Sunday, June 8, 2014

I'm The Best And Nine Other Kids Picture Books I Love

I love reading with my kids. I love it because I know it's good for them.  Reading builds vocabulary, can help children with learning more broadly, it sparks their imaginations, aids communication and generally makes them better human beings.  That's scientifically proven, right?

But mainly I love it, because it's easy.  I'll admit it.  Sometimes I just don't have the the head space to play imagination games with my kids.  I know that imaginative play is really good for kids.  Maybe as good for them as reading is.  But it's not so good for me.  

Maybe my mother didn't read to me often enough when I was a kid.  I'm just not very good at imaginative play.  It's getting easier for me now because my kids are that much older.  When we play make believe now, I don't have to imagine much at all - they just boss me around and I do as I am told.

I could do that for hours.  Not really.  But my kids just about could.  When they do finally tire of it, or I can't think of any more princess-fairy names or make believe stuffed toy animal injuries or race car rocket malfunctions I can always suggest we read.

The look on my sons face when I tell him to go to his room and choose as many books as he wants for me to read with him on the couch?  Well, it's priceless.  He just loves being read to.  

Of course reading in the afternoon has it's own perils, I usually find myself struggling against sleep about three books in.  But that's nothing a strong coffee and a few squares of dark chocolate won't cure.

My son is three (nearly four) so I'm still doing all the reading.  Although there are the wonderful occasions where he'll wander off and I find him twenty minutes later lying on his tummy on his bed, a pile of books strewn around him "reading" out loud to himself all the books he knows by rote.  And that's a lot.

It's pretty cute.  And also?  Quiet.

My little girl is at that wonderful early reader stage.  She can read really well for her age (nearly six) but she still needs help with the longer chapter books she likes to read now.  I'll do a separate post on those in coming weeks, because there's some really great ones too.  

But for now I'm going to focus on our favourite picture books.  Okay, they are actually my favourite picture books.  My kids love, love, love these books too but in this list you'll find an adult sensibility that means not only that I can read them over and over and over again without getting bored but also that they are passing on something of a good message to my kids.  For me this message needn't be moralistic or behavioural, but  rather it can also be creative or even aesthetic.  These books have all this in spades. 

The test of these books is that my nearly four year old son, my nearly six year old daughter and myself can (and have!) read these books multiple (and I mean multiple!) times and they stand up. There is always something fresh and delightful about each of them that keeps us coming back.

And that's what makes a favourite.

I'm sure you'll see some familiar favourites here, but I hope you'll also discover some untapped gems.  Because a kid can never have too many books.

1. I'm the Best by Lucy Cousins

I love this book.  Well, obviously or it wouldn't be on this list, right? But the story is so simple and yet so perfect for little kids, it's just about genius.  It's about a Dog who thinks he's the best! What's wrong with that? As parent we're always telling our kids how great they are.  Build that self esteem.  But what happens when that is done at the expense of the feelings of others?  Dog soon finds out.  Everyone is good at something.  No-one is good at everything.  That is the simple, lovely message of this story.  And it's cleverly told.  But the very best this about this book for me? The awesome, child like, super free illustrations.  It's Lucy Cousins magic. When Dog exclaims "I'm the best at everything!" there is a literal party on the page.  It quite simply is the best.

2. Isabella's Garden by Glenda Millard & Rebecca Cool

In Isabella's Garden we follow the life cycle of a handful of seeds as they grow and the seasons change around them.  But a simple synopsis of this book can do no justice to the beautiful repeating poetry that builds and builds as the seeds grow and grow until winter comes and the wild wind blows and the cycle starts again.  It is a wonderfully lyrical way of showing kids the rhythms of nature.  And here again the pictures are an equal partner to the writing.  These fresh, bright, vibrant and imaginative illustrations have a painterly quality and a Mirka Mora sensibility that lifts the words to new heights. Stunning.


Henry has 27 different varieties of frog.  But what he really wants is a dog.  He ends up with a duck.  Go figure.  This is a charming story about friendship with enough humour to keep the kids engaged and some lovely little details that they can come back to and keep exploring.  It's illustrations and text are oh so simple but oh so engaging and I love the gorgeous chapter layout.  It's a very cute book, perhaps with less substance than some, but then perhaps substance is overrated.  This book is fun, low-key, lovely fun.

4. Mr Chicken Goes to Paris by Leigh Hobbs

Apparently Mr Chicken was in another book first.  But I kind of like that we just met him in Paris.  Because it adds to the wonderfully abstract and bizarre nature of this book.  Bizarre you say, how so?  Well how about you take a giant, yellow, plucked chicken and plonk him in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.  Would that be bizarre enough for you?  Add to that the somewhat creepy and yet strangely endearing sketch drawings and you have yourself a funny little tale indeed.  What I like about this book is it's absurdist nature, that keeps the kids happy too.  And the fact that Mr Chicken and his French friend Yvette seem completely oblivious to the unease they are causing as they sight-see and eat their way around Paris.  What I don't like about this book is Mr Chicken deciding to go on a diet when he "catches a glimpse of a great big bottom".  But that's just my neuroses I guess.  When you hear about 8 year old girls going on diets it tends to make you a bit paranoid like that.  I'd prefer it if my kids didn't even know what the word meant.  Fortunately Mr Chicken is just like the rest of us and by dinner time the diet is forgotten.  Because seriously, who diets when they are in Paris?!


5. Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates

This book is just so sweet.  And funny.  And creative.  And just all 'round gorgeous.  It's about a Dog who gets sent a sketchbook and fills it with fun and fiendish characters.  What's great about this book is that the story unfolds for Dog as it does for the reader.  He and his friends are creating the story as they go.  There are some clever little word plays and I love the idea it plants in the kids minds that the characters are really alive inside the book.  And it teaches them to doodle and come up with their own ideas which is grand.


6. Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey

I have loved this book for a long time.  I had to wait before I could introduce it to my kids properly because initially my daughter didn't like the illustrations.  She was too little.  And they are, I guess, a little dark.  At a stretch.  I dunno.  Maybe she was just going through a sensitive phase.  Or maybe I should have waited until she had teeth.  Too soon?  Anyway we're here now and this is well and truly an embedded family favourite.  You just can't go past these two.  Even their names are perfection, but when you read about their gorgeous friendship and how they support and care for each other, even while being so wildly different, well it just makes you feel good about the world.  And a little bit like we should all be able to get along.  The illustrations are warm and funny and of a colour palette not necessarily common to kids books, which I like. This book, like it's unusual characters has heaps of heart.


There is a beauty in this story that makes me a little bit teary.  I know, I'm a softie.  But it's just such a delight on so many levels.  From the peek we get inside the little girls memory to seeing her grow up to make paper dolls with her own daughter, it's just all so endearing. I particularly like the giant worlds that are created around the paper dolls, from the tiger-slipper to the crocodile oven mitt that each come alive. These are worlds that my kids imaginations can climb into and run around in, and I love that - especially at bedtime.

8. All Through The Year by Jane Godwin & Anna Walker

I'm a sucker for a good rhyming book and this is one.  It's a delightful journey through a year with a family as they grow and the seasons change.  It's a great one for teaching kids about the seasons if they haven't grasped that concept yet, and it can be a tricky one. And it delights them because it relates the seasons to important events, like Easter, Mother's Day, starting school and footy season.  The best thing about this book?  It's Australian, so the seasons happen at the right time of year (for us) and it's not snowing at Christmas! Yay! I also love that this story is told by the middle sister in the family, from her perspective.  The illustrations are gentle and appealing and it's really captivating to watch the family change and grow over the course of the year.

9. Peggy by Anna Walker

Anna Walker who illustrated All Through The Year (above) writes and illustrates the totally adorable tale of Peggy.  It's sublime to see her creativity come alive with these pictures as she uses ink and collage to create a exquisite world for Peggy to roam.  I really like the story of Peggy the chook who gets swept away on an adventure to the big city.  We see how daunting this can be from the perspective of the out of bounds Peggy who shows enormous resilience and courage in finding her way home - and then heads off to the city again for more adventures.  This story also highlights the importance of good friends and being nice to your neighbours.  You never know when you might need their help!


Let me preface this by saying I hate gender stereotypes and the almost impossible to avoid gender-based divisions of toys and books.  It really irks me.  But it is also undeniable that my son loves diggers.  This is not something we introduced to him, he has an older sister who had no interest in work sites and construction materials at all until her brother came along.  Now the whole family has a good working knowledge of heavy vehicles, thanks to him.  And this book is gorgeous for any child who has a passionate love of mixers, crane trucks and bulldozers.  It has a beautiful calming tone and a lovely lilting rhyme making it a perfect bedtime story for busy little builders. The trucks are drawn with oodles of personality and the night time scenes have a depth and a warmth that keep us coming back for more.  This is an all round beautiful book.

Note: I haven't listed these books in any particular order.  It's just my Top Ten.  All images sourced at the booksellers websites.  Also this is not a sponsored post.  Just a list of books we love.  I have linked all the book titles to Book Depository (except All Through The Year, which wasn't available there so I've linked to Booktopia).  I do not have any affiliation with these sights.  In fact I usually buy my books the old fashioned way, from my local independent bookstore.  But that's just me.

Did I miss any? What are your favourite picture books?

Listen To Echo and the Bunnymen Read It In Books


  1. What beautiful books. I really miss that stage of my children's lives. My youngest is now eight and insists on reading by herself (on occasion we'll read together), my 12 year old daughter is at the age when she wants to lock herself away in her bedroom and read teenage books and magazines and my 15 year old son is so busy now with all of his school work he rarely gets time to just sit and read a good book. Enjoy those lovely early, special years with your children Kate. Such beautiful

    1. Hello Deb! How wonderful to see you here. You are so right! It's such a beautiful time - one to be treasured. x

  2. I love that you make time for reading to your kids Kate. They are so LUCKY! Now that my kids are bigger, we have built up a big collection of audio books. I still read to them, but those lengthy chapter books (!) yikes. I let the professionals go through the massive Percy Jackson tomes.. and my youngest adores the Faraway stories read by Kate Winslet. Audio books have saved my sanity over and over again! Next life, can I be your kid?

    1. Ha! You're so funny - trust me you don't want to be my kid. I bet Kate Winslet does a much better job at the Faraway Tree than I do - but I do love those stories. x