Picking Favorites – Children’s Books We Love

I’ve always said we can never have too many books. If a friend offers up a stack of kids books, I jump at the chance to add new titles to the kids’ library. I’ve made it a tradition that “Christmas Eve” gifts include books, and I’m always scanning the library discard shelves for good titles to acquire. I figure that the more printed words hanging around, the better. I wrote a couple years ago about trying to impress a love of reading onto my kids and my personal fear of not providing enough choices for my kids (and thus fueling electronic entertainment choices, instead)… but as far as Munchkin goes, I think I’ve been successful. Munchkin started reading on his own this summer, and I love that he has a vast treasure trove of escapism to chose from.

Now, despite saying “never too many books,” I almost had to eat my words. We did some significant rearranging in the house this summer. The kids’ toys were merged with my art space area, and then I found that I was a few shelves short in accommodating their book collection. But we made it work AND I still think that a beautifully illustrated, well-written story is one of the most important “toys” a kid can have.

(There’s actually a really fantastic reading initiative, started by Dolly Parton, called the Imagination Library. Sign up kids who are under five years old and they’ll receive a new book every month until their fifth birthday. Not all geographic areas are covered, as the program needs local sponsors to help fund it, but if you have it in your area definitely give it some consideration!)

I’m trying to get back into the blogging swing of things now that school has started, and I thought sharing some of our favorite picture books would be fun. Although my kids jump on any new book that comes into the house, the ones we keep returning to are the ones that have a really good story and really good illustration. Admittedly, I’m definitely more picky about the illustration than my kids. I find almost all children’s illustration interesting, but some artists really nail it with amazing, intricate pictures. Others use simpler lines but still bring lots of dynamic movement and emotion to the page.

I intended to just share our top few children’s books in one post, but then kept thinking of more and more books to add… so I think I’ll make this a regular blog feature for a little while. Here we go!

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Persephone the Ladybug, written and illustrated by J. Moria Stephens

Persephone lives with her mother in a tulip field, but unexpectedly finds herself in the city when her home is picked and transported to a tea shop. She falls in with a group of nasty rats, and must figure out how to rescue herself and return to her mother.

We checked out Persephone the Ladybug from the library several months ago, and fell in love with this beautifully illustrated, original story. Persephone and her mother are clearly ladybugs, but J. Stephens, the writer and illustrator, has cleverly combined human and insect elements to create adorable characters. I also just love her use of color throughout the book.

Ms. Stephens is a bit difficult to track down online, but I did find her personal website (she also has a Facebook page) and I loved the art that she has available there, too.

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The Quilt Story, written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Tomie dePaola

The story follows the journey of a quilt as it is made, given to a little girl to play with, travels across the wilderness, and finally stored away carefully in an attic. Eventually a new little girl finds the quilt, and the cycle begins again. The story evokes “Little House in the Big Woods” to me, but in a much simpler, poignant way.

I envision this as a classic that lots of families have on their shelves, but sometimes I mention it and just get blank stares. I loved and continue to love this book. Munchkin and I haven’t read it together for quite some time, but I remember we’d stop and look at the pictures very carefully as we went through the story. It’s also possible that my deep affection for this book is rooted in my own history: My mother made me a quilt that I snuggled under as I grew up. I still have it.

Tomie dePaola has illustrated a great number of books and is a very well-known artist, of course, but I think his clean, folksy illustration style lends itself well to the simplicity and sweetness of this tale.

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I think I love this story even more now as a mother, because Prudence's reactions to the mess just crack me up!
I think I love this story even more now that I’m a mother. Prudence’s reactions to “mess ” crack me up!

Mooch the Messy Meets Prudence the Neat
Written by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, Illustrated by Ben Shecter

Mooch the Messy is a rat whose entire life revolves around making a mess. He has the crunchiest, messiest hole in all of Boston, and he’s enormously proud of it. Everything changes when his neighbor, Prudence the Neat, moves in next door. She prides herself on keeping things neat and can’t wait to clean up Mooch’s act. The two become friends with an unexpected compromise.

I believe this book is years out of print (my copy is from 1978), but I still LOVE it. It is a holdover from my childhood and I hung onto it so I could share it with my own children. Munchkin enjoys it, but not as much as he might because I jealously guard this book and refuse to let it become part of the generic bookshelf.

Although I find the story to be slightly gender-stereotypical (the two characters eventually decide to trade homes once a week to let them wreck and clean to their hearts’ content, and Prudence, of course, is doing the cleaning!) the language is so playful and delightful and a joy to read.

I couldn’t find this one available to purchase anywhere, but if you happen to find it in your library or at a second hand store somewhere, snap it up. I promise you’ll enjoy it.

10 thoughts on “Picking Favorites – Children’s Books We Love

  1. I just wrote about children’s books (my latest post is specifically picture books). I love them. And this line: “a beautifully illustrated, well-written story is one of the most important “toys” a kid can have.” So true.

    I’d never heard of Imagination Library but that is wonderful. I’ll definitely check it out. I LOVE the illustrations in children’s picture books. Sometimes, now that my kids are older, we go through and just marvel at the beauty of the paintings/sketches. (Good luck with back to school and blogging. I know how that goes. I’m working on it myself…)

    1. I know, I just read (and loved) your post earlier! (I’m trying to catch up on all my reading… oiy.)

      Children’s illustration is such a diverse field… it’s really interesting to see how different artists interpret the same stories, even, when the story is retold.

      Thank you for the good luck – and I’ll return the wish to you!

    1. Thank you so much JoEllen! The Quilt Story and Persephone ought to be easy enough to find. 🙂 It’s funny you mention pinning… I meant to do a pinnable image but never got around to it. Oh well, someday! 😀

  2. This was so fun to read! I love children’s books too and fondly remember reading them as a child.How wonderful that your son has started to read solo too. That’s so cool. I haven’t seen the ones you posted before– I’ll keep my eye out at the library! I loved Corduroy, Little Golden Books, and Shel Silverstein poetry as a kid, so those have definitely made it into our home! 🙂

    1. Ooh, I loved the little Golden books that I had, and I didn’t read a lot of Silverstein but isn’t there a “No good horrible bad day” poem by him? (I’m not finding it on google easily, for some reason.)

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