Picture book masterpieces

Last night my daughter reminded me of another book I think is genius: What Pete Ate from A to Z, by Maira Kalman.

I was also thinking a bit more about what, to me, makes a picture book a masterpiece, rather than just really good. And I think there are three things:

  1. It needs to appeal to kids. Duh.
  2. It needs to appeal to their parents, especially over the course of dozens and dozens of readings.
  3. It needs to appeal to adults without kids, at least in theory. As in, that parent who reads it to a kid could at least envision recommending it to a fellow adult as something to read for their own pleasure.

That’s a difficult hat trick.

Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans, is a lovely story about a little girl, but crosses into true greatness because many of the illustrations depict realistic scenes of Paris – as a backdrop to the action of the story, of course. Our copy includes a little primer on the last page describing what famous landmarks appear in each illustration.

The Book That Jack Wrote, Jon Scieszka. Kids love it because the pictures are whimsical and the rhymes are good, but it’s got a touch of dark humor, and it’s interesting for the way the story loops around on itself in the end. Good, fun read for everybody.

The aforementioned Pigeon books, and Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems. These make me laugh out loud every time I read them, especially Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!. Do you know how impressive that is for a children’s picture book? The kids think it’s hilarious too. I actually made my mother read this book, when there were no children present. She humored me, and then started laughing herself. See? These books are comedy gold.

And again previously mentioned, but I think there can be no disputing that Where the Wild Things Are is a classic for the ages. The illustrations are out of this world, and the story isn’t half bad either. As a child you enjoy it because of all the strange creatures and the fantastical imagery. As an adult you realize that it’s the perfect wish fulfillment fantasy for this little boy, letting him be the grown-up/one in charge for a while – but then turning back into a little boy when he’s tired of that and wants to be taken care of again. There are some days that I wish I could get into a boat and sail across a year, and weeks, and in and out of days, and come back to find a hot dinner waiting for me, too.

I too want to pipe up for Tuesday by Wiesner, one of my favorite books. A must have work.

I’m also fond of the version of Perrault’s Puss In Boots illustrated by Fred Marcellino. Beautiful pictures throughout; every image of Puss captures the character perfectly.

Now I’m going to go curl up in bed and read both of these before I go to sleep. Thanks for this thread!