100 Picture Books: 65-61

This is the first batch that Sweetpea is legitimately interested in the books. None of the ones in this batch are particularly geared toward her age range, but she did express an interest in a couple of the ones that were shorter in length. We also got a ton of books about being a flower girl and about death (nice mix, right?) for some timely concerns, and those have usurped requests for this batch. I guess none of them were super interesting for either girl, but we always have the next batch.

the-arrival65. The Arrival by Shaun Tan

So this book was bizarre. It had no words or context, just a variety of pictures. It was sort of like a graphic novel in sepia tones and with aliens or something. I had to describe what was happening in each picture to Peanut and it got to be a little tedious. Also, neither of us really understood what was happening. There was a family, with a father-type figure leaving for a new place, and the little cute monster depicted on the cover. Some kind of alien-takeover situation was happening. I really just didn’t know what was going on. I did my best at explaining it, but it was a blind leading the blind type of thing.

This book was written in order to hopefully eke out sympathy from his fellow Australians towards refugees. The author said he was also inspired by the 1978 book The Snowman.

King-Bidgood-cover (1)64.  King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood

Peanut enjoyed this book because it was silly. The premise is that the King is in the bathtub, and a variety of subjects try to encourage him to come out by suggesting a fun activity, but the King decides that those activities can just as easily be done in the tub! This means that his bathtub is huge, and he also bathes with his subjects. Pretty weird. Of course, kids don’t think a bunch of adults bathing together is weird, so it definitely works for this age group. In the end, the clever page just pulls the plug (glub glub glub!) and so the bath time shenanigans are over.

On the author’s website, she has a couple of photos of people that posed as characters for them to draw for the book, so that is pretty cool. There are three Wood authors, the husband and wife along with their son, and together they have created many popular children’s books, including The Napping House. Audrey Wood had a pretty interesting childhood spent among circuses, which probably has inspired her whimsical style of art.

91f9f3a8241804a93a682beac9d3f28263. The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss

Our first Seuss! This book had a bunch of stories in it, but the longest one was The Sneetches. To an adult, it is obviously a story about racism and class differences, and how we have prejudices that aren’t fair and use them to oppress and exclude others. I’m not sure that the point of it got across to Peanut (and Sweetpea could barely sit still through the whole thing), but we were able to get across that the behavior of the Sneetches was “not nice”. What else can you hope for?

One thing that I appreciated about the stories was that it wasn’t just pointing out and demonstrating poor behavior, it was actively saying it was bad behavior. I find some stories for children aren’t explicit enough in this, and then children are confused over what type of behavior is appropriate to emulate. It’s not enough for the bad characters to not be the heroes, or maybe not “win”, but the particular bad behavior needs to be labeled as such for the kids to get it.

Theodor Geisel (aka, Dr Seuss) said that the Sneetches story was satire based on how he felt about antisemitism. The Sneetches have also inspired a lot of musicians, as they have appeared in song lyrics by artists like Bikini Kill, Dead Kennedys, and Ben Cooper, among others.

GoAwayBigGreenMonster62. Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley

This was a regular picture book printed on regular pages, but I felt that it was a little too flimsy for the cut out style of it. The book starts with eyes, and as pages are turned, more features of the Big Green Monster are revealed. Midway through the book is the entire monster. Then, the book’s narrator (which seems to be a child from the voice, but is never clarified) starts telling each specific feature to go away, until the monster is gone. “And don’t come back until I say so!” The library copy that we had obviously had some wear, because there were a few rips on the pages. A cardboard page design would have been much better for this book. Both girls liked it; Peanut liked the story and the idea of telling the monster to go away, and Sweetpea liked looking at the disappearing and reappearing pictures.

Despite Emberley’s rather long bibliography, he mostly appears to make books that are instructional rather than for reading. He has several dozen books about drawing. I personally find it ironic that he has so many drawing instruction books when the art in Big Green Monster is very rudimentary.

How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_cover61. How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

We’ve had this book awhile (and have enjoyed the classic animation many times). It was one of the first picture books that we bought and it took awhile for Peanut to be able to sit through the entire thing. It is pretty long. Peanut likes to recite Cindy Lou Who’s lines when she finds Grinchy Claus taking away the Who Christmas tree. Sweetpea is still too young to enjoy this, but I’m hoping she will grow to love it as well.

This book was apparently simultaneously published on its own and in an issue of Redbook magazine in 1957. I find it interesting that Geisel wrote the book in a matter of weeks except for the ending, which stumped him for several months! His wife was ill during the time that he wrote it, but she was able to help with the editing. The Grinch is such an integral part of our culture now that we refer to just as many Christmas curmudgeons as Grinches that we do Scrooges. (There is a semantic difference though – Scrooges generally imply some kind of greed or lack of generosity, while Grinchiness seems to be just general grumpiness. I feel like there may be a thesis paper in there somewhere.) I found it surprising to learn that Geisel considered the Grinch to be modeled on himself. Hopefully, his own heart grew three sizes after completing it.


Next time, we have more holiday books, which is timely, since the holidays are around the corner!

100 Picture Books: 70-66

Sweetpea’s newfound interest in books has moved along the project again, as things were stalling a little when she wasn’t interested and it was difficult to carve out snuggly reading time with Peanut with a little sister tugging on us. Both girls now are bringing books for us to read fairly frequently throughout the day. It has become a teaching tool about taking turns!

rhyming dust bunnies70. Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

This book was short but very cute. There are 4 dust bunnies in an array of colors, and they spout of rhyming words together, except one who isn’t shouting “look out!” They quickly dodge an incoming broom, but in the middle of another bout of rhyming action, they get sucked up into a vacuum cleaner. It is the perfect length for a preschooler’s attention span, and somewhat educational too.

The author has written a sequel entitled Here Comes the Big Mean Dust Bunny! There is also a cute activity where kids can fill in the speech bubbles with that they think the dust bunnies might be saying. The School Library Journal article on the book includes pictures of most of it, and some people dressed up in costumes of the dust bunnies, so that’s new and different.

51hXWiuxGYL69. Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton

This book has been a favorite for a long time. It may have actually been one of the first books that we ever read to Peanut. I’ve memorized it, since there’s only about 100 words or so. It’s pretty short and cute, with animal sounds and rhyming. Peanut is a bit out of the age range for it, as with the previous Boynton, but it is perfect for Sweetpea. Our copy looks very well-loved, although this time around, neither girl seemed particular interested in it.

This book was published the same year as But Not The Hippopotamus, along with 6 others that are still in print and quite beloved by kids. I would consider this batch of 8 books kind of the beginning collection of Boynton books that are great to have in a collection. We have most of them. They haven’t aged a bit.

The-Three-Pigs-Wiesner-David-978061800701168. The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

This book was interesting, and broke the 4th wall a bunch. The story starts off with the basic Three Little Pigs story (not the Disney-fied one – the pigs get eaten in this one!) but right before the wolf is about to have bacon for the first time, his huffing and puffing sends the little pig right out of the page! That pig goes along and rounds up his buddies, and they all go exploring in some other stories. They find a dragon to scare the pants off the wolf, and then they live happily ever after. It was cute.

This book is our second from Wiesner, which is interesting because I had never heard of him before. He has a great blog on www.davidwiesner.com which lets readers into the process of drawing picture books, with sketches and commentary. I couldn’t find anything specific on the pigs book, but I bet if you dig in there, you can find something.

63196b9fc430c918d09ea40c38cf60b367. Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban

I requested this book from Paperback Swap awhile ago, and it came up briefly and then my request got cancelled. I worried that it would be another book I would have to shell out some dough for, although it turns out that it may have been a good thing, because the audiobook I managed to find was a surprise hit. It is a collection of all four Frances stories, with Bedtime for Frances as the first one. It’s basically a little girl (illustrated as a badger) that stalls for bedtime as many different ways that she can.

This story, and a few other Frances tales, were adapted into a 6 episode animated series by Jim Henson studios. The audiobook was read by a woman with an English accent (who played the mum in Mary Poppins, no less!), so now in my head, Frances is pronounced that way forever. Frawwwwnces. And thus, Parker has been introduced to audiobooks and there goes listening to music in the car forever.

chrysanthemum-big-book-image66. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Peanut loved this book, but I tell you, I got really tired of reading the name “Chrysanthemum” out loud. In the book’s 30 pages, I had to read the name 51 times. And usually, three times in a row. The message of the book is actually pretty great. This little mouse girl was given this name, and she loved it. But when she got to school, she was mercilessly teased because it was too long and also the name of a flower. In the end, a teacher comes to her defense and says that when her baby girl is born, she is going to use the name Chrysanthemum for her because it is perfect.

Meryl Streep lent her vocal talents to an animated version of the book, and it won a whole bunch of awards.



Another batch coming, including my first Seuss! I’m hoping to get some more momentum on this project as I’ve started it over a year ago and I still haven’t gotten halfway through it! Life with children is ever unpredictable.

100 Picture Books: 75-71

This was the first bunch of picture books I got after Sweetpea was born and quasi-interested in books. There was a large gap between the previous bunch because of sick kids yadda yadda. Since this bunch, she has become much more interested, and so it will be neat to see which books each kid gravitates toward, since there is a good mixture on the list of “baby” type books, and books that are more suited to an older child’s attention span.
Cloudy_with_a_Chance_of_Meatballs_(book)75. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
This was Peanut’s favorite in the batch. I wasn’t as big of a fan. It’s a story within a story, where the grandpa tells the story of Chewandswallow, a town that has food for weather, and the weather begins to get worse and worse, so everyone leaves. I felt like the ending was too abrupt and unsatisfying, but the images of giant food entertained Peanut enough to ask for repeated readings. She especially liked the giant pancake squashing the school.
Most people know already that this book was developed into two fairly successful films that don’t follow the story at all. There were also two book sequels, released in 2000 and 2013. The author and illustrator were married at one time, but have been divorced for quite awhile, and continued to work together on these books.

I want my hat back cover74. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

I actually had to just look this book up with my tried and true YouTube method of unattainable books. We had this on loan from the library for awhile, but it was Mr. Meags that read the book to Peanut, and for some reason, she refused to let me read it to her. She wanted to skip to the last page, and that was the only part of the story she was willing to admit existed. There’s an entertaining stop-motion animation if you are so inclined.

Basically, a bear is walking along and asking several animals he comes across if anyone has seen his hat. Later on, he realizes that one of the animals, a rabbit, HAS seen his hat, and lied about it. So basically, he goes and eats the rabbit. Then a squirrel asks if he has seen a rabbit wearing a hat, and he says “No, don’t ask me any more questions!” Apparently, the bear eating the rabbit was a bit much for Peanut.

This book is the first I’ve noticed that has a New York Times book review. So it must be special. It even spawned a meme.

38-273. May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

This was a favorite. It has a simple rhyme that is kind of melodic to read, which lots of repetition. Peanut requested it a lot. Each time the King and Queen invite the narrator for tea, or lunch, or whatever, he asks to bring a friend, and it is always a different animal. Peanut liked to point out the animals and name them when prompted. At the end, the narrator invites the King and Queen to the zoo to meet his “friends.” It’s very charming.

The author of this book also worked with Maurice Sendak, and wrote a few books under a psuedonym. Writing was a second career for her, as she was a social worker for the US and in a Yugoslav camp.



72. But Not The Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton

This is one of my favorite Sandra Boynton books. We have many of her board books, as they are great for small children. Peanut is almost 4 and was not as enthralled with this book as younger kids might be, but it was still good. Peanut’s little sister, here to be known as Sweetpea, was marginally interested, but as she hasn’t quite hit one year yet, so all in good time.

The story is about animals doing fun things, but the hippopotamus is continually left out. Near the end, the animals all come and ask the hippo to join them, but now the armadillo is left out. It’s cute, and rhyming, and the illustrations are in that classic Boynton cutesy style. The book is an older one, published in 1982, but continues to be in print. Spoiler alert – we will be seeing more of Boynton.

Stellaluna0171. Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

I had seen this one frequently in libraries on display and when I worked at Barnes & Noble, but I had never flipped through it before. Peanut seemed to like it okay, although it didn’t really hit home for her until we saw some bats in a habitat at the zoo. It kind of clicked for her then. But the story is cute, about a baby fruit bat that gets separated from its mother and falls into a birds nest. Stellaluna tries to fit into the nest life with the other birds, but she finds it difficult. Eventually, she is reunited with her bat family, but remains friends with her bird “siblings.” The final few pages have some educational notes about bat species.

This book is apparently even more famous than I perceived. It has been made into a film, was featured on Reading Rainbow, and won a slew of awards. Not to mention, it has also been adapted into a puppet stage production. The author has written some other books, but none of them seemed familiar.

I hope you enjoyed this list and maybe found some new books you are interested in reading to the rugrats in your life. Next up, our first audio book and now I can never not have children’s stories playing while I drive the kids around…

100 Picture Books: 80-76

So far, I’ve been able to track down most of these books through frugal means. Most of them I’ve gotten through the library. One (Fortunately) was through InterLibrary Loan (fancy!). But Zoom at Sea was nowhere to be found, so I bought a used copy off eBay. Total cost of this series so far: $4.
A version of this post appeared on Zwolanerd.com.
MadelineRescue180. Madeline’s Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans

I used to love the cartoon of this series and so I recognized the story here. It’s the one about the dog that saves Madeline from drowning, and the girls decide to keep her. Peanut didn’t enjoy this book, although I can’t figure out why. It has rhymes, and dogs, but she only wanted to read it once and then she was done with it. Too bad, I liked it.

In case you wanted to see that cartoon for yourself, here it is! This was the second Madeline book, out of 7 total, one of which was only published in 1999, almost 40 years after the previous Madelines (and posthumously). The author reportedly emigrated to the USA after shooting someone, so that’s new for this list.


79. Pierre by Maurice Sendak

I can barely count this book as having been read, because it was supposed to be delivered 3 weeks ago and either the mail delivery person left it at the wrong house or somehow it got lost while being carried inside, because I haven’t laid hands on it although it shows as delivered. (Good thing it was a free Paperback Swap trade.) So, we watched a YouTube video of someone reading the book. Twice.
Pierre doesn’t care, and he says I don’t care so much that he happens upon a lion while his parents leave him at home alone, and he is eaten. Luckily, they cart the lion to the hospital and hold him upside down and out falls Pierre, who is now reformed and cares very much.
Peanut liked it, she wanted to watch the video a couple of times. I think it would be okay to read out loud, although I didn’t care for the reading on the video. This book was part of a larger collection, called the Nutshell Library. It also spawned a song sung by Carole King, which you can also find on YouTube.
n4679078. Zoom at Sea by Tim Wynne-Jones
This book tells the story of a cat that loves to float on the water. It would be incorrect to say this cat loves the water, because he doesn’t really touch it. He likes to float around in the bathtub, and is overjoyed to discover his Uncle Roy has a connection to the sea. He shows up at an address and the woman inside, Maria, magically turns the interior of her house into the sea.
I had this book (and another Zoom volume) as a kid. I had difficulty tracking it down, and it wasn’t until I realized it was a Canadian book that it clicked. I ended up ordering an old library copy from eBay, since the copy I had is long gone. Peanut sort of liked it. While researching this book I located a puppet production of the book AND the SLJ blog about this very list!
CM_flotsam77. Flotsam by David Wiesner
At first, I thought this was going to be lame because it has no words and only pictures. But as we went along, it was pretty neat. The “story,” as it is, essentially shows a little boy finding an underwater camera with picture of a picture of a picture etc, several layers down. The boy takes his own picture, then chucks the camera back into the sea. The illustrations get the point across very well, and words probably would have been contrived and convoluted.
This makes the first book that appears to have a dedicated website, but it hasn’t been updated since 2006. Apparently there was a contest for finding actual flotsam or something, which was the purpose of the website. It’s also the first book that contains a story despite having no words – the very essence of a “picture book”.
250px-Eloise_book_cover76. Eloise by Kay Thompson

This book is kind of a stream of consciousness about a 6 year old girl living in the Plaza Hotel in New York City. It’s written in the manic breathless way that 6 year olds sometimes talk. She also repeats certain phrases like “and charge it please thank you very much,” and “for Lord’s sake,” that is obvious she has overheard adults say. I’m aware that this book is very famous and beloved, but I don’t see the appeal at all. It is really long, at 62 pages, for a children’s picture book. Peanut got bored about halfway through. I ended up skipping pages to get to the end. It’s not easy to read aloud either, as there is no punctuation. I often felt out of breath while reading.

As with Flotsam, this book also has a dedicated website, but it is more in the fanpage vein than official, as the author has passed away. Eloise was apparently inspired by Liza Minelli, since she is the author’s goddaughter. It also began its life as a book for adults, and was revised into a children’s book, and underwent many edits over the years. I thought I recognized the name of the author, and it turns out it is the same Kay Thompson as in that version of Jingle Bells made popular by Andy Williams.

The next batch won’t be late as we have already read and enjoyed most of them! The moral of THIS story is that Pierre is hard to find. My guess is that the blunt “would you like to die” from the lion is too much for most parents.

100 Picture Books: 85-81

This batch was slightly off for a few reasons. It seemed like the books I liked best were not Peanut-friendly. The ones I disliked, she gravitated toward. Goes to show, you can’t predict kids.

The first iteration of this post, on Zwolanerd.com, was missing The Giving Tree because I somehow skipped it.

Imagen escaneada85. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

This is the first book on the list that we already had an have read a bunch of times. If you haven’t read this one (and I only read it for the first time after we bought it for Peanut), a boy spends a lot of time sitting under, playing around, and eating the apples of a tree, presumably in his backyard but we aren’t ever told. Over time, the boy grows up and has less need of the tree, except for the primary resources that he can extract from it (apples to sell, wood to build with, etc), and the tree freely gives everything she has but misses the company of the boy. In the end, the boy is an old man, and too old to do much of anything but sit. So the tree offers her stump – all that’s left – and the boy stays with the tree, presumably dying right there. And since the boy is with the tree, the tree is happy.

If you think about this too much, it is really messed up, but I get that it’s a somewhat sweet story of love and friendship, and even forgiveness. Critics/readers are pretty divided on the whole thing, and there’s a collection of essays on the book that go between positive and negative interpretations. Personally, I take the book as a parent-child relationship, and see it as how children take and take and parents give and give, and there are no hard feelings from the parents, despite how they could be seen as being “used”. I feel like as a parent, you give of yourself, and your children take those “pieces” of you, like apples or branches, and create something with them. I hope that in the end, they reflect on those sacrifices and appreciate it.

Oh, and I should mention that Peanut really likes this book a lot, in case the fact that we’ve read it a bunch of times didn’t make that clear.

not-a-box85. Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

This is a short one, where a Rabbit has a cardboard box and imagines all the different pretend things the box can be. The box and Rabbit are in black and the imaginary things are in red. This is another one where the reader needs to make inferences, and I felt like I had to explain it. She didn’t really ask for it to be read too many times.

The book was inspired by the author’s own childhood play and use of cardboard boxes, with one specific memory of sitting in a box with her sister being the catalyst. She also chose a bunny because it would be easy to keep the character gender neutral.

bear_snores_on84. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson

This book was cute and easy to read because it is written in rhyming stanzas. A bear is sleeping in a cave and all the neighboring animals come and have a party in his cave while he sleeps. Peanut didn’t really seem to enjoy this one although it seemed to be one she should like. We have a different book about the same bear that she enjoyed.

This author is pretty prolific and we have read many of her books before, so I was surprised to read that Bear Snores On was her very first! Maybe that’s the problem, it suffers from New Writer Syndrome.

VisitorForBear83. A Visitor For Bear by Bonny Becker

This one was definitely a favorite. A bear (a different bear) is making his breakfast and a mouse keeps somehow sneaking in. The bear insists on no visitors but eventually the mouse wears him down. He realizes that he does like visitors after all. It was pretty cute and Peanut requested it several times.

I was delighted to discover this book is the first in a series. This was the author’s first book (a lot of first books on this list so far!), and came up because the mouse just “popped into” her head, much like the mouse does in the story.

fortunately82. Fortunately by Remy Charlip

Not sure what I was expecting from this book, but this wasn’t it. It’s a pretty short story, with alternating phrases. Fortunately, such and such happened, but unfortunately, this happened. Then fortunately… And repeat until the end. It got a little annoying to read. But Peanut asked for it a couple of times and seemed to enjoy it, although her favorite page was the tunnel with tigers stuck in it, mostly because she liked tracing the shape of the tunnel with her fingers.

This book was acquired and republished by Simon and Schuster in 1969 replacing the “fortunately” with “what good luck,” and “unfortunately” with “what bad luck.” It reverted back not long after, but acquiring the modified book can be a rare find and worth some cash.


Books 80-76 are on their way, including the first purchase I’ve had to make to complete this project!

100 Picture Books: 90-86

A version of this article originally appeared on Zwolanerd.com.

This batch was a minor mom fail. I requested them from the mobile version of my library’s website, and somehow got odd versions of them. Two of them were Spanish, and 1 was a “book club” edition, that included 9 identical paperbacks. Whoops! I have started reading the metadata more carefully.

arnie90. Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller

This book was a definite favorite. It tells the story of a doughnut named Arnie (duh), from when he is first made at 5:15am to when he is attempted to be eaten by a Mr. Bing. Arnie and Mr. Bing have to decide what to do since Arnie does NOT want to be eaten, and Mr. Bing isn’t so sure he can eat a talking doughnut. It’s pretty humorous and the book is dotted with little asides and commentary from minor characters, such as a bird or another doughnut or a customer in the bakery. Kids that are reading could probably spend a lot of time poring over all the little “Easter eggs” everywhere. Peanut did request that I change Mr. Bing to a girl, which was a pretty easy pronoun swap, and it did highlight the fact that there are no women in this book referred to by name or pronoun. Even the baker is a man. Some of the doughnuts are drawn as women, and there are a few in background scenes, but the main action is between Mr. Bing and Arnie.

I learned that the author used to design cards for Hallmark, which is pretty interesting. There may also be a stage production of this book, but I only see a mention of it with nothing to verify it.

tikki-tikki-tembo89. Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel

I remembered really liking this book as a kid, but Peanut wasn’t super into it. I think it was partly because the book was sort of confusing to her and partly because I accidentally got it in Spanish the first time, so Mike had to read and then translate immediately. By the time I got the English version, she was no longer interested. The story is about two brothers, the oldest having a long and important name, and the second only having one syllable. When the oldest brother falls into a well, the youngest tries to help but gets tongue tied trying to say his brother’s full name. They eventually get him out but he takes a long time to recover.

This book has an interesting back story. Apparently, the authors didn’t do much fact-checking, because the original folk tale may be Japanese rather than Chinese, and also the “names” are nonsense syllables and don’t mean what the book says that they mean. Knowing this now makes me think of the book a lot less fondly.

No-David-404x50088. No David! by David Shannon

The same language mix-up happened with this book as Tikki Tikki Tembo. The book is very short and is basically illustrations of a toddler behaving badly and his mother saying No! a lot. Peanut definitely understood it from the pictures even in the Spanish version, and thought it was pretty funny. I thought it was kind of short and lame, and feel bad for anyone who spent the full cost of the hardcover for it.

The inner flap recounts that the book was the first the author “wrote,” as a child, about his experiences being a mischievous kid. It was apparently recovered from his childhood scribbling by his mother. This is the same author that wrote Duck on a Bike (#98). It also spawned half a dozen other David books.

My-Lucky-Day-978014240456087. My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza

This book centers on a misdirection, which is easily missed by a young listener. A pig knocks at Fox’s door looking for Rabbit. Suddenly, Pig finds himself being dinner. He is resigned to this, but insists that Fox clean him, fatten him up, and massage him (to tenderize the meat, natch). During the massage, Fox passes out from exhaustion and Pig escapes. However, we discover that Pig has been hitting up all the pork-loving big bads in the forest, to get himself some quality pampering. The book doesn’t spell this out but rather shows it through the illustration. So I had to explain it, but I’m not sure that Peanut quite grasped the trick. She liked it okay, but it wasn’t as popular.

The author hails from Japan and had written several Japanese picture books before turning to English. This book is by far her most successful, although she did have some other awards for her other titles.

PBPsoftcover.qxd86. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

This was the biggest hit from this batch, for sure. I assume because there was a princess. It begins by setting the scene of Elizabeth’s princess life, which is interrupted by having her castle eaten by a dragon. The dragon drags off her betrothed, Prince Ronald, and she decides to don a paper bag (since all her clothes are fried), and rescue him. By the time she had tricked the dragon into passing out from exhaustion (a common storybook tactic, apparently), Ronald tells her she is a mess and he doesn’t want to be saved by a smelly princess. She declares Ronald to be a bum, and skips away into the sunset.

The subtle gender issues here are completely lost on a 3 year old. To her, the dragon is still the “bad guy.” It’s definitely a welcome deviation but unfortunately not appreciated at her age range.

This book is by far the most popular of all we have read so far, spawning a sea of books, media, toys, and other ephemera. It has apparently sold more than 3 million copies. You can even find a “story behind the story” book, including bios, letters, and new drawings. My favorite tidbit about this book is that apparently Munsch came across a little girl named Elizabeth who acted like a prima donna, and she became the princess in the story. Also, some versions have Elizabeth calling Ronald a toad rather than a bum.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Well, we’ll at least see bears in the next batch. Stay tuned for 85-81!

100 Picture Books: 95-91

No matter how many times you tell a kid not to draw on books from the library, it doesn’t seem to sink in. But I guess that’s a story for another day. Without further ado, here are another five picture books.

95. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

This book was published by a child welfare agency as a story to help kids when they have to be separated from their parents. The mommy raccoon plants a supernatural kiss on the kid raccoon’s paw so that it will glow whenever the kid raccoon misses his mommy. It’s a bit schmaltzy. Peanut liked it okay, but she didn’t really understand the point the book was trying to make. She didn’t request it much, not even the raccoons could draw her in.

I found a little bit of discrepancy as to the true inspiration of this story. On her website, the author states she saw an interaction between two raccoons in a park, but she is quoted in a few news stories as saying the raccoons were on train tracks. Strange. It’s also a bit controversial, as the School Library Journal (who published the list I’m working from) initially gave the book a poor review, saying it was propaganda for the Child Welfare Agency. It has continued to be popular, however, and has resulted in half a dozen or more sequels covering other big topics such as death, moving, and new siblings.

94. The Mitten by Jan Brett

This book is beautifully illustrated, but most of the details would go right over the head of a young listener. There are side panels showing what the boy is doing and what the next animal to burrow into the mitten are, but they are small and not super obvious. The story is also a little ridiculous. Those mittens would have to be very well made for a bear to squeeze in.

I tried looking up the original folk tale this story is based on, but all I found were a couple synopses of other English translations. It appears that Brett’s version is actually the least fantastical, as all the others feature talking animals with names and possibly evening attire. (It wasn’t clear, but I like to imagine a little rabbit hopping about in the snow wearing a tuxedo.) I do think Peanut would have been more interested in a fashionable talking rabbit though.

93. Traction Man Is Here! by Mini Grey

This book was really cute but it had a lot of visual gags that, again, would be glossed over by the young ones. Peanut did request this book a few times, I think she liked the adventures that Traction Man got up to, even if she didn’t understand the references and jokes. The premise is that a boy is playing with an action figure of a superhero, and using his imagination in a variety of common household environments. So the bathtub becomes an underwater adventure, etc. There are some asides to events happening outside the imaginative play world, but those are hard to insert into the story while reading aloud in a way that isn’t jarring.

There are two other Traction Man books that we could read, maybe when Peanut is a little older. The most interesting side note about this book and author is that the author was born in a car! Grey’s biography is on her website and it’s really cute. I was hoping for some additional information on the creation of the character, but didn’t see any. The website does feature full color previews of her books, which gives an idea of what to expect.

92. The Gardener by Sarah Stewart

This book was boring for both reader and listener in this case. It’s written as a series of letters from a girl to various addressees. She moves from wherever her parents are to a city with her aunt and uncle to run a store. She ends up growing a garden on the rooftop. That is really pretty much it. Peanut suffered through it two times and never asked for it after that.

I did learn that the book was more of a vehicle for the illustrator’s art, as his wife is the author, and she pretty much only writes books for him to illustrate. The art was beautiful, but it wasn’t enough to hold our attention.

91. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka

This book has a very unique and interesting idea, but the actual story is not so good. It’s a riff on the “updated fairy tale” schtick, but it’s poorly done. (The more I read these updated fairy tales, and the less I think people should bother trying.) The book is “narrated” by Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk fame), and he has brought a collection of “fairly stupid tales”. I can’t even describe the style choice of the stories, most of them just end. For example, in the “stupid” version of the Frog Prince, the frog is not a prince and so after the princess kisses him, he says “just kidding”, and hops away. And that is the end. Most of the other stories sort of go the same. The Little Red Hen is interspersed throughout the story randomly, but the story isn’t actually told. Peanut liked it enough to request it a few times, but I’m not sure she really made the connection that it was a parody of stories she had previously heard (and she was familiar with most of them).

Apparently my poor opinion of the book isn’t shared, as it won a bunch of awards and was adapted into a stage production. So there’s a play with someone dressed up as a Cheese Man out there.

You know what comes next! 90-86. Some mischievous characters are coming up!

Reading Through the “Top” 100 Picture Books: 100-96

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!