From Goldilocks to Afghanistan: 8 Great Picture Books

Amy Kraft
Dec 30, 2013
What do these eight books have in common? Little besides the fact that I like them all very much, and have been looking at them on my shelf wondering why I haven’t written about them yet. In the spirit of catching up on my piles, I give you these recommendations for you picture book readers. The Woods by Paul Hoppe I discovered this book at NY Comic Con this year, drawn to it’s art style and cover of a boy with a makeshift sword, helmet, and cape heading into the dark woods. A boy, tucked into bed, discovers his stuffed rabbit missing, so he heads into the woods to find it. As soon as he comes across each scary creature in the forest — a big brown bear, two giants, a fire-breathing triple-headed dragon — he realizes why they’renot actually scary. This book shares a spirit withWhere the Wild Things Are, a high compliment, indeed. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems Mo Willem’s is back in hilarious form with this meta-take on Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It begins: Once upon a time, there were three Dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway. One day for no particular reason, the three Dinosaurs made up their beds, positioned their chairs just so, and cooked three bowls of delicious chocolate pudding at various temperatures. The story pokes fun in this way at the conventions of a fairy tale that we’ve heard so many times we fail to think about how little sense it makes. Enter Goldilocks, who gobbles up all of the pudding regardless of temperature, because, hello! Pudding! Goldilocks soon gets wise to the fact that she’s not in the Bear house, she’s in the Dinosaur house, and they’ve filled her with chocolate pudding to make her into a bon bon. Oddrey by Dave Whamond You’d guess with a name like Oddrey this is a little girl that isn’t quite like everybody else. That’s just fine with her, though it does get a bit lonely sometimes. The other children didn’t know what to make of Oddrey until the night of the school play. Things were going very badly, and Oddrey helped save the show in her own unique way. After that, the other kids decided that odd is the new normal, and Oddrey had a harder time standing out. As a former punk rock girl, I like this oddball character, and the illustrations are super cute. Zoe Gets Ready by Bethanie Deeney Murguia This book about a girl picking out what to wear is really a behind-the-scenes look into the logic behind the bizarro sartorial choices little girls are inclined to make. What kind of day is it going to be? Is it a cartwheeling day or an exploring day? A blend-in day or a stick out day? Depending on the answers, the right ensemble choice just might be cowboy boots, fairy wings, mittens, vest, and tutu. It all makes sense now. The Sky of Afghanistan by Ana A. de Eulate For a does of reality mixed with beautiful optimism, read this story about an Afghani girl. As she looks up at the sky full of kites, she dreams of flying the kite through the people and families in her beloved Afghanistan. She dreams of a world where the sound of war has truly gone forever and peace comes at last. This book is beautiful and lyrical, and a great way to start conversations with your child about war and the lives of children in other parts of the world withoutover-sharingtheatrocitiesof war. Jangles: A Big Fish Story by David Shannon David Shannon’s latest picture book is a world away from the world ofNo, David, even though we’re seeing the world from a little boy’s point of view. A boy goes fishing with his dad, who tells him for the first time about a giant fish he once caught called Jangles. There were legends about this giant fish in the lake, but when the father was a little boy, he actually caught Jangles. Jangles pulled him to the bottom of the lake, sharing his home with the boy. He tricked Jangles and caught him, but Jangles convinced the boy to let him go, both because it made a great story and it’s the right thing to do. And now, the father shares this story for the first time. This book has luscious, magical paintings, and captures a magical boyhood time of wonder. Up Above and Down Below by Paloma Valdivia There are two kinds of people: those that live up above, and those that live down below. Each group thinks the other is quite strange. But the reader can turn the book upside down and right-side up and see that all of the people are really not so different. It takes the people getting all mixed up for them to also see that all people are really kinda the same. The sweet illustrations in this flip-around book sell the sweet message. You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey Every so often in my Facebook feed, I’ll see a photo of stars with some version of the Carl Sagan quote that “we are made of star-stuff.” It has the amazing power of making me feel simultaneously big and small. This picture book will do the same for kids. Begining on the first page with, “You are stardust,” each page makes a connection between you, the human, and nature. “You started life as a single cell. So did all other creatures on planet Earth.” The mixed-media illustrations by Soyeon Kim, like the text, embue reality with a dream-like quality.