Betsy Bird is compiling a list of the Top 100 Picture Books of all time in the universe as we know it and if you want to vote, you're supposed to email her a list of your top ten favourites. I'm submitting separate lists for Luke and I because, well, we prefer different books. Since they are working librarians and teachers, most of the readers of the School Library Journal are probably a lot more familiar with all the latest titles than I am -- mine are mostly older books. And I love them for mostly sentimental reasons. In no particular order, here they are:
I was never much taken with Goodnight Moon until we had Luke. It wasn't on my radar as a child and, when I was working as a teacher, I considered Clement Hurd's illustrations dated and the text boring. But the book, which was one of the first we read to him, charmed Luke when was he was tiny. He still loves to read it, and both the illustrations and the text, which I now consider poetic, grew on me by leaps and bounds. Our copy is a board book version that's seen better days and we'll probably have to buy another one for the new baby. After repeated readings of this book, I developed a fascination with its author Margaret Wise Brown, and went on to read the excellent biography of her, Awakened by the Moon, by Leonard Marcus.
Alexandra Day's wordless picture book, the story of a dog who babysits, appeals as much to me as it does to Luke. Carl is very good at entertaining the baby. For instance, he lets her swim in the fish tank -- with careful supervision, of course -- and he is also very good at cleaning up. We have often wished for our own Carl.
All of Sandra Boynton's books are popular in this house but Dinosaur, who needs help finding his special blanket before he can go to bed, has always had a lot in common with Luke.
Crockett Johnson's classic story of a little boy who creates entire worlds with his purple crayon is pure genius -- it's about the power of the imagination, yes, but it's also a fantasy about being able to control your environment, something that little kids don't manage to do very much. Neither, necessarily, do their mothers.
James Marshall's George and Martha stories are a bit odd. Spare, funny little anecdotes about the friendship-verging-on-romance between two charming middle-aged hippos, they might have been written by a Virago Modern Classics author in the mid-50s. For this reason, they appeal very much to me. I have no idea why Luke likes them so much, too, but he does.
I'm not sure Betsy's going to let this one into her poll as I believe it's technically an early reader. But it is, hands down, my favourite picture book of all time. Arnold Lobel's stories about Frog, who is a cheerful, energetic sort, and his pal, the mildly depressed Toad, are some of the best -- sweetest, most hilarious -- ever written about friendship. Because these were intended as early readers, Lobel had to restrict his language, and this is definitely one of those cases where constraints elevate. If there were an Oulipo of kidlit -- and really, isn't all kidlit a kind of Oulipo? -- Arnold Lobel should be its most highly regarded member.
I first happened on this book, by Janet and Allen Ahlberg, when I was teaching the second grade. The kids loved the way you could pull the letters (from one fairy tale character to another) out of the book and read them. I loved that, too, and also the witty way they expanded on the familiar fairy tale world. We don't actually have a copy of this one in the house right now but Luke will soon be ready for it.
The pictures work as hard, if not harder than, the text in the Olivia books. Ian Falconer perfectly captures the precocious self-possession of a certain sort of child, and there are plenty of nods to the adult readers in the house.
I remember exactly where I was when I first happened upon Sara O'Leary's When You Were Small -- we were in Munro's Books in Victoria B.C. It was one of those moments of discovery. I was immediately thrilled and delighted by the idea of the book and impressed by its execution (Julie Morstad's illustrations are the perfect complement to the text). And I was also more than a little bit put out. Because this is exactly the kind of picture book I'd like to write. And then, a year or so later, I got to "internet meet" the lovely Sara, which turned out to be an equally terrific discovery.
And then Sara (and Julie) up and did it all again. If I didn't love them so much, I'd hate them.
That's it for me. We've just started compiling Luke's list and we'll post it as soon as we're done.