I love books of all sorts, so it’s really hard to turn down anyone who offers to send me a book to read. That part of my brain that says “Hey, you don’t actually have time for this” is generally overridden by the other part of my brain that says “Ooooh, book!” What that means is that my books pile up quickly: they arrive faster than I can read them, and then I read them faster than I can write about them. This is particularly true of kids’ books.
I’ve always loved picture books — I started collecting them long before I was even married — but of course they’re quick to read. Despite the prevalence of digital books and interactive picture book apps, the good old physical picture book still can’t be beat. Sure, pages can tear and they take up a lot more space, but a full-color two-page spread just doesn’t look the same on an iPad no matter how you spin it.
Here’s a big collection of picture books, from Jack Kerouac for kids and a skateboarding princess to cultural education to some books that are just plain silly.
The Bamboo Dance – written by Cress Sia, illustrated by Lisa Butler
I met the women of Hartlyn Kids at Wordstock last year — their tagline is “Traveling the globe one book at a time,” and their books are intended to teach kids about different cultures. The books are written by authors who have firsthand experience of the cultures they write about. For instance, The Bamboo Dance, about the national dance of the Philippines, was written by Cress Sia, who lived in the Philippines both as a child and as an adult. The story is about two boys who want to be chosen to perform the tinikling in a dance show, and has a message about believing in yourself, while also illuminating bits of Filipino culture and language. The illustrations are cut paper and fabric and have a very textured look to them. The Hartlyn Kids books have a little passport sticker in the back, which you can paste into a little passport (sold separately). So far there are only two books — the other, Adventures That Lead to Home, focuses on India — but it’s a fun way for kids to learn about a different culture.
Hit the Road, Jack — written by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road isn’t usually thought of as a kids’ book, but Burleigh and MacDonald have turned his tale into an illustrated poem about a jackrabbit making his way across the United States. He visits pals all across the country but never stays long, because the open road is calling him. The illustrations look like something out of a 1950s picture book, and everything — the poetry and the drawings — convey a sense of exuberance and excitement. There’s a tiny biography of Kerouac at the end of the book. (Of course, they leave out the bits about dying of cirrhosis — maybe that’s for the young adult dystopian novel based on Kerouac.)
Let’s Do Nothing! – written and illustrated by Tony Fucile
Tony Fucile, a Pixar artist who also illustrated the delightful Mitchell’s License, tells the story of two boys who have done it all. So they hit upon a new plan: to do nothing. But nothing turns out to be a lot harder than they imagined. Fucile is brilliant at conveying emotions and telling the story through pictures and just a smidgen of dialogue.
It’s a Tiger! – written by David LaRochell, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
It’s a Tiger! caught my eye because it’s illustrated by Jeremy Tankard, the guy behind Grumpy Bird, which my kids adore. A young boy is trying to tell a story about monkeys in a jungle, but one of those tails looks like … A TIGER! So he runs off into a cave full of bats, but in those shadows there appears to be … you guessed it. It’s a Tiger! is definitely intended for the younger crowd, but they’ll love the repeated joke and the boy’s startled face as he encounters the tiger in more and more ridiculous places.
This Is Not My Hat – written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
A brilliant companion to I Want My Hat Back, this book is told from the point of view of the hat thief. A small fish has stolen a hat from a large sleeping fish — but no worries, by the time the big fish wakes up, he’ll be long gone. As he narrates, the pictures show the big fish’s actions, which contradict all of the little fish’s assumptions one by one. I love the mounting tension — and Klassen’s illustrations are perfect.
Roger Nix, President at 6 – written by Nick Dazé, illustrated by Bill Robinson
I know the election is yesterday’s news, but that doesn’t mean this story isn’t relevant. When old Robert Plee runs for president, his platform is to close the schools and put kids to work canning cherries and peaches, because all they’re doing is playing anyway and they need to learn the value of hard work. So little Roger Nix decides to save the schools by running for president against Plee. In rhyming verse, Roger makes a case for letting kids be kids — a message that both parties could agree with. (Fun Fact: Roger Nix, President at 6 was funded by Kickstarter this spring!)
Princess in Training – written by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Joe Berger
Some of us worry about our daughters wanting to be princesses — but what about a king and queen whose daughter wants to be anything but? Princess Viola Louise Hassenfeffer is more interested in karate-chopping, swimming in the moat, and skateboarding. She gets an invitation to Camp Princess to learn important skills like waving, walking, and waltzing — but she just can’t seem to get the hang of it. Of course, her non-princess-y skills come in handy in the end (as you might expect), and we all learn that being a princess doesn’t mean you can’t be yourself. (Hey, I think that was the message in Wreck-It Ralph, too.) Bonus geek points for the Princess Leia kid in the illustrations.
Hang Glider & Mud Mask – by Brian McMullen and Jason Jägel
McSweeney’s books for kids always stand out: some have dust jacket posters or thermochromatic ink. Hang Glider & Mud Mask has a new gimmick. It’s a double-sided book with a Z-shaped cover: you can read it from either side, and the two stories meet in the middle. When you get to the end of one side, you’ll have a fold-out spread that goes across the page, the “back cover” of the other book, and then the “front cover” of the other book. The story itself is somewhat thin — one kid in a hang glider makes his way down toward the other kid, who climbs up to catch him. It’s more of an experimental book, a hint of a plot, but the book’s construction is pretty fascinating.
Sky High – written by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine
In this quirky book, Agenor-Agobar Poirer des Chapelles and his neighbor Willigis Kittycly Junior compete to build the most outrageous house. It starts modestly enough — a solid gold front door here, an ultra-modern kitchen there — but it very quickly escalates as they hire more and more expensive architects, call in favors, and (most importantly) build higher and higher. Inevitably, one of them goes a little too far … but does anyone actually win? The book is narrow and tall (to fit the buildings) and the intricate black-and-white illustrations with tiny absurd captions are a delight.
Bedtime Is Canceled – written by Cece Meng, illustrated by Aurélie Neyret
When a brother and a sister write a note to their parents canceling bedtime, the parents don’t buy it. But when a capricious wind sweeps up the note and whisks it onto the desk of a newspaper reporter, it shows up on the front page and soon everyone finds out: “Bedtime Is Canceled.” What happens when the whole world stays up? Well, I don’t advise it, but it is pretty funny. This one is a fun bit of wish fulfillment for kids.
Good News Bad News – written and illustrated by Jeff Mack
Rabbit and Mouse go on a picnic, which is good news; but then it rains, which is bad news. Rabbit’s the eternal optimist, finding the silver lining, while Mouse keeps discovering new clouds. A fun book about looking at the bright side of things (or, if you’re that sort of person, the dark side of things).
Keep reading for the next ten!