Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Picture Books

This post has been floating around in my head for a long while. I just have not really sat down to write it because I have been sewing during every nap. I have finished the quilt top for Elanor, made her a dress, and a cute little mouse toy. Friends, this is a big deal for me. I am not crafty or good at sewing, but I am improving!

Back to books.
We love to read at our house. Elanor and I go to the library every week and check out books. There are so many books at the library and it is hard to sift through all of them and find good ones. I am always surprised by how many horribly written and horribly illustrated children's books are at the library or bookstore. So, I thought I would come up with a list of things I do when picking out a book to buy or checkout at the library.

1. The illustrations. If the pictures are bad, annoying, etc. I don't even bother. I want good art. It does not have to be Louvre worthy and can certainly be cartoony like Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman. I am just not a fan of ugly art. People may say kids don't care, but if the illustrations are not interesting then why would a kid look at the book, especially if they cannot read yet?
"The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Emma Thompson, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor
 2. Plot. Is the story any good? What happens? Will it hold my interest? My kid's interest? If it is not a story but a counting book, poem book, etc. How good are the poems? Does the book count things that my child is interested in, etc.?

3. The quality of the writing. So, maybe a toddler will not pick up on this, or so you think... However, if children are being introduced  to the best books that are well written then the child is learning something about quality and he/she will eventually be able to differentiate and will copy the style of writing that they have read.

"Flower Fairies of the Winter" written and illustrated by Cicely Mary Barker (there is a poem for each fairy)
 4. Look for books that interest your children. Maybe you think this should be first, but since children have not belonged to this world for long they need their parents guidance. Otherwise, we might only be checking out princess books or if it is a little boy, only dump truck books. I always let Elanor pick a book out and I also look for books that I know she would enjoy. However, instead of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" I would opt for finding the fairytale rewritten and illustrated by Jan Brett for example.  Disney books tend to be pretty poorly written even if their movies are not. In terms of informative books, Dorling Kindersley makes Eye Witness books on pretty much anything a kid is interested in, all with real life pictures. Everything from trains, to rocks, to Shakespeare to big cats. They even have the same sort of books for babies and toddlers that are shorter and simpler.
"Jamberry" written and illustrated by Bruce Degan.
5. Try out different sorts of books. I always try to buy/checkout a variety of books. Fairytales, nonfiction, books about animals, Dr. Seuss, poem books for children, counting books, alphabet books, books with certain morals behind them (Berenstein Bears or Aesop's Fables for example--yes I just put those two together, but they are sort of similar), rhyming books (like nursery rhymes), etc.
"A Child's Garden of Verses" by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a great collection of poems by the guy who wrote "Treasure Island". He really understands what being a kid is all about.

6. You are always safe with the classics. They are classic for a reason. These are the books that have stood the test of time and will never go out of print. Children and parents alike love them and there id something special about sharing a book you loved as a kid with your own child. 

Some of our favorite classics include:

- Anything by Beatrix Potter--Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle  etc. (of course, she was pretty much the first original children's author/illustrator). She also wrote a few nursery rhyme books which are adorable.

-"Curious George" books by Margret and H.A. Rey. These books are tricky though because there are only seven books written by the original authors. The others are shorter, not as well written, and often the story can be annoying. It is also hard to find the real Curious George books because the new ones are tricky and still have the authors names on the book, They just say "based on the books by" "drawn in the style of". Kids like Curious George because he is a silly monkey they can relate to and the stories are always funny.

-Robert McCloskey. He wrote and illustrated, "Make Way for Ducklings", "Blueberries for Sal", "One Morning in Maine", etc.

-"Goodnight Moon"written by Margret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. Doesn't everyone own this book? 

-"Madeline" books written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans. Perhaps more to a girl's taste, but Pepito does play a large role in most of the books. These books have beautiful pictures and it is so fun to read with a French accent.

-Dr. Seuss of course. We really like "Green Eggs and Ham" at our house.

-P.D. Eastman. His books all have the "Cat in the Hat" on them but they are not by Dr. Seuss. Some of his books include, "Go, Dog Go" and "Are You My Mother?".

-Richard Scary. Busy Town, "Best Word Book Ever", etc. and there is always so much to look at in his books.

-Eric Carle. "The Very Hungry Catapillar", etc. All of his books are good and so pretty to look at.

-"Angelina Ballerina" books written by Katherine Holabird and illustrated by Helen Craig. I loved these when I was little and Elanor does now as well. Perhaps most boys would not be interested in these books about a little dancing mouse, but her cousin, Henry, does have a pretty large role in many of the books.

-Jan Brett. She has something for everyone! She has stories about girls, boys, trolls, gingerbread boys, fairy tales, jungle animals, desert animals, safari animals, turtles, etc. She writes a lot of Christmas books as well. She was pretty much my favorite author/illustrator as a kid (now too!). Her illustrations are very detailed and beautiful. She often tells Scandinavian stories, which I love since I am part Norwegian. 

I am also a big fan of Fairy Tales/Folk Tales. They have been around since before people wrote down stories, so they are obviously good. I love all the Grimm's Fairy Tales and also anything about King Arthur and his knights, American Tall Tales, etc. Elanor loves fairy tales and never tires of "Cinderella", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", "Snow White" etc. I also love finding new versions of these stories! I don't mean hearing the story from the wolf's point of view--that is just silly, but new illustrations, retold in a clever way, etc. Jan Brett has done a few fairy tales and I love her versions.

 The most important thing you can do to get your child to love reading is simply to have a lot of books available. Of course, reading to your children, etc. is important as well. It is fun for me to read to Elanor and see her love of reading develop. 

I am by no means a perfect mom and could be much better in other areas, but in terms of books and cultivating her love of reading-- this is something I do well--probably because I love books so terribly much.


  1. Congrats on all your sewing! Would you still like me to quilt the quilt for you? I would honestly love to!

  2. Yes, yes, yes. Amen to everything on your list! I have no patience for crappy children's books, and you hit the nail on the head with Disney or princess-y or cartoon characters. I love all the authors you mentioned as well. Some of my other favorites are Bill Peet (also love his illustrations), Leo Lionni, Kevin Henkes, Maurice Sendak, and Barbro Lindgren ("Benny's Had Enough!", "The Wild Baby Goes to Sea"). I love good children's books.

  3. I'm so glad you posted about this. I love talking to people about children's books, especially your mom. I missed out on so many as a kid, but that makes me even more excited to share the few that I did have and discover more. I loved "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and "The Giving Tree." I also loved it when my grandma would read stories from "Once Upon a Time" in the Childcraft series. I've had fun discovering newer children's books, as well, like "Art & Max," which doesn't have the most interesting plot but has really neat illustrations that show different steps in the illustrating process.