Before I began working as a Children’s Librarian, I worked as a nanny for twelve years. I’ve helped raise a handful of small people and am currently raising my own little preschoolers. All of that adds up to a decade and a half of putting kids to bed, a decade and a half of reading picture books, a decade an d a half of getting sick of a lot of Disney Princess and Star Wars books. As most of you parents know, some books are a joy to introduce children to. I couldn’t wait until I got to share Yertle the Turtle with a child for the first time. That story is still just as wonderful as it was thirty years ago for me. Some books, though, can be a punishment to sit through as an adult. The entire time you are reading it, you are thinking, “I can write better than this,” or “Isn’t this the exact plot of a television episode?” or, worse yet, “What kind of lesson is this book teaching my child!?!”
It is not my job to love every book. I’ll be the first to admit that some are just awful. My job is to help find the gems that are out there and to help discriminate between books. I want to support a love of good books. For this blog post, I will highlight some of my favorite picture book authors so hopefully you all can freshen up your bedtime routines with some new offerings. I will nix the obvious classics such as Clifford and the Little Critter books. If you’re reading this blog, you are already aware of the awesomeness of those. I will also add that my personal preferences tend to lean toward the humorous. I hope you don’t mind.
Kevin Henkes: Some of you may be aware of Henkes’ Lily and the Purple Plastic Purse an excellent little book that teaches the lessons of patience and listening. Henkes has so many other wonderful picture books to offer the world too, some featuring his well-known mice characters and some independent. My personal favorites are Wemberly Worried about a mouse scared to start school and Sheila Rae the Brave about a mouse who may not be as brave as she thinks she is. Both books serve as excellent ways to discuss certain topics that may be worrying little ones with a little humor and interesting pictures. My kids have always loved the little things characters say within the pictures that are not part of the written story. I find these books to be a joy to read over and over again. Also, if your kids really take to Henkes’ writing style, they can follow him into the chapter book world, where he is also quite prolific.
David Shannon: Shannon has a great series of picture books based on his own drawings from childhood, starting with No, David! which is a day in the life of David, a boy who does a lot of bad things and gets yelled at a lot. The pictures are hysterical and the message that David will always be loved no matter what is important. I think the books also serve as a great opportunity to discuss proper behavior with a child in a fun way (be forewarned: there is a naked cartoon tush). Shannon has a lot of other great picture books to offer as well. A Bad Case of Stripes being my personal favorite. I have read that book more times than I can remember, and I am still not sick of it. It is a longer picture book about a girl who is afraid to admit that she really likes lima beans because she is afraid people will make fun of her. Until she can learn to just be herself, her body plays tricks on her and keeps changing color and shape according to what others say to her. Kids will love the bright, fun pictures, while parents will love the overall lesson of the book.
Mo Willems: I hope, for your children’s sake, that you already know, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, a hysterical book about a bird who just wants to drive a bus. I saw Willems speak at an event once, and he said he wrote that book because he didn’t like his daughter only reading books that said you can always get what you want if you try hard enough or use good manners because, in the real world, you sometimes just do not get what you want. Not only do I love the Willems’ sense of humor, but I love the voices of his characters. They are so much fun to read aloud because the voices just start coming out as you read them. My personal favorites are his Elephant and Piggie books. I looooooooove reading those books for my storytime programs because they are so filled with humor and you simply cannot read them without the voices of the characters completely coming out. They are a great way to teach kids how to read a sentence that ends in a question mark or an exclamation point. If you have never read an Elephant and Piggie book, I dare you to read them without the flair that they so richly deserve. My personal favorite is I Am Invited to a Party!
Jon Scieszka: Before you have fun with Scieszka, you should make sure that your child is familiar with the fairy tales that he is having fun with so your child can join in the laugh (FYI: Fairy Tales can be found in the 398’s in Non-Fiction). In The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, Scieszka tells the old tale of the three little pigs from the Wolf’s perspective. It’s humorously told and a great way to discuss differing perspectives with a child. What the pigs saw as the acts of a savage murderer, the wolf saw as a simple request for sugar from a gentleman with a cold. My personal favorite Scieszka book is The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, which features silly takes on classic tales such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. As a lifelong comedy lover, I feel it’s never too early to teach kids how to have a good laugh. Like Henkes, Scieszka is quite well-known in the chapter book world as well, especially for his Time Warp Trio series, which play with actual historical time periods and events. He’s a great author for teaching children that you can have fun with history and tradition. It doesn’t have to all be covered in cobwebs.