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Picture Books We've Read to Pieces

Pile of Picture Books

Family Literacy Day comes each year on January 27, a national initiative spearheaded by the non-profit ABC Life Literacy Canada to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family. And this year to mark the occasion, we're thinking about the picture books we've read to pieces, sometimes quite literally—see the photo above. The books we never tire of, the ones we've read a million times, from the time our kids were babies, and now they're reading alongside us. Although who are we kidding? Nobody's reading. All of us know these stories off by heart.

These are the books that my family has loved until their bindings broke. What are some of yours? 

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Book Cover Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

We love everything illustrated by Jon Klassen, from his Governor General's Award-winning Cat's Night Out (with Caroline Stutson) to his Caldecott-winning creation This is Not My Hat. But if pressed, I'd choose Extra Yarn as my favourite, because of its amazing subversive protagonist and her amazing year-bombing ways. It's about a little girl called Annabel who knits and knits, and, curiously, never runs out of yarn, until she's bedecked her dreary village in gorgeous colour and outsmarted an evil archduke. The ending is perfect.  

The Princess and the Ponyby Kate Beaton

How could this book have just been published last summer? I feel like it's been a part of our lives forever. The binding is still holding on okay, but I'm not optimistic about the future. This is a not-so-ordinary book about a not-so-ordinary princess, a warrior princess (whose parents are a Viking and an Amazon, so it's in her blood). And all she wants for her birthday is a warrior's horse, instead of the cuddly sweaters she's accustomed to receiving, and while her parents try to satisfy her wishes, they don't get it quite right. Turns out that a roly-poly pony's more useful in battle than one might expect, however, and warriors can actually be pretty cuddly themselves—for a bunch of brutes

Gifts, by Jo-Ellen Bogart and Barbara Reid

This year, Barbara  Reid is Honorary Chair of Family Literacy Day, and really we could not go wrong in this list was populated only by her works—her books are beautiful and extraordinary. But I've chosen this one with Jo-Ellen Bogart's bouncy rhymes and a wonderful story about a grandmother who travels the world and brings back the most intangible things—a roar from a jungle king, the whirr of a hummingbird's wing, the secret wish of a flying fish and a rainbow to wear as a ring. It's a great book about growing up and getting old, and never stopping, and those things that connect us to each other in perpetuity. 

Mabel Murple, by Sheree Fitch and Sydney Smith 

In all our years of reading, we've never stopped wondering about Mabel, the purple girl, and her amazing purple world. "And if there was a purple girl, how purple would she be? Would she get in purple trouble? She would if she were me." And oh, the purple trouble to be had—skiing, skateboarding and motorbiking. When Mabel Murple's on the loose, people skedaddle, and she bounds through the world with a momentum as forceful as Fitch's rhyming text. When we get to the end of this story, we're always out of breath. 

The Balloon Tree, by Phoebe Gilman 

Phoebe Gilman and I go way back—I won a prize when I was six for reciting the entirety of Jillian Jiggs. But of all her books, my eldest daughter's favourite is The Balloon Tree. I think its chief appeal lies in the ultra-realism of Gilman's illustrations (her people look like people you know) in connection with the magic of the story. Also, as in Extra Yarn, there is an evil Archduke (is there any other kind of Archduke?) and he too gets his comeuppance. Justice is sweet.  

Drumheller Dinosaur Dance, by Robert Heidbreder, Esperança Melo, and Bill Slavin

I discovered this book when 49th Shelf's resident children's librarian, Julie Booker, recommended it years ago, before she was even our resident children's librarian. "With the first 'Boomity-boom, Rattley-clack, Thumpity-thump, Whickety-whack,' you know you've got them," she writes, and it's so true. Dino skeletons on the Alberta badlands come back to life as a mean percussion section and have the kids rocking out until morning. It's impossible to sit still when you're reading this book, and it's one of the few picture books we own that contains the word, "transmogrify."

Beneath the Bridge, by Hazel Hutchins and Ruth Ohi

Our copy is literally in pieces as you can see, but we're still reading it. This story of a small paper boat's journey down a stream in the wide wide world is about the interconnectedness of things, environmental stewardship and cosms both micro and macro. Ruth Ohi's illustrations are so much fun to explore with their tiny perfect details, and give us so much to wonder about—for example, what's with the giant frog in the back of that car? 

Night Cars, by Teddy Jam and Eric Beddows

We bought this book for our daughter before she was born, and we've read it so many times that the spine has snapped. It's a strange and magic lullaby, a ode to city life and all the amazing things that happen at night—garbage trucks, snow plows, taxis and fire trucks. Plus there is a dog, which is a basic inventory of all the things that kids love best. And kids' parents can certain relate to the story's basic premise: "Once there was a baby, who wouldn't go to sleep...."

Sidewalk Flowers, by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

It was THE kidlit sensation of 2015, and most deserving of all the accolades. Although I admit that the first time I read it, I didn't get it entirely. It takes rereading upon rereading to really get a sense of all that's going on within this wordless picture book, which makes it as much an experience as a story. Wordless picture books are neat in that parent and child are on the same level as they explore it together—and it's likely that the younger one will point out essential details of the narrative first. Which is the point of the story entire. I love that Syrian refugee children arriving in Canada this year will each be receiving a copy of this beautiful book. What a welcome.  

Melvis and Elvis, by Dennis Lee and Jeremy Tankard

Can you imagine trying to follow up Alligator Pie, the publishing sensation that invented Canadian children's literature? But Dennis Lee has done it, over and over again, with the amazing Garbage Delight (and we totally have to replace our copy), Jelly Belly, and now his latest, Melvis and Elvis. My children love, "Calling All Dinosaurs," about a missing triceratops and fervent efforts to locate him. They're also big on cheerily subversive "Stinkarama" (about having a friend who smells) and "Apologies to my Most Noble and Excellent Friend," which contains the line, "And pounding on your head all night/ Was fun. But very impolite." 

Over in the Meadow, by Jan Thornhill

There is nothing so engaging as the picture book that is also a song, which makes Jan Thornhill's version of the traditional a literary pleasure. Not just because the song is fun to sing, with animal sounds, and a chance to practice numbers, but also because her collage illustrations compiled from everyday objects (the beaks on the ducklings on the book's cover, for example, are orange popsicles) and they're so fascinating to take a close look at. The end of the book contains a glossary of sorts with a pictorial list of everything Thornhill used for her collages, and it's fun to go back through the book and see where each object appears in the illustrations. Her baby owls made from fuzzy slippers are adorable

Little You, by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett

Please forgive me for talking about this book again, but when my youngest daughter was smaller, it was the only book in the world she was interested in so I have read it so many times. It's a beautiful story, a celebration of new life and family bonds, and how mighty and important a small baby really is. Julie Flett's illustrations manage to be simple, but perfect and also exquisitely details—I'm still blown away by the hole in the mother's sock on the "let's all dance, let's all sing," page. Watch out for a new book from Flett, out this spring. Written by Monique Gray Smith, it's called My Heart Fills With Happiness

How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children's Books, by Joan Bodger

And if you still can't get enough of children's literature, do pick up a copy of How the Heather Looks. First published in 1965, it's the story of one American family's trip to England to see the place where all their favourite stories come from. Bodger eventually settled in Toronto and became a prominent storyteller, and her skills are clearly on display here in this captivating memoir that will inspire you to make literature even more alive for your children, but also caution you (with Bodger's Afterword, in which she explains the shadows behind her story's sunny narrative) that there is no literary recipe for the perfect family life. But stories can certainly make it all quite magic. 

January 25, 2016

Books mentioned in this post

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Cats' Night Out

by Caroline Stutson, illustrated by Jon Klassen
edition: eBook
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 4 to 8
  • Grade: p to 3
tagged: counting & numbers, cats, city & town life

Cats are out for a night on the town in this lively picture book about counting, dance, and music from Carline Stutson and Caldecott medalist Jon Klassen.

From two cats waltzing to twenty cats in a conga line, dancing felines take to the streets, the fire escapes, and the rooftops in this charming concept picture book that is part counting and part …

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This Is Not My Hat

illustrated by Jon Klassen
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 4 to 8
  • Grade: p to 3
tagged: humorous stories, law & crime, fishes

The 2013 Caldecott Medal winner!
From the creator of the #1 New York Times best-selling and award-winning I Want My Hat Back comes a second wry tale.

When a tiny fish shoots into view wearing a round blue topper (which happens to fit him perfectly), trouble could be following close behind. So it’s a good thing that enormous fish won’t wake up. A …

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The Princess and the Pony

illustrated by Kate Beaton
edition: eBook
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 4 to 8
  • Grade: p to 3
tagged: friendship, horses

Introducing Kate Beaton, a major new picture book talent, and author/illustrator of #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestseller HARK! A VAGRANT!

 

Princess Pinecone knows exactly what she wants for her birthday this year. A BIG horse. A STRONG horse. A horse fit for a WARRIOR PRINCESS! But when the day arrives, she doesn't quite get the horse of her dreams...From t …

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Mabel Murple (pb)

by Sheree Fitch, illustrated by Sydney Smith
edition: Paperback
  • age: 4 to 8
  • Grade: p to 3
tagged: bedtime & dreams, stories in verse, colors

What if there was a purple planet with purple people on it? Sheree Fitch answers this question with a zany tongue-twister of a poem featuring Mabel Murple, a daredevil who rides a purple motorbike through purple puddles, skis on purple snow, and on her pancakes pours maple syrup.

With a rich and vivid purple palette, Sydney Smith's brand-new illustr …

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The Balloon Tree

20th Anniversary Edition

by Phoebe Gilman
edition: Paperback
  • age: 5 to 8
  • Grade: k to 3
tagged:

Balloons! They are the favourite playthings of Princess Leora. When her father, the king, goes to a neighbouring kingdom to participate in a tournament, he tells Leora to signal him with balloons if anything goes wrong. But the archduke, planning to take over the kingdom, promptly locks the princess in her room and orders all the balloons in the ki …

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Beneath the Bridge

by Hazel Hutchins, illustrated by Ruth Ohi
edition: Paperback
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 5
  • Grade: p to k
tagged:

When a young boy launches a tiny paper boat downstream, he wonders about the adventures it will have on its voyage.

The little vessel sails past goggling frogs and hovering insects, houses and stores along the shores, roads and railways, and eventually into the shadows of giant ships. Though the big river becomes a dangerous place for the boy’s sm …

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Night Cars

by Teddy Jam, illustrated by Eric Beddows
edition: Hardcover
also available: Paperback
  • age: 0 to 3
  • Grade: p to 12
tagged: bedtime & dreams, city & town life, new baby

Winner of the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Award

It is late at night in the city. From his father's shoulder, a sleepless baby watches the snow drift down from the sky onto the busy street below. What are all those noises? What are all those lights? His tired but patient father explains everything, from the bustle of taxis swishing through the slush to …

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Sidewalk Flowers

by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith
edition: Hardcover
also available: eBook
  • age: 4 to 7
  • Grade: p to 2
tagged: imagination & play, parents

Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Illustrated Book

A New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year

In this wordless picture book, a little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and re …

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Melvis And Elvis

by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
edition: Hardcover
also available: eBook
  • age: 2 to 7
  • Grade: p to 2
tagged: humorous

Canadian kidslit legend Dennis Lee's first new children's collection in more than a decade-in collaboration with bestselling illustrator Jeremy Tankard.

Melvis the monster

And Elvis the elf

Were hunting for books

On the library shelf-

One on the carpet,

And one in a chair,

So neither could see

That the other was there…

Melvis and Elvis is classic Dennis L …

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Little You

by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett
edition: Hardcover
also available: eBook
  • age: 0 to 2
  • Grade: p to 12
tagged: new baby, nursery rhymes, poetry (see also stories in verse)

"You are life and breath adored. You are us and so much more..."

Richard Van Camp, internationally renowned storyteller and bestselling author of the hugely successful Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, has partnered with award-winning illustrator Julie Flett to create a tender board book for babies and toddlers that celebrates the poten …

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My Heart Fills With Happiness

by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett
edition: eBook
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 0 to 2
  • Grade: p
tagged: emotions & feelings, native canadian

★ "A quiet loveliness, sense of gratitude, and—yes—happiness emanate from this tender celebration of simple pleasures."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. Holding the hand of someone you love. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book, with illustrations …

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How the Heather Looks

A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children's Books

by Joan Bodger
edition: Paperback
tagged: great britain, children's literature

Over forty years ago, Joan Bodger, her husband, and two children went to Britain on a very special family quest. They were seeking the world that they knew and loved through children’s books.

In Winnie-the-Pooh Country, Mrs. Milne showed them the way to “that enchanted place on the top of the Forest [where] a little boy and his Bear will always …

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