Picture Books

 Dear Reader,
I have been thinking about picture books and what makes a good one. One common question for those new to Charlotte Mason style schooling is can a picture book be a living book. The answer is definitely yes. The best test I have heard of to determine if a picture book is living is to ask yourself if adults like to read it. If you cringe at the thought of reading it one more time, it is not a living book. If, however, you enjoy the way the words roll off your tongue, it probably is a living book.

There are some books which seem very popular and which I remember reading or having read to me as a child which I have never been fond of though I for a long time felt that I should like them.  The Clifford the Big Red Dog and Berenstain Bears books both fall into this category. I finally figured out recently what it is about them that bothers me so much. They are just too obvious. Living books are living because they contain ideas and these books no doubt do have messages that the children are supposed to imbibe. But they are blatant messages. Brother and Sister Bear learn not to fight do the child reader will learn not to fight for example. There is no opportunity for you to come away from the book with one idea and me with another. I think Charlotte would have called these books moralizing and disdained them. She believed in giving children real books with real ideas but not in speaking down to them or patronizing them.

So what books have we liked? Here is a list of some of our favorite picture books:

The Babar books by de Brunhoff–make sure to look for the original ones! We have run across some in which the elephants have cell phones; that’s just wrong.

The Frances books by Russell Hoban. There are only about six but they are all wonderful. Our younger daughter is named after the two badger sisters.

The Church Mouse Stories by Austin

Frog and Toad and many others by Arnold Lobel. These are I guess very early chapter books. They are good for read alouds and also for beginning readers to tackle. We particularly love Owl at Home.

Madeline and its sequels by Bemelmans. These are in rhyming verse translated from French which can make for some odd rhymes, but that part of why I enjoy reading them.

Miss Rumphius by Cooney. About a woman who changes the landscape by planting seeds.

Harold and the Purple Crayon and sequels by Crockett. Not my all-time favorites but they are nice stories.

The McBroom books by Fleischman

Norman the Doorman and other stories by Freeman. He also wrote Coudoroy though that one is not my favorite.

Make Way for Ducklings and others by McCloskey

Little Bear and its sequels by Minarik. I particularly love A Kiss for Little Bear. Like the Frog and Toad books, they are really very easy chapter books but can all be read in one sitting.

Almost anything by Maurice Sendak. he is best known for Where the Wild Things Are but has many other gems. One I love is Brundibar which is about bullying. Or perhaps about the Holocaust.

Various books by Bill Peet.

Toot and Puddle by Hollie Hobby and its sequels. Look for the originals, not ones based on the TV show.

Almost anything by William Steig. He is best known for Shrek (which is not much like the movie), but we love Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Solomon the Rusty Nail among others. I like the Zabajaba Jungle too though it is a bit bizarre.

Caps for Sale by Slobodkina

Harry the Dirty Dog and its sequels by Zion

The Lyle the Crocodile books by Waber

Henry Climbs a Mountain and others by Johnson. These are about Henry David Thoreau.

When it Starts to Snow by Gershator. This is a long poem about what animals do in winter. It is a pleasure to read aloud.

That’s my list. What would you add?


2 responses to this post.

  1. You listed a lot of favorites (of my son right now at age 3, and ones I remember when I was a kid). We also like the Virginia Lee Burton stories: Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Katy and the Big Snow, Maybelle the Cable Car.


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