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Sunday, August 4, 2013

10 Picture Books That Should Be On Your Shelf And Probably Aren't...

When folks are looking for kids books I like to point them towards titles that aren't necessarily bestsellers but in my opinion should be.  Here is a list of some of my favorite picture books (in absolutely no particular order) to recommend.  Some of them may well be completely unfamiliar to you.   If they are I hope you'll pop into your local book shop or library to take a look.  Others may be written or illustrated by someone you already know and love.  I really, really love to share some of those lesser known titles.  So take a look and let me know what you think in the comments section below.
  1. One Cool Friend (2012) written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by David Small:  This book was nominated for the Caldecott in 2013 but lost out to Jon Klassen's This Is Not My Hat.  One Cool Friend is the story of an unusually polite and proper little boy and his father who is well, just plain unusual.  You'll love these illustrations - especially Small's use of color.  The text is clever and I think you're kiddos will really love the surprise at the end! 
  2. Black Dog (2012) written and illustrated by Levi Pinfold: This book is quite simply a masterpiece.  The illustrations are breathtaking.  I've read the book at least two dozen times and each time I discover something new in the illustrations.   The story itself is a thoughtful yet playful lesson in what happens when we let our imagination run away from us.  You will absolutely love Small Hope (called so because she is the youngest member of the Hope Family) and her courageous spirit. 
  3. Press Here (2011) written and illustrated by Herve Tullet: This deceptively simple book is a delight to all who stumble across it.  On each page the reader is asked to complete various tasks such as pressing on the dots or shaking the book.  The results of those actions are shown on the illustrations in  following pages.  I guarantee it will make you and your kiddos laugh out loud. 
  4. Stuck (2011) written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers: I'll be brutally honest - I could have put ANY Oliver Jeffers book on this list.  He is one of my absolute favorites in the world of children's literature. He is irreverent and playful in a way that is a wee bit reminiscent of Mo Willems (you can check out my previous blog about Mo to see what I think about him).  His many books are delightfully illustrated and quite often fantastically absurd.  Stuck is the story of Floyd.  All Floyd wants to do is fly his kite. Unfortunately, it has become tangled in the limbs of a tree.  The intractably determined Floyd will stop at nothing to free his kite - with hilarious results!
  5. Where Do Balloons Go: An Uplifting Mystery (2000) written by Jamie Lee Curtis (yes that Jamie Lee Curtis) and illustrated by Laura Cornell: Apparently if you are in anyway shape or form famous you are required to write a children's book.  Most of the time my reaction to these books are very lukewarm.  Jamie Lee Curtis is the exception.  Her books are insightful, funny and very charmingly illustrated by Laura Cornell.  Where Do Balloons Go is a fabulous story that explores the great mystery of what happens when a balloon is lost and drifts away.  I first read it more than a dozen years ago (pre-kiddos) and was taken by it's tone and premise.  All of the books by this author and illustrator (please, please also check out Today I feel Silly) are fantastic but Where Do Balloons Go is by far and away my favorite.
  6. Mister Seahorse (2004) written and illustrated by Eric Carle: Every child owns at least one book by the incomparable Eric Carle.  Most likely they own several.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Grouchy Ladybug are staples in most homes (including mine) - and rightfully so.  But Mister Seahorse is an often overlooked picture book that explores the role of fatherhood in various sea creatures.  It also offers a fantastic introduction to camouflage using phenomenal illustrations and acetate overlays.  It is a beautiful, bright first lesson in marine biology and a touching father-child tale all in one.  A book that Eric Carle and Eric Carle alone could have delivered. 
  7. The Dark (2013) is an insanely brilliant collaboration from two of the greatest the imaginations in children's literature - Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen:  The Dark is the story of Lazlo a young boy who is afraid of the dark.  In this book darkness is more than an absence of light.  The Dark is an actual character just like Lazlo.  They share the same home. The Dark understands Lazlo's fears and finds a way to help him overcome them so that they can live together.  This exceptional new book is ideal for any kiddo struggling with their own fear of the dark. Plus, did I mention it's by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen?
  8. Mossy (2012) written and illustrated by Jan Brett: No serious list of great kids books can be complete without at least one of Jan Brett's amazing books.  I am sure you already know and love The Mitten or The Hat or The Umbrella (and if you don't then get thee to a bookstore!).    The story of Mossy, an ordinary box turtle growing an extraordinary garden on her shell, and Scoot the turtle who loves her.  It is told through amazingly detailed pictures which are framed by even more detailed illustrations.  Jan Brett is arguably one of the greatest illustrators of her generation.  Her books are a study in nature as well as humanity.  Mossy is simply the latest in a long line of astoundingly beautiful children's books. 
  9. How to Babysit A Grandpa (2012) written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish: Grandpas are pretty special people.  Clearly Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish get that.  This charming little tale is told from the point of view of a grandchild offering insightful advice on how to best meet a grandfather's needs.  It comes complete with snack recommendations and activities to entertain a grandpa.  It is a sweet, funny, lovely book for any kiddo who loves their grandpa (& grandpa who loves their kiddo).  My only complaint is that Reagan and Wildish have yet to publish a companion piece for Grandmas. 
  10. Open Very Carefully: A Book With Bite written by Nick Bromley and illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne (2013): What happens when you set out to retell the tale of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson only to discover that a hungry crocodile has stumbled into the story?  Well you and your kiddos will just have to read this hilarious book for yourself to find out! 
I had to whittle this list down from 25.  So many amazing books to love and share!  But I'll save those for other entries.  Go read and snuggle your kiddos! 


  1. Thanks for the "shout out" for HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA. I'm happy to announce that the companion grandma book (yep, HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDMA) will be published in March 2014! Lee Wildish is the illustrator again. Yahoo!

    Jean Reagan, the author

  2. Thank you so much for your comment! I am very excited to know that my little blog came to your attention. I'm thrilled to hear that you've written a companion book and cannot wait to see it. Your Grandpa book really is a charmer. It's so much fun to show to grandpas. They just beam. Congratulations on all your success!