Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results (#75-71)
Just because a book ends up on this Top 100 list, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has done well for itself. There are plenty of picture books out there that are considered part of "the canon". They are critical successes that have managed to stay within the public eye for a number of decades. Time, however, levels the playing field eventually. What you’re going to see here today are at least two titles that I’d say are canon-worthy, and yet neither of them even got so far as to appear in the Top 50 titles. Why so low? In one case it may have aged poorly due to its content. In the case of the other, perhaps its message has gone from being considered sweet to sickly. We’ll see what you think, in any case.
#75: Zoom at Sea by Tim Wynne-Jones, ill. Eric Beddows (1993)
18 points (#3 & #1)
This is far and away my favorite picture book. It did come out in the States but I don’t think it got wide distribution so this is likely its only vote. Even though it has black and white pictures, and I typically prefer color, this book is the perfect imaginative and an engaging book for pre- readers. What an adventure! I don’t consider this to be an early reader, the words and story are more complex. – Christine Sealock Kelly
Hey, man. It was a surprise to me too! Canadians are in the hiz-ouse! They’d been shy about appearing this list until now. But Tim Wynne-Jones is one of their stars, and this book, the first in its own picture book trilogy (the other two are Zoom Away and Zoom Upstream), is clearly beloved by a certain sector of the North American continent. Not that it didn’t come out in America as well, mind you. But as Christine points out, perhaps its distribution was selective. Whatever the case, I’m willing to give it props. If the Canadians say it is good, we should probably seek out a couple copies and see if they’re right.
The plot as described by BookList is, "A young domestic cat with sailors among his ancestors, Zoom tries paddling in the kitchen sink and sailing in the bathtub, but nothing satisfies him until he discovers a mysterious message from a seafaring uncle. Following directions, he enters a house, and there a lady magically calls up the sea. Zoom quickly builds a raft, sails away for a short jaunt, and soon returns."
Want to know more about it? Check out this review of the book in the CM Archive. And when it came out in Canada in 1983 (I’ve included the American publication date beside the title here) it won the Amelia Howard Gibbon Award for illustration.
Publishers Weekly said of it, "Beddows’s intricately detailed black-and-white drawings convey just the right sense of mystery as the world created by both author and illustrator seems to hover tantalizingly between reality and fantasy, and the plucky hero has an adventure any child would envy."
#74: Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss (1940)
18 points (#2, #8, #5)
Good old faithful elephant. Of all the Seuss books I had growing up, I suppose that I was fondest of Horton and his mad egg-hatching skillz. I heard Horton Hears a Who and it was fine and all, but Egg had something going for it (and not just the fact that it mentioned my hometown of Kalamazoo). I think it had to do with the sheer injustice of the piece. There sits Horton, like Job in elephant form. He has made a promise and though he is threatened by bad weather, death, and (worst of all) ridicule, he will not abandon his post. And then.. then just as his job finishes, in swoops that lazy, good for nothing, fair weather friend Mayzie bird and . . . oooo! It just makes my blood boil. There is no emotion so effectively stirred in the child-sized breast than the feeling of injustice. Kids understand injustice. They know what it is to see someone else get a larger slice of cake. The words "That’s not fair!" ring across this nation of ours at a brisk and regular rate. And Horton Hatches the Egg taps into that feeling. Even now I want to give that lazy Mayzie bird a piece of my mind.
I suppose that I’ve already explained much of the plot, but here’s an additional encapsulation anyway. Basically lazy Mayzie doesn’t want to sit on her egg any longer. So she tricks good-hearted sap Horton into sitting on it with the old "I’ll be right back" number. Of course she takes off for sunny beaches, leaving the elephant to protect the egg. Through inclement weather and vile hunters, Horton stands his ground. Eventually some humans ship him off to a circus where he becomes the star attraction. And at one of those performances Mayzie reappears just as the egg is hatching. She demands to have it back, but to everyone’s surprise what hatches is an elephant bird. Horton is vindicated, Mayzie ashamed, and justice is done.
And I just discovered that Warner Brothers adapted the book into a Merrie Melody. Which, for your viewing pleasure, I include here:
#73: Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown (1942)
18 points (4 votes)
Touching story without being too sentimental. – Crystal Barringer
And isn’t security so important? There’s good reason children tuck themselves right into a parent’s arms when they read this story. – Jean Reidy
When Michael Rex began parodying classic children’s literature with his own books, the first title he chose to make fun of was Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Goodnight Goon has been quite the bestseller, and he’s now following it up with none other than Runaway Mummy. A play on? You guessed it.
Runaway Bunny constitutes yet another divisive children’s title. Many people (most?) would say that it’s a sweet and comforting tale of a parent’s unconditional and eternal love for their child. But there is a segment of the population that finds the book disturbing. Some feel that the bunny is honestly trying to make a break for freedom, but that its mother is preventing this escape, and crushing its spirit. The book can be read a number of different ways, but generally it’s still a very well regarded picture book title.
Said Bethany Miller Cole of Children’s Literature about the book, "Clement Hurd’s black and white and colorful, dream-like illustrations grace spreads throughout the book, bringing to life perfectly the imagination of the young and the depth of love a parent has for a child. Children and the adults who love them will treasure this story."
And here’s a statue I’ve never included in any of my round-ups. Check out what the Westerly Public Library has at Wilcox Park:
#72: The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff (1933)
18 points (#3, #10, #6, #5 & write-in vote)
". . . for Babar’s spats." – Eva Mitnick
This actually may constitute a bit of a surprise. Babar did not do particularly well in the Top 100 vote. When you consider how often people refer to it as a classic, it’s funny that it didn’t even make it into this poll’s Top 50 list. But Babar has suffered more than a lot of books as it has aged. First there are the accusations of colonialism that continue to dog it (you can read Should We Burn Babar? for more reading on that little subject, if you like). And then there are the elements that have defined it, only to hurt it later. A gunman shoots our hero’s mother right off the bat. An old elephant eats a bad mushroom and dies a weird green wiggly death. But as Belgian creations go, you will find no book on this list better suited than Babar. True, he may not have the cultural cache he used to have (depictions of Africans in books like Babar the King have taken care of that) but there’s still something about this natty, dapper pachyderm that continues to charm.
A description from my Amazon review:
"The story of Babar is simple. After his mother is shot by a cruel hunter, the little elephant runs away to a metropolitan city. Once there, he is taken under the wing of a kindly older lady. Babar then proceeds to become the greatest dandy of children’s literature today. Here is the section I love the most:
‘Babar then buys himself: A shirt with a collar and tie, a suit of a becoming shade of green, then a handsome derby hat, and also shoes with spats.’
Contrary to popular thought, an elephant in spats is the most dignified thing in the world. With these purchases Babar has transformed himself from rural rube to the original metrosexual. He becomes cultured, learning the rudimentary aspects of human civilization while regaling party guests with his tales of the forest (note his pin-striped pants and casual dinner jacket). Eventually Babar is lured back to his jungle home and is swiftly crowned King of the elephants."
With its 1933 publication date, Babar is the oldest picture book to appear on this list. The newest so far? Not a Box from 2006.
Elementary English (no idea) said of it, "With many absurd and funny pictures, these tales of the popular elephant furnish hours of enjoyment to the young person."
The Morgan Library here in New York recently featured a Babar exhibit. Here, Laurent de Brunhoff (son of Jean) talks about the books and carrying on his father’s work.
#71: The Little Brute Family by Russell Hoban, ill. Lilian Hoban (1966)
19 points (#1, #2, and write-in)
". . . for the hobnailed boots on the ugly kicking dog." – Eva Mitnick
". . . so sappy it’s sweet, plus I simply have great memories of my mom reading this with me." – Emily G. Jones
If I thought that any book on this list was going to end up being out-of-print, it was this one. The Little Brute Family? I was pretty sure I’d have at least a passing familiarity with all the books on this list, but this Russell and Lilian Hoban title came out of left field for me, I’ll tell you that. And what’s more, it appears to be in print. Hoban, for the record, is still alive and (according to all recent accounts) well. He and Lilian continually surprise me. I find that they have created far more literature in far more distinctive styles than many other children’s book creators I know. How could the couple that created Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas and Bread and Jam for Frances also be responsible for The Mouse and His Child? And now I have stumbled across yet another one of their big-time classics.
The plot? Well here is how the publisher chose to describe it: "They eat sand and gravel for breakfast and a stew of sticks and stones for dinner. No one says ‘please’ or ‘thank you.’ Instead, they kick and yell and punch and shove. Then one day everything changes, when Baby Brute happens upon ‘a little wandering lost good feeling in a field of daisies.’ When he brings it home in his pocket, nothing is ever the same for the Little Brute Family."
The Kansas City Star called it, "A hilarious little study in human relations."
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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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