Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results (#55-51)
Yesterday quick-eyed spotter John discovered a miscalculation in the point spread of King Bidgood. It was due to an extra vote that had somehow appeared on the original Word document of the winners, and was swiftly corrected once I could make sure that Bidgood had gotten only three votes. Good catch, John! While this poll is intensive, it does mean that you are relying on my already shaky math to calculate the results. Granted the math consists of me being able to add simple numbers . . . but the point remains: I was an English major.
And in fact, there has already been one major mistake on this list. As I was posting these results I discovered that I had listed two books as #60. So what we are going to do is make through the rest of this list and then I will go back (oo-de-lally) and plug in the extra book. Which means redoing all the previous lists so that they contain the right number of books. And getting rid of our current #100 (sorry Vera B.).
Who was this mysterious #60? A very recent book, but I’ll keep mute about it until the big reveal . . .
#55: Frederick by Leo Lionni (1967)
25 points (4 votes, #10, #6, #2, #2)
When the Central Children’s Room of New York Public Library was located at the Donnell Branch, the room sported a rather lovely mural of cut-paper characters from various picture books. These had been created by a staff member lo these many years ago, and I was quite fond of them. However, as time passed some characters were clearly more popular than others and there was a definite need for a shake-up. The solution came in the form of a teenage page by the name of Abby who turned out to be the most artistically gifted young woman we’d see in years. Before she knew what was what, Abby was coerced into creating more characters for us. Up went Olivia! Up when Max! Up went David! And last, but by no means least, up went Frederick.
Leo Lionni, that sly dog, appears on this Top 100 list for the third time (first for Swimmy and second for Little Blue and Little Yellow). Only the great Dr. Seuss has been on this frequently (Horton, Lorax, and Grinch), and it does my old heart good to see that Lionni’s talent for the cut-paper genre has remained so firmly engrained in the heads of my readers. If you fear that the man is forgotten, think again. His characters live on in our brains long after youth has gone.
Lionni was adept at amorphous blobs of color and underwater denizens, but where he really shone was in his mice. Frederick is perhaps the best known of his mousies, but there were others worthy of mention. Alexander, Nicholas, Geraldine, Theodore . . . the man knew how to name a rodent.
The Wilson Bulletin describes the plot of this 1968 Caldecott Honor title like so, "While other mice are gathering food for the winter, Frederick seems to daydream the summer away. When dreary winter comes, it is Frederick the poet-mouse who warms his friends and cheers them with his words."
And should you still believe this little mouse carries little power, allow me to remind you that he was one of only eight children’s literary characters chosen to grace our nation’s postage stamps.
Why he looks positively bashful about it.
For a more in-depth look, page through it here:
new InsightBookReader(‘preview’, ‘9780394826141’, ‘Frederick’, ‘Leo%20Lionni’, ‘0’, ”, ‘http://www.randomhouse.com/cgi-bin/buy_landing.php?isbn=9780394826141’);
#54: The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, ill. George & Doris Hauman (1961)
26 points (3 votes, #5, #1, #1)
Did you forget about this one? Did you? I wonder. I should note that the people who voted for this book would often specify that they were voting for the George and Doris Hauman illustrated version and not the newer one by Loren Long. I like Mr. Long, but people will have their classics, I suppose.
In his book Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature, scholar Leonard Marcus takes time to consider the picture books produced during The Great Depression. "The roster of picture books from the early and mid-1930s that left a lasting impression is impressive . . . Of all the picture books of that remarkable era, the one that perhaps struck the most resonant note with contemporary readers was a tale of little-guy courage and determination called The Little Engine That Could, whose inspirational mantra – ‘I think I can, I think I can’ – furnished Americans with a lesson in hope three years before the nation’s newly inaugurated president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, declared, in a comparable expression of faith in the power of positive thinking, that Americans facing hard times had nothing ‘but fear itself’ standing between themselves and their national destiny."
Now as we find ourselves in a similarly dire economic crises, it seems apropos to pull out this book once more, though age may have taken its toll.
The synopsis of the plot as taken from Amazon says, "In this well-loved classic, a little train carrying oodles of toys to all of the good boys and girls is confronted with a towering, seemingly impassable mountain. As nicely as they ask, the toys cannot convince the Shiny New Engine or the Big Strong Engine–far too impressed with themselves–to say anything but "I can not. I can not." It is left up to the Little Blue Engine to overcome insurmountable odds and pull the train to the other side."
I know that in some book somewhere in my collection I’ve seen a historical encapsulation of the questionable authorship of this little number. Watty Piper did not exist, you see, but was merely a pseudonym used by the publishing outfit of (great name) Platt & Munk. There have been various incarnations of the tale, and you may wish to read the Wikipedia article on the topic, though I can make no claims towards its veracity (or lack thereof). More reliable, I should think, is this examination of the book’s history as found via UIC called In Search of Watty Piper: A Brief History of the "Little Engine" Story.
Publisher’s Weekly complimented it with the absolutely baffling quote of, "A good example of pioneer feminist lore, with girl engine as ‘hero’." I’m just going to try to figure out that one for a while. Go on. Talk amongst yourselves.
#53: The Three Pigs by David Wiesner (2001)
26 points (4 votes, #6,#2,#6,#4)
More metafiction as Wiesner explores the space around a book, and behind, and between. The shift from two-dimensional art work to three is amazing, and weird, and delightful. – Kathe Douglas
Meta indeed. Yet another Caldecott Medal winner graces the list. And if we are to rank Wiesner’s wins in order of popularity, then clearly his 2002 award winning book The Three Pigs outdoes Flotsam in terms of public perception. When I first reviewed this book I titled the review "Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Fourth Wall?" I’ll stand by that. Before Willems’ Pigeon ever got his wings, Wiesner’s book contained characters in search of their own story.
A synopsis from my review: "I think we’re all familiar with the story of the three little pigs. Three pigs build houses of their own. The first is made of straw, the second of sticks, and the third of bricks. Then a big bad wolf comes along and blows the first house down. And that’s when things start to get interesting. Instead of eating the pig (as the text instructs) the wolf is baffled to find the pig gone. In fact, Pig #1 has inadvertently been blown into the white margins of his own story. Able now to travel freely around the static pictures of his tale, Pig #1 has his two brothers join him in the margins. They construct one of the story’s pictures into a paper airplane and fly it about. They walk in and out of other stories, making new friends along the way. Finally, it’s time to return home and the pigs know the perfect way to make their tale have a happy ending."
Feel like taking a peek? Read much of the book here, if you’ve half a mind to.
Publishers Weekly said, "Wiesner’s (Tuesday) brilliant use of white space and perspective (as the pigs fly to the upper right-hand corner of a spread on their makeshift plane, or as one pig’s snout dominates a full page) evokes a feeling that the characters can navigate endless possibilities–and that the range of story itself is limitless."
The New York Times added, "Wiesner’s dialogue and illustrations are clever, whimsical and sophisticated."
And School Library Journal summed it all up with, "Witty dialogue and physical comedy abound in this inspired retelling of a familiar favorite."
#52: The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (1978)
26 points (4 votes, #3, #4, #10, #1)
“This book is so beautiful and magical. The mood is so powerful and real to life, but so much like a dream. The scene when they are flying over the city gives me chills every time I see it. Lovely.” – Woody Miller
Beautiful, yes. Lyrical, check. Powerful, most certainly. Scarred me for life? Yup yup yup yup.
In case you hadn’t guessed, I wasn’t a child that went in for complex endings in my picture books. Nope. It was happy or nothing for me. The Lorax seriously upset me when I witnessed it, and in spite of the "hope" held in a single seed, I was fairly convinced that Seuss had majorly screwed up when he somehow allowed a less than perfectly happy ending in a book (clearly I never ran across The Butter Battle Book). Briggs, to my mind, fell into the same trap. A perfectly charming story about a boy and his snowman. Then you get to the end and . . . what???!!! Imagine me, five-years-old and livid. He’s melted? This never would have happened with Frosty! Build him again, boy! Build him again!
Five-year-olds and their unyielding opinions aside, this is Briggs’ best known work. The description of the plot from Amazon is, "In Raymond Briggs’s charming tale, told with 175 softly hued, artfully composed frames, a little boy makes friends with a snowman. He wakes up on a snowy day, tells his mother he’s going outside, then begins a flurry of snowman-building. That night, he can’t sleep, so he opens the front door and lo! the snowman has come to life. The amiable yet frosty fellow enjoys his tour of the boy’s cozy home; he admires the cat, but is disturbed by the fire. The boy shows him other wonders–the TV and a lamp and running water. Predictably perhaps, he is disturbed by the stove, but likes ice cubes quite a bit. Soon it is the snowman’s turn to introduce the boy to his wintry world. They join hands, rise up into the blizzardy air–presumably over Russia and into the Middle East–and then safely back to home sweet home. The boy pops into bed before his parents get up… but when he wakes up the next morning he races outside only to find his new buddy’s melted remains, scattered with a few forlorn lumps of coal."
This is the second wordless picture book to make it onto the list (the first being The Arrival). Like The Arrival, this book also breaks up its story into panels. Is it a graphic novel picture book? It all depends on your definition of the term. The Snowman is also one of those rare older books to have its own website, in spite of its original 1978 publication date.
And I won’t embed it here, but ever since I saw this commercial using The Snowman as its central conceit, I haven’t been able to think of the story quite the same way again. Here‘s the scene from the short animated film of the book that it’s referencing. Not the best quality, but it’s still a rather lovely song:
The starred review from Booklist said of it, "A little boy rushes out into the wintry day to build a snowman, which comes alive in his dreams that night. The experience is one that neither he nor young ‘readers’ will ever regret or forget."
#51: Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard, ill. James Marshall (1977)
26 points (5 votes, #7, #6, #6, #5, #5)
“[For] Any school kid who’s ever had a sub and heard this story PRAYS that they don’t get ‘THE SWAMP.’ This book is timeless, and James Marshall was a genius, in my opinion.” – Susan Eley
You’re a mean one, Miss Nelson. Strange but true fact: Though there were many MANY votes for Miss Nelson is Missing, Harry Allard and James Marshall never found their votes split by people voting for the sequel Miss Nelson is Back (to say nothing of Miss Nelson Has a Field Day). Is that not strange? They didn’t garner a single vote, while Missing was undeniably a favorite Allard/Marshall pairing. Most curious.
The synopsis from my review describes this book this way: "As the book points out immediately, the kids in Room 207 were the worst behaved class in the whole school. They were rude and nasty and they didn’t pay any attention to their sweet-natured teacher Miss Nelson. One day, however, Miss Nelson does not come to school. In her place is the nasty, mean, foul-tempered witch Miss Viola Swamp. A true crone through and through, Miss Swamp immediately whips the children into shape. They are crushed by homework and forced to do work that’s exceedingly difficult. It’s not too long after Miss Swamp’s arrival that the children start yearning for the lovely Miss Nelson. Unfortunately, no one seems to be able to find her. Finally, one day Miss Nelson comes back and the class is as well behaved as it can be. Only the telltale black dress hanging in her closet suggests that there may be more to the class’s transformation than initially meets the eye."
According to 100 Best Books for Children, the story behind Miss Nelson is Missing is that one day Harry Allard called up James Marshall at three in the morning and yelled at him, "Miss Nelson is missing!". Marshall pretty much took it from there. The book goes on to say, "A more-than-generous individual, Marshall gave Allard the title of author on their books. Actually, for their collaborations, Allard often provided the story ideas, but Marshall, a consummate wordsmith, crafted each line of the text with as much care as he drew each image."
Once a year Columbia University plays host to a children’s festival, and New York Public Library is usually on hand to sign kids and parents up for library cards. This past fall was no exception and I was available to do my fair share of work. We had a number of different hand stamps available for the kiddies, and on one of them was the cold hard stare of Miss Viola Swamp. You’d be surprised how popular that one turned out to be. Not the Mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Not Frances from Bread and Jam for Frances. Nope. Kids may not wish to be in Miss Swamp’s classes, but they are more than willing to proudly sport her image on the backs of their sweaty little hands.
This book comes incredibly close to making it into the Top 50. One more point and it would have been there! Ah well. We must simply be grateful it made the list at all.
Said Booklist of the title: "Rarely has the golden rule been so effectively interpreted for children."
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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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