Picture books are a recent small obsession of mine. It happened quite innocently, either while re-reading an old favourite by Shel Silverstein called The Giving Tree and beginning to cry unashamedly in the middle of an aisle, or when my husband happened to show me the delightful dark wit of Jon Klassen’s I want my hat back.
Somehow though, I have found myself standing in the children’s picture book aisle over and over again, laughing and sighing and loving the treasures that it contains. I have this tiny suspicion that I became pregnant with my first child just so I could have legitimate reason to continually flip through the pages of these wonderful works. My gut tells me the colourful, funny, and charming tales I find in a picture book are not just for the wee child learning about the world around them, but also for the overgrown adult who has possibly forgotten the wonder or simple, yet sometimes deep ideas these books show us. I will be having a bouncing baby boy in March of this year and I cannot wait to bombard him with the brilliant and beautiful books I have come to adore.
I would say there are three kinds of picture books that tickle my fancy and beg to be shared and read.
1. Books that make you chuckle, or snicker, or snort out loud. (Yes, snort is an awkward word and snorting in public itself is awkward. But isn’t life like that sometimes?) I have found some pretty witty tales both dark and light in the pages of a children’s book, but I am not a laugh snob, and I will also giggle at a good toot joke too.
Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat could very well turn any adult into a picture book lover. These books are visually stunning and have great humorous twists. The way Mr. Klassen can convey an entire story in the sly glances of his animals is astounding. I like to assume everyone has read these books by now, but if for some reason you haven’t-go!
Toot by Leslie Patricelli is one
I can imagine reading to any kid and have
both of us giggling in unison. Who doesn’t titter at tooting in a tub?
And look at the great imagery in the book The Table Sets Itself by Ben Clanton, and just imagine the hilarious horror of the cup. Ha!
Another chuckle worthy mention is That is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems, which plays across the pages like a classic silent film. The desperate antics of the baby chicks as the story progresses will have you quite worried about the fate of the goose family, but have no fear this is one tale that turns out deliciously funny.
2. Books that leave me in awe, either with their beauty or their message. The art found in picture books can be incomparable. I already mentioned Jon Klassen’s beautiful pages (of which I bought an original print!) But take a gander at some of the wondrous artwork of these authors:
This book was one of my favourite discoveries this year.
Noah by Mark Ludy is a wordless retelling of the story of Noah’s ark and has some of the most captivating images of the Noah’s ark tale that I have ever seen. The lighting of the scenes and the emotions on the faces of the characters are truly phenomenal.
As well, Oliver Jeffers stories are always unique and engaging (check out his crayon books), and the artwork in most is worthy of hanging on your wall. This Moose Belongs To Me is pleasingly surprising and will have you reading it over and over again.
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith is a dramatically drawn and a carefully thought out and tender story. Like Noah, it is a wordless picture book, with the story of a compassionate girl and her distracted father brought to life through the art on the pages.
In the unusually thick picture book Bug in a Vacuum, Mélanie Watt transforms a regular household into a fantastical world seen through the eyes of a helpless, loveable fly, in an effort to teach us the 5 stages of grief and loss known as the Kübler-Ross model. I love how the author cleverly introduces the different stages by labelling random domestic items, like Bargaining on a box of detergent and Acceptance on a box of tissue.
3. Stories that create the sniffles. (Whom am I kidding; sometimes it’s pure bawling!)
Now I know being pregnant could cause one to be more emotional than normal, but I was always the kind of girl to tear up during a sad movie or even a well-shot commercial. (This is embarrassingly true – thanks Tim Hortons!) But sometimes there’s nothing like a small children’s picture book to make you stop and really consider the important parts of life. Not the busyness of everyday concerns and responsibilities that seem to take up so much of our time, but truly valuable things like the compassion and kindness of others, and appreciating those we love.
I already mentioned crying in the book aisle over Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, but I’ll mention it again. The story of unending generosity and love from the tree to the boy throughout his life always brings that burning lump to my throat, and tears to my eyes. There’s a truth in this story that still resonates 50 years later.
This is the first story I envisioned reading to my future chubby-cheeked baby. I cannot stress how much I love I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenfield. It is a sweet poem about all the perfect little things you could hope for someone. With lines like “I wish you more snowflakes than tongue” and an ending that is so heart-achingly touching, this is a story you will want to read to a little one in your life – and also hopefully to have someone read to you.
After mentioning one of these remarkable children’s books in conversation, I often find myself stopping to correct my own usage of the term. “Sorry, not children’s books, but picture books,” I’ll say, for these gorgeous collections of breathtaking artistry paired with minimalistic stories that strive to tell the grandest of tales should really be enjoyed by everyone.
Here are a few more gems:
by Scott Campbell
by Ben Clanton
What are some of your favourite picture books?