The trouble with reading hundreds of picture books in a few months time is that no matter how charming the text or delightful the illustrations, unless it is on your child's constant rotation list it has to be phenomenally unforgettable for either good or bad reasons. Otherwise, you will forget all about it's charms and delights and only remember, that it had both (or horrors, depending on the book). This is all compounded by the fact that I am often sleep-deprived and actually do manage to cram non-children's literature into the crevices of my brain. So this group of books from the New York Times Parents Guide to the Best Books for Children are our absolute favorites so far. These are the finds that surprised us with their existence, charmed us in multiple readings, and delighted us with sequels. Above all, they are phenomenally unforgettable.
The Holes in Your Nose
Written and Illustrated by Genichiro Yagyu
As soon as I had the faintest whiff of impending toilet training when Bean was a toddler, I went out and bought the companion volume to this book, Everyone Poops, which I knew from my younger days as an itinerant bookseller in various emporia. I would only give that book minor credit for its role in the process of bodily function awareness, but I was so impressed with how simply and thoroughly the book dealt with defecation for a juvenile (and juvenile) audience that I bought (new!) as many of the other titles in this series of Japanese origin as I could get my hands on, including The Holes in Your Nose, The Gas We Pass, All About Scabs, and Contemplating Your Bellybutton. Seriously, a set of these books would make as good a baby shower gift as the perennial Good Night Moon/Pat the Bunny combo. (Indeed, I can think of some people who'd appreciate them more.) Each book is about exactly what the title states, and a little bit more. Everyone Poops is aimed directly at the toddler set, but the others can wait until preschool. They can be introduced at opportune developmental moments: instead of reminding your child over and over not to pick their nose and eat the contents in public, read The Holes in Your Nose, with its description of booger ingredients, "Boogers are made from dirt, so they're dirty" and it's instructions to "look up and show the person reading this book the holes in your nose." The Gas We Pass, may not actually deter public flatulence from a five-year-old (or their urge to use the word FART in as many ways possible), but at least they will know exactly what they are doing. All About Scabs is equally good for scab-eaters and junior scientists/doctors. Contemplating Your Bellybutton is great for a preschool start to the "where do we come from" discussion, as well as a good one to pull out if mom's pregnant. A little bit of old-fashioned hygiene is also thrown in for good measure.
Horace and Morris But Mostly Dolores
Written by James Howe
Illustrated by Amy Walrod
This is a grand girl -power book written for an intended audience of girls, boys, and mice. Its message of inclusion comes across loud and clear (without feeling like you're being hit over the head with a soap box) to kids from about three up. Older kids (6-9) will also enjoy the story and may want to go out and start their own club, complete with a clubhouse.
Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain
Written and Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
If ever a book embodied the admonishment not to judge a book by its cover, it's this one. The old-fashioned illustrations give away it's 1936 vintage, and the Little Tim of the title is an English boy of means, presumably living somewhere near Dover, with it's white cliffs and coastal orientation. If I were a less open-minded parent and not singularly bent on reading as many of the books in the NYT Guide as possible, I might have skipped it with Bean and waited to read them to Boo when he was older. We are all glad I didn't. Everybody loved the first book so much that we checked them all out and read them in chronological order by publication date. Little Tim is a short-suited boy of about ten who dreams of a life on the high seas, just like his friend the old sea captain. Every book finds him either running away on a ship or begging his angelically tolerant parents to let him join a ship's crew for just a few days. The voyages always turn into adventures of far greater magnitude than he had intended and many of them include his best friends, the orphans Ginger and Charlotte. One of the books foreshadows his future life as a ship captain which made me think that Tim would surely be one of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers were he real, putting in his 10,000 hours aboard ships to become a talented admiral. Fair warning: any empty box lying around the house while you are reading these will immediately be commissioned as the SS Cardboard and Marker Enterprise.
Written and Illustrated by Janet Morgan Stoeke
We are new, but ardent, fans of Minerva Louise the chicken with a small brain and huge amounts of imagination and gumption. The illustrations are simple and tell the chicken with a heart's story perfectly. All ages will enjoy these books which are just plain good picture books. No grand morals or adventures, no messages or achingly beautiful prose or pictures. Just a chicken. Get to know Minerva Louise and you won't be sorry. And you will get to say "Minerva Louise" out loud a bunch of times.
Written and Illustrated by Chris Raschka
In no way could this be considered a biography of Thelonious Monk, but using fewer than ten different words and graphical, abstract illustrations, Mysterious Thelonious does a better job of conveying the feeling of the jazz impresario's music than a biography ever could. When I read the first page of this book, Bean scowled and asked me with great suspicion what this book was about. I kept reading and by the last page, she was bopping around the living room saying "Mys-ter-i-ous The-lon-i-ous" in as many ways as she could think of: hissing, jumping, swooping, spinning, shouting. Boo of course had no idea who Thelonious Monk was or why we were saying his name over and over again in syncopation, but that didn't stop him from joining in.
Homeschool Connection: For good measure, and because that's what good little homeschoolers do, I dug up as much Thelonious Monk as I could from the iPod archives after we finished the book. We left it at that, but starting with this one, small picture book could easily lead to a greater exploration of Thelonious Monk or a whole unit of jazz music.
Vera's First Day of School
Written and Illustrated by Vera Rosenberry
The numerous Vera books are yet another series which we had never heard of before the NYT project, but which made repeat appearances in the library bag. Whether she's going to school for the first time, learning to ride a bike, adjusting to a baby sister, or recovering from the measles, Vera does it earnestly and with all the aplomb that a youngest sister turned middle child can muster. The Vera books are not of the flashy ilk that show up in bulk at Costco or become television series, they are far quieter and far better.
Where's Our Mama?
Written and Illustrated by Diane Goode
When I first read the description of this book, I thought it would be an anxiety-inducing tale of losing and finding one's parent. Instead, it was a beautifully illustrated tale of mistaken identity, that made me wish I was lost in Belle Epoque Paris. We loved it enough to check out Mama's Perfect Present, which is an equally beautiful tale of the innocent mischief caused when the same protagonists from Where's Our Mama? go looking for a present for said Maman.
Happy reading aloud! And if you feel so inspired, please continue to share your experiences with these or other favorite books in the comments.