10 Picture Books to Inspire Imagination

Roxaboxen
Image: Harper Collins

You know how there are just some books that are so good that you accost other moms in the library, insisting that they share a particular story with their kids? No? Maybe that’s just me. But trust me. These books? They are the ones that your kids will ask for over and over again.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. This is a true story of children in Yuma, Arizona who use rocks, discarded materials, and their imagination to create a thriving city complete with a police department and a cemetery. I once raved about this story to my son’s preschool teacher. Imagine my surprise when she told me she grew up in Yuma, Arizona and had played in the real life Roxaboxen!

Stephanie’s Ponytail by Robert Munsch. Stephanie manages to be different in the midst of a classroom full of trendy copycats. Even the teacher succumbs to peer pressure, but Stephanie? She has the last laugh. I love all of Robert Munsch’s books, but this is definitely one of our favorites. Check your library for an audiocassette version of some of Munsch’s stories, too. He is a great storyteller. This silly story about individuality still sticks with my kids; when someone is being very unoriginal they toss out the name Stephanie.

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman. Unlike the other children at school, Wesley dislikes pizza and soda, and he refuses to cut his hair in the style worn by all of the other boys. He is an outcast, much to the dismay of his parents. Wesley spends his summer vacation creating his own civilization complete with its own alphabet. His pretend world absolutely captivated me, in part because I wanted to live in a world where one single plant from the garden could provide everything necessary for life, and partly because I could really identify with Wesley.

LookAlikes by Joan Steiner. The text in this book is just mediocre. Why then am I recommending it? The photos are incredible! Author and artist Joan Steiner utilizes everyday objects to create incredible 3D scenes of a miniature world. Bread and crackers become buildings, scissors are transformed into Ferris wheels, and pistachio shells become flowers. This book used to keep my youngest (who never sat still) enthralled for hours at a time as he pored over the pictures trying to identify all of the hidden surprises.

Old Jake’s Skirts by David Slonim. Jake is an elderly bachelor who lives with his dog.  When he finds an old trunk in the middle of the road, Jake and his dog search for the owner of the trunk to no avail.  When they eventually open it and find calico skirts, they first wonder about it, and then realize that the skirts seem to be bringing good luck. I love that the seemingly gruff Jake shows his soft side.

Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg. When Walter tosses a piece of trash on the ground, he thinks nothing of it. But that night, his bed is transported to scenes from an overcrowded and polluted Earth. Good thing it was just a dream; or was it? The illustrations are fantastic and always inspire conversation.

Sector 7 by David Wiesner.  This wordless treasure (a Caldecott Honor book) offers up an unlikely story about a boy and a cloud.  Just how do all of those amazing cloud shapes happen?? This is a great story for non-readers to “read”. We used to sit with this story and a pad of sticky notes. As my kids told the story, I’d write it down and we’d stick their stories on the pages so that I could read it aloud to them later. More than once, I’m sure, the librarians were surprised with our latest version of the story.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau. Once upon a time a king believed that money could buy happiness. It takes a wise old woman to prove to him that this is not so. No matter how much the king insists, the quiltmaker refuses to sell him the quilt that he so desperately wants — until he gives away all of his material possessions. The pictures are gorgeous, and we really enjoyed the many different quilt patterns showcased on the inside cover.

The Dream House by Pirkko Vainio. Lucas builds his dream house on a tiny island, using an assortment of recycled odds and ends, driftwood, and glass bottles. Though he loves his beautiful house, he is lonely on his secluded island. One day, stormy seas come to the rescue, toppling his dream home which creates a bridge connecting his island to the mainland. The bridge brings the local children to Lucas’s island and he’s lonely no more.

Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present by John Birmingham. Sure, this is a Christmas story, but it’s also about going to the ends of the Earth to do something for another human being. One Christmas Eve, Santa falls into bed exhausted after delivering all of his Christmas presents. And then he sees it: A lump in his sack. It’s a present for Harvey Slumfenburger who only gets one present each year, and that from Santa Claus. Harvey lives high atop Roly Poly Mountain far, far away, but Santa is determined to get that present delivered no matter what it takes. We read this aloud every holiday season and my kids still love the pictures of Santa Claus ziplining, skiing, and ballooning his way to Harvey.

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