All-Time Top 10: Children’s Picture Books

So the girls are back in school and I’m hoping that more time to write soon follows. On their first day we took a tour of the Bonn International School. The facilities were excellent and one part of the school that really impressed me was the library. I didn’t have time to have a good look at their collection but I did notice they had different sections with books in a number of different languages. French, Spanish, German, Polish…it was great to see because it’s easy to start thinking that international schools might shelter children from the culture they are living in rather than immerse them in it. It’s heartening.

Each week the girls have library time where they can take out books and return others. It’s a proper part of their timetable and that’s a good thing because I was starting to think community libraries had been usurped by iPads, Nintendo, TV and any other technological distraction you can name. You can tell the concept is foreign to some kids when they decide not to take a book home from school because they don’t have enough money to buy it. I’m surprised Hazel did that actually because we’ve brought her to the library many times but in those cases it was us checking the books out and now, it’s her. Come to think of it Hazel probably saw her mother handing over cash at the library to pay for all those desperately late Agatha Christie novels.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar's Saturday Lunch

The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s Saturday Lunch

Barring Sesame Street there wasn’t a lot of educational television when I was a sprog. Unless you call Wile E Coyote falling into the Grand Canyon over and over again, educational. This was a time when children’s picture books provided that first step into the world of reading and imagination. So it’s great that mum really encouraged that in me because now my girls have started to build up a small library of their own. With this in mind I’d like to make a small nod to the books that have stood the test of time and one or two newer ones (there’s actually too many to mention). Here goes:

10. Peace at Last by Jill Murphy – The story of a grumpy daddy bear who can’t get to sleep. I can identify with the protagonist.

9. M is for Metal by Paul McNeil and Barry Divola – Who says rock music and picture books don’t go together. A great way to learn the alphabet.

8. Meg and Mog by Helen Nicholl and Jan Pienkowski – Pienkowski’s illustrations are very simple but there is something about the style, the eyecatching use of colour and of course the hapless Meg that make these books memorable.

7. Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser – Very detailed illustrations and a great vocabulary builder. Clearly aimed at those with girls, which is fortunate, as I have three.

6. What do People do all Day? by Richard Scarry – Anyone not familiar with Richard Scarry should pick these up for the kids. The illustrations are so busy that you can literally spend hours going over every detail. You get caught up in the illustrators world.

5. Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd – While Margaret Mahy is New Zealand’s best loved children’s author, These books by Lynley Dodd have been New Zealand’s most successful childrens book export.

4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak – It was this book and Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen that first captured my imagination. They both tell the tale of children who start out in a very normal situation and are thrown into a fantastic world. These are the books that inspire.

3. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler – Julia Donaldson, the current ‘rockstar’ of the childrens book world has many memorable titles and collaborations. I’m quite fond of Zog myself but this one is an all-time classic.

2. Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss – I just have to keep telling the world how clever this man was. While I really like the environmental message of The Lorax, this book speaks to adults and children on different levels. It deals with quite complex emotional issues but simplifies them so that adults and children alike might see the big picture.

1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – 30 million copies later…Eric Carle published this when he was fourty years old proving you can have many years on your audience but still know what they like. I am thinking of doing the caterpillars Saturday lunch as a tribute right now.

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