While balancing my creative need to write and pay attention to my incredibly
needy lovely toddler, I got the great idea to find a list of the best of the best picture books, read them to her and write about our reactions. I was also getting tired of going to the library and just randomly grabbing books off the shelves and hoping they would be good. When choosing books for myself, I typically come across a review or hear a mention on a podcast and think, that book sounds amazing, and add it to my growing list of books I’ll probably never have time to read. Considering a typical book that my daughter and I borrow from the library is read about 15 times (usually consecutively), I want those books to be good ones that I don’t hate to read.
So I found the School Library Journal list of Top 100 Picture Books. I couldn’t really find a firm date on it, but I’m assuming it is around 2011-2012. So a little dated, but I’m not sure how many revolutionary picture books have come out in the last 2 years. So starting with book #100, we are going to read these books 5 at a time and gauge both our reactions, their re-readability, and a few other tidbits as they come up. So I hope that you enjoy our journey, and find a few new favorites to enjoy as well.
100. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
So the moral of this story is to not give up. It’s not subtle. I suppose young children haven’t already been beaten over the head with this sentiment yet, but the book isn’t clever or all that interesting. The drawings are all in shades of white and yellow, with a few hints of green and orange near the end. I also felt like this book didn’t age well, some of the language seems a bit weird to me; instead of saying “the carrot wouldn’t come up”, it seems like it should read “the carrot wouldn’t grow”. Peanut didn’t seem to mind the tediousness of this book, and asked for it a few times.
At the time of its publication, it was one of the shortest picture books, at 101 words. The author was also close with and a mentor to renowned author/illustrator Maurice Sendak. He illustrated some of her other children’s books, but this one in particular was illustrated by Krauss’ husband.
99. The Maggie B by Irene Haas
This one was hard to find, because only one library in the entire metro area of where I live had a copy, and it was in storage. We did get our hands on it, and read it a few times. It’s a cute book, essentially a fantasy day for a little girl and her baby brother on a ship that apparently has a farm on it, including orange trees and goats. There’s a few rhymes and “songs” interspersed throughout, which was Peanut’s favorite part, especially the lullaby near the end that Margaret sang to her baby brother. The thing that struck me as odd about it would be that such a small girl (she appears to be under the age of ten) was able to cook a seafood stew. Child labor, much? Or maybe I’ve been slacking with Peanut’s culinary training.
98. Duck on a Bike by David Shannon
I didn’t find this book particularly funny, but it apparently struck the right cord with Peanut, because she thinks it’s hilarious. The story is that a duck on a farm finds a bike and decides to try riding it, and then meets each animal on the farm who makes the noise of that animal (Neigh, said the horse), except the narrator translates that into what the animal may have been really thinking (“You’re going to hurt yourself on that!”). In the end, a bunch of abandoned bikes are found (how convenient), and all the animals go for a joyride. For some reason the idea of farm animals riding bikes is high entertainment for toddlers, but I thought the book was fairly repetitive and boring.
The idea for this book was inspired by the author’s daughter, who made animals sounds before saying any words. And maybe she liked bicycles?
97. Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox
This book is pretty simple and Peanut seemed to enjoy it. It basically consists of pointing out several sheep by a descriptor (“Here is the bath sheep, and here is the bed sheep”), and then asking “Where is the Green Sheep?” every few pages. It rhymes a little. Peanut is a little older and already knows most of those descriptors, but for a younger toddler it can be a semi-learning tool. Near and far, moon and star, etc. I did feel like the word “sheep” got tiresome after about 3 consecutive reads. You know how you repeat something over and over, and the meaning feels like it got lost? Yeah, try reading sheep about 20 times in a row.
There is a fascinating talk transcribed on the author’s website about the process of writing a children’s book. I highly recommend taking the time to read it. And obviously, check out the green sheep plush available for purchase.
96. Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Weber
Despite the aged drawings (this book was written in the 1970s), the story is cute. Ira has been invited to go sleep over at his neighbor’s house, and he is undecided about whether he wants to bring his teddy bear or if he’s ready to sleep without it for the first time. It’s fairly long for a children’s book, but it kept Peanut’s interest. She even asked for it a few times. I’d say more, but on the off chance you read it, the ending is too cute to be spoiled.
Of course, you can always check out the 1991 HBO-produced musical animation based on the book. It unfortunately won’t play on a mobile device, but if you get a chance, you can view it on a computer.
Next time, books 95-91!