Critter Lit

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Drew Daywalt

Top Five Favorite Picture Books - Writing

publishing, Illustrators, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay WardComment

My husband and I read to our son every night. And every night it's always so tough to pick what books to read. My husband just grabs books off the shelf at random, without even looking. I, on the other hand, sit there staring, as if its the most important decision I'll make all day. It's usually not, but that doesn't change the fact that I still do it every night.

Over the years, I've amassed quite the picture book collection, as I'm sure you can imagine. Some as a bookseller, some as an illustrator, some as an author/illustrator, and now, as a mom. It's funny how my tastes have changed since becoming a mom. Before I would buy books that had really amazing art, I didn't pay that much attention to the story. As someone who came to publishing as an illustrator first, the writing in any book always came second to me. If I didn't like the art, I wouldn't buy the book. Period. Even if it was an amazing story. Now, I want the whole package. I expect amazing art and text. If I'm going to add it to our collection, it better be good. Like really good. It's the same attitude I have when I create my own books. I have to make a brilliant book so it can hold it's own against millions of other books. So that someone will want to add it to their collection and share with their family. The way I do. 

There are so many books to choose from, even among the collection we've already created based on our family's tastes. My son is still young enough that he isn't really picking books out himself just yet (unless is a very loved and chewed copy of Little Fur Family - what can I say he loves the "kerchoo" part, laughs every time).

So here's my list of five books that every time I read them I think "man, I hope I'm this good some day." They are the books that I never tire of reading. Some old, some new. The ones that are just so good, no holes, nothing I would change. Perfect in my opinion.

I've focused this list on storytelling, although every single one of them has amazing art that deserves it's own shout out. 

1. INTERRUPTING CHICKEN By David Ezra Stein

It’s time for the little red chicken’s bedtime story —and a reminder from Papa to try not to interrupt. But the chicken can’t help herself! Whether the tale is HANSEL AND GRETEL or LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD or even CHICKEN LITTLE, she jumps into the story to save its hapless characters from doing some dangerous or silly thing. Now it’s the little red chicken’s turn to tell a story, but will her yawning papa make it to the end without his own kind of interrupting?

This might be my favorite read-a-loud of all time. Seriously. It's that good. This one is on my list for a few reasons. One, I never get tired of reading it (which is always a good starting point). Two, at 1 1/2, Jack actually pays attention throughout this entire book, which always amazes me. And three, the DIALOGUE. It's pitch perfect. Every word choice is spot on. The conversation between Papa and Little Red Chicken reads like any parent with their child at bedtime. Little Red Chicken is impatient and impulsive, she can't wait to interrupt, because after all, she knows what's going to happen. I find that when I read this book aloud, I don't have to think about the inflections in my voice, or the best way to tell the story for my son to understand what's happening. It just naturally happens because the text is so good. Keep in mind this is a book that won a Caldecott Honor, and I'm telling you how wonderful the text is. I haven't even mentioned how amazing the illustrations are. Two styles in one book! That's how great this book is.

2. AND THEN IT'S SPRING Written by Julie Fogliano, Illustrated by Erin Stead

Following a snow-filled winter, a young boy and his dog decide that they've had enough of all that brown and resolve to plant a garden. They dig, they plant, they play, they wait...and wait...until at last, the brown becomes a more hopeful shade of brown, a sign that spring may finally be on its way.

Every time I read Julie's words, it hurts. They are just so good. Personally, I think she is one of the best writers in children's lit, not just picture books. Her WORD CHOICE is exquisite. Every line seems perfectly constructed. Each word meticulously chosen. I once read that J.D. Salinger agonized over every word choice. Each one had to be perfect or he'd cross it out. I imagine that is what it's like for Julie. Her words are captivating and ask you to run away with them in such an effortless way, which of course I'm sure she would say otherwise. Here is my favorite passage:

and the brown, 
still brown, has a greenish hum
that you can only hear
if you put your ear to the ground
and close your eyes

Just beautiful. Oh, and did I mention the art is created by Caldecott winning illustrator Erin Stead. Any illustrator looking for a lesson in perfect composition and execution, look at this book. The illustrations are absolutely stunning and there are so many lovely details to look for on each page.

3. THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun. What can Duncan possibly do to appease all of the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best?

Okay, let's be totally honest here. This is one of those books that the first time I read it I was like "Dammit! I wish I'd thought of that!" I remember I was standing in Anthropologie of all places, that's how big the book had gotten already (I know, I know, how had I not seen this sooner...what can I say it was the summer I got married, things were crazy). The entire CONCEPT is absolutely brilliant, as you all probably already know. And not just that, but the voices of each crayon are so funny. I think Peach crayon is my favorite. The humor in this book is just off the charts. Every color, relationship, and concern is so well thought out. And this was a debut picture book paired with Oliver Jeffer's illustrations! It kills me, it's so good! A must have for any picture book collection.

4. THE NEW SMALL PERSON by Lauren Child

Elmore Green starts life as an only child, as many children do. He has a room to himself, where he can line up his precious things and nobody will move them one inch. But one day everything changes. When the new small person comes along, it seems that everybody might like it a bit more than they like Elmore Green. And when the small person knocks over Elmore’s things and even licks his jelly-bean collection, Elmore’s parents say that he can’t be angry because the small person is only small. Elmore wants the small person to go back to wherever it came from. Then, one night, everything changes. . . .

This is not only my favorite new sibling book, but it's also one of my favorite books of all time. I think the VOICE is what really sets it apart. Elmore Green does not want a new sibling, he won't even refer to him by name, just "The New Small Person." He has no interest in sharing his jelly beans, especially the orange ones, or tv shows, or his collection of things. Everything about Elmore is so spot on with what a kid would actually do and say. I love how the two brothers finally come together in the middle of the night after Elmore has a nightmare and the new small person proclaims "Go away scary!". This book is clever and sweet all at once, punctuated by Lauren Child's whimsical cut-paper illustrations.

5. IN A BLUE ROOM Written by Jim Averbeck, Illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Alice is wide, wide awake. Mama brings flowers, tea, a quilt, even lullaby bells to help her sleep. But none of these things are blue, and Alice can sleep only in a blue room. Yet when the light goes out, a bit of magic is stirred up. Pale blue moonlight swirls into her bedroom window. Then the night swirls out, around the moon and into the universe, leaving Alice fast alsleep in a most celestial blue room.

This is a one of my favorite bedtime books in our collection. I have loved this book since it came out and I was hand-selling it as a bookseller in The Children's Book Shop in Boston. Jim Averbeck does such as amazing job creating the mood of this story. Throughout the story he references the all the senses, colors, and creates a feeling of total relaxation. I can smell the lilacs, feel the warm tea, and hear the soft sound of lullaby bells chiming in the breeze. This book is like a warm comfy quilt wrapped around you before you drift off to sleep. And perfectly illustrated by the always amazing Tricia Tusa who paces the final lines of the book in one of the best succession of spreads I've ever seen in a picture book. Love love this book.

Please take a moment to check these books out from your local library if you get the chance. They are wonderful reads!

Happy Reading!

Lindsay