My Top 10 Awesome Picture Book Friends

Back in 2010, after reading this NEW YORK TIMES article about the decline of picture books (which didn't happen), I started thinking about how important books were to me as a child and the daily comfort they bestowed. I have very fond memories of going to the library every Saturday, rain or shine to pick out new books for the week. 

This is how picture books became my life long friends.

Don't get me wrong, I love exploring new digital picture book narratives too, but there is nothing like holding a paper picture book in your hands for the first or 40th time.

If you are reading this post, I bet you know what I mean.

After I read the NYT article, I thought I needed to stand up and give my picture book friends the props they deserve, you know?

Applaud them for their unwavering friendship when I needed them most.

So here goes. Meet my TOP10 AWESOME PICTURE BOOK FRIENDS.

1.  A HOLE IS TO DIG

Written by Ruth Krauss Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

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I remember holding this book in my hand as a child. It has special memories for me. The limited palette of cross hatched, expressive black line drawings with simple brown text were inspired by the real life children of Harriet Johnson Nursery School. The simple gestures resonate with kids to this day. Sendak's drawings are filled with warmth, kindness and the simple joys of childhood, like holding a puppy, skipping rope or eating mashed potatoes. I always loved the small size too, just right for little hands.

2.  TAR BEACH

Written & Illustrated by Faith Ringold

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A beautiful story quilt packed with poetic narrative and luscious paintings of the New York City skyline and the George Washington Bridge. An inspired memory filled with bravery, longing and the hope of finding freedom. The original TAR BEACH story quilt was completed in 1988 and now resides in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

3.  COME AWAY FROM THE WATER, SHIRLEY

Written & Illustrated by John Burningham

The juxtapositions of adventurous Shirley on the right with her non plus parents on the left, create a wonderful visual tension and narrative in this picture book. Pure genius in my humble opinion. The story taps into the natural state of imagination children live in. No adults or gadgets needed. Picture book students should study the visual narrative in this book. I think he is a master storyteller.

4.  A FARMERS ALPHABET

Written & Illustrated by Mary Azarian

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I love the thoughtful work of Mary Azarian. This is one of my favorite books to share with kids to expose them to different types of art making. The woodcuts are masterful and full of the simple wonder of nature. The labor of love that is woodcut printmaking shines through in this beautiful large format book. A real paper joy to hold in your hand.

5.  LIFE DOESN'T FRIGHTEN ME  

Written by Maya Angelou, Paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Edited by Sara Jane Boyers

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This is an inspired pairing by editor Sara Jane Boyers. The poetry of Maya Angelou and the painting of Jean-Michel Basquiat make great beats together. "I go boo / Make them shoo / I make fun / Way they run / I won't cry / So they fly." A great introduction to the power of painting and poetry. Gorgeous cover too.

6.  THE CARROT SEED

Written by Ruth Krauss & Illustrated by Crockett Johnson

This is a study in the power of the simplicity of idea married to the simplicity of character gesture that I find the hallmark of great picture books. A lesson in less is more. A gentle reminder of the power of patience and faith in one owns belief and intuition.  A real gem.

7.  OVER THE MOON: A Book Of Nursery Rhymes

 Collected & Iillustrated by Charlotte Voake

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As an illustrator I adore the line work of Charlotte Voake. She is a modern master of line, color and gesture. I think the British have this in their blood or something. She follows in the footsteps of other British greats like John Tenniel, Ernest H. Shepard and Edward Ardizzone. A true British classic.

8.  THE LITTLE BRUTE FAMILY

Written by Russell Hoban & Illustrated by Lillian Hoban

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I love to give this book to both children and adults! My 7 year old niece shared this with me years ago. It's a great story about the power of being the underdog. Even the littlest of us has something to give and teach the adults of this world. So listen UP! The characters are silly and sweet and come to value the voice of the littlest Brute. Lovely and deep.

9.  ONE FISH, TWO FISH

Written & Illustrated by Dr. Seuss

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Anyone who can pack all that joy into a book gets on the top of my list. Who doesn't remember how to complete these sentences: One Fish...(insert following line here). Or what about: Thing one...(insert following line here). I love the visual rhythm Seuss creates on the pages using text, simple color blocks, and the facial expressions of his zany characters. It made me happy as a kid to read it and it still does. Long live the goofball!

10.  MR RABBIT & THE LOVELY PRESENT

Written By Charlotte Zolotow & Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

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I remember holding this book in my hand as a child too. I loved the dreamy feelings created by the rhythm of Sendak's Monet inspired paintings. The poetic repetitive verse paired with the lush paintings create a simple, wondrous world shared by two friends as they wander around in search of the perfect gifts of color. An inventive color primer. Another Sendak love (there are more)!

LONG LIVE MY PICTURE BOOK FRIENDS!

YOU ROCK!

Here are some other PICTURE BOOK LISTS I found wandering around the web:

100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know New York Public Library

Best Picture Books goodreads

Best Picture Books Children May Never Read CultureMob

Top Picture Book List from Tanya Lee Stone and others hosted by Sergio Ruzzier

10 Favorite Picture Books: A Boooklights (PBS) Reissue Jen Robinson's Book Page

What are some of your favorite picture books?

Tweet me: @cynthiajabar or share them in the comments below.

Thanks & happy reading!