I’ve read a lot of picture books over the years. A lot-a-lot-a-lot. Like, at least a thousand. My favourite picture books are the ones that both the kids and I love reading together again and again. I like books that are clever, simple, emotive, motivational and allow children to embrace who they are.
Below is a list of 10 picture books that have stood out to me over the years. Some are silly and make the kids laugh, some capture a beautiful combination of illustrations and words, and some changed me in some way.
In no particular order.
1. Everybody Needs a Rock
Author: Byrd Baylor
Illustrator: Peter Parnall
This is not a widely known picture book. It’s narrated by a girl who shares rules about finding a special rock “not just any rock, I mean a special rock that you find yourself and keep as long as you can. Maybe forever.” The illustrations are mesmerisingly simple with strong lines and minimal colours: yellow-brown, black, white.
The words have a special rhythm that’s strangely compelling.
“Bend over. More. Even more. You may have to sit on the ground with your head almost touching the earth. You have to look a rock right in the eye.”
There’s an undercurrent message within the words and it’s this: The beauty of nature and the truth that you don’t need a lot of things, or even a lot of people around you, to have fun.
2. Down the Back of the Chair
Author: Margaret Mahy
Illustrator: Polly Dunbar
The rhyming is fantastic, fast and fun. The illustrations are vibrant and happy. The story is nonsensical and explodes into delightful silliness. Dad lost his keys, you see, and in the search for them, the family finds all kinds of things down the back of the chair. I love reading it and the kids love hearing it.
3. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
Author & Illustrator: Mo Willems
This picture book puts the onus on the reader so they are part of the story. So much fun for young kids! The simple illustrations are quirky and funny. In short, the bus driver puts the reader in charge of looking after the bus with this instruction: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Ah, but the manipulative pigeon tries all sorts of ticks to get behind the drivers seat.
4. Grug by Ted Prior
Author & Illustrator: Ted Prior
There’s something about Grug. The story is simple and short but there’s something about Grug that holds wide appeal. It’s one of those picture books that I enjoyed as a child, and you can read more about it in my review over at The Book Chook.
5. The Big Orange Splot
Author & Illustrator: Daniel Manuas Pinkwater
This is another favourite from my childhood. It resonated because in a lot of ways, I felt different from everyone else…and I wanted to be different. As I child, I remember grappling with that sense of not wanting to stand out particularly, but desiring to be an individual.
The story follows Mr Plumbean from a perfectly neat street. When a seagull dropped a big orange spot on his roof, it changed his life. The illustrations are drawn with texta and you can see the overlap lines. This is remarkably appealing because it represents many kid drawings around the world.
6. You are my I Love You
Author: Maryann K. Cusimano
Illustrator: Satomi Ichikawa
I first read this book, probably 5 or 6 years ago. The kids enjoy it for the sweet imagary and soft rhythmic words. The poem-driven story draws out the beautiful contrast of perspective between parent and child which I resonate with strongly. It’s heartwarming!
Author & Illustrator: Alison Lester
Alison Lester is a brilliant children’s author. A few years back, I did a quick interview with her and you can read it here. Imagine is incredible. Just incredible. The illustrations are delightfully intricate and you can spend time hours exploring the pages. The book connects a child’s imagination with animals in their environment.
8. Where is the Green Sheep?
Author: Mem Fox
Illustrator: Judy Horacek
If I had to pick just one picture book for toddlers, THIS IS IT! There are a lot of sheep: the bath sheep, the slide sheep, the clown sheep, the wide sheep…but where is the green sheep? The delightful rhythmic words and the repetition is fabulous fun for young kids. Fun to read with expression by adults too.
Author & Illustrator: Don Freeman
I loved this book as a child, and now my kids enjoy it too. Corduroy is a heartwarming story of an imperfect bear who was chosen and loved by a child, missing button and all. The illustrations have a subtle emotive quality.
10. Mixed up Fairy Tales
Author: Hilary Robinson
Illustrations: Nick Sharratt
My kids think this book is HILARIOUS! They giggle and giggle (check the very short video below). A book that can make my kids laugh like that has to be in my top ten! Inside is a combination of famous fairy tales told in a series of one sentence lines so it’s easy for young readers to navigate. You use the sectioned flip pages to mix it all up and make your own crazy story. Great fun.
Other Must-Mention Picture Books
There are many wonderful picture books out there and I’m still discovering more! I could go on and on but I’ll put a few more mentions here:
- Where’s Wally? by Martin Handford
- Cops and Robbers by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
- Anamalia by Graeme Base
- Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base
- What Do People Do All Day by Richard Scarry
- Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Vicki Churchill
- Great Day for Up by Dr Seuss
- Dig, Dig, Digging by Margaret Mayo
- Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
- Tall by Jez Alborough
- Belinda by Pamela Allen
- Ping by Marjorie Flack
- Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
- Dear Mermaid by Alan Durant
- Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
- Elmer by David McKee
- Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd
- Big Sister, Little Sister by Gillian Shields
- Singing Away the Dark by Julie Morstad
- Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
- A Quiet Night In by Jill Murphy
- All in One Piece by Jill Murphy
- A Fly Went By by Mike McClintock
- The Journey Home by Alison Lester
- Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss
- Pass the Jam Jim by Kaye Umansky
Do you have a favourite children’s picture book? Leave it in the comments below.
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