(Part 2) 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…

The next seven books in my favorite picture books series begins with a Valentine’s Day book, #because love wins…
(You can read my first seven here.)

ebody Loves You, Mr. HatchSomebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli; illustrations by Paul Yalowitz.

Eileen Spinelli’s book is the absolute best Valentine’s Day book ever, but really any day is a good day to read this book to someone you love.

Mr. Hatch is quiet and keeps to himself. He has an uneventful life and talks to no one, and no one talks to him either.  Then one day the postman brings him a box of candy with a note that says it is from a secret admirer.

Mr. Hatch is stunned. He has a secret admirer? And suddenly he finds a silly little grin on his face. He puts on a yellow tie and some aftershave. He brings the box of candy into work and shares it with his co-workers. In short, his life is changed. All because someone loves him.

Mr. Hatch's candy, by Paul Yalowitz

There is more. Much more. But I can’t spoil it for you. Just be sure to have some chocolate candy (in a heart-shaped box) or brownies to share with this story. Ages 5- Adult

I Wish I Were a Butterfly by James Howe.

 I Wish I Were a Butterfly by James Howe; Illustrations by Ed Young.

James Howe is famous for writing the Bunnicula series; Ed Young is famous for his elegant watercolors. (His book Lon Po Po : a Red Riding-Hood Story from China won the Caldecott Award in 1990 for the best illustrated children’s book of that year.) But together, they have made a superior storybook. This is a bit long — probably best suited to a six-to-eight-year-old’s attention span. But the main idea is timeless — we are all beautiful, no matter what our outside appearance is.

The frog who lives in Swampswallow Pond has just told the little cricket that he is the ugliest thing in the world; so now the cricket is wandering through the meadow seeing wonderful insects who are much more attractive than he is —  a ladybug, a butterfly, a dragonfly… They all give him rather random advice: Buck up, Cheer up, Forget about it, and none is very helpful. So he goes to visit his best friend the Spider to get comfort from her. To the little cricket, the Spider is beautiful because he loves her. She laughs at him, and they have a very interesting discussion about friendship, beauty, bullies, and loving your own talents — and the last line is one of the most perfect ending lines ever. Go read it. Ages 6- Adult

chickenstewThe Wolf’s Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza.

Simple illustrations, simple story = belly laughs and a great moral.

The wolf goes out to eat the hen and her one hundred chicks, but once there, he has the great idea to fatten them all up before he eats them. He makes them 100 pancakes and delivers them at night. And then 100 biscuits, and then… Eventually though, he finds the chicks are so darling, that he just can’t eat them — they end up calling him Uncle Wolf — proof that anyone can be redeemed! A great story about loving your enemies… Ages 3-6

enemy pieEnemy Pie by Derek Munson; illustrated by Tara Calahan King.

And if you would like specifics on how to love your enemy, here is one of the best instruction books — Make Enemy Pie.

And better yet, Dad knows the recipe. But one of the secret ingredients is having to spend the Whole Day with your enemy. Can it be done? And then what happens to the enemy? Heartwarming and real… (and Dad is both the hero and the chef). Ages 7-10

skyfarawayWhy the Sky Is Far Away: a Nigerian folktale by Mary Jane Gerson; illustrated by Carla Golembe.

Once the people lived in paradise — all their needs of food came from the sky. But they grew greedy and wanted more, even though the God of the sky had warned them about their greed and lack of obedience. One woman’s selfish greed ruined it for all the people, and as their punishment, their God moved away from them and the people now had to toil for their food. Sound familiar?

This folktale is five-hundred years old from the Bini tribe of Nigeria. It is billed everywhere as an ecological tale — how the stewardship of the earth is in the hands of humans. And, it is that. But a believer cannot help but see the connections to Genesis, Chapter 3. It is a fascinating discussion starter, and the illustrations are magnificent. All ages

iurThe Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce; illustrated by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm.

Every librarian has their own favorite stories about libraries and books. Mine were always these two: I Took my Frog to the Library by Eric Kimmel and Book! Book! Book! by Deborah Bruss. Those two are fun books, and by all means, check them out. But my absolute new favorite is William Joyce’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. My son-in-law got it for me for Christmas — he actually sat down in Barnes & Noble and read it — and therefore, he realized that it was the perfect book for me. I must write a caveat here: all these other 28 books have been read aloud to children by me, multiple times. They are guaranteed. This one is not. I’ve not read it to any children, so I don’t know how they will like it. I can only say…

This is the perfect book.

Morris Lessmore had me at the opening illustration. He is sitting on his porch in front of beautiful French doors (just like the doors that I am sanding for our back porch) in an Adirondack chair (that is the exact green color of my kitchen) surrounded by stacks of books (much like the stacks next to my bed). But his idyllic life is interrupted by a Dorothy-in-Kansas-like storm. He wanders, stricken, through several black-and-white pages of destruction, until he sees a lovely lady who was being “pulled along by a festive squadron of flying books.”iu

She sends Morris a good story — that looks much like Humpty Dumpty — who leads him to a remarkable building — that looks much like a Carnegie Library — where thousands of books live. Morris walks inside and hears “the faint chatter of a thousand different stories, as if each book was whispering an invitation to adventure.”

This book is a quiet homage to the power of words and stories to inspire us and change our lives. The short film won an Academy Award, and the web site and app make it fun to play with AFTER you read the book… Ages 6+

Big Chickens by Leslie Helakoski

Big Chickens by Leslie Helakoski; illustrated by Henry Cole.

And the last book of this post (stay tuned for the next seven) is absolute Chicken Fluff — hilarious to read, hilarious to listen to, with absolutely no redeeming value except laughter. (And yes, I know, it’s the second book in this list about chickens and wolves. But just so you know, this book was so popular that there are two more in the series.)

The four big chickens go squawking and pwocking and flocking into the woods to hide from the wolf who is sneaking around their henhouse. The cowardly chickens come upon barrier after barrier and each time their worst fears are realized. They fall into the ditch, they step into a cow patty, they fall into the lake, they stumble into the cave, and sure enough, they meet the wolf. They shriek, and they squeak, and they freak until the wolf is scared away by their antics. The word play is fun and  the illustrations are fun; in fact, it is one of the most fun books ever for reading out loud… And now that I think of it, there is a moral of the story: Even if your worst fears are realized, they are rarely as bad as you have imagined them to be… Ages 3-8


Stay tuned — the next post will have seven more...

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…(Part 1)

once upon a timelong ago and far away, I was a children’s librarian. But you know, old librarians never retire, they just get reshelved, checked out, or renewed…

Does that mean I’m qualified to make a list of my favorite picture books of all time?

All librarians, retired or not, love book lists and this February I’m listing the children’s picture books I love. Here are my qualifications: a librarian for thirty-five years; a children’s librarian for twenty-five of those years; a word addict, editor, storyteller, and writer on and off throughout my life; and a book lover since before I even learned to read…

So if any of that makes my list more credible, here are my favorite twenty-nine picture books of all time — old favorites as well as new — one book per day in February divided into weekly groups, so you can go to the library on Saturday for the whole week.

I must confess — I like stories that tell us about how to live. Not heavy-handed, but stories that can be talked about over and over; stories that can be read on more than one level; stories that stick. And because they are picture books, the illustrations have to be outstanding, too. Please notice that this is a list of MY FAVORITES! It is not a list of the Best Picture Books of All Time — you can find those lists here and here.

In no particular order they are:

Down the Road by Alice Schertle; E.B. Lewis painted the picturesDown the Road by Alice Schertle; illustrated by E.B. Lewis.  Mama needs eggs, but no one in the family has time to go to the store, so Hetty begs and pleads to be able to “go down the road all by herself.” Mama hedges, but Papa stands up for her and says, “Hetty is absolutely old enough to go by herself.”

Careful and proud to have money in her pocket and finally knowing how it feels to be grown up, Hetty does everything just the way Mama and Papa would do; well, almost…

This might top the list of favorites. It is a wonderful story of family love and messing up and forgiveness. And E.B. Lewis’ soft watercolor illustrations fit the words perfectly!

(Spoiler Alert: Hetty does indeed drop the eggs. Every school age child from kindergarten to 5th grade identifies with this. They are hushed when they see Hetty hiding in the tree and Papa striding down the road to look for her. 6th through 8th graders probably like it too, but they are too cool to let on… So, I’m going out on a limb here and say All Ages…)

The Lion and the Little Red BirdThe Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elise Kleven.

Elise Kleven’s artwork sings out joyously; the art in her other books is spectacular too, but this particular book stands out because of the story as well. It’s about art — creating it and sharing it — and the happiness that brings.

The Lion’s tail is a different color every day and the little bird wonders why. When she asks him, all he can hear is her cheerful song. They accompany each other throughout the day, enjoying one another’s company, but not really communicating. (Inter-species difficulties, you know!)

Elisa Kleven's artA nighttime rainstorm and rescue brings the little bird into the lion’s cave where she discovers that he paints all night what he has seen that day. (There is a slight guessing game here that your young one will be so proud to figure out.) And this amazing book is perfect for getting on your own creativity — get out the paints and go wild with color with your child. Ages 3-8

Blueberries for Sal

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

If there is a McCloskey book on most people’s lists, it is usually Make Way for Ducklings. And although I love that book too, this one stole my heart when I read it (over and over) to my own children. Little Sal and her mother and Little Bear and his mother go to Blueberry Hill one pleasant summer afternoon to stock up on blueberries. They get all mixed up, and the word play, and the illustrations could not possibly be any better. blueberriesIf you ask me, this one should have won the Caldecott Award. One of McCloskey’s best drawings is the picture of Mother Bear looking at Little Sal in horror as they realize they are with the wrong parent/wrong child. Have some blueberry muffins handy to eat while reading this gem. Ages 4-8

Sneaky SheepSneaky Sheep by Chris Monroe.

Every time I read this, kids begged to check it out.  I think they wanted to pore over the clever  illustrations, but honestly, they could never outgrow the lesson here. In fact, if the adult reader doesn’t point it out, they might not even know why they love it so much. (Adults know better than children that we all need unconditional love.)

Blossom and Rocky are two sheep who aren’t known for their wise decisions in the past. In fact, they’ve made some pretty poor choices (very humorously illustrated!). Murphy, the sheep dog who watches over them, knows this and keeps a watchful eye on the pair.

But one day Murphy is busy helping a lamb and the two black sheep make a run for it. They really haven’t even gotten close to their destination of the high clover field on the mountain when they stop for a rest and meet THE WOLF.

There is not a word about Jesus or God in this picture book — but it’s not a stretch to move from this story into the Biblical story of Jesus as the shepherd who watches over us and cares for us all, no matter how we behave… And the kids hardly know they’ve gotten a lesson! Ages 5-9

Extra YarnExtra Yarn by Mac Barnett; illustrations by Jon Klassen.

This is an understated book and I confess that I had to read it twice before I fell in love. And now, each time I read it, I find more to love about it.  It’s another one of those “lesson” books that kids won’t get until you start a discussion about it.

The town where Annabelle lives is grey and cold, and so are the people. Until one day she finds a box of multi-colored yarn and begins to knit. She knits colorful sweaters for herself and her dog, then for her friend and his dog. The sweaters cause a stir, and soon everyone wants one. Somehow the box of yarn never empties…

UNTIL the evil archduke comes to town and offers to buy the magical box of yarn for one million, two million, ten million dollars. But Annabelle won’t sell.

No? She won’t sell? Then he will steal it. This is a parable of joy, of kindness, of goodness, of whatever it is that can’t be bought, sold, or stolen, but can only be given away. Look at the illustrations carefully. They are (almost) as good as the story. Ages 5-9

City Dog, Country Frog

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems; illustrated by Jon J. Muth.

Mo Willems is another perennial favorite author to Best Picture Book Lists, but generally the book listed is Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Okay, so I’ll give you that it’s cute, but best picture book? No. This one is a thousand times better!

Unlikely friends always make for good stories! There are several other books on this list with that theme. But this particular story is so good because there are So Many Big Themes in this one short picture book. Willems is a master at saying much in few words. And the illustrations! Look at this one of Dog and  Frog playing together:

Dog and frogEvery season, Dog escapes into the county and runs off to find his friend. But dogs live longer than frogs do, and one winter Frog is gone. It is a moving story of friendship, loss, grief, and recovery — in less than 350 words. (Note: I’ve read several reviews of this book from parents who didn’t like it because it was about death. But I don’t know of a single child who hasn’t lost a pet, a grandparent, or a friend. Death must be part of our conversations with our children.) All ages

The Three QuestionsThe Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

There are two books by Jon J. Muth on this list, so I might as well put them next to each other. The Three Questions is adapted from a famous short story by Leo Tolstoy, and Tolstoy fans will find nods to his life and culture in the names of the characters in the book. The boy has three questions that he puts to his friends, a monkey, a bird, and a dog. They answer as their kind would answer — the boy knows they are trying to be helpful, but he also knows they aren’t the true answers. So he goes off to find the wise old Turtle (Leo), who helps him discover for himself, the truth.

Muth takes hard thoughts, and puts them together so a child can understand them. There is much to talk about in this book… Ages 6-11

So get to your favorite library and check these out — there’s one to read for every day… Stay tuned for seven more next week…

57. The Crooked Little House

Yes, we’re trying to straighten up a crooked little house — and it’s driving Mr. H. C. bonkers. This is a man who has to have pieces meet within a thirty-second of an inch. And that level bubble? Well it has to be right between those lines, as close to the middle as it can be. Poor guy. Some days he just shakes his head. Some days he wonders aloud why we ever got into this. And some days when the bird clock whistles 5:00, he just goes and quietly gets a glass of wine.
Is it level?
For the record, the nursery rhyme goes like this:

There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile,
He bought a crooked cat who caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a crooked little house.*

black and white checkerboard VCT
Hmm… No mention of a crooked little wife. That’s good, I think. And we’ve found plenty of crooked little mice — all dead — thank goodness. But I was beginning to wonder if the black and white checkerboard tile I had planned was wise on a crooked floor…

If I had a crooked sixpence for every time Mr. H. C. complained about the walls not being level, and the floor not being level, and the doors not being level, I could probably buy a crooked cat. Oh wait, we have one already…
Sleeping cat
This was the weekend that we were putting down the underlayment for the floor. For those of you who don’t speak the lingo, that is 4×8 sheets of thin plywood type stuff that doesn’t bend around crooked walls or over crooked floors. It makes a nice, smooth surface for laying linoleum or tile. Mr. H.C. is a genius at making crooked things look straight, so I wasn’t too worried about how it would look — I was more concerned about his state of mind while the floor was on its way to looking good.

The first piece went down easily; the second was more difficult because it had to have many specific holes cut out for the plumbing. And then, I heard him say, “Wow, this is really pretty square.”


I made him repeat the sentence.

And later, as he was cutting the last piece and I was nailing the others down, he said it again!

Stapling down underlayment

Almost 3000 staples went into this underlayment, and my shoulder is feeling the pain… (I really do work sometimes!)

Now, we’re not to the point of throwing out the level, and the rest of the house may still be crooked, but the kitchen is Straight and Square.


And ready for checkerboard tile.

*“There was a Crooked Man” originates from the English Stuart history of King Charles I. The “crooked man” is said to allude to Scottish General Sir Alexander Leslie, who signed a treaty that secured Scotland’s freedom. “The crooked stile” represents the border wedged between England and Scotland. The English and Scots agreement is represented within the line “They all lived together in a crooked little house.” The rhyme refers to the uneasy peace between the two countries. (Source is many websites that all give the same history.)


This illustration is from The Real Mother Goose — you know the one with the black and white checkerboard cover?

And here are some of the absolute best nursery rhyme books:

My Very First Mother Goose and Here Comes Mother Goose both by Rosemary Wells
The Original Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright
Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young by Jack Prelutsky
Tomie dePaola’s Mother Goose by Tomie dePaola