Some backstory for this list: Earlier this year, my friend Lev sent me a list of short story recommendations. I know (knew) nothing at all about short fiction or poetry, and Lev dug up a bunch of stories and magazines he thought I’d like.
So I figured I’d repay his kindness/pay it forward with a list of picture books for people who haven’t read a picture book since elementary school. If you’re my age (I’m 27), I can pretty much guarantee it’s a lot better than you remember!
This list isn’t intended to be some kind of “kidlit canon.” It’s just a bunch of books I wanted to recommend to my friend. I hope you’ll like them, too.
Books You Probably Haven’t Read, If You’re My Age and Haven’t Read a Picture Book Since Elementary School
The Princess and the Pony, by Kate Beaton
Let’s start you off easy. If you’re on the internet, and you don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Kate Beaton’s ineffable webcomic, Hark! A Vagrant. Well, guess what? She writes picture books, too, and this is exactly the picture book you think Kate Beaton would write about princesses, and ponies, and sweaters, and Vikings.
|Yo! Yes?, by Chris Raschka
It’s only 34 words long (yes, I counted), but this book can take as long to read aloud as a 500-word picture book. Why? Getting the students to imitate the posture and tone of the characters. Read it to a kid (or a bunch of kids) if you can.
Even if you’re reading it to yourself, I’d recommend reading it out loud for maximum effect. (You will feel weird. You will get used to it. I do this all of the time.) Notice what Raschka does with the gutter. There’s a lot of craft going on in this deceptively simple picture book.
|This is Not My Hat & I Want My Hat Back, by John Klassen
Another set of apparently “easy” picture books. Only, instead of a heartwarming story of friendship across borders between two very different kids, both of these are creepy and unsettling and weird. I think sometimes the littlest kids don’t get it, but the adults who read it to them usually shiver.
Moral: Don’t take things that aren’t yours. You will regret it.
|The Dark, by Lemony Snicket and John Klassen
Yes, that Lemony Snicket, who wrote A Series of Unfortunate Events – and illustrated by John Klassen, who I introduced you to above.
Admire the illustrations. The play between light and dark is exquisite.
| The Rabbits by Jon Marsden & Shaun Tan,
Do you want to cry? No? Too bad, read The Rabbits anyway. An allegorical tale of the colonization of Australia, The Rabbits is heartrending – excruciatingly beautiful.
I cry every time I read this.
|The Heart and the Bottle, by Oliver Jeffers Oliver Jeffers writes a lot of strange books and strangely sad books, but The Heart and the Bottle is just sad – the story of a girl who, after her father’s death, put her heart in a bottle to protect it – and then couldn’t get it back out again until it really mattered. Another weepy one. Let’s talk about something fun already.|
|Z is for Moose, by Kelly Bingham
This is your run-of-the-mill ABC book, except that Moose keeps interrupting and making a mess of things until the whole alphabet is in chaos.
Best read aloud to a kid (or kids) who are just a little too old for ABC books. If you’re just reading it to yourself, you’ll be done in about two minutes. That’s about how long it takes to steep a cup of good tea. Read it while you’re waiting.
|Flora and the Flamingo, by Molly Idle
If I tell you this book has no words, you’ll probably think you’ll breeze right through it in sixty seconds or less. You could do that, I guess, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Sit down. Drink the tea you made while you read Z is for Moose. Savour the artwork. (There are two more books about Flora dancing with birds: Flora and the Peacocks, which I’ve read, and Flora and the Penguin, which I have not, but looks utterly delightful.)
Books You Maybe Read as a Kid, but Will Probably Appreciate More Now
|Grandfather’s Journey & Tea With Milk, by Allen Say
Say’s biographical accounts of his family history beautifully told and illustrated. Grandfather’s Journey and Tea With Milk are chronological, telling first his grandfather’s travels between Japan and the United States, and Tea With Milk is his mother’s story of life between cultures and continents. His family history continues with Tree of Cranes and How My Parents Learned to Eat.
If you liked those, read his autobiography, Drawing from Memory.
|The Three Pigs, by David Wiesner
This one was at the cut-off for “probably new to you” and “stuff you maybe read.” It came out in 2001, the year I started seventh grade. But that was the year I finished sixth grade, which was elementary at my school. I think I missed this one, which is too darn bad, because it’s great. It’s a bizarre metafiction meditation on the “Three Little Pigs” fairy tale and… I don’t want to spoil too much.
It’s great. I saved the best for last. (Read this one to a kid if you can.)
I almost included Wiesner’s Mr. Wuffles in the “new books” category, but I like this one better and I didn’t want too many of the same author – but read that, too. It’s fun.