullfight. Poor Ferdinand just sits there. The matadors prod and coax with no luck. Ferdinand is not interested in fighting. Ferdinand is returned to his pasture to live out his life in solitude.”
In any case, this is a lovely banned book to place on the list. Banned by whom? Oh, nobody much. Just a fellow by the name of Adolf Hitler. You see it was published during the Spanish civil war, Franco banned it in Spain, and then Hitler goes and calls it “degenerate democratic propaganda.” 100 Best Books for Children does say that it had its admirers as well, though. “Thomas Mann, H.G. Wells, Gandhi, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.” So, to sum up. Hitler hated it and Gandhi loved it. That’s a fine pedigree for this list, I should think.
In Tales for Little Rebels, there’s quite the lovely section dedicated to the book. “When the book was published in the fall of 1936, critics accused Ferdinand of being communist, pacifist, and fascist, and of satirizing communism, pacifism, and fascism. . . .
#18 A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (2010)
Too soon to appear? I think not. Amos and his friends feel as if they have been with us forever, as they will be. Also because the penguin’s red socks are just so irresistible. – DaNae Leu
This is a recent book, but it’s destined to be a classic. Everytime I read this book I feel the need to hug the book at the end-that’s how much I love it. Amos and his animals feel so real and I love being part of their story for awhile. – Sarah
The last time this poll for picture books was conducted the year was 2009. That is the sole reason, insofar as I can tell, that A Sick Day for Amos McGee did not make the Top 100. After all, it’s a modern classic.
The description from my review reads, “Each morning it’s the same. Amos McGee gets out of bed, puts on his uniform, and goes to his job as zookeeper in the City Zoo. Amos takes his job very seriously. He always makes sure to play chess with the elephant, run races with the tortoise, sit quietly with the penguin, blow the rhino’s runny nose, and tell stories to the owl at dusk. Then one day Amos wakes up sick and has to stay in bed. The animals, bereft of his presence, decide something must be done. So they pick themselves up and take the bus to Amos’s house to keep him company for a change. And after everyone helps him out, Amos reads them all a story and each one of them tucks in for the night.”
In an interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Ms. Stead spoke a little bit about creating this book. It was her first picture book, written by her husband, and she explained her process to Jules, beginning with “The first tactic I use in order to make a picture is to avoid my drawing table area entirely. I’ll walk the dog, sit on the porch, or bake. There is too much pressure at the drawing table, and I like to get to know my characters before I draw them. Once I feel confident navigating a blank piece of paper, I do a sketch or two. Some are better than others, but most are not very pretty.”
- You can read the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac piece on the book here.
PW said, “Newcomer Erin Stead’s elegant woodblock prints, breathtaking in their delicacy, contribute to the story’s tranquility and draw subtle elements to viewers’ attention: the grain of the woodblocks themselves, Amos’s handsome peacock feather coverlet. Every face–Amos’s as well as the animals’–brims with personality. Philip Stead’s (Creamed Tuna Fish and Peas on Toast) narrative moves with deliberate speed, dreaming up a joyous life for the sort of man likely to be passed on the street without a thought.”
Said SLJ, “The artwork in this quiet tale of good deeds rewarded uses woodblock-printing techniques, soft flat colors, and occasional bits of red. Illustrations are positioned on the white space to move the tale along and underscore the bonds of friendship and loyalty. Whether read individually or shared, this gentle story will resonate with youngsters.”
Booklist had an unexpected take, saying, “
#19 The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1902)
Potter never wrote down to children. The size is perfect for little ones to hold and pour over the detailed illustrations. – Natalie
Forever classic. – Rose Marie Moore
Introducing the oldest book to appear on the Top 100 picture book list. I’m a Potter fan myself. To my mind the charm of these books has to do with the fact that Beatrix Potter was a naturalist. She drew realistic animals who just happened to be wearing knickers, breeches, and shiny brass buttons. Somehow, when you draw a realistic animal wearing clothing, that image is infinitely cuter than however many eyelashes and big brown eyes you might choose to bedeck a critter with.
The description from my review reads: “Peter lives, as many of us know, in a large fir tree with his mother and his siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. His father was baked in a pie (a fact that many parents have decried as too dark for children, and that many children have shrugged at without a second thought). Though instructed by his mother NOT to go digging in Mr. McGregor’s garden, he’s a naughty little thing. His tasty trip is brought up short, however, when he stumbles across the farmer himself. In the course of their chase Peter loses his little blue jacket with the shiny brass buttons and must return to his mother (after a series of close shaves) without it or his shoes. He is promptly put to bed with a cup of chamomile tea (a fate we non-chamomile tea drinkers must assume is harsh) while his siblings eat the tasty blackberries they picked that morning.”
Did Ms. Potter terrorize Roald Dahl and the siblings of Diana Wynne Jones when they were children? That’s the rumor anyway. In working on my Candlewick book (tentative working title: Wild Things: The True and Untold Stories Behind Children’s Books) alongside the wonderful Jules Danielson and late and amazing Peter Sieruta I determined to get to the root of the matter. Was Potter the meanie people desperately want to believe she was, or could it be that someone else was doing the yelling and Ms. Potter was taking the blame? Sorry, folks. I’m going to pull the old you’ll-have-to-read-the-book when it comes out in Fall 2013 card on you.
Considering how long she lived she has a somewhat limited roster. How to account for that? 100 Best Books for Children says of Potter’s later years (when she married and didn’t write) that “Her creative energies appear to have been sparked by unhappiness rather than the deep contentment that came in her later life.”
Of course the story goes that these books were printed small for little child hands. Like the Nutshell Library books, the titles were meant to be little. They’ve been expanded since then (there’s money to be made). In fact The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature dedicates quite a bit of time to Peter, discussing his many incarnations over the years. They say, “But despite Peter Rabbit’s iconic status, an unauthorized edition was published in the United States in 1982 with new, distinctly American illustrations.” The illustrator in this case was one Allen Atkinson and the pictures are a weird mix of Potter’s color scheme and a more cartoonish take on the animals. Norton goes on to say, “In 1987, Ladybird Books published a new British edition, hoping to broaden the audience by using photographs of stuffed toys and softening the text, on the assumption that children could no longer relate to watercolors and would be upset by Potter’s attitudes toward puni
#16 Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (1955)
It’s like the best kind of dream! It’s surreal and meta and mindbending! And also funny! I found it haunting when I was a kid, reality being created as you go; now that surrealism is one of my favorite things about it. I love the bits like there being nothing but pie, but it was all nine kinds of pie Harold liked best; and random characters like the very hungry moose and deserving porcupine. It’s so simple and so brilliant! – Amy M. Weir
Because it’s the most succinct expression of imaginative possibility ever created. – Philip Nel
Uh-oh. Another book has slipped down from the Top Ten. Previously ranking at #7, Harold manages to cling to the Top 20 but it’s hard to think what might replace him. The boy is ubiquitous, after all.
The plot synopsis from B&N reads, “Harold’s wonderful purple crayon makes everything he draws become real. One evening, Harold draws a path and a moon and goes for a walk-and the moon comes too. After many adventures, Harold gets tired and can’t find his bedroom. Finally, he remembers that the moon always shines through his bedroom window. He draws himself a bed, and ‘the purple crayon dropped on the floor, and Harold dropped off to sleep.’ This little gem is filled with visual and written puns.”
Growing up I knew of Harold but had far more of a connection to the rip-off animated series Simon in the Land of the Chalk Drawings. Odd but true.
There are many things to enjoy in Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. What the book really does best, though, is give us a salty editor talking about the classics she’s editing in her customary off-hand manner. Take Harold and the Purple Crayon. In a letter dated December 15, 1954, Ursula has just gotten a revised version of this story and she is writing to Crockett, the author/illustrator. “I’m awfully sorry my first reaction to Harold was so lukewarm and unenthusiastic. I really think it is going to make a darling book, and I certainly was wrong at first. This is a funny job. The Harper children’s books have had such a good fall, so many on so many lists, etc. etc., and I was feeling a little good – not satisfied, you understand, but I thought gosh I’m really catching on to things, I bet, and pretty soon it ought to get easier. And then I stubbed my toe on Harold and his damned purple crayon . . . .”
At long last I finally have an excuse to break out my old Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. You see if you know anything about Crockett Johnson you know he wrote Harold and the Purple Crayon and illustrated The Carrot Seed. If you know anything else about him, though, you may be aware that his real name was David Johnson Liesk and that between 1942 and 1946 (after which it was handed it over to others) he created the comic strip Barnaby. Barnaby has its fans. People have said it was a predecessor to Calvin and Hobbes, though the premise varies slightly. As the Smithsonian puts it, the story was really about “a boy and his cigar-chomping fairy godfather, Mister O’Malley.” Johnson began as a magazine cartoonist, turned to picture books in the 50’s and, “in his later years (he died in 1975) he devoted himself to nonobjective painting.” I’ve attempted to scan some Barnaby strips for you, in case you’re interested. I apo
#10 The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smollin (1971)
For the pure joy of watching your audience’s faces as you read this aloud. – DaNae Leu
I had to look up the author – don’t think I ever read his name! I just thought of it as by Sesame Workshop. – Robin Parry
“Don’t turn the page”. I’ll never forget the first time I read this to my daughter. She really didn’t want me to turn the page. And then she laughed at the end. – Joanne Rousseau
I remember this book from my childhood more than any other. - Pam Coughlan
In this poll we’ve seen a lot of votes sink sink sink from their previous places. Now, at last, here’s a book that’s gone up up up in the world. Previously holding down a spot at #22, Stone’s title is remarkable partly because it not only introduced so many of us to the
You will not find The Monster at the End of This Book in The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature. It does not appear in 100 Best Books for Children, or within the pages of Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush. It has never won a Caldecott. You cannot find it on most Top 100 Picture Book lists, nor in New York Public Library’s collection.
And yet . . . .
And yet here we find at #22, almost making it into the Top 20, the one and only truly successful Sesame Street book ever to touch the hearts and minds of readers everywhere. Sesame Street has a history of frustrating libraries and educators with its sometimes tepid literary production, but there was at least one notable exception to this. And it involved a furry blue monster.
The description of the plot from the publisher reads, “Generations of kids have interacted with lovable, furry old Grover as he begs the reader not to turn the page . . . for a monster is at the end of the book! ‘Oh, I am so embarrassed,’ he says on the last page, for of course the monster is Grover himself!”
Robin mentioned not knowing who the author of this book was, and I’m sure she’s not alone. For those of us who count ourselves as Sesame Street groupies, though, Mr. Stone was one of the big time heavyweights behind the show itself. He wrote and produced the television program after doing some work on Captain Kangaroo. Joan Ganz Cooney called him “probably the most brilliant writer of children’s television material in America.” For a lot more information on Stone you can refer to Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis which covers a lot of this ground.
Really, it’s illustrator Mike Smollin who piques my interest. I mean, talk about a forgotten fellow. Looking at his roster on Amazon you can see that he did a fair number of Sesame Street titles (The Great Cookie Thief, anyone?) as well as other series like Strawberry Shortcake, LEGO, books by Seaworld about Shamu, etc. Fortunately the man has a website and there we learn that he was an advertiser turned illustrator. “Over the years, Michael’s imaginative endeavors have been recognized with awards from the Emmys, The Society of Illustrators, The Detroit Bravo Awards and The Hollywood Reporter.” He passed away in 2010 and looking at his career there is little doubt that this book remains
#8 Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz (1972)
We all have bad days—even in Australia. – Heather Christensen
Of all the books out there that deal with schadenfreude, none do it quite so well as Alexander. Now there’s a kid who just cannot win. He’s the Charlie Brown of picture books. If he isn’t losing his cash in Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday then he’s protesting a new living situation (not in Australia) in Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move. Of course he started life in this book where everything that could possibly go wrong does. The perfect antidote to any adult that claims that childhood is one sweet, blissful, stress free ride of innocence and carefree days.
The plot synopsis from the publisher reads, “He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He went to sleep with gum in his mouth and woke up with gum in his hair. When he got out of bed, he tripped over his skateboard and by mistake dropped his sweater in the sink while the water was running. He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Nothing at all was right. Everything went wrong, right down to lima beans for supper and kissing on TV. What do you do on a day like that? Well, you may think about going to Australia. You may also be glad to find that some days are like that for other people too.”
I know little about the creation of this book but I do like that in her bio Ms. Viorst (who is still publishing to this day with such titles as the upcoming September title Lulu Walks the Dogs) writes that she has been writing, “at least since I was seven or eight, when I composed an ode to my dead parents, both of whom were alive and well and, when they read my poem, extremely annoyed.” She has three sons, one of whom is named “Alexander”. And so yet another child of an author goes on to become a cultural phenomenon.
I feel like illustrator Ray Cruz never gets enough credit for this book. I mean, half the time you hear this title mentioned it’s alongside the name “Judith Viorst”. Not Ray Cruz. And certainly the case could be made that unlike some other books it’s the writing and concept of this story that sticks in the mind the best. But I also feel that there’s a reason that this 1972 publication has never been republished with a different artist. The sole biography I was able to track down of the man reads, “Ray Cruz grew up in New York City and has been drawing since he was five years old. In addition to his work as an illustrator, he has had extensive experience in textile design and graphic art.” As for his art, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection in Minnesota may yield some answers there. “The Ray Cruz Papers contain original illustrations, color separations, layouts, and book dummies for nine books illustrated by Cruz between 1971 and 1987.” Yet the Alexander book about moving was actually done by future Fancy Nancy artist Robin Preiss Glasser. Why the switch?
As 100 Best Books for Children points out so accurately, “Bibliotherapy rarely produces a classic, but this book describes perfectly a simple childhood
#7 Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems (2004)
These perfect pictures of New York City complement the family tale of Daddy who is wrong, wrong, wrong, and Trixie, who is totally right, but can’t yet say words to tell him. Heartwarming and hilarious. – Diantha McBride
And this is the book that sealed that obsession evermore. Mo-tastic. - Pam Coughlan
There have been others, and they are just as good, but this one still makes all of us smile (and my youngest is six now). Sometimes, the first one is still the best. - Melissa Fox
This may be a shocking inclusion on the Top 10 list to some, but for others they might remember that last time I conducted this poll Knuffle Bunny came in at a reasonable #10. Now it moves up three spots, which may owe as much to its continued popularity as to the success of its subsequent sequels. I do wonder if even Mr. Mo knew that Trixie would gain a trilogy out of the tale of one lost bunny.
The plot from my old review reads, “Trixie and her pop are off to the local neighborhood Laundromat one bright and sunny day. They get there, load the clothes, and take off for home when little Trixie comes to an awful realization. Knuffle Bunny, her beloved favorite toy, is missing. Unfortunately for her, she has not yet learned to talk. After some valiant tries (my favorite being the single tearful ’snurp’) she feels she has no alternative but to burst into a full-blown tantrum. This doesn’t make her father any happier and since he hasn’t realized what the problem is, he takes her home as she kicks and screams. Once home, however, her mother quickly asks, ‘Where’s Knuffle Bunny’? Back runs the whole family to the Laundromat where, at long last, the beloved bunny is recovered and Trixie says her first real words.”
Its origin story is rooted in a happy accident. Alessandra Balzer (of Balzer & Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins) was in an office with Mo and his art director as he vaguely told a story about his daughter. Alessandra insisted that he turn the story into a book, so he went home to try. He’d done a comic about his family for a DC comics anthology but, as he says in Leonard Marcus’s book Show Me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter, “the characters weren’t popping and I couldn’t get it to work. Then one of my drawings accidentally fell on top of one of the photographs on my light box, and I suddenly had the idea to combine the two.” That distinctive look is part of what sets KB apart from the pack. He result is that Willems believes that by combining drawings with photos “They’re purer than more realistic drawings of the character would have been, because their design focuses on their emotional side.”
Mo spoke at a SCBWI conference in the Pacific Northwest about five or six years ago. At the time he discussed the fact that Knuffle Bunny was the first Caldecott Honor winner to contain photography in any way, shape, or form. He’s been asked since then why he made such a “bold” choice. The fact of the matter, though, is that he partly saw it as a time saver. Of course, once he got into it he didn’t realize the amount of soul-sucking hours it would take to resize the characters so that they’d be proportional within their photographic environment. As it happens, the result is that he managed to create one of the only (perhaps THE only?) Caldecott Honor winners to incorporate photography into its images.
Said Horn Book, “There’s plenty here for kids to embrace. There are playful illustrations and a simple, satisfy
#5 The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)
The first book I would run to on my trips to the library. Just wonderful. – Hotspur Closser
What is it like to be a small child in the snow? Ezra Jack Keats gave us the answer with this timeless story of Peter’s gentle adventures on a day of snow. The pictures are so striking that I had to check to remember that there are, in fact, words. They describe the way Peter walks in the snow with his toes pointing out and then in, the way he drags his feet and finds a stick to drag, too. The stick is “just right for smacking a snow-covered tree.” Such fine, detailed observations! Peter wants to join the big boys’ snowball fight, but knows he’s too little. Instead he makes a snowman and a snow angel. The snowball he takes home in his pocket is the final, funny detail that brings the book to a kindly close. Because even though it melts, there is more snow for tomorrow—and a friend to play with. – Kate Coombs
For the triangle of little boy back peeping through pajamas on the first page, and for the hope Peter packed into his pocket. - DaNae Leu
According to Keats, “The purpose of the book and the subject matter of the book was so strong that my style changed completely. I had never painted that way before. It turned out to be the beginning of a whole new style to me because I was so deeply involved.” Classic. And how.
The description from my review: “In this book, Peter wakes up to discover that snow has covered the city in the night. Delighted, he pulls on his bright red (and now world-known) snowsuit and plunges into a day of exploring and playing. He makes fun tracks, and hits snow off the branches of trees. He constructs a smiling snowman and slides down steep mountains of white powder. At the end of the day his mother gets him out of his wet clothes and gives him a nice hot bath. The next morning the snow is still there, and an ecstatic Peter calls up a friend to do the whole day over again.”
100 Best Books for Children gives some additional background information on the book. “Today it is hard to believe that critics virulently attacked Ezra Jack Keats and that The Snowy Day was one of the most controversial children’s books of the 1960s . . . During the late 1960s and 1970s Keats . . . was accused of everything from stereotyped characters to having no right, as a white man, to feature black children in his books.” Some confusion continues to exist today over Keats’ race. When I complained that my last Top 100 Picture Books Poll was lacking in diversity (a fact that, sad to say, has only been correctly modestly this second time around), one commenter said, “Wasn’t Whistle for Willy in there? For a multicultural author?” And since Willy is, in effect, Snowy Day’s sequel, you can see where the confusion lies (Peter, for the record, would go on to also appear in Peter’s Chair, A Letter to Amy, Goggles, Hi Cat
#41 Curious George by H.A. Rey (1941)
Originally published in 1941, It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of Curious George that this title, and its multitude of subsequent books are still widely circulated, and familiar to young readers. I can see why. Kids can relate to George’s innocently mischievous behavior and his relationship with The Man With the Yellow Hat, who acts as parental figure. In a format extended beyond the typical 32 page picture book standard, the simple text and humorous illustrations continue to draw readers in. – Travis Jonker
The plot from B&N reads, “The first adventure in this highly popular series tells how the little monkey Curious George, caught in the jungle and brought back to the city by a man in a yellow hat, can’t help being interested in all the new things around him. Though well meaning, George’s curiosity always gets him into trouble.”
Few picture books inspire people to write heroic stories about their own creators but that’s exactly what happened in 2005 when the title The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden was published. As the story goes, H.A. (or Hans) and Margret cobbled together two bicycles and took off for Marseilles when the Germans invaded Paris. They were stopped along the way by Nazi soldiers, but when Hans showed them the pictures he had done of the little monkey who would become George the Germans were charmed and let the two go.
According to 100 Best Books for Children, George’s original name was Fifi. Strangely (har har), American editors didn’t dig the moniker. Interestingly enough, “Margret Rey served as writer and Hans as illustrator on all the books, although she did not always get title-page recognition.” Not much in the way of cover recognition either, I see.
Some objections to the book don’t care for how The Man in the Yellow Hat kidnaps George from his native land without so much as a howdy-doo. This fed nicely into Michael Rex’s Furious George Goes Bananas, which is probably the top George parody out there right now. Of course, this little monkey has survived everything from full-screen adaptations to his own TV show to the recent introduction of a Curious George application for iPhones. He’s cutting edge, this guy. I suspect he’ll be around for a while.
You may read the book here.
And no tribute to George is ever truly complete without this reading by “Werner Herzog” (so to speak).
#31 Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (1948)
It’s hard to pick a favorite McCloskey, but I think of this one every time I pick blueberries. – Jessalyn Gale
Honestly, I think my favorite part as a kid was just staring at the endpapers with the scene of Sal and her mom in the kitchen, noticing all the details. This is a hangover favorite from childhood that I really can’t otherwise think to say what’s so great about it except that I always loved it. - Amy M. Weir
I was speaking with a fellow librarian the other day about a classic children’s book (which shall remain nameless) that both of us missed in our youth. Our response to it was not overwhelmingly positive, and we figured that had to be because we “missed it”. Now I don’t remember reading Blueberries for Sal as a kid, but I don’t think it’s possible to “miss” the appeal of this one. Brooke and Amy have already pinpointed the two major reasons why: Blueberry picking is the ultimate child sport, and any author/illustrator who can make blue ink continually compelling must be some kind of genius. I’ve heard theories that speculate that part of the charm of this book also lies in the boy/girl nature of Sal. She/He walks about in those gender neutral overalls and long, but not too long, hair. We associate the name “Sal” with “Sally”, but it could just as easily be a nickname for “Salvador” and the like. It’s a theory anyway.
The Amazon summary of the plot reads, “Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk go the blueberries into the pail of a little girl named Sal who–try as she might–just can’t seem to pick as fast as she eats. Robert McCloskey’s classic is a magical tale of the irrepressible curiosity–not to mention appetite–of youth. Sal and her mother set off in search of blueberries for the winter at the same time as a mother bear and her cub. A quiet comedy of errors ensues when the young ones wander off and absentmindedly trail the wrong mothers.”
Minders of Make-Believe has a section on McCloskey that sums the man up pretty well. “As May Massee’s protege and the son-in-law of Newbery Medal winner Ruth Sawyer, McCloskey, his genuinely modest midwestern manner notwithstanding, was as close to being picture-book royalty as it was possible to come.” And Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer offers this consideration of the book: “Blueberries for Sal shows how we select the sweetness in the world and how adventure – little Sal confronted with a baby bear – can resolve itself through taste.” Lerer then goes on to say that, in a sense, this book had a sequel. “In One Morning in Maine, Sal has grown to an age when she can lose a tooth – and lose it she does, as she and her family go clam-digging.” Huh. I had no idea. I’ve even read and enjoyed One Morning in Maine, but the name “Sal” never quite struck my notice.
Blueberries for Sal made the news not too long ago when it was discovered that book, against all logic and reason, was out of print. In the April 9, 2009 Publishers Weekly article The Return of ‘Blueberries for Sal’, however, the entire situation was explained and resolved. You see the McCloskey estate wanted to renegotiate the rights and when an immediate solution wasn’t availabl
#32 The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton (1942)
I love this story and sometimes can’t get through it without crying. - Laurie Zaepfel
I just loved this story when I was younger. I still do. You learn about the seasons, pollution, the difference between rural and urban. And the artwork – love it! – Alexandra Eichel
because it’s an economically designed tale of change, entropy, and survival. – Philip Nel
Phil may be on to something with that. I feel that the status of Virginia Lee Burton’s two best known picture books, this and Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel, have experienced a change in status over the years. Mike Mulligan could be considered far more of a household name. After all he plays a big role in one of the Ramona books (or, at the very least, his personal needs do). The last time we conducted this poll, though, he ended up at #40 with The Little House at #25. Now . . . well, I’ll give it to you straight. Only three people voted for Mike this time around and none of them called him #1. I mean, if you had sat me down, placed The Little House and Mike Mulligan in front of me side-by-side, and asked me to pick which one of the two would make it into the Top 25, the answer would have been Mike all that way. I love me my Little House but certainly when I was growing up Mr. Mulligan had the most sway. After all, 100 Best Books for Children says that of all her books, Ms. Burton’s, “greatest contribution to the American landscape remains the saga of Mary Anne and Mike Mulligan.” Not anymore, it seems. Certainly when one takes into account the current housing crises and the various dilapidated and forgotten homes around the country, the tale of The Little House has a lot more to say to us than that of a guy building a basement. Plus it has the extra added advantage of featuring a house that’s just as depressed about its situation as its occupants would be.
The plot from my review: “Long ago a little house was built in the country. The man who built her decided that this house, special as it was, could never be bought and sold. Instead, he planned on leaving it to his children, his children’s children, and his children’s children’s children. Etc. The house was pleased with the arrangement. It watched the seasons go by. It watched the children that played in it grow up and move away. It even watched the changing fashions and modes of transportation. Horse and buggies one day, automobiles the next. This is all well and good until a new asphalt road appears. Suddenly it’s a heckuva lot easier for people to reach the area in which the little house lives. Things get faster and suddenly the little house is surrounded by tenement houses. Then there are trolley cars (oh the trolley cars). Next comes elevated trains, and subways, and (worst of all) gigantic skyscrapers on either side of the now seriously dilapidated little house. One day, a descendent of the original owner sees the house and inquires after it. Since it turns out she owns it (I guess… the book’s a little shaky on the legal aspects of ownership at this point) the house is summarily picked up by movers and taken to the country she loves so much. Happy house. Happy family. The end.”
Just prior to writing Th
#33 The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (1971)
A timeless classic. I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t plan to; it’s one of those cases in which the book is perfect just as it is. – Melissa Fox
because “UNLESS someone like you / cares a whole awful lot, / nothing is going to get better. / It’s not.” - Philip Nel
Previously #83 our little Lorax take an almighty leap and goes up fifty places to #33. Undoubtedly the film helped to give him a bit of a push. That’s the way a list like this works sometimes. Classics with recent tie-ins move up faster because of their new status. So here he is, ladies and gentlemen! The little guy who starred in a made-for-TV movie that I saw when I was eight and have been effectively traumatized by ever since. If I’m a good environmentalist, it’s because The Lorax made me so. Violently.
Basic plot: The Once-ler moves to town, takes advantage of all the natural resources he can get his grubby hands on (and the guy is mostly hands) and ignores the pleas of The Lorax to stop before it’s too late. Too late it becomes and The Lorax takes off for greener pastures. Hope then resides in a small boy and the single seed of a Truffula Tree that The Once-ler has saved in spite of everything.
Said School Library Journal, “The big, colorful pictures and the fun images, word plays and rhymes make this an amusing exposition of the ecology crisis.”
So the recent movie . . . I haven’t seen it myself, though I was a little perturbed that none of the commercials showed anything closely resembling pollution in them. Even more disturbing? A commercial that may well be remembered as the most ironic children’s literature/movie tie-in of all time.
I hate to say it, but give me that old creepy hand drawn version any day of the week.
And I’d show you the pretty Lorax statue but . . . well . . .
#34 Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola (1975)
I must have a thing for bowls that duplicate stuff. Strega Nona in many ways mirrors the 4th title on this list, The Full Belly Bowl. But unlike Aylesworth’s book, Strega Nona focuses on humor to get its point across. dePaola’s 1979 classic takes an original tale and makes it feel timeless – no small feat. – Travis Jonker
I was working the Reference Desk one day when a small blond boy knee-high to a butterfly came up to me. He wanted me to find a book for him and I said I’d try. What was it about? “There’s a woman with a white hat but she’s NOT a Pilgrim,” he told me thoroughly. Apparently he had encountered the pilgrim problem before. “And there’s baby Jesus and a donkey and a baker’s son.” Uh-oh. This was not sounding too familiar. A Befana story, maybe? But where does the baker’s son come in? “Uh.. is there anything else you remember?” I asked, not hoping for much. He screwed up his little face then said, “There’s a pot and it has magic spaghetti in it . . . .” Say no more! I made a jackrabbit-like leap to the shelves and pulled off Strega Nona as fast as I could. Baby Jesus and donkey aside, it was exactly the book he was looking for. And why not? Strega Nona is my own personal favorite of the Tomie de Paola oeuvre. The telling, the pictures, the way it all comes together . . . it comes as close to being a perfect picture book as anyone could hope to find.
From my old review: “Strega Nona lives by her lonesome in a small cottage in Calabria, Italy. A witch by trade, she cures the townspeople of their ailments, warts, and headaches. When Big Anthony is hired on as Strega Nona’s servant she gives him very strict instructions on what he is required to do, and what is forbidden. Quoth Strega Nona, ‘The one thing you must never do is touch the pasta pot’. You see where this is going. After watching the witch conjure delicious cooked pasta fully formed from the pot, Anthony is eager to show this miracle himself to the people of the town. When Strega Nona leaves on a trip, Anthony speaks her spell and feeds everyone in the vicinity delicious, piping hot pasta. Unfortunately, Anthony didn’t quite catch the trick to making the pasta stop flowing. As the villagers attempt to prevent the growing threat from destroying their town, Strega Nona arrives just in time to put everything right again. Anthony receives a just comeuppance and all is well in the world.”
Apropos of nothing, I always thought that Big Anthony was kinda cute. This is why I’ve been careful to avoid marrying any picture book characters. I have terrible taste in their men.
I highly recommend reading the Bottom Shelf Books look at this book, particularly the discussion of Streganomics. And that reminds me… are you brave enough to discover the secrets lurking within . . . The DePaola Code?
The New York Times Book Review said of it, “De Paola’s illustrations aptly capture the whimsy of this ancient tale… simple line drawings clearly reveal the agony and ecstasy of pasta power, the muted colors create just the right ambiance for a Medieval village.”
#35 The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1989)
I remember when this book was the hit of the third grade. Everyone passed it around and read it and we all were cracking up. Fractured fairy tales in the hands of the skilled Jon Scieszka makes for fun reading! – Sarah
Rocky and Bullwinkle would have been proud. The fractured fairy tale is never so fractured as when it springs newborn from the mouth of the ultimate unreliable narrator. Consider it the book that brought us our Scieszka and our Lane. Though you might think that their Stinky Cheese Man would make it higher on the list, this is certainly not the case.
The synopsis from my old review: “As A. Wolf puts it, the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. One of those events that get blown way out of proportion. See, it’s like this… the wolf was just looking to borrow a cup of sugar for his poor bed-ridden granny. He wanted to make a cake for her, but finding himself lacking the necessary ingredients he went to his nearest neighbor to borrow some. Now here’s where it all went higgledy-piggledy. The pig (living in a straw home) didn’t answer the door and the wolf had a bad cold. By pure bad luck he accidentally sneezed the home down and, in effect, killed the pig. Thinking it a bad idea to waste pork, the wolf ate the pig and decided to try another neighbor. And so it went until he got to the brick house and was shortly, thereafter, arrested. And all for the want of a cup of sugar.”
According to 100 Best Books for Children, Jon and Lane sort of did the thing you’re told not to do when creating a picture book. Under normal circumstances you’re supposed to come in with your portfolio (if you’re an artist) or you text (if you’re an author) and the publisher pairs you up with somebody. In this particular case, Smith and Scieszka met in a zoo (please hold all appropriate comments until I finish) and when Lane went in to show his portfolio to editor Regina Hayes he showed her Smith’s manuscript as well. Batta bing, batta boom, instant fame, glory, and rocket ships to the moon. As Scieszka himself said of the book in a Puffin interview, “Our first book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs sold thirty bazillion copies in eight languages.” Sounds ’bout right.
Fun Fact: The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature gets the title of this book wrong. No, really! It does. Check out page 875. Granted it’s just the small goof of calling this The Story of the Three Little Pigs rather than The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, but I think the inclusion of the “True” in the title is necessary. Nay! Imperative. They almost make up for the gaff by finishing his bio by saying, “critics have called Scieszka’s work ‘postmodern’ Children call it funny.” Good save, Norton me pal. We’ll let you off the hook this time.
- Strangely enough you can read the full text here, if you’ve half a mind to. Sans pictures, though.
- Thinking about it, I saw Scieszka talk about this book briefly in a recent B&N video. In it he says: “I get a lot of mail from Kindergartners. Actually a lot of it addressed to A. Wolf saying, ‘Dear Mr. Wolf. You were bad. You should be in jail.’ Which I t
#36 The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957)
Adore the story and it brought reading to an access level for beginning readers. - Mary Friedrichs
The poor cat didn’t make it onto the list last time because I wasn’t including easy readers. Now he bursts onto the scene, hat askew, intentions questionable, lovable to his core. Recently he’s been turned into an animated serious on television. He’s appearing in countless easy nonfiction books. He’s even slated for a new movie (see: the end of this post).
The plot as described by Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children reads, “The cat arrives one day to entertain two young children. As the rhyme spins out of control, so do the antics of the mayhem-making cat, and chaos ensues. But before Mother returns, the cat cleans up everything, leaving the children to ponder whether or not to tell her what happened.”
In terms of its creation, one of the best explanations I’ve found actually came from Cracked.com in an article discussing how Dr. Seuss had a tendency to write books as responses to dares. As they so eloquently put it, “It started with a 1955 article by William Spaulding of Houghton Mifflin, called ‘Why Johnny Can’t Read’. Instead of taking the easy route (‘Because Johnny is stupid.’) Spaulding analyzed the state of reading material for young children and found it insufferably boring. Not only did nobody care about Dick and Jane throwing a ball, least of all small children with short attention spans, but the choice of words was haphazard – throwing in anything with one or two syllables instead of deliberately coming up with the most useful words to help kids learn. Spaulding hooked up with Seuss and challenged him with the novel idea of writing a book with an actual story kids would want to read. If that wasn’t crazy enough, he asked him to use a list of 300 words that they had come up with, targeted toward helping kids practice phonics. Seuss thought this was insane and was attempting to politely back out of it when he glanced at the list one more time and decided he’d make a title out of the first two rhyming words he saw. They were “cat” and “hat”. Nine months of frustrating work later, he had a book that was 1702 words long with only 220 unique words, telling an interesting story, introducing an unforgettable character, and completely written in anapestic dimeter.”
According to Silvey it wasn’t until the bookstore edition was published that the title made any waves at all. Once it was discovered it managed to sell a MILLION copies in three years.
As I may have mentioned before, I’m a sucker for a good statue. This pairing from the Dr. Seuss National Memorial at The Quadrangle in Springfield, Massachusetts fulfills my every need. So cool.
In 1971 they turned it into an animated film. It’s a bit long but this doggone song, THIS DOGGONE SONG, will simply not leave my brain. The ultimate earworm. Watch it at your own risk.
I will spare you the horrendous produce-placement-strewn Mike Myers fiasco. Are you happy or sad to hear
4 Comments on Top 100 Picture Books #36: The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, last added: 6/2/2012
#37 The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (2009)
I love David Wiesner, but as funny as his wordless books are, none of them match this one for the combined power of the storytelling and sheer beauty of the drawings. One of the most deserving Caldecott winners ever. - Mark Flowers
I approach this book with such reverence when I pull it of the shelf. It’s a masterpiece. – Aaron Zenz
Stunning. – Stacy Dillon
Caldecott Award decisions are mysterious things. No one on a given committee is allowed to talk about what was said or what went down. I have no information about the 2010 committee that handed Jerry Pinkney his first, long overdue, Caldecott Medal. If I were to hazard a guess I would have to believe that their deliberations must have been short. Everyone in 2009 knew that Pinkney was the frontrunner. If it hadn’t won, great torrents of blood would have been shed.
The plot as written in my review reads, “Set against the African Serengeti of Tanzania and Kenya, a single small mouse escapes the claws of a hungry owl, only to find herself trapped within the paw of a huge lion. On a whim, the lion lets the mouse go and then sets about his merry way. Unfortunately, poachers have been putting up traps, and before he knows it the lion is caught and bound in nasty ropes, high above the ground. To his rescue comes the little mouse, and she nibbles the ropes until they give way and free the lion. In her mouth she leaves with one of the knots of rope, which she gives her family of tiny babies at home to play with. On the final endpapers, the lion and his family of cubs prowl with the mouse and her family safely ensconced on the lion’s back.”
Smart, Mr. Pinkney. Clever, Mr. Pinkney. Little, Brown has a weakness for a titleless cover (see: Eggs) so I’m not surprised that they took a chance on this one. The fact is, though, that without a title the cover is all the more impressive. A great big gorgeous lion seen head-on in raucous waves of orange, yellow, brown, and gold. Cleverer still is to turn it over and see the mouse on the back, blown up so that it fills the back cover just as the lion fills the front. When the book is opened up, the two end up looking at one another, and both appear on the spine. Nice.
Lest you forget, this book does NOT mark the first time Pinkney has illustrated this story. Recall well his illustrated story in the book Aesop’s Fables. You can see how similar his old lion and mouse team are to this new lion and mouse team here.
PW said, “Pinkney has no need for words; his art speaks eloquently for itself.”
SLJ said, “The ambiguity that results from the lack of words in this version allows for a slower, subtle, and ultimately more satisfying read. Moments of humor and affection complement the drama. A classic tale from a consummate artist.”
#38 Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle (1967)
The lilting rhythm of this book is so soothing and familiar, and Eric Carle’s art is classic. Love the colors, love the animals, love the familiarity. – Amy Johnson
It is a preschool icon. – Angela Reynolds
If you are ever lucky enough to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, do be so good as to see whether or not they have an exhibit on Eric Carle’s work going at that particular moment (the odds are good). When I visited roughly a year ago there was a simply lovely exhibit at the time (The Art of Eric Carle: Bears and Beyond) that discussed Brown Bear, Brown Bear at length. I guess I’d always been under the impression that the Brown Bear you buy in the bookstores today looks exactly like the original Brown Bear as it was originally conceived in Eric Carle’s shiny brain. Not the case. Brown Bear has seen many incarnations over the years, all of them created by Carle’s guiding hand. Here are two:
This makes particular sense when you discover that Brown Bear was Carle’s debut.
The description of the book from the publisher reads: “A big happy frog, a plump purple cat, a handsome blue horse, and a soft yellow duck– all parade across the pages of this delightful book. Children will immediately respond to Eric Carle’s flat, boldly colored collages. Combined with Bill Martin’s singsong text, they create unforgettable images of these endearing animals.”
I was not read Brown Bear as a child. Honestly, I don’t remember it existing at all. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was the known Carle in my part of the woods. So when I became an adult, Brown Bear was introduced to me as a children’s librarian and as an adult. I should note, however, that it is my readaloud staple. Sing it to them to the Baa Baa Black Sheep / Alphabet Song tune and watch their little mouths grow quiet and their little bodies sway in time to the music.
School Library Journal made special note of some of the illustrations’ updates in its review: “In this new edition of the popular classic (Holt, 1983), the same clean design and crisp text remain. Illustrations, however, have been slightly altered. Stronger colors and more texture help delineate animal bodies more sharply. Positions and shapes are slightly changed, resulting in a less static look. Red Bird is shown in flying position with a sleeker body, sharper beak, and more carefully defined tail and wing features. Yellow Duck has webbed feet and an open bill; Blue Horse has black hooves and teeth showing; Green Frog a spotted back and pink tongue; the former Mother with pale pink skin has become Teacher with beige skin tones and darker hair. The overall effect is livelier and more interesting, although changes are minimal enough that the old edition is still serviceable. When replacements are in order, this will be a welcome addition.”
Fun Note: Did you know that Bill Martin Jr. wrote a Christian version of this book called Adam, Adam What Do You See? Nor I
#39 Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin (2000)
Si, se puede! Yes they can! When Labor Day rolls around and I need to make a labor-related book display (oh yeah, that’s how I roll) what do I like to pull out? Nothing short of the old Click, Clack, Moo. We’ve talked about how a lot of the books on this list make for good readalouds, but this book is, for me, a staple. I sometimes forget how good it is too. So simple. So perfect. “The duck was a neutral party.” How you top sentences like that?
Children’s Literature described the plot as, ” ‘Cows that type? Impossible!’ That’s what Farmer Brown thinks when he first hears the ‘click, clack’ from the barn, but then he reads the note the cows write him. All they want is electric blankets for the cold barn. When he refuses, they go on strike. What’s worse for the farmer is that the strike spreads to the cold hens as well. Duck finally negotiates a compromise. Unfortunately for Farmer Brown, the ducks have learned from all this, leaving us with a smile at the ending.”
Yup. It’s a picture book about the man keeping you down. I wish I could remember whether or not it appears in Tales for Little Rebels (no index) or I’d quote you some good old-fashioned union politics as well. Ah well. For now we’ll just have to leave it at “really good story” and be satisfied with that. Eventually the duck would come to rule the series, but in this tale he has a relatively understated (comically so) role.
Some folks have told me that the book is outdated because kids don’t know what typewriters are anymore. You say outdated, I say classic. Even if you don’t initially recognize what a typewriter is, it explains itself pretty well right from the start. Besides, if it were a laptop then the title might have been Tip, Tap, Moo and that’s far less interesting.
Publishers Weekly said of it, “Kids and underdogs everywhere will cheer for the clever critters that calmly and politely stand up for their rights, while their human caretaker becomes more and more unglued.”
#40 Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (1994)
This book provides so many moments of glee: the gorilla unlocking the various cages, the animals following the zookeeper into his house, the darkness being filled with a chorus of “good nights”…this is one of those books that appeals to 6-month-olds and three-year-olds alike (and probably older, too, but we only know up to 3 1/2!). – Amy Johnson
Are you surprised? I was. A little. In this kind of list you expect the top books to be made up of the old old classics. Your Blueberries for Sal or your Millions of Cats. But this intrepid little 1994 upstart not only managed to get into the Top 100, it make it to the Top 50. I call that chutzpah.
Children’s Literature described the plot as, “In this nearly wordless book young children will have a good laugh as they watch the zookeeper making his rounds and wishing the animals all goodnight. The clever gorilla has swiped the zookeeper’s keys and as he visits each cage, he opens it and lets the animal out. As the keeper heads for home, the animals all follow along and join him and his wife for a good night’s sleep. Or so it seems until the zookeeper’s wife realizes that something has gone wrong when she hears a chorus of goodnights. She takes the animals back to the zoo, but our crafty gorilla is not one to be outdone.”
Every year the American booksellers pronounce their Cuffie Awards in categories of every shape and form. Kudos to them then for giving Good Night, Gorilla the 1994 Cuffie for “Most Likely to Succeed in Years Ahead”. Now THAT is foresight.
Good Night, Gorilla began its life as a picture book, but as the years have gone by it has seen quite a lot of popularity in its board book form. Good Night, Gorilla has adapted to the board book format beautifully, in that it is virtually wordless and its pictures are bright enough and colorful enough to stand out on those thick little pages. Indeed in Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano’s A Family of Readers: The Book Lover’s Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Literature, Martha holds up this book as one of the few very fine picture book to board book transformations. As she says, “Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night, Gorilla makes the transition with great success. (Note how the cover makes an immediate connection between the mischievous gorilla and the child audience – an irresistible invitation to young readers.)”
In the biography portion of her website, we learn that Ms. Rathmann began life in Minnesota and eventually went to the University of Minnesota where she changed her major several times. “I wanted to teach sign language to gorillas, but after taking a class in signing, I realized what I’d rather do was draw pictures of gorillas.” About this book in particular the site has this to say:
“A homework assignment produced an almost wordless story, Good Night, Gorilla, inspired by a childhood memory. ‘When I wa
#30 Owl Moon by Jane Yolen (1987)
When I read this book, I can feel and hear the snow crunching under my feet. I can actually hear the silence. – Susan Lang
It seems appropriate that just as the weather warms up for summer we take one last plunge into winter at its deepest and darkest. This wintery tale marks the appearance of yet another Caldecott Award winner on the list and there’s nothing better for evoking the chills brought on both by nocturnal cold, and the awe inspiring appearance of meticulously rendered wildlife.
The plot as described by Publishers Weekly reads, “A girl and her father go owling on a moonlit winter night near the farm where they live. Bundled tight in wool clothes, they trudge through snow ‘whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl’; here and there, hidden in ink-blue shadows, a fox, raccoon, fieldmouse and deer watch them pass. An air of expectancy builds as Pa imitates the Great Horned Owl’s call once without answer, then again. From out of the darkness ‘an echo/ came threading its way/ through the trees.’ Schoenherr’s watercolor washes depict a New England few readers see: the bold stare of a nocturnal owl, a bird’s-eye view of a farmhouse.”
In the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature Ms. Yolen is described as, “one of today’s most prolific and experimental writers of fairy tales.” Because the entry is primarily concentrating on her work as it applies to the story The Lady and the Merman. So it’s funny that while Norton’s mentions her various books, it doesn’t whisper a word about the fact that her book Owl Moon won a Caldecott. It reads instead that, “She writes with grace and painstaking care to create tales that evoke the atmosphere of long ago and other worlds, employing metaphors and symbols in unusual combinations that produce new associations.” And then here today we instead find picture book that is realism incarnate.
In fact, in Cullinan and Galda’s Literature and the Child (5th edition) the book gives Owl Moon a close look specifically in a section called “Contemporary Realistic Fiction”. Says the title, “The story is deceptively simple, for poetic prose evokes powerful images of the cold, dark winter night, the silence, the beauty of the woods white with snow, and the adventure that child and father undertake.” And in terms of the Caldecott winning illustrations Cullinan and Galda go on to say, “His [Schoenherr’s] pictures correspond to what the text is saying, but they also transcend it. His use of light and white space is extraordinary, making the dark spruce woods and winter night seem lit from within. In most of the pictures the father and child are small, insignificant intruders in the forest of towering trees and pristine snow.”
Does the name “Schoenherr” sound oddly familiar to you? Do you have the vague feeling that you’ve seen it on books recently, though perhaps not with the first name “John”? Perhaps you are familiar with a talented young man by the name of Ian Schoenherr then. An artist of uncommon talents, Ian is the son of John and has put out such laudable books as Cat & Mouse and (now on bookstore shelves) the unbelievably useful to children’s librarians Read It, Don’t Eat It.
In terms of Owl Moon, Jane’s website allows you to see the
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#20 Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (2010)
Once the song is downloaded and played, it will never leave your head! Catchy in a good way. Also, it teaches an important lesson to “not sweat the small stuff.” Great for kids and adults alike. – Gina Detate
Do not be fooled by the simplicity of this little picture book. As with Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, there is more here than meets the eye; there is genius in the pages.
Here is my Tip-slash-Promise: If you will teach your little ones two things before you start reading, you will have an instant-favorite on your hands.
1] Teach them to say, with enthusiasm, of course, “”Goodness, no!”"
2] Teach them the song Pete sings. You can see a video of the author himself reading this book with kids at PetetheCat.com. Super-simple to learn and sing. Kids lovelovelove it.
One of my favorite things about Pete the Cat is the moral of the story, which speaks to adults more than it does to kids. Winner.
Warning: You will find yourself singing, at odd times of the day, “I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes….” – Kristi Hazelrigg
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create a serious upset! A show of hands from all of you who saw this one coming. A few? Well done then. Though aware of Pete’s popularity I had mentally relegated him to that genre of popular picture books that get a lot of attention then fade slowly into the mist. I had not counted on Pete’s ability to attract not only the masses but the gatekeepers as well.
The plot according to SLJ reads, “Pete the Cat strolls down the street singing, ‘I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes.’ Then he steps in (actually climbs up) a huge hill of strawberries that turn his pristine sneakers red. ‘Did Pete cry? Goodness, no! He kept walking along and singing his song. I love my red shoes….’ He proceeds to step in a mound of blueberries and then a mud puddle, each incident changing his sneakers to a new hue (the colors never blend). Unsmiling but placid, Pete takes it all in stride. After stepping into a ‘bucket’—more like a tub—of water, he notices that his sneakers are not only white again, but also wet.”
The story behind the book is one of those once in a blue moon success stories. Artist James Dean started out as an electrical engineer, actually. After quitting his job to paint full time he adopted a small black cat, named it Pete, and started painting it with blue fur. The real Pete took off for parts unknown but James kept painting him. That’s when Eric saw the paintings around town (the town in question being Atlanta) and started writing songs about him. Eventually the two men collaborated and voila. Instant picture book. The original Pete picture book was published by the author and illustrator in 2008 by their own Blue Whisker Press. Two years later Harper Collins snapped him up and wasted no time in introducing him to the wider world.
Of course the flipside of this book being the massive success that it is is that now publishers are far more open to finding and publishing self-published picture books. The successful ones that already have a following, anyway. And because Pete is such a 21st century hep cat, I suspect that his rise has as much to do with his YouTube video as the book itself. Can another picture book say the same? I think not.
- Want some Pete art of your own? Find it