Proper children love Dr. Seuss and Where the Wild Things Are, The Giving Tree and Brown Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I didn’t. In fact, I probably won’t introduce my future children to Dr. Seuss – what if they adore his books and I have to read them aloud daily? The horror! The suffering! Parents must cling to their remaining shreds of sanity.
Bizarre plants, rhyming couplets, and chunky simplistic illustrations annoyed kindergarten me. I loved good stories accompanied by a visual feast – detailed illustrations full of hidden intricacies pulling me into another time, country, or world. For this week’s seven quick takes, I’m listing seven picture books that I loved as a kid. Actually, I came up with a list of about forty and will be writing several follow up posts. Along with well-known classics like Ferdinand, the Corduroy books, the Madeline books, The Story about Ping, the Babar books, The Little Engine that Could, the Curious George books, and the Little Golden Books, these are some lesser-known texts I plan to collect for our future family. Many, sadly, are out of print, but used copies are available and I highly recommend them for any kids in your life.
St. George and the Dragon by Hodges & Hyman
This book retells the story of St. George from Spencer’s The Faerie Queen. The story is great, but the illustrations are incredible with vivid, imaginative, brooding detail covering every page. I couldn’t pick a favorite childhood book, but this would definitely rank in the top three. Best of all, it’s still in print!
The First Tulips in Holland by Phyllis Krasilovsky
A Dutch merchant brings tulip bulbs from the Middle East as a gift for his daughter. She plants them in the window, initiating the tulip passion in Holland (and finding a husband along the way). The book grows more colorful page by page as tulips spread from house to house and garden to garden throughout Holland. Lush beauty abounds on every page. When I first encountered the Dutch masters in school, their art was already familiar because this book illustrator mimics their style.
Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
Simple but lively three-color illustrations carry you through the warmly funny story of three hungry French soldiers who enter a village and ask for food. The villagers, short on supplies themselves, refuse. With no food forthcoming, the soldiers announce that they will feed themselves with a soup made of stones. The fascinated villagers gather to watch. Starting with just water and stones, at each step of preparation, they soldiers taste the soup and state that it is pretty good, but would be better with one more ingredient…carrots, cabbages, meat…and the hoodwinked villagers fetch the item from their hidden stashes until an enormous pot of soup made with “nothing but stones” feeds the entire village. Tale-telling at its best.
The Runaway Sleigh Ride by Astrid Lindgren
This book was a special treat pulled out at Christmas in our house. In The Runaway Sleigh Ride, a little Swedish girl out Christmas shopping hitches the ride out of town on the rear runners of a sleigh, and ends up lost in the snowy woods. The ending resolves everything happily. A great kid-sized adventure, with the girl’s warm, inviting, nordic home contrasted with the wintery (but not altogether inhospitable) forest. Lindgren wrote many great books for kids including Pippi Longstocking.
The Church Mice series by Graham Oakley
Graham Oakley’s hilarious twelve book Church Mice series is every bit as fun for adults as it is for kids. Great characters, clever plots, detailed pictures, and guffaw-inducing situations as the church’s numerous mice and long-suffering cat Sampson get into one scrape after another.
The Oak by Geoffrey Patterson
An acorn falls, and a tiny oak sapling takes root in England. Over hundreds of years, a town springs up around the oak, and the events of English history take place beneath it. This is a beautiful, slow-paced story, that never falls into the pedantic trap of many other superficial, poorly-written, trick-kids-into-reading-history picture books.
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss
I said I never liked Dr. Seuss, but this book is the one glaring exception. This funny story is less known than his popular rhyming books and I couldn’t get enough of it as a kid. One day young Bartholomew Cubbins tries to take his hat off in respect for the king. However, the second he removes his hat, a new one appears in its place. One expert after another in poor Bartholomew’s medieval village tries to solve the problem.
More to come this week. Feel free to list your own favorites in the comments! Also, you can check out other folks’ quick takes over at Conversion Diary by Jen.