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!”).
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.
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.
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?