The Reading Life: Beloved Picture Books

At this point in the semester, all anyone wants to do is curl up and take a nap, or watch a funny movie, or read something fluffy. Our brains are fried. Any more management theory and I think I’m going to scream. So, what can you do at a time like this? Read some picture books.

I own more picture books than is natural for a childless twenty-something. Then again, a good picture book, a really good picture book, goes beyond the reader’s age and status in life, and hits them in a happy place in the brain. Picture books also work on many levels: you can look at just the pictures, read just the text, read them together, or pick apart either element to find a deeper meaning. One of these books, The Arrival, has no text at all.

These are some of my favorites, in no particular order.

Eloise by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight


Oooooooo, I love this book. Eloise is a spoiled little girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Her nanny is kind of mean, but it’s okay, because Eloise has a pet turtle named Skipperdee who wears sneakers and a dog named Weenie. Sometimes Eloise wears her shoes on her ears. It’s okay. She’s six. I wanted to be Eloise when I was little. She gets full reign of a hotel, including the ballrooms, the kitchen, the elevators, and the lobby. The bellhops are scared of her and she doesn’t have to go to school. (Instead she has a tutor that she drives insane.) She’s a fantastic, courageous, strong character. She’s also hysterically funny. This book has been continuously in print since 1955. I think girls who like the Fancy Nancy books would really like Eloise.

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies

I have given a copy of this book to at least two pregnant friends for their baby showers. It doesn’t have anything to do with babies, but it’s a fabulous book. In lilting, rhyming text, Lies tells the story of some bats who sneak into the library at night to read their favorite books. The illustrations, done in luscious acrylics, make the bats look simultaneously real and friendly. The older bats read philosophy, the younger bats tell ghost stories, and everyone has a great time. My favorite part is when the little bats imagine scenes from great books with bats as the main characters. Think Make Way for Bats and Winnie-the-Bat. If you like this one, try the first “Bats” book, Bats at the Beach. Equally cute, fewer literary references.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee

All the World

This book was a Caldecott Honor Book this year, and deservedly so. (Personally, I think it should have won the whole shebang.) It is gorgeous. Simple, clean, lovely illustrations and rhyming, repetitive text combine to make a book that has so many layers. Within the illustrations, there are miniature stories about family, friends, and the earth. It also features a lesbian couple in a few of the pictures; it’s not about them, but they are there. It’s nice. This book makes me want to go on a bike ride to the beach with all of my friends. Then we will hold hands. It’s that sweet, and never saccharine.

People by Peter Spier

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read this book. It’s all about people in different countries, and how even though we all do different things, wear different clothes, speak different languages, and eat different food, we are all just people. Lovely illustrations and a great message.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

This is the only book on this list without words. Well, there are words, but not readable ones. This is the story of an immigrant to a new country. All of the words are in another language that looks like gibberish. The man is lonely and misses his family. Then he meets a weird little creature and they become friends. There is so much going on in this wonderful book, and it’s all conveyed through images. I was really skeptical of this book at first; I’m not a huge “no-words” fan. I should not have worried because this book delivers an emotional story that will stay with you.

The Monster at the End of this Book by Michael Smollin and Jon Stone

Oh, Grover.

Grover is adorable. He tells the reader, “No! There’s a monster at the end of this book! Don’t turn the page!” And you turn the page because it’s Grover, and he’s silly. Of course (spoiler!), the monster at the end of the book is Grover himself. What a trickster. If you grew up in the United States (or even elsewhere) in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, or 00s, you have been influenced by Sesame Street. I used to call it the “Big Bird Show” and demand it at the drop of a hat. I had a stuffed Snuffy doll. I watched Elmo and it made my sore throat go away. This book was first published in 1971, so there are scores and scores of kids who have been surprised by the monster at the end.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Everything about this book is great: the colors, the use of cut-outs, the theme of change, and the ending. Eric Carle’s bold style, punctuated by a white background, is perfect for a colorful caterpillar who just can’t stop eating. As a very hungry child myself (and I still never really feel full), I empathized with the poor little guy.

What was YOUR favorite picture book? Let me know!


About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

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