Confessions of A Picture Book Addict (There Are Worse Things…)

I am obsessed with picture books.

There, I said it. As far as I know, there are no help groups in my area and, if there were, I would probably just try to convert the facilitator until they too were equally obsessed.

It’s not like I stay in my pajamas on Saturday mornings and read picture books instead of doing laundry or brushing my teeth or saying hello to my family. Of course I would never do that…

(Let’s just agree it’s a good thing you didn’t stop by unannounced last Saturday morning, okay?)

I’m not sure why I’m so enamored by picture books, but I am undeniably drawn to them and can’t contain my passion for spreading this enthusiasm for this lesser-discussed genre (except in parent-tot playgroups where it ranks up there with things like in-depth comparisons of diaper rash remedies and nipple creams; side note – perhaps this is the point when one fully enters adulthood. Reaching a stage of life where rashes and nipple cream are prime topics for discussion feels decidedly…old. Animated discussions at that!)

Sure there are websites that dedicate themselves to publishing curated picture-book lists. But they’re not typically up for mainstream consumption, and I think that’s a shame.

There are also, admittedly, more and more graphic novels for adults but, to me, they’re not the same and I wish everyone got the chance to regularly immerse themselves in the world of children’s picture books.

Like, every day.

Maybe this is simply another weird (but true) fact about me? Maybe those of you with older kids are thrilled to have left Green Eggs and Ham and Ten Little Fingers in the rearview mirror. But not me.

Thankfully, my kids remain happy to oblige. While I still read them a wide range of picture books, our discussions have most certainly taken on a new tone. We openly discuss hard themes: war, famine, death, disability, cancer, mental health, bullying, prejudice, inequality, hatred. Picture books – good picture books – have a way of giving clear messages, delivered with love and compassion, in a form not many other mediums can.

They can also be downright fun; sometimes there is no hidden agenda in a book, no deep life lesson to be learned – rather they are simply designed to instill wonder or leave the reader doubled over from laughter. Both outcomes are always a delight. Whatever the goal of the book, a good one always leaves me wanting more.

And I’m also continually amazed by how many life lessons I find hidden within their pages for myself. What parent of teenagers can’t relate to the message of I’ll Love You Forever? Whose heart doesn’t grow along with the miserly Grinch as he discovers a deeper meaning to Christmas?

And who can help laughing about books that center around topics like bears in underwear and dinosaurs leaving colossal poops in outer space (okay, my Mom would not laugh; she’d be horrified with the level of toilet humour I allow – and, perish the thought, seek out!)?

Years ago I read a book by Julia Cameron (can’t remember which – they’re all treasures) where she asked readers to make a list of dream jobs; if skills and finances were no issue, what would you like to be? A simple question, right?

Short, squat, and uncoordinated – you could conjure up wishes of being a graceful prima ballerina; blind as a bat with shakey hands, your wish could be a career as a brain surgeon (note she said wish here). It was a surprisingly powerful exercise and it took me a minute to think of something – anything – I “wished” I could become. For someone who reads all the time, my imagination can be sadly lacking, I guess.

And then I had an “ah-ha” moment: my dream job would be getting to read, write and critique picture books all day (that, or be a costume designer on big-budget films; or a location scout – both sound so, so fascinating to me).

My parents read picture books to me a lot as a child, but I mostly remember being able to read to myself. I always wanted to move on to the next challenge and was reading chapter books at a young age so had been removed from the wonder of picture books for several decades by the time my own kids came along. And it is the one aspect of motherhood where I feel great confidence (thank goodness, because I typically feel like I’m failing in most of the others)! I regularly expose my children to the wonders of reading and make sure they are constantly surrounded by books that stretch their imagination; what they do with those opportunities…well that’s up to them.

A few years ago we read a book called An Atlas of Imaginary Places by Mia Cassany. At this point we had already been consuming huge quantities of picture books for a long time, but when I saw this one I was blown away by the ingenuity and illustrations. I was already tracking all my own “adult” reading and at that exact moment, I decided I would start recording our favourite picture books, too. Since that time, I rate any book we decide is 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads and have a dedicated Kids-Lit shelf. It does make me sad I missed years of documenting our favourites, but I’m still so glad I started – better late than never.

I’d say every 1/15 books we read makes the Goodreads cut. I’m selective in what books we order from the library, and I spend a lot of time browsing the stacks as well. If I just grabbed handfuls without looking at them, I suspect the number would be more like 1/50. There are a lot of B-level books out there (though, I admit, different audiences have different preferences, so my “B” could be someone else’s “A”, or as Gretchen Rubin says, “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum!”).

The kids and I agree – this is our favourite page of the bunch. Levi and I spent 20 minutes looking at all the cool features the other night, and we’ve read this book multiple times before!
Can you see what’s “off” with this page?

We’re always on the hunt for the perfect trio: great writing, a great story, and great illustrations. So, without further ado, here are some of our favourite picture books from the last few years:

Highlights from this bunch: The Love Letter, Foodie Faces, Mel Fell, A Tale of Two Beasts, The Bold, Brave Bunny, Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, Miss Rumphius, Boa’s Bad Birthday, If I Built A House, I’m Going To Eat This Ant, This Story is For You, The Christmas Feast, and, of course, An Atlas of Imaginary Places. They’re all great, though!

Something from Nothing, Slugs in Love, The Book with no Pictures, A Fine Dessert, Goat’s Coat, The Snatchabook (we LOVE this book), The Skunk, The Dinosaur That Pooped the Past, Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast: Mission Defrostable, A House That Once Was, Snail Crossing, The Mouse and the Moon. Again, all wonderful books.

The Honest-to-Goodness Truth, If I Built A School, Everybody’s Welcome, Just One of Those Days, Malina’s Jam, Aaaaligator, Giraffe Problems, Love Monster and the Last Chocolate, The Everywhere Bear (Julia Donaldson, can we please be friends?), The Good Egg.

I love how picture books can express complex thoughts, problems, and emotions in easy-to-access phrases that are both comforting and surprisingly enlightening. I framed a quote from Brave Enough for Two (another sweet book) for Levi’s room.

And I have this line in my quotes book from a heartwarming tale about a caterpillar (Henri) turning into a butterfly. Cliche? Yes. Wonderful? Yes.

Here’s the thing with dreams, Henri. If you don’t chase them, they always get away.”

Caterpillar Dreams by Clive McFarland

A few weeks ago, while my husband was preparing supper and I was reading to the kids, he overhead us all rapturing about some book. (I can’t tell you how much it thrills my heart to hear my 7-year-old say: “Those are really well-done illustrations.” He is as tomboy as they come, but he sure can appreciate a good watercolour)! John poked his head in and looked at me and said (slightly incredulous, I think): “You really do love picture books, don’t you?”

I really do.

A few other books from the last few weeks we’ve really enjoyed:

The kids loved, loved, loved the book Foodie Faces. The text was very simple, but the images were downright fun!

Aside from me feeling like my breakfast offerings are incredibly boring, the kids all but examined every inch of this book with a magnifying glass. They wanted to identify every ingredient and they were especially intrigued by the nuances of how different positions of eyebrows so clearly communicated how a character was feeling.

We all enjoyed each of these books, especially “I’m Sticking With You.”
The Love Letter was so, so sweet. The kids don’t want to re-read books much anymore, but this one warranted multiple readings which they listened to without complaint. Such a lovely book. And Abby noticed the heart made by the branches on the cover which I had completely missed! We both immediately agreed this reminded us of another book called The Bold Brave Bunny (by Beth Ferry) which has lots of “hidden” pictures which are easy to miss but are utterly charming.

Abby was quiet in the corner one evening (a miracle) and then all of sudden shouted: “The wreaths are SCRUNCHIES!

She was looking through one of the Look-Alike books by Joan Steiner which are so fun and whimsical. Most elements of the depicted scenes are made with everyday items like clothespins, pasta, erasers, crayons, dried beans…and scrunchies. (This reminds me of the Walter Wick Can You See What I See? books which are also HUGE hits in our house.)

My favourite – the girl by the tree whose dress is a badminton birdie! How cool is that? And there is one of those scrunchies Abby was so elated to spot.

At the back of the book, ever spread has “answers” with all the everyday items used to create the scene.

And yes, we all still really, really enjoy books about poop.

Your turn – any favourite picture books from your own childhood? Or, like me, do you still have an “excuse” to gleefully check out teetering stacks of these wonderful things each week at your library to “read to your children” while you secretly love the experience even more than they do?

Months ago I wrote about our chapter book favourites, too, including our recent foray into reading books with accompanying movies.

Header photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

26 thoughts on “Confessions of A Picture Book Addict (There Are Worse Things…)”

  1. The children’s book illustrators I know put so much effort into their work, so I’m so glad to hear your appreciation. Also not surprising as many facets of you (minimalism, photos, photobooks) are visual elements too?

    I always feel like pictures can make or break a children’s book.

    1. If I ever get around to writing a picture book of my own (a part of that dream!) I’ll be knocking on your door – you KNOW book illustrators?! I really wish I had spent more time on art growing up because I think I’d actually enjoy illustrating as much, if not more than, the writing itself.

      And absolutely – pictures can absolutely make/break a children’s book.(Though I’ll admit it’s always a major bummer if great pictures don’t have a great story/message/text.)

  2. Ah yes, picture books are a very special genre! When my kids got too old for that stage (they’re now 13 and 19) I had a brief moment of relief to be past it- that didn’t last, and now I’m longing for grandkids! I remember reading those “look-alike books” and everyone loving them. And I love Dr. Seuss (side note- I believe I hold the unofficial world record for fastest reading of “Fox in Sox” without messing up a single word.) Another series I loved was the Ladybug Girl books by David Soman/Jackie Davis. Yes, I miss those days- but I still have my favorites saved to read to my grandchildren someday!

    1. You should call Guinness about that Fox in Sox reading. We had a toddler around a few weeks ago and I dug out the old board books I’ve kept and I was amazed how many words I still remembered from Mr. Brown Can Moo. Can You?

      Reading to grandchildren sounds like heaven. Many, many, many years away for me and I intend to keep reading my own kids picture books as long as they’ll let me and then…I don’t know. Volunteer to lead storytime at school or something?

      1. If you haven’t seen him, I strongly suggest checking out the guy on YouTube (Wes) who raps Dr. Seuss books. I have made it my mission to rap Fox in Socks along with him and I can do about 75% of it (with the words in front of me, of course):

        I just find him so entertaining and my kids love listening/watching, too!

        1. That was awesome!! I have a feeling my kids will LOVE this…actually, I know they’ll love this.
          Almost 100% sure we’ll have a snow day tomorrow and this will be part of our reading fun.

  3. I am so here for this post! I have really enjoyed getting to the picture book stage of reading to my older son. They are so delightful and so much better than the picture books I had access to as a child. I don’t have many memories of picture books we read when I was young – I more so remember the chapter books. Surely we had a lot of books, I just can’t picture them in my mind! But my parents and grandparents were readers and I was the biggest reader in our family. That love was definitely fostered through gifts from my grandparents and parents.

    I recognize some of these books, and I think a couple are in the haul of like 20 books I’ll be picking up at the library today! You inspired me to start a kid lit shelf on goodreads so I can remember what we liked when Will is at the picture book stage. I don’t think I see “The Circus Ship” by Chris Van Dusen on these lists – definitely check that out! A friend gift that and If I Built a School to us when Will was born. The Circus Ship is probably my favorite book that we own. And “There’s a Bird on Your Head” is probably my fave elephant and piggie book! Followed by “We are in a Book!” Oh and “Something’s Wrong” was another favorite that we got from the library after I heard about it on a book podcast.

    I wish more of what I randomly select from the shelves were hits, but we often wonder how books got published! But I always request a ton of books, using the sources I detailed in my short picture book post. is an especially great place to get picture book and other book recommendations so I have learned to just request everything they suggest!

    1. We LOVE The Circus Ship. That may have come before I started rating them on Goodreads…or it simply fell through the cracks.

      Elephant and Piggie are so good…

      I’d say it’s about 50/50 – what I get on holds + what I get off the shelf, though I do find that if I go frequently, there isn’t enough turnover in the stacks. I look through the books before I check them out from stacks – assess the cover (I DEFINITELY judge children’s books by the cover), but then also get a sense for the overall theme and text. We love rhyming books. We’re past the point of being okay with really simplistic text (which my kids weren’t even a fan of when they were really little). I’m not a fan of anything that looks like comic strips or has a lot of back-and-forth dialogue in text bubbles. I just find it very hard to read out loud and generally avoid anything in that sphere.

      I’ll have to check out (and keep a close eye on your Goodreads shelf).

      Happy reading!

      1. I’d probably have more success w/ that books I grab from the shelf if I actually looked through them! I grab our holds first and there are often so many that I just grab nilly willy from the picture book section! But we have found some gems that way!

        I don’t like lots of text bubbles either It’s too hard for Paul to follow along and I am terrible at making up voices so that does not help!

        1. Ugh. Don’t get me started on voices. I don’t even try, really (though I do sometimes do some high-pitched nonsense for Piggy and they are terrible).

  4. I was a friendly acquaintance with Jill McElmurry who illustrated a lot of children’s books, most notably Little Blue Truck and its sequels. What I learned most from her about the world of children’s books is that the writers and illustrators work hard and think a lot about their art. It’s such a hard business to break into, but it’s so important to so many people. Thumbs up to you for recognizing all the hard work that goes into these books!

    1. The Little Blue Truck series is SO classic! Very cool that you knew her.
      It’s an incredible art form, and one that I don’t think gets nearly enough recognition (especially since there are so many incredible writers and illustrators out there).

  5. Oh how I love picture books!!!! This is such a fun post!

    Two I remember distinctly from my childhood for their illustrations as well as their stories are The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble and Rotten Island by William Stieg. And I have previously shared my absolutely and utter adoration of The Skunk.

    1. Oh The Skunk is so good. We’ve read (and enjoyed) that one multiple times. I haven’t heard of the Paul Goble book! William Steig books are such treasures (Dr. De Soto is probably my fav). Also not sure how I neglected to mention Robert McCloskey books. Oh how I love One Morning in Maine and Make Way for Ducklings

  6. Picture books are the best! The Atlas of Imaginary Places is such a fun book. Big fan of Julia Donaldson as well. I’m a sucker for a clever rhyme and beautiful/creative illustrations. I also really love older books.

    I have a collection of Bill Peet books which are childhood favorites of mine, particularly Chester the Worldly Pig and Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure.

    1. Chester and Hubert. The names along are so endearing!
      Rhyming books are my favourites, I have to admit. It’s so hard to do well, so when it’s clever and engaging I give the book huge bonus points!

  7. We love picture books here. My daughter who is 12 and most likely dyslexic (we have not had her tested as she is home educated) still reads them occasionally as she finds the words on the page of a chapter book overwhelming. I have boxed up all our favourites that we simply could not pass on and they are stored safely in the loft for the next generation.

    I cannot remember any picture books from when I was child, it was too long ago now (that is my excuse!) We love Julia Donaldson here, anything by Elsa Beskow, James Mayhew who has two series of books one about ballets the other about works of art, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Little Grey Rabbit Books by Alison Uttley, Bramley Hedge books by Jill Barklem (we still read these now), Katie Morag books by Mairi Hedderwick, I know there will be many others that I have forgotten could go on but I will stop there…..

    In 2014 I did a Picture Book Challenge where I kept track of every single picture book we read for fifty weeks of that year, according to the page on my blog where I recorded this we read 291 different books! My children were 3 and 8 at the start of the year and 4 and 9 by the end.

    I agree that there are some awful picture books out there, I always flicked through the ones that the children chose at the library before bringing them home. If you like looking for things in picture books have you come across Where’s Wally? books.

    We have a section in our library which is picture books for older children the stories in these were aimed at about 8+ both my children loved choosing books from this section we particularly loved the Jackie Morris books she writes and illustrates all her books and her illustrations are absolutely wonderful. They inspired my daughter to paint. She illustrated the beautiful books Lost Words and Lost Spells (words by Robert MacFarlane).

    I read a post on a blog this week which was about picture books for adults, a genre that I had no idea even existed. I think I need to make room on my bookshelves…….

    1. I just went to our library website and put on some holds! Lots of names listed here I’m not familiar with; nothing makes me more excited than discovering new authors! Thanks for listing all these suggestions and don’t hesitate to make more suggestions – I’m all ears.

      We have loved the Bramley Hedge books. So sweet and such lovely illustrations that are rich with detail.

  8. I love this post and your list of your favorite picture books!! Reading picture books with children is literally one of the things I am most looking forward to about becoming a mother! I’ve definitely wondered how on earth I will remember and track down all my childhood favorites to share, but the images of your list give me hope that I can jog my memory and that the best ones will float back to the surface of my memory in time. (Plus a lot of them should still be lurking around my parents’ house… somewhere.)

    1. It is one of my favourite aspects of motherhood, for sure. I love getting to experience these books through their “eyes” and it’s a whole new (and richer in many ways) experience from when I read picture books as a child.

  9. We also love pictures books- my kids are 7 and 9 and I hope they stay into them for a long time!

    Two recommendations: The Cloud Spinner and The Barnabus Project. Two of our favourites!

    1. We’ve read (and liked!) both of those books. I love Alison Jay illustrations; A Gift for Mama is one of our all-time favourite books (also illustrated by Alison Jay).

  10. I always loved reading picture books to my nieces when they were little. The Sandra Boynton books were favorites, for the adults (excuses to be silly!) and kids. πŸ™‚

    My most-remembered ones? The Snowy Day (love that book) and Ox-Cart Man. My parents still have Ox-Cart Man somewhere in their house – not sure whether they kept The Snowy Day or not. Oh! And The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. Oh, how I loved that book. And we had a “little house” that we would see that looked JUST like it on the way to visit my maternal grandmother when I was a child. I wonder whatever happened to that house… πŸ™‚

    Thank you for this post. <3 Such amazing memories.

      1. Oh, yay! NO one else I know has heard of it. I just love it to pieces. The way the house smiles and settles into her new home after she is rescued from the city… happy sigh. πŸ™‚ It makes me want to buy my own copy, despite not having any children. πŸ˜‰

        1. I can’t believe other people aren’t familiar with that book! It is SO classic. I also love Mike Mulligan. There are just so many great books out there.
          I say go for it (in terms of buying a copy). It is such a classic and if it makes you happy, why not own a copy?!

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