Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Favorite Picture Books to Read Aloud

In which I give much respect to the mighty picture book.

We talk a lot about novels here in Jacqui's Room. And I do love me some Young Adult fiction, some Rushdie, some dead white guy classics, and even a 444 page ramble that, as far as I can tell so far, is about falling asleep and eating cookies.

But I don't write any of those.* I write picture books. And they have long been, and remain, my favorite genre. A great picture book is a poem, airtight writing, succinct story, engaging emotion -- all the elements of the classic novels we've been reading, but funnier, and in 800 words max. They are our children's introduction to reading, to literature, to the wonders imagination can bring, to the world outside of their everyday existences. All with pictures, and children's book illustrations contain some of the most striking, innovative, and careful art being created today.

No joke, my absolute hands-down favorite thing in the world to do is to read a great picture book aloud to a crowd of eager children.

So we have a new occasional feature here in Jacqui's Room:
Respect the Mighty Picture Book.**

In today's Respect the Mighty Picture Book, I present to you my top ten absolute favorite picture books to read aloud to a crowd of eager 5-8 year olds.
Note: 1) these differ entirely from my favorite picture books to read aloud to my children; that's a list for another day, and 2) if these seem skewed towards older books it's because one of my criteria is the book having stood the "read it a million times and still enjoy readin' it" test.

Jacqui's Top Ten Favorite Picture Books to Read Aloud to a Crowd of Eager 5-8 Year Olds
(in no particular order)

1. Piggie Pie, by Margie Palatini, illus. Howard Fine
Pure fun, fairy tale refences, great chance for kids to "figure it out," many opportunities for ridiculous voices, chickens, and an evil spell.

2. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig
The emotion in this beautiful book gets kids up on their knees, leaning to me, totally engaged and wanting to know what happens, every time. And the pay off ending does not disappoint.

3. The New Girl...And Me, by me, illus. Matt Phelan
Hey, I'd be lying if I didn't include it!

4. Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss
A tongue twister that's actually hard, and nothing gets them laughing like me messing it up

5. The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, illus. Robert Lawson
Ferdinand the bull refuses to fight, even in the face of the most famous matador in Spain. By the end of the year, my students would admonish each other to "be like Ferdinand" on the playground.

6. Atalanta (from my Free To Be You And Me compilation)
Retelling of the ancient Greek myth, strong princess who races to be able to choose her husband, or whether to marry at all. Exciting race scene, and the my favorite opening to a classroom conversation about how to talk to someone you don't know.

7. The Hungry Thing, by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler, illus. Richard Martin
Silliness, silliness, silliness. Predictable text that the kids can shout out, good practice rhyming, adorable monster.

8. More Than Anything Else, by Marie Bradby, illus. Chris Soenpiet
True story of Booker T. Washington desperately wanting to learn to read, despite the fact that it is not easy. I like that we don't find out it's Booker T until the end. Gorgeous illustrations.

9. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, illus. John Schoenherr
My favorite poem. Sparse, simple, breathtaking, and very much from the point of view of a child. The class sits silent, barely breathing, and sighs with pleasure when the owl appears. I had a very, very troubled, violent student who chose this as his "reader's theater" project and announced, "Now I want to be a poet." Also, I met Jane Yolen at SCBWI-NY last year. Hmm. I should blog about my conversation with Jane Yolen...

10. a tie between Tacky the Penguin and Me First and Listen Buddy, all by Helen Lester, illus. Lynn Munsinger
Important lessons without preachiness and with lots of hilarity and energy. Also, many opportunities for silly voices.

Oh, and Chrysanthemum (Kevin Henkes) and Wilma Unlimited (Kathleen Krull, illus. David Diaz) and -- hey! Whose idea was it to limit this to ten? And when do I next get to read to kids? Who has a classroom I can borrow?!

Sigh. Yum. What are your favorites?

* Okay, this is not entirely true. I am in the middle of a young adult novel, as many of you know because I yammer about it constantly. But it's safe to say I don't currently write YA novels, since I don't currently write anything except checks, to do lists that are forgotten immediately, and this blog.
** Until I think of a more clever name. Ideas, clever readers?


ephelba said...

And very good they are, picture books.
Pickle Things by Marc Brown, Chimps Don't Wear Glasses by Laura Numerof, Can't You Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell, Imogene's Antlers by David Small,
Ummmm, how many characters does this thing allow?

Tabitha said...

My kids are really into the Magic School Bus series right now. Whenever we go to the library, they run straight to the back to see if there are any we haven't read yet. And I must admit I enjoy reading them, too.

Some of my other favorite picture books are Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Carrot Seed, Fox in Socks, Mommy Hugs, How I Became a Pirate, and Fortunately. I just love reading these to my kids. :)

J. Thorp said...

In no particular order, and for all sorts of different reasons, some of which may be peculiar to my kids (or me):

Where the Wild Things Are

To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street

Good Night Moon

Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose

Princesses Are Not Quitters

The Monster at the End of This Book

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

Barnyard Dance

Tikki Tikki Tembo

The New Girl ... And Me

That last one's not a suck-up, either. I love your book -- the kids are alternately amused, outraged, nervous and happy. So much fun to watch them as I read it.

Anne Spollen said...

I would have to include Where The Wild Things Are. I read that so often to my kids that I can actually recite most of it from memory...

Jacqui said...

Mmm. All good additions. Ephelba, I love Imogene's Antlers, too.

Tabitha, Tink isn't quite ready for Magic School Bus yet. She has the Bats one and is, well, "meh" on it. I like them though.

And thanks for the suck-up, j.thorp :)

Anne, I love Wild Things too. And reciting from memory is key when I am falling asleep while reading to my kids...

Diane T said...

My picture book collection is very strange; an assortment of classics, some big names from the 1990s (when Boy was young), and some older, more obscure titles I plucked when Gale downsized their Children's Lit Division library.

Of those, I have two I absolutely love reading to kids. One is Sam and the Tigers by Julius Lester. First, there are the extraordinary illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. Then there's the way they rescued the classic outwit-the-vain-tigers story from the racist past of "Little Black Sambo." I love the impossibly fashion-conscious tigers and how they say "Ain't I fine!" as they acquire Sam's bright clothing.

The other book, strangely enough, also features tigers: Diane Wolkstein's The Banza, her 1981 retelling of a Haitian folktale. It's about a little goat who sings bravery into her heart. I can never resist singing her song:

Ten fat tigers, ten fat tigers,
Cabree eats tigers raw.
Yesterday Cabree ate ten tigers;
Today Cabree eats ten more.

Such a fun story about facing fears; I almost wish I had a youngling to read it to....


J. Thorp said...

Good post, Jacqui!

C.R. Evers said...

One of my favorites is Deep Blue Sea by Jan Peck.

that's all I can think of right now.

Jacqui said...

I don't know Deep Blue Sea. Will have to check it out.