Best Children’s Books: Top Ten Picture Books

Possibly the most popular category among children’s books is Picture Books. Everybody loves a good picture book because the words are fewer, and they generally pack more of a punch. Also, the illustrator can make a so-so story into a knockout. Especially because of its brevity, the picture book usually has one very simple story line: Kid has awful day at school, Pigeon dreams of driving a bus, Machines transform a construction site, A tree gives generously instead of taking, and so on. Picture book stories can be very powerful. They can make us howl with laughter, or shed tears, or feel comfort, or care more about others, or identify with the main character. They can stir up almost any emotion on earth.

1. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein: This is the unlikely story of love between a boy and a tree. When the boy is young and needs shade or wants to climb in in the branches the tree obliges. Then when the boy grows up he wants something that may mean the end of the tree, but the tree keeps on giving to him out of love. Though there may be several ways to interpret this story, the true message of love shines through. Even when the boy is an old man he finally uses the stump of the tree to rest on and the tree is there for him.

2. Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, Ray Cruz: You gotta know your day is going to be bad when you wake up with gum in your hair. Alexander finds himself seeing more and more problems as the day goes on. From the gum in his hair to dropping his sweater in the sink to tripping on his skateboard, he finds himself in the middle of one of the worst days ever. Children and adults alike will love this tale of a boy, his bad day, and the humor that comes with the story. Bad days happen to everyone and we all can identify with Alexander.

3. Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crocket Johnson:Harold is one little boy who has an imagination that can help get him deal with trouble by means of his trusty crayon. This is an adventurous and endearing story with a tale that will charm and amuse. Harold receives help from his crayon by drawing a boat to save him from drowning, he creates landmarks to help him find his way home, and so his creativity and sense of adventure is contagious and helps, in turn, our own imaginations to soar.

4. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Judy and Ron Barrett: Nothing beats a good storm, especially when it consists of cool and yummy food, right? That may sound good if it’s raining cooking, but when the stuff raining from the sky becomes larger portions and messier foods, it can become a little scary. When there is orange juice rain, hamburger hail, and mashed potato snow, you don’t have to make grocery store runs anymore. This book is fun to read and even more fun to discuss with your children, who think this is one heck of a good idea for a storm.

5. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems: Here’s a charming story when a pigeon uses the tactics of a small child to get his own way. When the bus driver has to leave the bus for a bit, he cautions the readers not to let the pigeon drive the bus. Asking nicely doesn’t give the bird what he wants so he moves from pleading, bribery, arguing, manipulating, and finally throwing a temper tantrum just like a misbehaving child. Funny and true to life comments throughout this tale will leave you giggling and feeling strangely good.

6. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig: Once a pebble-collecting donkey finds his lucky stone, the craziness begins. Once Sylvester accidentally turns himself into a stone, it seems all is lost, because he cannot transform himself back into a donkey. But eventually he comes back to his donkey self-and he begins wishing much more carefully!

7. Olivia and the Fairy Princesses, Ian Falconer: this book again stars the world’s most imaginative pig. Olivia launches a quest for identity with very ethereal goals-and being a princess is NOT one of them! Olivia is having an identity crisis. There are too many ruffly, sparkly princesses around these days, and Olivia is quite fed up. She needs to stand out! She has to be the zenith! She wants to do more than just fit in! So what will she be? Read it and find out.

8. Never Take a Shark to the Dentist (and other things not to do), Judy Barrett: Well, this book offers sage advice that would prove handy for almost anyone. Do not take a shark to the dentist, don’t sit with a porcupine in the subway, don’t take a goat to the library, don’t take a raccoon to the bank… well, you get the idea. A hilarious instruction book about us and animals.

9. The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, Jon Scienszka: These fairly stupid tales are not like the fairy tales you may have known while growing up. They are, rather, written with sarcasm and humorous scandal. Mangling the original stories and sticking in characters who belong in other fairy tales into some old favorites, the humor and hilarity is contagious. Kids tend to like the unexpected, and they can also appreciate a bit of choice sarcasm. This book is a lot of fun as kids try to correct the writer and find it overwhelmingly impossible.

10. Machines at Work, by Byron Barton: During a busy day at the construction site, the workers use a variety of machines to knock down a building and begin constructing a new one. And most boys, in particular, can’t seem to resist imagining themselves operating the massive machines that shape and reshape the earth. (After all, that’s why they call them earth-movers). For machine lovers, this one is irresistible.

Special mention: You Are Special, The Gardener, Owen, and The Velveteen Rabbit. In You Are Special, Lucado shows how no child should ever feel worthless or inferior because God doesn’t create junk. The Gardener is a charming story about a country child that moves to the city and brings a bit of the country with her. Owen reminds me of my little brother, who carried a blanket around with him everywhere until the sorry thing was so tattered it just fell apart. And The Velveteen Rabbit is a wonderful classic that just didn’t quite seem to fit into this list. Oh well, maybe a future list.