My Favorite Picture Book? A Short List, With Water as the Common Thread


Today on Twitter, my superintendent Pam Moran asked a bunch of us what our favorite picture books are.

Two things work against me producing a quick answer to this question. First, I have no life-changing childhood memory of my first picture book, or a bedtime treasure. My parents were busy and didn’t read aloud, although my father probably read up a storm on his own. And we lived far from sources of children’s books (East Africa, long ago).

Secondly, when someone asks me what my favorite anything is, my overly helpful brain springs into speedy action. (This is what I call Rich Inner Life Syndrome and I wish you would too). It’s not that I don’t have favorites; it’s not that I’m wishy-washy. And it is possible that you could craft a question that I would find easy to answer:

What’s your favorite plant with hanging flowers? Fuchsia! What’s your favorite terrier that looks like a lamb? Bedlington! (No, I don’t own one, a vet talked to me out of it.)

It’s that I’ve always been arrested by possibilities.  And once you spend time with picture books, those alluring objects that can hold lovely art and captivating stories, or poems or even just thoughts, there are many possibilities.

So I have many favorite picture books, just as I have many favorite memories and many favorite foods. Today, I’ve been thinking about water, probably because my daughter and I just came back from a trip to the San Francisco Bay area. Here are some books that have water in them, books that I love so much, I try to force them on people:

Yes, I Still Think Maira Kalman Should Have Won the Caldecott for This    Image

Fireboat is a true story about a group of friends in New York who pooled money, worked together and saved an old Fireboat, the John J. Harvey. On 9/11, the Harvey was called on to help and later it won an award for its dockside help in putting out the fires. Like all her books, this one has gorgeous rich colors and a wry wit.

The Raft on Which I Hope My Students Will Sit in Their Imagination, Image

As They Contemplate Summer

The Raft by Jim LaMarche is the story of a boy who must spend a summer with his tough, smart, artistic grandmother in Wisconsin. She lives by a river and gives him the time and freedom to discover animals and his own gifts for patience, kindness  – and drawing!

The Gulf Stream – It’s The Biggest Moving Thing on Earth. Image

The Mysterious Ocean Highway: Benjamin Franklin and the Gulf Stream by Deborah Heiligman. (Check out the “new) AKA hoarded price at Amazon – someone needs to reissue this book!)

I read this as a mom, and love it now as a librarian. It’s a beautifully illustrated science story  of the people who study or have studied this fascinating “river within an ocean”. It’s got Benjamin Franklin, not missing a trick, taking readings and making a chart that holds up even today. It’s got Prince Albert of Monaco. It’s got lots of good photographs and maps and charts. I can pull this book out and have a conversation about it with any child of any age.

Paddle to the Sea. It’s a Book, Not a Command. Image

Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling. It’s a treasure of a book, and deserves to be read and enjoyed today as much as it was in its heyday (1940’s on). A Canadian boy carves and releases a little figure and as we follow his progress, beautifully drawn side bars show us more about the human activities, animals and natural features. I’ve had 2nd graders imagine themselves on his journey, being carried through the Great Lakes to the sea. And the Great Lakes are something every North American should know about.

No, He’s Not  Image

I’m The Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry. Yes, you could use this book for sequencing or a lesson on size or even a manners book (boasting and its consequences), but I just love it for being big, graphically simple, and funny. And children love anything that has or has to do with giant squid. So do I.


5 responses to “My Favorite Picture Book? A Short List, With Water as the Common Thread

  1. Loribeth Marshall

    Thank you for creating this list. As a homeschool parent to a 7 year-old, we really rely on the library as a resource.

    • Thanks for the comment, Loribeth! When I worked in the public library, I loved helping homeschooling families. If you live far from a public library, you may want to see if the closest school library will let you have check-out privileges. I’ve done it before for non-students. Let me know if you want any suggestions for good blogs, too. I was lucky enough to meet Mary Ann Scheuer recently on a trip to San Francisco, and her blog is excellent:
      Great Kid Books

  2. Thanks, Pam! Something about that question made me think, “I don’t have to be the librarian with the perfect answer!”
    And Maureen, I love your list! Did you ever read this Horn Book article on Marc Simont? You can spot a drawing of his friend and roommate: Somewhere else I read that Simont held the ducklings so Mccloskey could sketch them.
    One of the silver linings to being a librarian is the chance to discover all the children’s books I never saw as a child. A Twitter buddy in London (@shelfappeal) shared this today and it is full of beautiful classics:

  3. What fun to talk about our favorite picture books. I want to share this post with my students and I may have them post in a similar way. My list includes Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, Island Boy, and Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel.

  4. Melissa,

    This is a perfect start to the year with a new post from you- and I love it – the theme, the choices, the perspective. What you do here is once again verify and validate why we need librarians in schools! Thank you for your mini-curated list of favs. It inspires me to think about all the picture books I came to love as an elementary principal – books that enticed children to read, that wrapped around class communities who made the stories their own, and books that led children themselves to write their own “in the style of…” picture books.

    Thank you for sharing.


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