(Part 3) The Librarian’s 29 Favorite Picture Books of all time: to give as gifts, to read over and over, or just to have on your own bookshelves…

This is the third part of the list. For the first fourteen, see Part One and Part Two.

A Visitor for Bear A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker; illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton.

This is another favorite about unlikely friends — Bear has a sign on his front door that says No Visitors Allowed! But little Mouse just keeps ignoring the sign and popping up at the most inopportune moments in the most inopportune places. (Hmmm…Just like real life!) When Mouse finally shows up in the teapot and begs to have tea with Bear, Bear relents — mostly because he is just tired of being badgered (moused?).

But amazingly enough, he discovers that he actually likes little mouse’s company. Becker has written a just right book for cuddling and laughing and perhaps having a tea party together… Ages 3-7

48481 The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson; illustrated by Vladimir Vasilʹevich Vagin.

Katherine Patterson is famous in the children’s literary world for winning the Newbery Award twice — Bridge to Terabithia in 1978 and Jacob Have I Loved in 1981. She didn’t write very many picture books — most of her books are for older children — and this selection is longer than the traditional picture book; indeed, this is best as a family read-aloud, for everyone in the family (older than six) will enjoy it. (And if you’ve got a little princess, you could probably stretch the age to four — depending on her sitting-still span.)

An original “fairy-tale” The King’s Equal tells the story of Prince Raphael, the arrogant, prideful son of the beloved King. Alas, the old king knows his son’s character — on his death bed he tells the Prince that he may reign as king, but he can never wear the crown until he weds someone who is his equal in beauty, intelligence, and wealth.

Of course, Raphael has to be humbled before that person can be found, and this wonderful book is the story of how he finds humility — and his queen. Ages 6+

mufaro's beautful daughtersMufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe.

Another story of pride, this beloved book is often called an African Cinderella story. All the daughters in the land are called to the city, where the king will choose a wife. Two sisters — one gentle and humble, the other prideful and selfish — go their own way to the city, meeting the same people and the same situations along the way. The King, however, knows their temperaments because he has met both of them before… Ages 6+

the christmas miracle of jonathan toomeyThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojieczowski; illustrations by P.J. Lynch.

When this book was published in 1995, my children were past the picture book stage. But too bad, I made them listen to this every Christmas anyway… In our house, it supplemented The Christmas Carol. It is longer than an average picture book, but oh my, it is SO worth it! Each Christmas season I scour the new releases hoping that there will be another Christmas book that equals this one. So far I haven’t found it. P.J. Lynch’s illustrations are magnificent! (And whatever you do, don’t pay any attention to the movie that was made with the same title…).


This is the story of Jonathan Toomey, the best woodcarver in the valley, who carries a terrible grief that has made him withdraw from society. But the widow and her young son have lost their beloved nativity set in their move, and they come asking him to carve them another, hoping it will be done in time for Christmas. They shower love and acceptance and simple gifts upon him — even though he is a reluctant receiver.

Oh, such transformations love can accomplish! Ages 6-Adult

sylvester and the magic pebbleSylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.

When I was researching the books on this list, I was astonished to find that Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was on the Banned Books List! How can that be? I wondered. It’s such a fantastic book AND it won the Caldecott Medal in 1970. When I discovered why it was banned, I burst out laughing. Any guesses? (Answer is at the bottom of this post…)

If you’ve lived under a rock and have never heard of this book (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) it is the story of a young donkey who finds a lovely magic pebble;  he discovers accidentally that it is magic, and he has a few minutes of terrific excitement,thinking  how this wish-granting pebble will change his life.


Then disaster strikes. To get away from the mean, hungry lion who appears out of nowhere, he panics and makes a bad decision. He wishes himself into a rock. “And there was Sylvester, a rock on Strawberry Hill, with the magic pebble lying right beside him on the ground, and he was unable to pick it up.”

Everyone in town searches for young Sylvester, but no one thinks to go to Strawberry Hill and look for a rock… It’s a wonderfully happy ending though, with his parents actually doing the finding. (And you will give your child an extra big hug when you finish reading it.) Ages 5-9

Just a couple of asides about the author — he also wrote Dr. DeSoto, which is absolutely recommended, as well as the book Shrek, which is forgettable. (This is one case out of a million in which the movie is actually better than the book.) Before Steig was a children’s writer he was famous as a cartoonist for the New Yorker; he didn’t start writing children’s books until he was 61.

Cloudy with a chance of meatballsCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett

My (adult) kids would probably disown me if I left this off the list. We read this over and over. We owned a copy and when that copy fell apart, we bought a hard-cover edition. And we wore that one out too… I’ve heard that this book was ruined by a movie made into a movie also, but I would never go see it…

How can anybody resist the story of the weather bringing food? Tomato tornadoes? A giant jello setting in the west? Or storms of hamburgers becoming heavy at times? Ages 5-9

Chicken SundayChicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco.

It was tough picking my favorite Patricia Polacco book. I’m not sure why she has been shunned by awards committees, for her illustrations and her stories are almost always favorites.  I also really like Just Plain Fancy, and Thunder Cake, but Chicken Sunday wins out for several reasons.

It is a story of unselfconscious inter-racial friendship and love that is heartwarming. Young Tricia hangs out with Stewart and Winston; their gramma, Miss Eula, often cooks dinner for all of them. The three kids are running through the neighborhood one day and get falsely accused of throwing eggs at Mr. Kodinski’s hat shop. Gramma looks at them sternly when they deny throwing the eggs and then decides to believe them. But, she says, Mr. Kodinski thinks you threw those eggs, so you’ll have to do something to make up to him, so he will know that you are good children.

The three were hatching a plan to buy Miss Eula her favorite hat for Easter (from Mr. Kodinski’s Hat shop!) so they decide to be brave and try it. Courageously they march into the hat shop with handmade Pysanky eggs (made with the help of Tricia’s mother). Mr. Kodinski is instantly transported back to his homeland at the sight of the Russian eggs. He is impressed by the children’s chutzpah and a friendship begins.


As always, Polacco’s water colors glow with warmth and color and light. And you can just hear Miss Eula’s voice that “sounded like slow thunder and sweet rain…” Ages 6-12

The last seven books will come next week, with one extra for leap year…

Unknown***Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was banned in some places because the police officers were depicted as pigs.

3 thoughts on “(Part 3) The Librarian’s 29 Favorite Picture Books of all time: to give as gifts, to read over and over, or just to have on your own bookshelves…

  1. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey!!! I LOVE that book! I always read it at Christmas time – I think to grade 5 or 6. Still one of my favorites.


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