Picture book masterpieces

I’ve got an almost-two-year-old, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year or so reading picture books. This, after spending a lot of my own childhood reading them.

I’ve reread some books I loved as a kid. Some hold up, some don’t. Yeah, maybe my daughter likes them, but they’re not still fun for me to read.

The best picture books, though, are still fun to read, even though I’m 30+ years older than their target audience. The best of them aren’t just good. They aren’t even just great. They’re masterpieces of the picture book medium.

My nominations, old and new:

Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, which I actually like even more now than I did as a kid.
Dr. Seuss: If I Ran the Circus. So far my favorite of the Seuss we’ve read together.
Chris Raschka: Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, my daughter’s first favorite book.
Ludwig Bemelmans: Madeline, which I never read as a kid but which my daughter and I both love now.
Mo Willems: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Genius – I’ve read this (and the sequels) 100+ times each, out loud, and I still enjoy it.
Ezra Jack Keats: The Snowy Day, which has a great eye for ramshackle aimlessness.
Ian Falconer: Olivia.
Don Freeman: Corduroy – the original is awesome, Freeman’s sequel is OK, the modern-day versions by Lisa McCue are travesties.

I’m sure there are a few I’ve overlooked (in addition to the ones I’ve left off the list: Curious George, I love you and you’re pretty good, but you don’t hold up).

What picture books do you think are masterpieces of the form?

King Bidgood’s In the Bathtub
The Napping House
The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear
All by Audrey Wood and Dan Wood, all true masterpieces.

I recently enjoyed You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Glasser. It’s entirely pictorial and I imagine it could be a joy to narrate with an imaginative child.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

We’ve read both of those recently – I hadn’t seen them as a kid – and they’re both a lot of fun.

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey
Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes (relatively new and destined to become a classic, I think)
Pink and Say, by Patricia Polacco (for older readers, I don’t know how anyone reads this to child, I cry and cry every time)
Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag
Amos and Boris, by William Steig

Panda Cake, by Rosalie Seidler. I think it’s out of print, but there’s a few copies on ebay. One of the first books I ever read by myself and I still remember it fondly almost thirty years later.

"There Are Rocks in my Socks!" said the Ox to the Fox, by Patricia Thomas. The story and the illustrations are both hilarious, and two year olds are just beginning to appreciate silliness.

Idunna and the Magic Apples, by Marianna Mayer. The story might be a bit long for a two year old (though I don’t think it’s much longer than Corduroy), but the artwork is absolutely gorgeous.

Does Shel Silverstein count? I know he’s poetry, but those silly sketches will stay with me forever. The other day I was checking out at Borders and they asked if I wanted to buy a book to donate to children who don’t easily have access to such things. I saw ‘‘A Light In the Attic’’ sitting right behind the cashier and I knew what I had to do.

However, the first thing that leaps to mind is an amazing pop-up book I was given as a gift a few years back: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Robert Sabuda. This thing made me gasp in astonishment as a full-grown adult (the picture I linked doesn’t really give it justice.) It is a breathtaking work of art. I wouldn’t give it two a two-year-old, though–too easy to destroy.

There’s also a pop-up Wizard of Oz that is equally awesome.
Where the Wild Things Are gets all the attention (and is in fact wonderful), but frequently overlooked is Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, far and away my greatest gift-giving success to my 3-year-old honorary-niece-and-nephew.

My family’s all time favorite picture book is The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle and Who Was In It by Carl Sandburg, illustrated by Harriet Pincus. (In fairness, however, no one else seems to like it quite as much as my parents and I.)

Der Struwwelpeter, of course!

Those who didn’t grow up with this book probably think I am joking. Although my suggestion isn’t completely serious in this context, I will read it to any children that I might have one day just as it was read to me and generations before me.

Btw. the version on the site is a bit chopped. The real layout is much nicer and more picture-centric.

Any of the books by Graeme Base: I love Animalia and The Eleventh Hour. The artwork is just so wonderful, there really is something to discover on every page every time you open it.

I don’t know how Dinotopia holds up over the years, but I remember enjoying it as a kid… definitely visually good!

And though it’s too advanced for a two-year-old, no children’s/picturebook list is complete without Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). I still reread it a couple of times a year!

I came in here to mention Night Kitchen. Great, great book. Pretty much everything Sendak does is gold.

I love the artwork in the Good Dog, Carl series. The books also cheerfully rehabilitate the Rottweiler from Drooling Hound of Hell™ to adorable babysittin’ cutie pie. You may or may not love that idea. :slight_smile:

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant
Stellaluna, Verdi, Crickwing, and* Pinduli* all by Janell Cannon
The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt (the illustrations are by Tony DiTerlizzi)

Those are just a few off the top of my head…

Full Moon Soup by Alastair Graham

The Silver Pony by Lynd Ward.

My favorites (that haven’t been mentioned yet):

Arrow To The Sun

The Story About Ping

Way Out West Lives A Coyote Named Frank

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

While there are books on this list we’ll be getting from the library, I feel obligated to add that I didn’t intend for this to be a “recommend books for my kid” thread. I intended to move to the universal from the specific: What picture books are masterpieces?

kellner, I had a copy of Slovenly Peter when I was growing up. I’d be happy to let my daughter read it – probably in a couple more years, though, when it can have the maximum psychological impact.

And having read them both recently (several times), I prefer Wild Things to Night Kitchen, but they’re both great, great books. Several weeks after the book went back to the library (for now) my daughter will still say “milk in the batter, milk in the batter” from time to time.

When I was little my favorites were the Frog and Toad books, and Small Deer. They had a very dreamy meloncholy to them I remember.

The Velveteen Rabbit hasn’t been mentioned, that should probably be considered a masterpiece

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and anything else Chris Van Allsburg has done. For real fans of the genre here are all the Caldecott Medal books since 1938.