Far, far away, in the land where the swallows fly during our winter, there lived a king who had eleven sons and one daughter, Elisa. The eleven brothers–princes all of them–went to school, each wearing a star at his heart and a sword at his side. They wrote on leaves of gold with diamond pencils; whatever they read, they learnt at once. You could tell straight off that they were princes! Their sister Elisa sat on a little stool made of looking-glass, and had a picture book that had cost half a kingdom.
Oh, they lived royally, those children! But it did not last.
Hans Christian Andersen’s stories verge on being too dark and long for reading to younger children. But they are also beautiful, and the artwork and the translation here reflects that.
This book was a happy surprise, found the morning before a family wedding in a very unusual bookstore housed in an old bank (complete with a vault for the rarest volumes).
Author: Naomi Lewis/Hans Christian Andersen
Illustrator: Angela Barrett
This is a classic story with beautiful illustrations, but all those jokes about the grim Grimm Brothers exist for a reason. This retelling hews very close to the Grimm tale, which in turn was based on an even darker French version. You won’t want to read it with your kids before they’re ready (or, perhaps, before bed), but you also won’t want to miss reading this aloud:
“Grandmother! What big, hairy ears you have grown!” she said.
“The better to hear you with, my dear.”
“Oh, Grandmother! Your eyes are so shiny!”
“The better to see you with, my dear.”
“Your hands look so strange, Grandmother!”
“The better to catch you and hug you with, my dear.”
“Please, Grandmother, why do you have such big, sharp teeth?”
“Those are to eat you up with, my dear!”
Author: Trina Schart Hyman/The Grimm Brothers/Charles Perrault
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman
When Louis’ Scottish uncle sends him a tadpole as a birthday present (fresh from Loch Ness), it does not turn into a frog. It does, however, turn into a wonderful (if utterly impracticable) pet.
Note: This version of the book is out of print. In 2004, a new version was issued with a revised text and all new illustrations. The changes were not an improvement. Look for the version of the book that has the “tadpole” gazing up at Louis in profile, rather than a straight-on view of them both.
Author: Steven Kellogg
Illustrator: Steven Kellogg
This rhyming book reminds me a bit of The Snatchabook. But just a bit. Instead of one cute little (albeit book snatching) critter flying into a town called Burrow Down, here four million (not at all little or cute) wasps swarm a town called Itching Down. And instead of concluding with understanding and acceptance, this tall tale ends with a mighty squashing. The residents lure the wasps into the giant sandwich of the title and then:
What became of the sandwich? Well,
In Itching Down they like to tell
How the birds flew off with it in their beaks
And had a feast for a hundred weeks.
Author: Janet Burroway
Illustrator: John Vernon Lord
All the birds had laid an egg.
All except for Duck.
Then Duck found an egg!
He thought it was the most beautiful egg in the whole wide world.
Well after all of the other birds’ eggs hatch (in a sequence making clever use of paper engineering), Duck keeps faith in his egg. Ignoring the other birds’ overt skepticism, Duck waits and waits until his very special, surprising, hatchling makes a grand entrance. The boys really enjoy this book; it is sweet, short, and very funny.
Author: Emily Gravett
Illustrator: Emily Gravett
Amos McGee works at the City Zoo. Every day, he gets up early and rides the bus to work. Although he has “a lot to do at the zoo,” he always makes time “to visit his good friends” (an elephant, tortoise, penguin, rhinoceros, and owl). But one day, he awakes “with the sniffles, and the sneezes, and the chills.” He can’t go to work. So his good friends come to him.
This gentle book is the reading equivalent of lemon tea with honey. Warm, comforting, and sweet, it is good for what ails you. (And I like to think its red balloon is a homage to another of our favorites, Good Night, Gorilla.)
Author: Philip C. Stead
Illustrator: Erin E. Stead
My youngest son is very found of birds. Ponds full of ducks make him very happy. If some of the ducks are on land, he heads straight over in hope of picking one up. Once they (inevitably) retreat to the water, he perches on the nearest rock and happily quacks at them (although he points out wistfully that, as yet, no ducks have quacked back to him).
My mother is also very found of ducks and she read me this book many, many times. The pictures are great and it is fun read-aloud, particularly once the ducklings (Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack) make their entrance. Speaking of grandparents, this is one of the only books on this blog that is older than all of my sons’ grandparents (The Little House and The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes are the others).
Author: Robert McCloskey
Illustrator: Robert McCloskey
My youngest is at the right age for alphabet books, and we’ve gathered a wide variety. This one is so good that my oldest tried to appropriate it.
Author: Brian Floca
Illustrator: Brian Floca