It’s been a while since I’ve done a round up of favorite children’s literature, and I’m definitely due for gathering some new titles I’ve recently been introduced to that have joined our library. That post is coming. But I thought I’d do something a little different and definitely more difficult today–a collection of my Ultimate Ten. If I could only choose only ten picture books to keep, these are the ones I’d save. I’ll be honest, writing this post felt like a response to someone asking me to pick my favorite child. It’s a silly question you simply cannot answer. And if you dig into what books are not on this list, then yes–I’ve committed children’s literary blasphemy. No Maurice Sendak or Dr. Seuss or even some of my other beloveds like Marla Frazee. There are important social themes some of our favorite picture books deal with that aren’t on this list as well as genres that didn’t make the cut–poetry, non fiction, etc. But these ten are the ones we return to the most, the classics in our home, the ones that have survived our many book purges and will remain part of our collection forever because they represent my kids’ childhood, and the words and photos in them make me come alive when I’m turning the pages.
Children’s picture books are one of my favorite things in the world, and I will never not have an abundance of them in our home, even after the kids are grown. I buy them just as much for me as I do the kids. Some people collect snow globes or music boxes or valuable coins. I collect kids’ books–for their stories, for their illustrations and for the way these two things come together to create magic in the minds of little kids and bigs alike.
A few on this list may switch out with others in coming years, but for now this is it. With no further ado…the Hall of Fame:
I’ve included this book on lists before, but it has risen to the top as my kids’ most loved book to read. Even Lainey will come sit with us when I’m reading it to the little kids because everyone loves what this book invites us to do…choose things. Of course it helps that the delightful pictures in this book are illustrated by one of my favorite children’s book illustrators, Julie Morstad (I think we have every book she’s illustrated); or that the entire concept of the story is finding joy in ordinary everyday routines. But what my kids love best is taking their time to carefully examine every page spread to make their selection in response to the questions the book poses: What hairstyle would you wear today? Where should we go? What should we eat for breakfast? What pajamas would you choose to wear tonight? The gorgeous illustrations present a buffet of selections, and my kids’ process of choosing is long and drawn out but an absolute joy to watch. Above spread? I’d choose the jeans, stripe tee (obvi), red puddle boots and that flower crown for kicks.
2. All the Places to Love
I discovered this book when I was taking Children’s Literature in college and did a project on Patricia MacLachlan. I fell in love with it then and knew I wanted this book in my classroom and in my home library for my kids someday. Mike Wimmer’s paintings are warm and dreamy and pull you right back to the world of childhood. The story begins with a little boy’s baby sister being born (in a charming farmhouse bedroom with a quilt on the bed and sun streaming in the window–I can’t) and follows with him thinking about all his favorite places he wants to show her someday so that she loves them like he does. In our copy of the book, I keep a list of what those places are for our family from our Isles of Capri to the dock at the lake in Michigan, but we continue to add places as we experience new memories together. I love to buy this book for baby showers as well and write a letter in the front about what this book means to us and how we love to share it.
3. All the Ways to Be Smart
This book was published in the UK last year, and I scrounged the Internet and paid overseas shipping to get my hands on a copy (you can buy it on Amazon now). The theme of the book is so important and perhaps what I am most passionate about in today’s world of education. Being smart doesn’t mean doing well on tests. Or just being good at science or math or the limited little scope our schools measure. Being smart is SO MUCH MORE than that from being good at drawing and telling imaginative stories to knowing how to offer kindness to people who are hurting. I teared up on the first page the first time I read it to Dash and Nella: “I can’t wait to share with you how smart you are the whole day through…” In today’s world with all the insecurities and comparisons school can bring this book is a MUST HAVE for every little’s library.
4. Kiki & Coco in Paris (as well as its sister book, Lulu & Pip)
The photography in these books is pure heaven and every time I recommend them to a friend (and I’ve recommended it to many), they text me later, “Oh my God, this book! I can’t stop looking at the pictures!”. The stories both follow the sweet adventures of a girl and her doll. We love these books so much, we did a project to recreate the theme in our own version, Nella & Maude (…and just finished Dash & Snowflake this past weekend for his birthday).
5. When You Were Small
I love all of Sara O’Leary’s books, but if I had to pick only one to keep, I think this would be it. Julie Morstad illustrated this one as well (yay!). A little boy who can’t remember what it was like when he was tiny asks his dad to tell him, and his dad’s imaginative stories that follow are so charming. “When you were small, we let you sleep in one of my slippers–the left one. You used a fuzzy wash cloth for a blanket and a tea bag for a pillow.”
6. Let’s Go Home: The Wonderful Things About a House
Again, I could have put several of Cynthia Rylant’s books on this list, but this one is my favorite and in keeping with that beloved theme of finding joy in our ordinary lives. This book takes a deep dive into our cozy homes and dissects each and every room and the magic that happens there, from toy-filled bathtubs made for long bubble baths in the bathroom to the best room in the house, the kitchen, where yummy things are baked and friends sit and talk. Think quilts and cinnamon rolls and cozy fires and lemonade with friends on the front porch–the best things in life.
7. Little Bear
I couldn’t leave off some classics on this list, and Little Bear is one we all love. It’s the first book I read all by myself as a kid (I remember it well–on a vacation to Tawas, Michigan), and I love that the simple text makes it a great book for early readers.
8. The Tale of Peter Rabbit Collection
Another classic, the Peter Rabbit books are what childhood is made of. In all three of my babies’ nurseries, these books were proudly displayed. The names of the characters alone–Jemima Puddleduck, Tabitha Twitchet, Mrs. Tiggy-winkle–are about the most delightful things to roll off your tongue. These stories are timeless and happy and full of adventures that make kids laugh. It’s kittens in pinafores and geese in bonnets, and how can that not make you feel good? B
9. Amelia Bedelia
One of my favorite humor books for kids! How has this not been made into a funny family movie yet? Get on it, Jennifer Garner! (love her family movies) Amelia Bedelia is a housekeeper who literally interprets phrases in the English language to yield hilarious scenarios (she dresses a chicken in baby clothes).
Our copy is one I had to pay a purchase fine for years ago because I lost it after I checked it out from the library. I finally found it and only wish all our books were purchased this way because it has the crinkly plastic library cover on it which makes a lovely sound when you’re turning the pages, and the pages are weathered from all the other children who checked it out. Dash brings this book to me a lot; and every time I read it, he expresses great concern for the baby bat who was separated from his mama, even though he knows how the story ends.
Honorable Mention: Mrs. Muddle’s Holidays
The only reason I didn’t include this book in my top ten is because it’s out of print, hard to find, and I know you’ll click on it and want it and be disappointed when you see the out-of-print price. I love Mrs. Muddle and refer to her often in my real life. I want to be her. She’s an old lady who brings joy to her neighborhood by making up holidays for everything and celebrating life to the fullest. She hosts neighborhood puddle jumping parties to celebrate the First Shower of April, invites children to her house to watch earthworm races for Earthworm Appreciation Day, holds a neighborhood skating parade to commemorate the Birthday of the Inventor of the Roller Skate and hides presents from the “Leaf Fairy” for kids to find under big piles of leaves to celebrate fall. At the end of the story, the kids surprise her with a big party for the one holiday she didn’t know about–the one they made up for her, Mrs. Muddle Appreciation Day. See–don’t you want the book now?