So I’ve told you about the picture book illustrations that have inspired me the most, but what about the best stories? These are the books I remembered into adulthood, and that I wanted to read over and over again as a child.
6. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieska and Lane Smith
This story was always such fun to read because it’s a comedy for kids. Adults can also appreciate the clever parody of the familiar Three Little Pigs tale. The authors turned the story on its head by telling it from the perspective of “the big bad wolf” or A. Wolf as he is known in the story. This author-illustrator duo also gave us The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, and Jon Scieska penned The Frog Prince, Continued.
5. Now One Foot, Now the Other by Tomie dePaula
This is a children’s book about strokes. Again, sounds like heavy fair for a picture book, but as someone who is close to my grandparents, I think seeing your loved ones change as they get older is something a lot of children can relate to. This story is particularly touching, because the main character is a little boy who was taught to walk by his grandfather. The story comes full circle after the grandfather suffers a stroke and the little boy in turn teaches his grandfather how to walk again.
4. Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg
This is the story of a young boy who doesn’t care about the environment, until he falls asleep and he and his bed are transported to the future. Instead of cool technology, the boy sees pollution and destruction. It sounds a little depressing, but it provides amazing imagery that sticks with a child and teaches a lesson in a powerful way.
3. Love you Forever by Robert Munsch
Most people will recognized this heart-warming book published in 1989. In fact, it is fourth on the list of all-time bestselling children’s paperback books. I remember my mom reading it to my siblings and me when we were younger. For some, it’s hard to read the story about a mother and son and the cycle of life without crying.
2. The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss
It’s been said that the best children’s book stories teach a lesson without making the lesson glaringly obvious. Dr. Seuss was a master at the technique. Just look at The Lorax, who spoke for environmental causes in a rhyming and whimsical way, or The Butter Battle Book, a Cold-War era parable about the potential destruction of nuclear war.The Sneetches is my favorite because Dr. Seuss managed a satire of races and discrimination (apparently he was specifically inspired by his opposition to antisemitism, which ties into the imagery of the Sneetches wearing stars). That’s no easy task for a children’s picture book.
1. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Sure, we all love The Giving Tree, but Sidewalk first published in 1974 (and subsequently A Light in the Attic, 1981 and Falling Up, 1996) is where it’s at. Silverstein addresses childhood concerns, fantasy, dreams and imagination all through his poetry and illustrations. Poems like “Sick”, about making excuses not to go to school and “Jimmy Jet and his TV Set”, about a boy who watches so much TV he turns into a TV set, stand out in my mind. The poems are timeless. This is a book you can truly read over and over again, and always enjoy it.
I would be remiss to make any list of children’s book stories and illustrations without mentioning Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. It has been voted the number one picture book by the the School Library Journal readers and Sendak is generally considered the king of children’s picture books. It would be hard to pinpoint exactly what makes it so great, so I will just leave it in the words of another reader who said, “perfectly crafted, perfectly illustrated.”