Picture books are taking over the world. There are SO MANY picture books for young children. And more all the time, as it seems almost everyone believes they can write picture books.
They can write them. But that doesn't mean they will be good picture books.
So what makes a good picture book? Good illustrations, obviously. Although that doesn't necessarily mean realistic paintings or whatever. I mean, look at the popularity of, say, Eric Carle's artwork.
Equally important is the language. It has to flow correctly. Good books for young children are easy to read aloud. They have a cadence. Sometimes that means rhyming, but not always. It often does mean repetition, of words or whole sentences.
And last, if it's a story book, it has to be a good, engaging story. You'd think this would be a given, but I have read many picture books for young children with completely random, plotless stories. Yes, even stories for very young children should have a plot. They should also have good characters, conflict, resolutions . . . you know. All the elements an adult expects in a good story, but told in a way that is accessible to children.
With all that in mind, here are some picture books every one of my children has loved, and that I have not minded reading over and over again (an equally important consideration for books meant for non-readers).
Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter--I don't love all of Beatrix Potter's stories, but this one is the best, in my opinion. (Also in my opinion, what they did with that modern movie version featuring smart-talking rabbits was an insult to the book.)
Zorro and Quwi: Tales of a Trickster Guinea Pig by Rebecca Hickox--This book was written by the MiL's friend, who sent us a copy when Calvin was a baby. All my kids have loved this book about a clever guinea pig outwitting the fox who wants to eat it. It's set in Peru, with very colorful illustrations. She also wrote Per and the Dala Horse, which is almost as popular with my kids and has some of the most beautiful illustrations I've ever seen in a children's book.
Wee Gillis by Munroe Leaf--This book has black-and-white illustrations, which sometimes throws kids who are used to color everything. But they are very detailed illustrations, and it's just a good story. There are some funny illustrations and funny moments.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey--Another black-and-white illustrated book that seems to enthrall all children despite its age. What's not to like about eight cute ducklings with rhyming names and policemen who look out for them?
Pooh's Snowy Day by Lauren Cecil--The original A.A. Milne characters in a new picture book that uses the classic illustrations. This is, for lack of a better word, an extremely wholesome book. It's very gently funny, and it has a good message about working together without hitting kids over the head with it.
Russell the Sheep by Robb Scotton--This relatively modern board book about a sheep who tries different ways to fall asleep is the one I always buy for the preschool Christmas book exchange. It's reliably liked by all different children.
Tom and the Magic Rainbow by Jean Gilder--As far as I can tell, all of this author's books are now out of print, which is a shame. They are available used, though. The artwork in them is wonderful, with lots of detail, and the stories are well-told. We also have Tom Badger Goes Skating, but I think The Magic Rainbow is slightly preferred by my children.
Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol--A lovely book with text that is more on the side of poetry than prose, but not in a pretentious way.
Hardscrabble Harvest by Dahlov Ipcar--We have a few books by this author, and I think this one has been my kids' favorite. Each page has a short rhyme with good accompanying illustrations. The text is so memorable that just last week when I saw the chickens in the backyard garden, I quoted from this book, "Chickens in the garden, scratching up the row . . ." And Cubby, who has probably not read this book in at least five years, finished it with, "Run, farmer, run. Chase them with a hoe."
Cars and Trucks and Things that Go by Richard Scarry--It's pretty hard to go wrong with any Richard Scarry book, but this one has been my children's favorite. So much to look at on every page. It's a very long book, which is something of a problem if you want to quickly read a book to a child because you have other things to do. In that case, you must specify only two pages, or you will be there FOREVER. Still, though, kids do love it, and they can look at the illustrations on their own for quite some time.
The Eclectic Abecedarium by Edward Gorey--A very small book with rhyming couplets for each letter of the alphabet. Children love the small size of the book, the rhyming, and the randomness. For example, the rhyme for "J" is "Don't try to cram the dog with jam."
Myths and Legends of Dragons by Gilles Ragache--This is kind of a picture book, but has a lot more words than most picture books. I have no idea how A. found this book several years ago. It's definitely out of print, and there seem to be very few copies available, but every one of my children has loved this book. It has stories of dragons from around the world, including well-known western legends like St. George and the dragon, as well as eastern legends from China and elsewhere. The illustrations are sometimes kind of bloody, which my children appreciate of course, and the writing is really exceptional for a children's book. It has good vocabulary and a relatively high level of sentence structure, without being confusing.
Animalia by Graeme Base--Alphabet books for kids are a dime a dozen, but this one is extraordinary. The illustrated page for each letter has dozens of things on that page that start with that letter. You can spend several minutes on each page just trying to figure out what everything is. Also, the text for each letter is as alliterative as possible--"Beautiful blue butterflies basking by a babbling brook"--and you know how much I love alliteration. The MiL brought this to us from Blackrock when she was visiting this last time, and I was so pleased to see it. So were the children.
There are other picture books one or the other of my kids has really loved, but this list represents books that all four of my children have asked me to read over and over again.
What would you add to this list of picture books?
P.S. I didn't add links for these because, if you decide to buy any of these, I want you to find them at whatever place you prefer to buy books. If you are lucky enough to have an actual bookstore near you where you can buy one of these, please do that. For me. Because man, do I miss bookstores.