Something adults take for granted is having a feelings vocabulary–knowing what to call your emotions. This book helps kids express their feelings before they have all the right words in place (and, as a bonus, it helps them learn the right words too). The concept is simple: each double-page spread has a highly expressive fish and a single word next to it describing its state of mind (for example: curious, nervous, brave, astonished, bored, and delighted). We don’t really read this book straight through; we flip through it to find the fish(es) that looks like we feel. This is one of my oldest’s very favorite books; he says he will never get rid of it.
Author: Mies Van Hout
Illustrator: Mies Van Hout
All the birds inside this book
Are very strange and rare.
And if you travel to the zoo
You will not find them there.
Don’t look for them in nature books,
In parks or pet shop cages.
The Drippet, Piffle and the rest
Live only on these pages.
The names and descriptions of these “rare birds” are mildly amusing; their portraits are playful and beautiful. This is an especially wonderful book for pre-readers.
Author: Arnold Lobel
Illustrator: Arnold Lobel
Once upon a time, long, long ago,
where the forest runs down to the
ocean, a hunter lived all alone in a
house made of logs he had chopped for
himself and shingles he had split for
himself. The house had one room, and
at the end closest to the ocean there was
a fireplace of pink and gray and green
boulders–the hunter had carried them
home in his arms from the cliff where
the forest ended….
In spring the meadow that ran down
from the cliff to the beach was all foam-
white and sea-blue with flowers; the
hunter looked at it and it was beautiful.
But when he came home there was no
one to tell what he had seen–and if he
picked the flowers and brought them
home in his hands, there was no one to
give them to. And when at evening,
past the dark blue shape of a far-off
island, the sun sank under the edge of
the sea like red world vanishing, the
hunter saw it all, but there was no one
to tell what he had seen.
This strange and beautiful book has hunters and mermaids; bears and lynxes; loneliness, love, and luck; and moments of violence and deep sadness. More than anything else it is about making a family.
Author: Randall Jarrell
Illustrator: Maurice Sendak
“Mom,” said David, “when will it snow?”
“I think soon,” said Mom. “Why don’t you help make
cookies while you wait.”
Everything that David does makes him think of snow. Is it coming yet? And when it does come, will it be Big Snow?
We wait and watch with David as his day progresses and the storm rolls in. We see the skyline of his overcast neighborhood slowly disappear into ever growing clouds and snow (the boys really like this part), we watch the roads get covered and uncovered. We watch the light outside disappearing and homes’ lights appear (including his neighbor’s menorah). We watch (the very capable, if somewhat distractible) David help his Mom with an impressive number of getting-ready-for-holiday-guests chores. When naptime comes, we watch David’s dream of Big Snow come a bit too true (I’m amused by how his mom keeps right cleaning throughout) and the book ends as he wakes up to play with outside with his family.
The further away from snow we get, the more popular this book becomes.
Author: Jonathan Bean
Illustrator: Jonathan Bean
One dark, dark night in Burrow Down,
a rabbit named Eliza Brown
found a book and settled down…
when a Snatchabook
flew into town.
In this cozy mystery story, books begin to disappear from the town of Burrow Down. As the title foreshadows, the culprit is a Snatchabook (a small, cute critter who is desperate to hear a story). This is a quick, rhyming read with a happy ending. It is perfect for bedtime and is very frequently requested. (As a bonus, there is a great discussion of how the illustrations were created here.)
Author: Helen Docherty
Illustrator: Thomas Docherty
Spry Miss Maple (who is small enough to travel on the back of a bluebird) cares for seeds “lost during the spring planting.” She brings them to her cozy home (inside a tree), takes them on field trips (by water and by air), reads them bedtime stories (by firefly light), and (when the Spring comes round again) sends them “off to find roots of their own” with the reminder to:
“Take care, my little ones, for the
world is big and you are small. But never forget…
… even the grandest of trees once had to grow up
from the smallest of seeds.”
If you enjoy this book (or would like more of a sneak peek), check out the activity sheets and coloring pages on the author/illustrator’s website.
Author: Eliza Wheeler
Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler
There was a boy called Odd, and there was
nothing strange or unusual about that, not in
that time or place. Odd meant the tip of a blade
and it was a lucky name.
He was odd though. At least, the other villagers
thought so. But if there was one thing that he
wasn’t, it was lucky.
Neil Gaiman and Norse mythology are a wonderful combination (as far as I can tell, Neil Gaiman and practically anything are a wonderful combination). This book has humans, gods, and giants. It has trickery, empathy, and friendship. There are talking animals, visions, eternal winter, and art. And it all goes by in a flash and my only wish is that this book was longer. (Gaiman had to keep it short, because it was written for World Book Day, but he plans to write about Odd again someday. I hope that it is someday soon.)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Brett Helquist
“Don’t you think there’s such a thing as
enough?” Mr. Midas persisted. “Don’t you
think that things are best in their places? I
mean, don’t you think there’s a time for
spaghetti and a time for roast beef and even a
time for pickled herring and garlic toast, as
well as a time for chocolate? Or would you
rather have chocolate all the time?”
“Chocolate all the time,” John replied
emphatically. “Chocolate’s best, that’s all.
Other things are just food. But chocolate’s
“I think I understand,” Mr. Midas broke in
You’ve heard of King Midas’s golden touch? This book is a fun (relatively) contemporary update, the story of a schoolboy (John Midas) who has the bad luck of actually getting what he most wishes for.
If you’re looking for the original, golden, version of the story, we quite like the picture book by Charlotte and Kinuko Y. Craft.
Author: Patrick Skene Catling
Illustrator: Margot Apple
Once upon a time there was a bat–a little light
brown bat, the color of coffee with cream in it.
In this quiet little book, a bat-poet strives to develop and share his art and to connect with others. It is soft, beautiful, cozy, and just right for reading before bed.
Author: Randall Jarrell
Illustrator: Maurice Sendak
Abraham Lincoln was a doting, devoted, and devastated father. This work of historical fiction focuses on his relationship with two of his four sons. Willie narrates the first half of the book (this narration is partially based on a 200-word fragment by the historical Willie; all of the events in the book are historically accurate). When Willie dies at age eleven, partway through his father’s term of office, the narration is taken over by his younger brother, Tad. (The Lincolns had already lost another son, Eddie, at the age of three, while Lincoln was practicing law in Springfield, Illinois.) The book ends as the Civil War ends, before Lincoln’s assassination. (The book does not go on to note that Tad outlived his father, but died at age eighteen and the Lincolns’ only surviving son, the one Lincoln had the most distant relationship with, then arranged to have his mother committed to a psychiatric hospital.)
While this is clearly not the happiest of stories, Lincoln loved his wife and their boys very much and his (over?) indulgence of his boys and joy in their company make this a very accessible, warm book. It is memorable too; my oldest drew Lincoln (complete with this stovepipe hat and beard) and one of his sons in response to an end-of-the-school-year question, along with the following explanation: “My favorite social studies is Aedrham Lingkne. Cus he is vary nice to his cids and evry oun eles!”
Author: Rosemary Wells
Illustrator: P.J. Lynch