My Favorite Picture Books for Kids and Their Grown-Ups

Dec 03

If you know me at all, you know that I love books. Luckily, my three kids all share my love of reading. My favorite moment of the day often happens at bedtime when we gather together on Big Brother’s bed to read, three footie pajama-clad cherubs smelling of soap and toothpaste, wide-eyed and ready for our next adventure. Big Brother is ever more interested in chapter books (recent favorites include The HobbitFarmer Boy, and Mistress Masham’s Repose), but he’s still happy to be transported along with the rest of us to the fabulous, fanciful destinations within a picture book.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite family picture book reads from this year. Some are quite new. Some are classics that we’re only just discovering.

Brave Irene, by William Steig: When my daughter was born, I became increasingly interested in finding books that would introduce her and my sons to strong, spunky female characters. Irene Bobbin definitely fits the bill as she sets out into a blizzard to deliver a gown her ailing dressmaker mother has made. Irene’s fortitude and victory over the howling wind and drifting snow always makes me cheer, as does the last line of the book, which serves as a reminder that a good parent knows her child’s strengths better than anybody else.

King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson, by Kenneth Kraegel: 2012 has been the Year of the Knight in the Land of Big Brother, from his Middle Ages-themed birthday party to his chain mail Halloween costume, but this is a book that we can all agree on. Six year old Henry, great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of King Arthur, dons knightly gear and heads out to confront creatures from myth and legend. But what he finds along the way in this funny, beautifully rendered book is a series of beasts who are looking to give peace a chance.

Little Fur Family, by Margaret Wise Brown: If there is an author who better captures the safety and sanctity of home than Margaret Wise Brown, I’m not sure who it is. In this sweet, simple tale, a little fur child heads out for a day of visiting and exploring nature. When he returns he is greeted by loving parents, warm food, and a magical bedtime song. This is Baby Sister’s favorite book and I’m always happy to end our day the same way the Little Fur Family ends theirs – and the fact that my tiny daughter likes to give the little fur child a kiss at the end of the book is just gravy.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses, by Ian Falconer: We are an Olivia family. We own and regularly read all of Ian Falconer’s tales of this smart, independent, and high-spirited pig. But this latest title might be my favorite, competing even with the practically perfect original. This time around Olivia confronts the pervasive princess culture that seems to have all of her friends and classmates – not to mention many of the little girls I know – in its grasp. Falconer’s mix of original art and classic images is as spot-on as ever and the final line, revealing Olivia’s ultimate career choice, is priceless.

Outside, Over There, by Maurice Sendak: I didn’t grow up reading Maurice Sendak, but I’ve come to cherish his books as a parent. What sets Sendak apart, I think, is his insistence on confronting the weird and scary things that many children think about, even if we, their parents, try to shelter them from some of the darker sides of reality. In this lyrical tale, young Ada must rescue her sister from goblins who have kidnapped her, looking to marry her off to one of their own. This book shows Sendak’s skills as an illustrator at their most sumptuous; it’s hard for me to look at the faces of the characters without seeing parents and children I know.

Over and Under the Snow, by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal: A beautifully illustrated, highly informative book, Over and Under the Snow provides a look at the ways animals spend the winter months. Neal’s retro-style illustrations remind me of classic Christmas cards or old-fashioned wrapping paper and Messner’s words open a new window onto the animal world. For its mixture of scientific information, smart pacing, and gorgeous pictures, this is a terrific book for our mixed-age family.

Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit, by Chris Van Dusen: My little guys love this tale of a brilliant boy with a lousy batting average whose scientific know-how not only wins the game, but also saves the world. Van Dusen combines clever rhymes and eye-catching illustrations to tell the story of the awkward Randy who isn’t discouraged by his poor baseball skills or his parents’ disregard for his realization that a fireball is heading for Earth. While its nerd-as-hero story certainly appeals to my own nerdy heart, there’s a lot here for both a fellow Randy and a future Albert Pujols.

N.B. Several of these titles were recommended to us by the manager of our local independent bookstore. As you contemplate your holiday gift list, I encourage you to support independently-owned businesses, especially independent bookstores.

We’re always looking for great books for our family storytime. What are your family’s favorites?


{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsey December 3, 2012 at 8:30 am

Love these. Some of my favorites are Roxaboxen and Mrs Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, Space Boy by Leo Landry, and Firefighters in the Dark by Dashka Slater. xox


Shannon December 3, 2012 at 9:33 am

Although we still read chapter books before bed with Cheerio, I’m afraid our picture book days are behind us. Those were probably my most favorite memories of having small children, the hours upon hours we spent reading to them.
We loved Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Then there were Raising Dragons by Jerdine Nolen and Saving Sweetness by Diane Stanley.
Cheerio loved the Olivia books and the Marley picture books, by John Grogan, especially Bad Dog Marley, and the Tacky the Penguin books.
Oh, and all of the books by Kevin Henkes, especially Crysanthemum.
There will always be a special place in my heart for The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and Caps for Sale.
Really, the list could go on and on.


Kristen December 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I love The Giving Tree, but my 5yo has declared it too sad to read. He’s a sensitive soul, that one. :)


Melissa December 3, 2012 at 9:49 am

Oh, thanks for the great suggestions. We love Olivia too. Lucy is also more interested in chapter books (we’re reading Mary Poppins now) but she loves picture books because she can read them to Daphne. They both love the Charlie & Lola series, and as you know, the Knuffle Bunny books. We just read Knuffle Bunny Free, which is great.


Elizabeth Grant Thomas December 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

I love these suggestions! Can’t wait to check them out.


Kristen December 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I suspect that Miss Abra would really like Over and Under the Snow. I know snow isn’t your specialty in ABQ, but I think you would both love the illustrations and the insights into the natural world.


TheKitchenWitch December 3, 2012 at 11:14 am

We are an Olivia house, too. The girls just love her spunk–which is why I’m going to be checking out some of the books you listed above. Spunk rules!

Miss M. is currently in love with the Harold and Piggy books; Miss D. is obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes collections.


Lisa December 3, 2012 at 11:59 am

There’s no way to include all our bedtime favorites from our children’s childhood! I’m now reading them to the grandgirl when she comes to visit. Among her favorites are: The Dragon’s Cold, Ten in the Bed and anything illustrated by Jan Brett, especially The Mitten.


Kristen December 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Oh! The Mitten is such a beautiful book. And what a perfect time of year to read it.


Andrea December 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Sadly, just as my two babies are beginning to read on their own, they’re starting to lose interest in having picture books read to them–they want the excitement chapter books provide. BUT, they will still snuggle with me and listen now and then. Over and Under Snow looks like the perfect book for one of them…just his reading level right now and a big owl picture at the end (OK, I did sneak over to Amazon to “look inside”, but I wrote it down to order from my “local” indie store (as in 25 miles from home…in the opposite direction. But I try to get there every few months at least).


Kristen December 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Over and Under the Snow also has some more sophisticated information about the animals at the end. I’m not sure, but it seems like it would make a great bridge between picture books and more advanced books on science and nature.


BigLittleWolf December 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm

It’s the perfect time of year to remind us about those wondrous picture books. (How can it be December already?)

I admit that I saved many from when my boys were small (they did, too). I still love to peek occasionally… though I think my heart is tenderly held by Maurice Sendak, going back to Little Bear.


Kristen December 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm

D, if you haven’t already seen them, please do treat yourself to the short series of interviews Stephen Colbert did with Maurice Sendak shortly before Sendak’s death. I laugh to the point of tears every time I watch them. Here’s a link to the first:–1


Kate December 3, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I love Brave Irene! And now I have a few new ones to seek out!

I was just trying to list our favorites. It’s almost too hard!


Jack December 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I love Sendak. We don’t read the ‘younger’ books any more because we have graduated to Harry Potter.

But I have fond memories of some of the ones you listed here and Goodnight Gorilla by Rathman.


Kristen December 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Ooh, Goodnight Gorilla. That’s another favorite around here.


pamela December 3, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Oh I love these. I am going to order some for my own kids – thank you!! We love the heck out of all the Richard Scarry books and the Anne Rockwell ones, especially the older ones like “In the Supermarket” and “My Toolbox.”


Christine December 3, 2012 at 7:25 pm

We too love to read and cuddle with a book. Of late they have mostly been sight word books as my oldest learns to read. But we recently finished Charlotte’s Web and I was just tickled by my boys’ interest in it. We also love anything Robert Munsch and the Alexander books.

P. S. miss you and your words, I truly hope to be by more in the New Year.


Kristen December 4, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I miss you too, my friend. It always makes me happy to see your face. xo


Perfecting Motherhood December 3, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I love Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations and stories, so I’ll have to check that book, along with the others you mentioned, which we haven’t read. Olivia Goes to Venice is pretty funny, especially when she destroys half the city…

If you read my Wednesday updates, you already know what we enjoy reading. My 6-year old loves chapter books and we’ve discovered a few he really enjoys, including Dragonbreath and Squish the amoeba. For picture books, I enjoy Ian Whybrow’s hilarious stories of Little Wolf and David Wiesner is also brilliant, especially when he can tell so many beautiful stories without a word.


Kristen December 4, 2012 at 1:24 pm

David Wiesner is a genius! I swear that he has more creativity in one blood cell than I do in my entire body.


Cecilia December 3, 2012 at 8:51 pm

This made me wistful as my son is now well into books without pictures (which is so much fun for me but it makes me realize how quickly time has passed). But, there are books that we have not been able to part with. We LOVE The Big Wide-Mouthed Frog which never fails to crack us up and I personally love Frog and Toad (especially Frog and Toad are Friends). Two other special books that were given to us as gifts by my son’s third grandmother (my second grade teacher!) are 14 Cows for America – about how a small African village helps the people in NY post 9/11 – and Listen to the Wind, the picture book version of Three Cups of Tea.

I was so inspired by your last post on reading/books that I’d since decided to write about reading once in a while as well! I also have a post drafted on children and reading, which I may upload tomorrow or the day after. Once again we are in synch! :-)


Kristen December 4, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I will look forward to reading it! :)


Christie December 3, 2012 at 9:58 pm

I love Olivia! I gotta check the others out!


Stacia December 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

We’ve just started reading the Polk Street School books, which were favorites of mine as a kid. And we’re in the middle (with no end in sight) of books like “Where Does My Trash Go?” and “Where Does Electricity Come From?” and “What Happens to the Bath Water?” I have to say, I’m learning a lot, too.


Kristen December 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm

My boys are totally into those scientific process books too. For awhile they were asking for them so often that I felt like we were never reading stories. Our compromise is that we can read those at length (sometimes ad nauseum!) during the day, but before bed we read story books together.


ayala December 4, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I don’t know what could be better than three footie pajama-clad cherubs smelling of soap :) delicious. Great suggestions :) Still love to browse through the children’s books :)


Missy | The Literal Mom December 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm

These look great! We’re such a book family. And there are a couple on this list I haven’t read/heard about before!


tracy@sellabitmum December 4, 2012 at 8:03 pm

I love these. Our all time favorite is “Millions of Cat” by Wanda Gag.


erica @ expatria, baby December 4, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Oh! I LOVED this post. I’m always on the lookout for wonderful books for my girl (and they are really hard to come by in Asia where most are of the branded princess / superhero sort). As you well know, we’re also an Olivia family; in fact, Olivia is sort of like a member of our family, we know all the characters, all the songs, and just about all the episodes (that and old school sesame street is about all my kid watches…I tell you that because I’m obviously fishing for indie awesomeness props, btw).

Anyway our amazon wish list just grew by a lot in anticipation of some gift certificates for Christmas (wait…I just discounted all my indie awesomeness, but alas, indie book shops that deliver to Asia are not really a thing.)

Might I offer a few suggestions for you? How about The Tiger Who Came for Tea. Or The Jolly Postman. Or Peak-A-Boo by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. All lovely, much loved books in our house.


Justine December 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm

I must be living under a rock – we’ve not read any books you recommended here. So guess what they’ll be having for Christmas? Thank you for taking the time to recommend these, especially since I’m always on the lookout for books with strong female characters.

Recently we read The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen and I fell in love with it – both the story and the illustrations were captivating. Plus, it’s a story set in ancient China, so it’s no surprise that it appeals to me. :)


Contemporary Troubadour December 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Some of our family favorites when I was growing up were the Frances series by Russell and Lillian Hoban. Most dear to me: Bread and Jam for Frances, terrific for picky eaters :)


Jane December 6, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Reading your post and all of the suggestions from your dear readers has me pining for the days when my boys were small. Alas, we have graduated to chapter books because they feel too old for picture books. But there are a few that I can still sneak in at bedtime: Where the Wild Things Are (of course), Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the “I Saw An Ant…” books by Joshua Prince and The Runaway Dinner by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman. Anything that sets my boys into a fit of giggles is fine by me!


Louise December 10, 2012 at 9:55 am

I honestly always disliked most of Sendak’s books as a kid, but Outside Over There held a weird fascination for me. I am still fond of it!

We recently bought Miss Rumphius, and we all love it, adults and kids. Joy (the 5yo) is also really into the picture book adaptations of the Little House books. We recently started the real series as read-alouds, and she enjoys also having the books with simpler words and more pictures that she can read on her own.


Kristen December 10, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I’ve only seen those Little House books in passing, but your comment is a reminder that I should check them out again. We’re reading the chapter books out loud together now, but I think my 5yo would be interested in the picture book versions as well. Great tip. Thanks!


Elizabeth Grant Thomas December 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I have to tell you, we checked out ALL these books at the library, at your recommendation, and the one that Abra immediately gravitated to, and that we’ve already read a million times, is “Little Fur Family.” It is such a weird, wonderful, trippy book. Thanks for the tip!


Kristen December 13, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Weird, wonderful, and trippy. Yup, that sums it up perfectly. So glad she’s enjoying it! xo


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