Sunday, 4 August 2013

Twenty best picture books

I was recently asked to compile a list of what I thought were the 20 best picture books for children. Then this changed to 20 best books for children, whatever the format or age group. Finally a list of the 50 best children's books ever was published in a national newspaper, put together from suggestions by a panel of children's writers not including your Maven, in spite of her having been asked and providing the list to meet the deadline.

So in the spirit of waste not, want not and let's all be Green and aware of the value of recycling, I am going to put my lists up here for discussion. First, the 20 best picture books, not ranked in order as I was asked to do by said national newspaper. And of course I can annotate my choices here because it's my blog.

I haven't chosen the obvious Where the Wild Things Are or The Very Hungry Caterpillar; you might find some of my choices equally obvious but there are also some rarities here.

• The Tiger who came to Tea by Judith Kerr

This will probably be on most people's list of favourites. In this first of her many picture books, Judith Kerr introduces children perfectly to magical realism. Actually I take that back - they know about it already. A tiger who eats Sophie and her mother out of house and home is to be catered for in future by a large tin of "Tiger Food" but as we know, he never does return.

• Not now, Bernard by David McKee

A little boy tries to point out  to his parents that there is a monster in the garden who wants to eat him but they are just too busy to listen and the inevitable happens. Not for children of a nervous disposition but a salutary lesson for parents.

• Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lilian Hoban

The whole series off Frances the Badger Books is divine but if I had to choose just one it would probably have to be this (this is worse than Desert Island Discs). Frances refuses to eat anything but bread and jam so in a cunning plan her parents stop offering her anything else. The humour is as dry as a martini.

• The Man whose Mother was a Pirate by Margaret Mahy and Margaret Chamberlain

I'm a huge Margaret Mahy fan and she will show up again in my list of 20 best YA novels. Evidently she had a lot of good fairies at her Christening since she wrote equally wonderful picture books, junior fiction, teenage novels and even an acceptable reading scheme. The dull little clerk whose large, boisterous mother shows him a life that is more fun at sea is one of our family favourites.

• Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett

There are only four words in this fabulous book and you have now read them all. A perfect first picture book for a baby.

 • Each, Peach, Pear, Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

This is pretty darn perfect too. The last page: "I spy .....everyone!" gives the authentic backbone shiver.

• The Wolves in the Wall by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Plenty of shivers here too! The moment when then Wolves come out of the Walls as has been threatened throughout makes it the modern day heir to Not now, Bernard.

• Hairy McClary from Donaldson's Dairy by Lynley Dodd

You could have any one of this fabulous series featuring the wonderful cast of dogs, including Schnitzel von Krumm (with the very low tum). The rhyme is as effortless as the sense of fun.

• My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes by Eve Sutton

There are some fairly irresistible rhymes here too: "The cat from Norway got stuck in the doorway," for example.

• Once There were Giants by Penny Dale

Hardly anyone knows this but it's one of my favourite picture books, showing so economically and poignantly, how babies become the grown-ups to the next generation.

• Where's my Teddy? by Jez Allborough

I have often used this with students as an example of the perfect picture book text.

• Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake

"Mister Magnolia has only one boot" - a situation that it takes the whole book to resolve, via the maddest list of all the things he does have that rhyme with boot. And then a parcel comes ....

• Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins

When I first got into children's books, this book was the classic text.  It first came out in 1968 and is still in print. Absolutely minimal text charts Rosie the hen's apparently uneventful walk across a farmyard, while the stylish and stylised orange, red and black pictures tell a more complicated story.

• Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski

Another very reliable series, with the wonderfully dotty Meg the witch and Mog her familiar.

• The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

Such a simple idea, like all the great classics.

• The Great Fruit Gum Robbery by Russell Hoban and Colin McNaughton

This is one of four books that virtually no-one else knows about outside our family. Yet it has given us so many useful phrases: "heavy sticky" "cake beam" "tidying up the cheesecake" "slitherino squelcher."

• A Horse and a Hound, a Goat and a Gander by Alice and Martin Provenson

More useful phrases - and names - here! The Gander was called Evil Murdoch and fell in love with hub caps.

• Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

I've sneaked another Judith Kerr title in here near the bottom so as not to seem greedy. This is the first of many Mog books by someone who really knows cats.

* Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells

Nora decides, as so many "misunderstood" children do, to leave home. But no-one seems to notice. The last line is very satisfying. 

• Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

A modern classic, where the ending is implied right there in the title. The kind of delicious inevitability that has children screaming with delight.

So how about all the ones I have left out? Give me your favourites below.


Mo said...

One that we loved as children, but not many people seem to know about, was Alice Dalgleish's The Little Wooden Farmer:

The detail in the illustrations (by Anita Lobel) is marvellous.

Keren David said...

I'd add a Lauren Child or two - probably My Uncle is a Huncle. And Jez Alborough's Fix It Duck. Also Emma Chichester Clark's Blue Kangeroo, Alfie Lends a Hand by Shirley Hughes and The Magic Paintbrush by Julia Donaldson and Joel Stewart. Glad to see Rosemary Wells on your list, I particularly love Max and Ruby and the Chocolate Chicken which still makes me laugh every time (not that I read picture books much any more)

Emma Barnes said...

Glad to see Noisy Nora - I love her, and think she should be better known.

I would add one of the The Church Mice books by Graham Oakely, and the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans, and Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson, and Zerelda's Ogre by Tomi Ungerer (obscure but truly wonderful!)and The Little Brute Family by Russell Hoban and Chloe and Maude by Sandra Boynton and Alexander's Horrible No Good Very Bad Day...OK, I'm going to stop now.

Jacqui said...

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? Lauren Child.
Counting on an Elephant, Jill MacDonald.
Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! Candace Fleming.
Knuffle Bunny, Mo Willems.
Monkey Puzzle, Julia Donaldson.
Don't Forget the Bacon! Pat Hutchins.
Gordon's Got a Snookie, Lisa Shanahan.
Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball, Vicki Churchill.

Catherine said...

It is so difficult to choose a few favourite picture books. I have recommended over a hundred on my blog but I still have so many more that I want to include! A few of the real favourites are;

Supermarket Zoo by Caryl Hart
Dear Zoo
Farmyard Tales from Usborne books
Pip and Posy by Axel Scheffler
I Heart Bedtime by Clara Vuilliamy
What's the Time, Mr Wolf? by Debi Gloria
The Little Raindrop by Joanna Gray
Mrs Armitage and the Big Wave by Quentin Blake

Thank you for sharing your list :)