Be forewarned: The following list is completely arbitrary. And please also note that these are not our family’s Top Ten Favorite picture books. It’s just a list of ten picture books we love. I erred on the side of ones you might not be familiar with because they’re older or out of print or not on everybody else’s list of Best Picture Books (though I’ve included a few of those, too).
For a more complete list of picture (and other) books we’ve read and enjoyed, please visit the library page.
And now, for ten favorite picture books, in no particular order, except possibly the order in which I spotted them on the shelves.
1. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
A perennial favorite, and not just of ours, this book regularly makes Best Picture Book lists. I include it because it really is one of the best and one of our favorites. Beautifully written, beautifully illustrated, this book makes me happy, in a sehnsucht sort of way, every time I read it.
2. Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, illustrated by Arnold Lobel
The only book on this list that I read as a child, Miss Suzy is a cozy story of friendship, hospitality, loyalty, and courage. Delightful.
3. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Hands-down our favorite Keven Henkes book. Lilly learns about the dangers of acting in anger and the beauty of forgiveness and grace, but with no didacticism: the story’s told and illustrated so cheekily and well that you don’t even realize there’s a moral. Good stuff.
4. The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small
Lydia Grace must move to the city to help her grumpy uncle in his bakery because her father cannot find work. This story highlights the importance of knowing who you are and what delights you and, in some of my favorite illustrations ever, shows the transformative power of love and beauty.
5. Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian
I’ve written about this book before. It’s another great story, like The Gardener, about the importance of identity and delight. Bentley’s perseverance in the face of disapproval, misunderstanding, and difficulty is something I want my kids to keep in mind and take to heart. And the book’s a fascinating look at water, of all things! A story to re-spark your sense of wonder at God’s immense creativity.
6. Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Margaret Hodges’ vivid prose combines with Hyman’s gorgeous illustrations to make this one of our favorite picture books ever. It’s a little long (so not for really young kids), but even my boys (age 2.5 as I write this) are starting to sit through several pages at a go. The illustrations have lots of layers, so there’s plenty for young eyes to look at while you read the super exciting story.
And there’s a bonus: several times, Hodges quotes Edmund Spencer’s Faerie Queen from which she adapted the book, so you get to feel super smart as you read. What’s not to love about that?
7. Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys, and Their Monkey Business by Esphyr Slobodkina
Yes, I know. Everyone includes this on their list of Best Picture Books. But there’s a good reason: it’s just plain fun. Also, when your kids act out the story, they get to be a little bit naughty without getting in trouble. They may, in fact, crack you up. And, of course, all’s well that end’s well. This one’s short enough for all but the wee-est of the wee ones.
8. Calico the Wonder Horse (or, The Saga of Stewy Stinker) by Virginia Lee Burton
The Wild West just got thrown sky high, rather like the stagecoach in this story about a super smart horse, an outlaw, and a thunderstorm. Melodrama and Wild West cliches abound in this romp of a tale. It’s especially fun when read aloud with a Texas twang and lots of emotion. Git yer hands on this here book, round up yer kiddos, and laugh yer heads off.
9. Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully
Paris, France, in the late 1800’s. A boardinghouse run by a widow and her young daughter. A mysterious stranger who turns out to be the famous wire-walker Bellini. A protege. A master with a secret. A daring feat of love and trust. Not to mention vivid illustrations in the style of circus posters of the time. I don’t know how many times we’ve read this story, and every time, I sigh and say, “That is such a good book.”
10. This is the Day by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Richard Cowdrey
This book is a paean of praise, a chance to look at the world anew and rejoice in the many gifts its Creator bestows each and every day. For each day of the week, Carlstrom captures a moment in time that illustrator Richard Cowdrey brings to life with vibrant, joyful paintings. Pull out this beautiful, poetic celebration of “a singing week” when you’re feeling frayed: it’s a sure-fire blue-day buster.
And a bonus book, because I couldn’t stop at ten: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Cooney is one of my favorite illustrators (but then, you could say that about most of the illustrators on this list), and this is my favorite of her books (though Donald Hall’s Ox-Cart Man, which Cooney illustrated, is a close second. You like how I did a two-fer on this one?).
When little Alice Rumphius tells her grandfather that she wants to travel to far off lands and live by the sea when she grows up, her grandfather responds, “That is all well and good, little Alice, but there is one thing more that you must do. You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” And she does.
A must-read for everyone, young and old alike. Over and over and over again. Let’s all be Miss Rumphius, shall we, and make the world more beautiful.