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?