A few months ago, a friend of mine from high school announced on Facebook that she was expecting. Not being accustomed to this kind of event, I sent her a slightly panicky congratulations message and asked if there was anything I could send her as a baby gift. Toys? Clothes? Bottles? No, she was all covered. And then she remembered that I write about children’s literature from time to time here on this blog. I took my assignment very seriously and spent the next few weeks pulling together a set of books that I hoped her kid could appreciate from infancy to his pre-teen years.
Although I feature some downright strange authors and illustrators on this blog, I didn’t want to include any frightening or potentially upsetting books. Instead, I looked for great illustrations, humor, and a sense of timelessness — after all, many of the best children’s books are beloved by many a generation.
#1 – We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu
My first pick was a simple cardboard cutout book by Japanese illustrator Yusuke Yonezu. Brightly colored animals rendered in geometric shapes end up being each other’s complements — as you turn the pages, the animals appear to hug. It’s delightful, cheerful, and contains subtle spatial cognition lessons. Best of all, the cardboard is durable and the “story” short, making it appropriate for pre-readers.
#2 – The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems
Mo Willems is one of the best and most famous picture book authors out there, and his pigeon series is regarded with acclaim by parents and kids alike. In this version, a dusty pigeon isn’t looking forward to bath time, but of course eventually concedes that bubble baths are lots of fun. The pigeon’s snarky dialogue is both humorous and realistic, mimicking the attitude of kids who hate bath time with a passion.
#3 – Little Bird by Germano Zullo and Albertine
Out of all of the illustrators I featured as part of my series on the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award, Albertine was by far the “crowd favorite.” Her witty illustrations, rife with color, cheerfully sly humor, and minute detail, enchanted many of the adult readers of my blog. Albertine and her husband Germano Zullo have produced several award-winning books together, and of those available in English, Little Bird was my favorite. It is simultaneously simple and profound, an exquisitely expressed demonstration of the importance of kindness, friendship, and awareness.
#4 – The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen
Politics and that unfortunate YA series aside, Lemony Snicket (a.k.a., Daniel Handler), in tandem with talented illustrator Jon Klassen, has managed to produce a surprisingly wonderful children’s book. A small boy named Lazlo sometimes finds himself afraid of the dark, but, as it turns out, the dark wants nothing except to be friends with Lazlo. The concept is clever, but it’s really the minimal yet almost velveteen illustrations that make this book special.
#5 – Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
This might be The Most Adorable Picture Book Of All Time. After all, what’s more endearing than a lonely penguin who just wants a friend? This book is the equivalent of a basket of fluffy puppies, a dandelion crown, and a dozen freshly baked blueberry muffins. It could not be any sweeter, any more lovingly illustrated, or have a better message.
#6 – The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger
Putting together this gift set gave me the excuse I needed to order this incredible book. After seeing it featured on Brain Pickings, hearing that it was tragically out of print, and then magically finding it in stock on Amazon, I was determined to see the fairy-like illustrations in person. I genuinely think that this would make a wonderful gift for just about anyone regardless of age or gender, especially since it contains the full, not abridged, version of L. Frank Baum’s classic text. Just look at these gorgeous, creative, and mystical illustrations. I admit I was sad I had to give this book away!
Feel free to share any other iconic children’s books of which you are aware in the comments section below.
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