The Top 100 Picture Books (#100-91)
As many of you know I conducted a picture book poll. I asked my readers to send me their Top 10 Picture Books of All Time, to be rated and combined. Participants rated their preferences from 1 to 10, with their first choice getting 10 points, their second 9 points, etc. Then, throughout the month of March as the submissions rolled in, I calculated the results. I took into account where people ranked their favorites, what they wrote about them, etc. And at long last, we had our Top 100.
So. Here’s how this is going to play out. I’m going to release these winners ten at a time until we get to #30. Then I’ll start a daily countdown where I get down to #1, sometimes posting more than once a day. At the end, I will reprint out the Top 100 (in case you want the list in a nice printable form) AND I will reveal every single book that was nominated but didn’t make the Top 100 cut. And let me tell you, it was considerable.
Each day I’ll reveal the ten and talk a little about this poll. The weird things I learned. The horrible heartrending cuts I had to make. That sort of thing. I assure you that I have not tampered with the results at all. In fact, there are at least two books on this list that I actively dislike. Let’s see if you’ll be able to guess what they were before all is said and done! And now, #100-91….
#100: More, More, More Said the Baby: Three Love Stories by Vera B. Williams
14 points (#2, #6)
". . . there isn’t a speck of white anywhere in these book’s shimmering rainbow-hued pages, purposely so. It features multiethnic families (still considered groundbreaking when it was published in 1990) and has a simple yet songlike text that nearly requires that tummies be tickled, toes nibbled, and small bodies rocked to sleep while reading it. Mmmm, said the reader. Mmm, Mmm, Mmmmm." – Brooke Shirts
A wonderful way to kick-off the countdown, don’t you think? To my mind, Vera B. Williams voters are split between two books. On the one hand you have the A Chair for My Mother fans. That book was immortalized on Reading Rainbow years ago, and has such an iconic sense and feel. But when I polled people about the books that they loved, really really loved, More, More, More Said the Baby was the tale that grabbed people by the heart.
If you haven’t seen the book before this Caldecott Honor winner is very short. Very to the point. And it follows three babies as they are cuddled and kissed and loved by their various family members. One of the families is nicely interracial, as pointed out by Brooke, and the colors are definitely stunning. What’s more, it’s a good book to read with a very young child, something we can always use on a list like this.
Of course the School Library Journal review by Starr LaTronica (my new favorite name) said it best when she proclaimed, "Uncluttered, yet filled with movement, the splashy, vibrant paintings in gouache feature vigorous portraits and large, clearly defined objects set against a textured expanse of sweeping brushstrokes. The text appears in rainbow-hued letters within the illustrations, adding to the appealing design. Although it is a fine vehicle for toddler storytimes, the real strength of this book lies in the intimacy achieved when it is shared one-on-one between babies and adults or older siblings. A joyous expression of verbal and physical affection, these are truly love stories for our times." If you don’t know this one, consider seeking it out.
#99: Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley (1992)
14 points (#4, #4)
This was always a huge, huge hit. I often give it as a shower gift as it is such a good read aloud book for 3-5 year olds. Unlike many of my choices it is the pictures that are the focus here as the child is able to disassemble the potentially scary monster and make it go away all by herself. It deserves wide acclaim. – Christine Sealock Kelly
We follow up one book for the quite young with another, though along very different lines. Empowerment is the name of the game with this strange creation from Caldecott winning artist Ed Emberley. In this book a big green monster is invoked. As the die-cut pages are turned he appears, sharp white teeth and all. But just as he’s at his most ferocious, the process reverses. The text tells each part of the monster to go away and, with a turn of a page, go away it does. When at long last the kid can say, "and don’t come back! Until I say so," the monster has been exorcised, the child firmly in control.
It’s popular. Ripped die-cut pages in libraries across the country can attest to that. It even inspired sequels of sorts (Glad Monster, Sad Monster and Bye-Bye, Big Bad Bullybug) though nothing can quite touch Big Green Monster‘s fame and fandom. It was also rereleased not too long ago with a new shiny, sparkly package, though the monster remains pretty much the same inside.
Booklist said of it, "Graphically playful and exciting, this picture book promises to jazz up any story time and to give individual children a measure of control over at least ‘one’ monster."
For my part, I’ve always liked it because the cover looks like Kilroy Was Here.
#98: Little Pea by Amy Krause Rosenthal, ill. by Jen Corace (2005)
14 points (#2, #6)
I was ALWAYS recommending this one to parents at the library. When it first came in, I read it to screen for patrons and immediately knew I would be buying a copy for myself. I’ve since bought probably 10 for various kids and baby showers…it’s a newer book, but destined to be a classic. – Amanda Snow
A newer book indeed. Because this reader’s poll was so subjective, I wasn’t sure what the ratio of new books to old books would be. As it turns out, older titles definitely took up the bulk of the votes, but once in a while a real keeper of a new title would roll around (as it were). Little Pea is a lovely example of that. The tale turns the idea of a picky eater entirely on its head with this tale of a little pea and his pea family. The little one is bereft night after night because he is stuck eating his candy for dinner, suffering through it just so he can make it to his delicious dessert of spinach. It’s a fun concept, but it takes a deft hand to turn such a concept into a workable story, and together Rosenthal and Corace do just that.
Following Little Pea’s success, Rosenthal and Corace wrote Little Hoot and this year we will get to see the release of their new book Little Oink. Best of all, all three books will be packaged together in what Chronicle Book is calling their Little Books Boxed Set, which will contain all three stories.
Said Publishers Weekly of the title, "Kids are likely to view their veggies with new eyes when mealtime rolls around."
#97: Anatole by Eve Titus, ill. Paul Galdone (1956)
14 points (#3, #5)
. . . because of the great things he says about friendship and personal character. – Susan Moorhead
This was a pleasant surprise. I was hoping that my poll would yield a couple classics that never quite get their due, and if I’m not too very much mistaken dear Anatole does just that. If the title sounds familiar to you in any way you can credit Knopf with rereleasing this Caldecott Honor out in a fancy 50th anniversary edition in 2006. The book was really the Ratatouille of its day with a story concentrating on a rodent foodie. In this particular case Anatole the mouse goes to the Duvall Cheese Factory on a regular basis, leaving small notes concerning the quality of the cheese there. He even goes so far as to offer suggestions on the cheeses’ creation, and when his notes are following the fromage sells brilliantly. Unlike Remi in Ratatouille, however, Anatole prefers to remain anonymous, and so his wishes are respected.
Anatole did rather well back in the day. I know this because my library actually has original circulating copies of some of the Anatole sequels. So if you’re ever in a mood to read Anatole and the Cat and Anatole and the Pied Piper, or Anatole and the Piano and Anatole and the Poodle (which we have in our reference section) come on down.
#96: Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox, ill. Judy Horacek (2004)
14 points (#2 & #6)
“Mem Fox. Need I say more?” – Susan Stephenson
Years ago when I was in graduate school getting my Masters in Library and Information Science (cause that’s how I roll) I took a class in children’s and YA programming in libraries. For our storytelling section, two women came in and proselytized to us the word of Mem Fox. At least that is how I remember it. If there are evangelical Mem Fox fans in the world, these two women were definitely members. Strangely enough, the only Mem Fox book I have ever reviewed is her 2004 winner Where Is the Green Sheep? You can find the review on Amazon if you’ve half a mind to, and I guess the way I decided to best describe it was as "a surprisingly charming and winning little book that’s certain to earn the undivided love and attention of ankle biters worldwide."
To steal a description from my review: "Using remarkably simple words, the book follows various sheep throughout their day. We see sheep of many colors and sheep taking baths. We have sheep up and we have sheep down. There are band sheep, wind sheep, near and far sheep. Just about any kind of sheep you can think of, this book’s got `em. Still, one question keeps popping up throughout the pages. Where is the green sheep? By the end, we discover the mysterious green sheep’s location and exactly what it is doing. It’s an oddly satisfying way to end the tale and so we do."
Said Publishers Weekly of the title, "Parents intrigued by Fox’s ideas about early literacy (as expounded in Reading Magic, for example) will find this book a useful vehicle for putting her suggestions into practice."
#95: The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle (1990)
14 points (#5, #10, #6)
You couldn’t make this list without Eric Carle on it somewhere. Why not this one? It’s the best of its kind. – Crystal Barringer
Eric Carle, Eric Carle, oh Eric Carle, Eric Carle. There’s no one like you. No one at all.
How do you go about choosing your favorite book from a prolific artist? When I started getting in the results of my poll I saw that a lot of people tended to vote only once for a single author or illustrator. And when it comes to Eric Carle, I think you can probably guess where the bulk of the votes went. But there was a significant showing on behalf of the Cricket contingent, which was unexpected.
If you’re a children’s librarian, I suspect that your interaction with this book may have something to do with the sound it makes. There may well have been a time when this title was considered "novelty" with its cricket chirping chip in the back. Open the book all the way and you’re stuck with a loud, distinctive sound. This isn’t a real problem until the mechanism breaks. At which point, you cannot make the danged book stay quiet. Very quiet, my eye! The plot actually relies upon this sound. If it breaks, the story doesn’t make any sense, making this the only book on this list to utilize an audio component integral to the storytelling.
The plot, if you need it, involves a cricket who wants to chirp and initially cannot.
Just as a quick note, I attempted to look up this book in my copy of Cullinan and Galda’s seminal text Literature and the Child (5th edition). And while there was space dedicated to Carle’s Spider, Caterpillar, and Firefly, no room was made for the cricket. An interesting exclusion.
Said Publishers Weekly, "Though the surprisingly realistic noise may get on parents’ nerves, it will certainly intrigue and entertain its intended audience."
#94: The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, ill. David Small (1997)
14 points (#5, #4, #10)
There were some books on this list that I rooted for from start to finish, but many broke my heart. This one managed to make a lunge for the Top 100 and comes in at a respectable #94. A Caldecott Honor (notice that we haven’t had any Caldecott winners on the list yet).
If this poll is good for nothing else, it’s very useful in terms of me digging up my old reviews. Here’s a description I found in a review that I wrote for Amazon back in 2004: "The year: 1935, and Lydia Grace Finch is being sent from the country to go live with her Uncle Jim in the city. Lydia Grace faces this challenge with resolve and a little sadness. After all, she is leaving her family behind and the effects of the Great Depression having taken their toll. The city is a gray dirty place and Uncle Jim is kind but he never smiles. Soon it’s Spring again and Lydia has found a place to call her own (the building’s abandoned roof). Her number one goal is to get Uncle Jim to smile, and she’s fairly certain that the answer to this problem is just around the corner."
I’ve heard more than one person tell me that of all the Sarah Steart/David Small pairings out there, this one is their favorite. I may have to agree.
Publishers Weekly said, "This inspiring offering from creative collaborators (The Library) gets much of its vitality from what it leaves unsaid."
#93: The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey and Don Wood (1984)
14 points (#7, #5, #7)
Love when the kids figure out who is telling the story! – Brenda Ferber
Inevitably this poll revealed big favorites that I was personally unfamiliar with. Of course I’ve heard people gush over this title. But somehow I’ve never sat down and read it for myself. Now that I had an excuse to do so, I found it a charming tale. Essentially it all boils down to this: A mouse doesn’t want a bear (of the big and hungry variety) to eat its strawberry. Hijinks ensue.
I’ll let you in on the fact that between themselves, Audrey and Don Wood split the vote often. You will see a couple of their books on this list, but many many more in the nomination category. That’s the problem with being prolific. Sometimes people just can’t decide between your best works.
#92: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (1964)
14 points (#6, #5, #8)
Makes me cry every time! – Lenore
. . . . this book should be mandatory reading for all parents, kids, and politicians. – Simone
And there we have it. One of the most divisive books in children’s literature. To my mind, you are either a Giving Tree fan or you loath and abhor it. My husband is a fan. In fact, if you get him at a party he will explain at length how subversive the title is, and how Silverstein is playing with the reader and isn’t serious about the tree’s "giving". Others prefer to take the book at face value, finding it to be a tale of self-sacrifice and parenthood. The story, just in case you are unfamiliar with it, is about a tree and the boy it loves. The boy takes apples, wood, and eventually everything from the tree itself, and it is happy with the process.
It is also notable for this infamous author photo of Mr. Silverstein on the back. Those of you who read the third Diary of a Wimpy Kid book will remember the passage where Greg’s dad kept him from getting out of bed at night by threatening him with the back of The Giving Tree, telling him Shel Silverstein would get him if he left his room.
#91: Swimmy by Leo Lionni (1963)
14 points (#8, #9, #5, #8)
“gentle and true and lovely” – Michelle Knudsen
Sometimes known as the anti-Rainbow Fish, Swimmy is all things to all people. It is a story of diversity and embracing who you are. It’s about cooperation and using your special talents to solve problems. Author Leo Lionni, as it happens, encouraged a young Eric Carle in his artistic pursuits. That raises only one question to my mind. . . . where’s the Leo Lionni Museum in this country?
The story of Swimmy concerns a small black fish in a sea that seemingly contains only little red fish and big hungry predators. After finding a new school of red fish, Swimmy organizes the fish (pro-Union too, eh?) and they manage to look like a large red fish when they swim together as once. Swimmy himself becomes the eye, and everyone is happy. The book was yet another Caldecott Honor. We’ll hit an actual award one of these days. I promise.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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