Monday, March 09, 2009

The Best Picture Books of All Time

Oh, dear. I love reading children’s books. My earliest memories of books are reading beginning readers to myself. Beginning Readers, I will point out here, are expressly not allowed in Elizabeth Bird’s contest. She’s running a poll at A Fuse #8 Production for the top 100 picture books of all time. Choosing couldn’t be harder if she’d asked me to pick a favorite cat, and for the same reason: the good ones are all fabulous, and utterly unlike one another.

But I’m not one to shirk a difficult task, and I always love recommending books, so here’s my shortlists. That’s right, lists. I narrowed down a little bit by eliminating all the books I love as nostalgia, either as memories of my own or the Offspring’s childhood. And I weeded out board books, along with beginning readers in hopes that they’ll get their own poll someday. But there was one decision I could not make: do I go with the list of author/illustrators who are one person, fulfilling a personal vision, or go with the list of authors and illustrators who have been brought together by an editor to fulfill a more collaborative vision?

Well, since I can’t decide, I’m going to throw my lists up here, in hopes that any readers who see this will give me a little help.

The Auteurs

These are the ones we love. Always, everything they do. We cannot any of us resist them.

1 Pssst! Adam Rex Very funny. This and Tree Ring Circus are the best for the youngest kids, while the Frankenstein books require a more interest in words and more context. So far we love Smekday best of all, which means, I hope, that we can expect plenty more wonderful books to come.

2 Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale Mo Willems Really, both the Knuffle Bunny books score highly. As much as the Piggie and Elephant and Pigeon books delight, the combination of photography and cartoon is special, and the stories are perfect, even for kids who never had a special toy.

3 Chester Mélanie Watt Still more metafiction. All of Watt’s books have captivated us, but the two starring Chester are the best. He is such a naughty cat, getting all up in the book like that.

4 Olivia
Ian Falconer Olivia wears me out, but I admire her energy, her imagination, her joie de vivre. Also, the business of moving Edwin cracks me up like nothing else. I like that Olivia isn’t growing up too much. She’s a wonderful child and I love her.

5 Animalia
Graeme Base This is the first book of Base’s that I discovered, and it’s still a favorite. I don’t know how many things he managed to fit into each letter, but over a decade after its release, rereadings still reveal new items. It’s hardly surprising that Base would go on to create more complicated puzzles, which we also love.

6 Bark George
Jules Feiffer The artwork here is loose, and the text is minimal, but there is so much life in Feiffer’s cartoons, and such a great payoff at the end. Making the animal noises is the best fun.

7 10 Minutes to Bedtime
Peggy Rathmann Another book filled with endless delight. You have to find the ten numbered hamsters in every spread, you have to see what everyone else is up to, you have to find all the references to Rathmann’s other works. So little text, and such a vivid story.

8 The Three Pigs
David Wiesner More metafiction as Wiesner explores the space around a book, and behind, and between. The shift from two-dimensional art work to three is amazing, and weird, and delightful.

9 Goodnight Opus Berkeley Breathed I don’t like Goodnight Moon. I don’t remember it from my childhood, and I’m rather disappointed at the art and the slightly messed up rhythm of the text. But I dearly love what Breathed does with the trappings of childhood, both mocking and warmly acknowledging. And the bunny jammies!

10 Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book?
Lauren Child Very metafictional, and very fun. Child has a wonderful since of voice, best displayed in the Charlie and Lola books, and a sense of the absurd, and she does incredible art. Like others on this list, there’s an awful lot to examine and wonder at, for readers of every level.

The Collaborators

In which the total package is greater than the sum of its awesome parts.

1 Olive, the Other Reindeer Vivian Walsh and J.otto Seibold A newer Christmas classic, that has taken its place in our December rotation.

2 Slugs in Love
Susan Pearson, Kevin O'Malley Not a book I would have guessed would make it to my list. But every time we read it, we find something new in the art, and the story becomes just that much funnier.

3 Moe the Dog in Tropical Paradise Diane Stanley, Elisa Primavera Our winter temperatures don’t drop down so low as Moe’s, but everyone can relate to the desire to get away from it all. Primavera makes Moe’s city a miserable, soaking, winterscape, and his tropical paradise feels saturated with warmth from the sun.

4 The Tapestry Cats
Ann Turnbull, Carol Morley The princess’s stiff dresses look itchy, the fairy godmother is ethereal, and somehow goofy, too, and clearly, this queen rules.

5 Sagwa
Amy Tan, Gretchen Schields A lengthy story, as picture books usually go, but just that right feel of a legend oft retold. And a story in which the heroine gets so thoroughly filthy is even better.

6 Possum Magic
Mem Fox, Julie Vivas A long favorite of mine. I'm glad the kids like it too. Hush’s invisible adventures are so charming at first, and then we feel the thrill begin to pall. A delicious tour of Australia.

7 Mrs. Marlowe's Mice
Frank Asch, Devin Asch Speaking of collaborators, I sincerely hope that the resistance remains strong. I admire the brave Mrs. Marlowe. She’s pure WWII heroine.

8 The Shrinking of Treehorn Florence Parry Heide, Edward Gorey This was published in some magazine I received as a child. Imagine my delight to grow up and discover even more Gorey. As different as my memory of the story was, from the reality, it holds up beautifully. What child doesn’t recognize that bemused inattentiveness, or for that matter, what parent?

9 Scarlett Angelina Wolverton-Manning Jacqueline K. Ogburn, Brian Ajhar I read this to the PandaBat's first grade class. It was a hit. They loved the set-up, and the pay-off. I even think they appreciated the tasteful illustrations. One of the best picture books ever. I wish Ogburn would write a million of them.

10 Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
Doreen Cronin, Betsy Lewin
10 Diary of a Fly Doreen Cronin, Harry Bliss Cronin is a delight to read, and this is a tied bracket for me, because Lewin’s farm is so perfect, but so are Bliss’s bugs.


Jody said...

I prefer Diary of a Worm to Diary of a Fly (though obviously it's a personal preference) and I also adore Henry Hikes to Fitchburg. "Picture book" can be a maddeningly broad category -- we're reading fairy-tale picture books now with tons of words, they have nothing in common with earlier picture books -- and then there's the problem of board book adaptations. I simply adore the board-book version of The Mitten but the real version (not abridged for smaller format) leaves me cold.

I realize that Harry the Dirty Dog is something of a nostalgia book but I also think it's just about perfect.

Kaethe said...

The month is winding down, so loathe as I am to cut my list in half, I'm going to have to do it.

On the plus side, I'm hoping Bird's audience lists a lot of books I'm not familiar with. Even though the Offspring are less interested in picture books, I doubt if I'll stop cruising the new ones.

Saints and Spinners said...

I've already seen a number of books I'm not familiar with! I'd better check out Slugs in Love, as our garden is about to become infested with them once again. I found a slug harrassing one of the crocuses the other day. Hiss boo!

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I appreciated it!

Kaethe said...

For extra fun, look for the initials on the slugs. This book really helped me appreciate the critters in the compost.

Thanks for dropping by.