There’s Something In My Attic by Mercer Mayer
I love Mercer Mayer’s illustrations most of the time, but this was one of my all-time favorite books as a small child. Part of this was because the protagonist is blond, and so, in the strange way very young children understand books, I thought the story was about me.
But aside from me pre-K belief that someone had projected my soul into a book, this is actually a really good story. It’s about a little girl who thinks that there is a monster in her attic. And so she captures it. And then they become friends. It’s one of those perfect blends of slightly scary, enough for kids who are afraid of monsters to relate, as well as empowering and cute. It doesn’t discredit the imagination of kids who do believe there are monsters in attics, under the bed, or in the closet. But, it still helps give kids the tools to deal with their fears.
And, the monster is kind of adorable in the end:
And, again, Mercer Mayer’s illustrations are wonderful. I loved them as a kid. They’re emotional, fun, and just super creative. As an adult, I did my undergrad in fine arts and I have an interest in illustration, so I really admire his work just from a technical aspect. The colors are moody, I like the texture of the line quality, and his monster drawings are just so darn creative! I would be lying if I said I didn’t draw pretty heavily from this in my own artwork at times. And, the pictures are seriously beautiful. He doesn’t mess around with making lovely, moody images. Just look at this eerie-but-awesome farmhouse! (I like the detail of one light being on, since the little girl can’t sleep.)
The book also has the added benefit of the little girl eventually letting her parents sleep and dealing with her monster problem on her own –a moral I can assume many parents appreciate.
There are more stories in this series, with kids vs. closet monster and alligator, but, partially because of nostalgia and partially for the artwork, I always thought that this one was the best.
Ages: pre-K and up
(I won’t say reading level, since parents can read the books to kids, as well. =D )
You can purchase copies here: http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-9780140548136-0
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson
This pick is also one heavily affected by bias. Owls have been one of my favorite animals ever since I was a little girl. However, out of all the owl books out there, this one is pretty special. It’s just stinking beautiful!
The story deals with a pretty typical childhood problem, that of being away from mom and going into a panic. This is something I think everyone can relate to. I mean, we all did it.
The book doesn’t downplay this fear, which I like. Telling kids it’ll be fine and they have nothing to worry about rarely seems to help when they are convinced that, no, things aren’t fine and they probably should be very, very worried. So, instead, the story shows kids how the mother owl really is coming back and they have nothing to fear.
It’s kind of poetic, really.
And, of course, again, it’s gorgeous. The birds are drawn realistically and unsentimental,and the nighttime forest imagery is really quite beautiful and evocative.
Age level: pre-K and up
You can purchase a copy here: http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780763617103-0
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
I think that basically anything by Ezra Jack Keats is wonderful. His illustrations are gorgeous, and he tells simple stories about… life. They’re just about life. There’s not really a central plot to The Snowy Day. It’s about a little boy who experiences a snowy day. That’s pretty much it. There is a bit about trying to save a snowball for later, but that’s not so much as driving force to the story as just something the character does because, well, he’s a kid.
The illustrations are great! They’re simple but dynamic, full of action and with pleasant colors and imagery. Also, points for not putting the snowy day in some idyllic farmland where there’s always a grandmother dressed in 1800s clothes cooling pies in her window. This is unsentimental and still adorable, looking at a very realistic kid’s experience of a realistic snowy day. He doesn’t encounter some magic, nostalgic experience. He does things like hit tree branches with sticks. Why? Because he’s a kid.
I think a lot of kids like Peter from the story because, frankly, we all kind of were Peter. How many of us just hit trees with sticks because cause and effect was still pretty awesome? Probably most of us.
Basically, there’s a reason why this book is considered a classic and why so many kids love it. It’s gorgeous, it’s cute, and it’s not cheesy. It’s about snow days, and all of us, even adults, love snow days.
Age level: pre-K and up, and available in board book format
Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/biblio/7-9780140501827-7
How can you not fall in love with this right from the cover? This is adorable. I have a huge case of illustration envy right now. There’s just something hilarious about his very serious-looking bear staring at you in a kind of soulful way and paired with such an odd request. This bear wants his hat back. Doesn’t reading that sentence just make you smile?
I love the illustration style. It’s simple, sort of folk-art style, with some great animal images paired with this weirdly serious, polite text about finding hats. It’s hilarious and awesome!
I really like how the backgrounds are just basically blank. The illustrations give you just enough information and then you leave the rest to the imagination. It keeps the page clear and uncluttered, harmonious even. They’re just really nicely set up pages. I would put prints of the illustrations on my wall, absolutely.
I feel like these animals exist in the same world as the Fantastic Mr. Fox movie, where the story is still an animal adventure for kids but the animals interact like kind of weird grownups. I can imagine Bill Murray doing the bear’s voice, just kind of dully exasperated by the fact that he’s lost a red, pointy hat and no one seems as concerned as he is about this fact.
I might be gushing, but it’s a great book. I think I’ll buy myself a copy…
Age level: pre-K and up, even to adulthood
Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780763655983-1
Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems
Initially, I thought these books would be really dumb, like the delightful adventures of two animals learning all the thrills of learning up and down or how to say “cat” and “stop”. I… really hate those kinds of books. We live in a Dr. Seuss world where we know we can teach these things in a fun format. So, I assumed that Elephant and Piggie wouldn’t be very good.
I was wrong.
You see, Elephant and Piggie are absolutely hilarious. They are best friends, but also huge mischief makers who constantly get into weird adventures. Just look at these faces. They’re up to no good.
But, it’s really the way they get into mischief that’s so funny. The books are just outrageously smart, like the baby’s-first-meta-fiction-experience of Elephant and Piggie realizing they are inside a book. Which apparently leads to this moment of baby’s-first-existential-crisis:
Of course, everything turns out in the end.
But, the stories are just really very funny and often absurd. Sometimes Elephant and Piggie just want to fight, for no reason, and then jump around and shout, for no reason. Kind of like kids. And they take their exploits rather seriously.
There’s even a book where Piggie decides to be a frog. That’s the story.
The illustrations are simple and full of energy and emotion. The facial expressions are hilarious. And, the stories are legitimately funny, which is unusual considering that they are written for very early readers.
Age level: pre-K, and available in board book format
Available to purchase: http://www.powells.com/s?kw=elephant+and+piggie&class=
I would like to point out that many of these books are from Candlewick Press, which is an all-around awesome company and I would highly suggest checking them out if you want to find sweet, creative books for kids! (I’m not even getting paid to say that.)
Disclaimer: I do not work for Powell’s Books, and am not being paid to send people to their store for purchasing. However, I do support independent book sellers, and Powell’s is just a really cool company, one that I think is worthy of support, and they will consolidate your shipping orders (which helps save a lot of the hidden expenses of buying from companies like Amazon).