A Dozen (or so) Great Picture Books, 2011

I just spent another agonizing day of narrowing a list of great books down into a manageable, bloggable list.  This time I started with over 50 wonderful picture books, and I tried my best to get it down to ten—or even a dozen—but 14 is my minimum.  After checking these out, you tell me which ones I could have cut!

Boy Wonders by Calef Brown

As a mom and a former teacher and daycare provider, I’ve heard many questions that made me laugh or think, and Boy Wonders brings back many memories.  A boy’s curiosity results in many questions which lead to more questions.  This book is great for lessons in idioms, vocabulary, and assonance and consonance, and the wordplay and tongue twisters will provide lots of laughs.

Dog Breath by Carolyn Beck (illus. by Brooke Kerrigan)

A child reminisces about the good—and the aggravating—things about the family dog.  Most books dealing with the death of a pet are tear-jerkers, especially the ones with dogs, but it feels like the memories in this book are a bit removed in time—and the child’s voice is more wistful than sad—so remembering brings smiles and even some laughs…for the most part.

A Dog Is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan

Whether it’s naughty or nice, or skinny or fat, a dog is a dog.  Unless, of course, it’s a…  Shaskan keeps readers guessing in this great rhyming picture book, and the last surprise is sure to bring on the laughs.  A Dog Is a Dog is easy enough for early readers to read to their preschool siblings.

The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories by David LaRochelle (illus. by Paul Meisel)

When his children beg for a scary bedtime story, Father Ghost tells these three stories about some of their family members.  Uncle Ned winds up in a baby’s diaper, boastful Cousin Nell meets up with a haunted hamburger, and Big Bad Granny gives lipstick-stained kisses.  These silly stories will have kids hooting with laughter.

Max’s Castle by Kate Banks (illus. by Boris Kulikov)

After Max finds a bunch of old alphabet blocks under his bed, he and his brothers use their imaginations to go on an adventure full of wordplay and fun.  Scenes change from castles and pirates to dungeons and dragons, with just a few twists and turns of the blocks.  In addition to just plain fun, this book can be a catalyst for a writing class.

My Name Is Elizabeth! by Annika Dunklee (illus. by Matthew Forsythe)

Elizabeth just loves her name (there is even a queen named after her!) but she hates what other people do to it.  Family and friends call her “Lizzy,” “Liz,” or—good heavens!—“Betsy,” but she insists that everyone call her “Elizabeth.”  Everyone, that is, except for her baby brother, who can only manage “Wizabef.”  Sweet!

My Side of the Car by Kate Feiffer (illus. by Jules Feiffer)

Something always comes up to interfere when Sadie’s family plans to go the zoo, but today she is finally going with her father.  But on the way there, it starts to rain.  Sadie, however, can’t see any rain through her window; in fact, people are wearing sunglasses and watering their lawns on her side of the car.  Sadie’s optimism never lets up, and her father’s patience never wears thin.  Kate Feiffer based this story on her days with her own father.

Oh, Harry! by Maxine Kumin (illus. by Barry Moser)

Harry is a mellow old horse whose job is to calm the skittish show horses in the stable.  He is great at his job, until the owner’s grandson comes for a visit.  Six-year-old Algernon’s loud voice and hi-jinks startle the horses and cause havoc in the barn, until the boy gets locked in a grain bin, and Harry must come to the rescue.  I just loved Harry’s expressive features and his sneaky glances at the reader.

Red Sled by Lita Judge

A group of animals borrow a child’s red sled for a nighttime adventure in this almost wordless book.  The expressions of absolute terror and joy on the faces of the animals are priceless, and the creative sound effects (“fluooomp…ft!”) make it a great read-aloud.  Click here to read Kristin’s review.

Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine by Allison Wortche (illus. by Patrice Barton)

Rosie wants to show off her true talent, but that’s not easy to do when Violet always hogs the spotlight in school.  When each student is given a pea plant to grow, Rosie tends hers carefully, but Violet again uses her plant as just another way to get attention.  Upset, Rosie sabotages Violet’s plant, but then feels bad; and when she finds out that Violet will be absent from school with chicken pox,  Rosie takes care of both plants.

These next three titles will be excellent for social studies:

All the Way to America : The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel by Dan Yaccarino

The author traces his ancestry back to Italy, using the story of a family heirloom—a little shovel—that came with his ancestors who immigrated to America.  He tells how the shovel has been used as it was passed down through several generations.  Use this charming book when discussing family history, and your students might want to share about their own family heirlooms.

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

Annie Edson Taylor was 62 years old, a retired schoolteacher, and in need of money to fund her retirement.  She lived near Niagara Falls and knew of its attraction to tourists, so she decided that she would try to go over the falls in a barrel.  She became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel…and survive.  Van Allsburg’s biography of this unlikely daredevil will keep kids turning the pages, and his illustrations are astounding.

Wagons Ho! by George Hallowell & Joan Holub (illus. by Lynne Avril)

Follow two young girls and their families as they move from Missouri to Oregon—one in 1846 and the other in 2011. Though both families take the same route, the trip in the covered wagon takes five months, while the trip in the car takes only five days.  This entertaining picture book shows how moving and traveling have changed—and remains the same.

And the final picture book can be used in science and language arts classes:

Swirl by Swirl : Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (illus. by Beth Krommes)

Tons of picture books give examples of circles, squares, triangles, and other simple shapes, but Sidman’s latest gives examples of spirals in nature, from snail shells and flower beds to tornadoes and galaxies.  Swirl by Swirl can be used to teach science or poetry, or as a read-aloud.

I hope you have enjoyed our selections this past year; we have certainly enjoyed writing about them.   We have new ideas in store for next year, as well as more great new books.  Happy New Year!

Blogger:  Tracey L.