We Recommend: Long, Lovely Picture Book Edition

It's time for We Recommend, where readers ask for suggestions, and we try our very hardest to come up with the perfect book in answer (and then you guys come up with even more amazing choices in the comments). Looking for a recommendation? E-mail us! We're very agreeable.


So, all the hoo-hah about picture books in the New York Times has had one tangible result: this long but interesting and very thorough e-mail. Here's what she says:

I have a 5 1/2 yr old daughter, very engaged in reading, just starting to read herself. We have always read tons. We read the whole Little House series last year (until it got too boring for her – what 5 yr old cares about a 15yr old's time at a party with boys?). Then we read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which she loved. I got the other books in the series, but at that point she rebelled against "chapter books" and has not wanted to read any for the last month or so. The only reason I can get from her is that she wants more pictures.

So we are back to reading picture books, which is fine, but I had recently gotten so over-excited at all the chapter books we could now begin to read (5 little peppers, ramona, etc.) that i feel somewhat at a loss. She LOVED Catwings, and I got some of Cynthia Rylant's books that are stories, not chapters really (The Blue Hill Meadows, etc.) But I'm not really sure where else to look. It is so hard to find the right level of picture book at the library since they are all mixed in together.

Can you recommend some longer picture books (non-chapter) that would be good for a kid that loves pirates, knights, dogs, adventures, animals, Scooby Doo.

She will sometimes tolerate things like Fancy Nancy, but she is not a "girly girl" -she only wears blue, and I actually recoiled somewhat from the Cobble Street Cousins book I got at the library because everything was described as "pretty" and I knew she would therefore hate it.

We have read and liked: most of Keven Henkes, Martha the dog, a million Magic Treehouse (before the chapter book ban), Doctor Doolittle, Rosemary Wells Hilltop School series, Pets to the Rescue series (some great books!), Pippi (the books where some stories from the real book are extra-illustrated actually), Poppleton, Bill Peet books, etc. etc. She does like fairy tales, especially Anansi, but the color fairy books didn't really interest her. She just started kindergarten, and is interested in stories at school, but I am trying (probably in vain) to shield her from too much snottiness and world-weariness, so have avoided some books where school is portrayed as a place where annoying things happen. (e.g. Captain Underpants, which I'm sure she would love).

I think what I'm searching for is some longer picture books like The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes, that we can read before bed. We have almost exhausted the "early Reader" section of the library, but I'm open to that genre of book as well. I think chapter books with lots of illustrations might possibly make the cut as well.


Interesting. I must say, that when I first read this, I had one powerful thought that sort of blocked out everything else: The Velveteen Rabbit, which is one of my all time favorite books, partly for its ability to make me cry every single time I read it. That, my friends, is power.

But on rereading this letter, I think yes, Velveteen Rabbit, but that's not exactly what we're talking about, is it. It's more that she wants stories but she isn't ready to give up on pictures; she's only in kindergarten, after all. And pictures are excellent.

So I thought about those lovely illustrate versions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, or The Wizard of Oz. And those are, of course, excellent. But for a series that keeps on giving, for a girl who likes animals? Here's my pick:


These are strange and wonderful. They are definitely picture books with real stories, and also definitely excellent. They concern a cat named Jenny (duh, yes, but sometimes I feel I stint on the summaries) and her gang (more or less) of neighborhood cats. There are thrills, adventure, etc etc. They are peculiar in the best possible way.

Anyway, given the exciting picture book discussion of days gone by, I'm guessing all of you have all sorts of suggestions of your own. What are they? Put 'em in the comments. And don't hesitate to write in for your own recommendation.

26 thoughts on “We Recommend: Long, Lovely Picture Book Edition

  1. Riverboat Adventures by Lucy Kincaid. An oldie but a goodie.
    Hilary Knight’s The Owl and the Pussycat. Not as long as Riverboat Adventures, but there’s so much going on in the pictures that my siblings and I loved it long past picture-book age.


  2. Oh, THANK YOU for bringing Jenny back in to my life. I had completely forgotten about her until the second I saw that cover and I am instantly transported. Love love love those books!
    I was going to recommend “Meanwhile…” by Jules Feiffer for the asker. It’s not necessarily longer, per se, but more sophisticated, and very adventuresome.


  3. Ooh. Good one. With all that hubbub, I also did a blog post about picture books that aren’t for little kids:
    The thing that I’ve been kicking around is how many good nonfiction picture books there are for older kids – especially biographies, but also many good books about science, nature, animals, history, etc. Also, that there are so many good longer picture books about fairy tales and mythology – like those classic D’Aulaires’ books about Greek myths and Norse myths or those KY Kraft illustrated fairy tale versions.


  4. Oh, I am voting for lavishly illustrated fairy tales. Tasha Tudor, Jan Brett, Margaret Evans Price.
    Also, One Morning in Maine, and Make Way for Ducklings. Not long enough for chapters but plenty of story and gorgeous illustrations.


  5. Have you tried the Lyle the Crocodile books? I adored those when I was younger– the stories seem to me now as if they are reasonably sophisticated; I recall them being full of the good kind of tension, with story-lines that made sense to me as a five or six year old, and with delightful illustrations as well. They might be too simple for your child, depending on her level of sophistication, but they were well-beloved by me. Also, Wanda Gaag– “Millions of Cats” is a bit gruesome now that I see it as an adult but as a child it didn’t bother me, and “Nothing At All” is a very sweet story about a dog who is finding his place in the world (literally); nothing gruesome there. Again, maybe too “young” but worth a shot?


  6. My vote would go to a beautiful, touching picture book called “The China Doll” by Elza Pilgrim. Makes me cry just as regularly as Velveteen Rabbit, and does not have too many “pretty” things in it. Just heart.


  7. Ricky Ricotta by Dave Pilkey has the fun of captain underpants without the issues you mentioned. I imagine you’ve done Winnie the Pooh, which has beautiful illustrations. The End of the Beginning by Avi is lovely, with illustrations. As for traditional picture books, I like Tthe Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke and Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andreae.


  8. Oh, my. This is my sickness you know. Right now, my very favorite is called “Chicken Cheeks” by Michael Ian Black and Kevin Hawkes, but it isn’t long at all. It is just perfect. Longer books, I always have my stand by: Chris Van Allsburg. Stunning pictures and wonderful text. I love, love, love Cynthia Rylant. My kids and my kindergartners (when I taught Kindergarten) loved “The Bookshop Dog” and “The Cookie Store Cat” As well as “The Old Woman Who Named Things.” I love Patricia Polacco, Eve Bunting, Lester Laminak, Ralph Fletcher. Okay, I should stop. I could go on forever. Oh, except I must say Mem Fox too. I love her. Okay. If you want more, just ask!


  9. -The Railway Children by E Nesbit (my out of print edition has lots of pictures, but a different edition is available on Amazon)
    -Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel
    -Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa series by Erica Silverman (I’m not sure about the pictures)
    -School!: Adventures at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School by Kate McMullan (Diary of a Wimpy Kid style chapter graphic novel for the younger set, the main character loves school, which is sometimes kind of a Wayside School silliness)


  10. Something fun for this time of year–the Dorrie the Witch series by Patricia Coombs. Sadly, some are out of print but your library (or a used book store) might have copies. My boys loved these and the illustrations are charming. “Dorrie and the Blue Witch” is our favorite!


  11. One of my very favorite stories is Elsie Piddock Skips in her Sleep, by Eleanor Farjeon. It’s not exactly on the nose for this parent– there are no pirates or dogs etc., and the main character is a little girl whose salient characteristic is that she is really, really, really good at jumprope. But–not to spoil too much–she saves everything just by doing that. This story makes me cry like crazy. There are fairies in it, but they’re not all fluttery, and there are real, hard things too, but it has a happy ending. It was written (a long time ago) as a self-contained short story/fairy tale, but a few years ago it was reissued as a picture book with fabulous illustrations by Charlotte Voake.


  12. Oh, we love Jenny & the Cat Club. Perfect for that age.
    2 things–there’s a great post about that NY Times article here: http://www.earlyword.com/2010/10/12/the-importance-of-picture-books/. It includes reasons that picture books are important (great comebacks or answers for parents or others who think kids should be beyond picture books). It also contains a link to Bank Street Children’s library, and some great lists of picture books (and other books, too) at http://www.bankstreet.edu/childrenslibrary/booklists.html.
    Also! The Cooperative Children’s Book Center here at UW has a great listing of picture books for older children at http://bit.ly/CCBCpicturebooks. (It’s also compiled by a friend of mine…) Be careful with that site, though–you can spend a LOT of time looking at their lists…


  13. Mercy Watson? I shudder at some things I perceive as somewhat sexist, but my daughter (nearly 5) really likes them and they are goofy and the illustrations are fun and energetic.


  14. I too have a daughter that didn’t like the girly books. And she also didn’t want to read a lot of the early reader books. They were kind of too boring and simplified to her I think since I read regular chapter books to her. I would say the Mercy Watson books are the closest to what you are asking that we have come across. Bright and fun illustrations and easy to read. I would say Frog & Toad, Wild Times at the Bed and Biscuit, Horse Crazy and eventually the Fairy series books by Daisy Meadows. I am not a huge fan of the Fairy books but my daughter liked that she was reading a series and that each series had a theme. My daughter is an excellent reader and pushed herself. The other cute books my daughter liked once we were ready were Flat Stanley and Pet Sitter is cute too. We would go to the local book store and they would help her find new books that were appropriate content and level and that really helped her gain confidence. Then pretty quickly we moved onto real chapter books. We would take turns reading pages to give her a break. Good luck!


  15. Eloise maybe? It is pretty long and a classic. But the pictures are a lot more stylized. My 5 year old loved it. (And Madeleine of course, but that might be too simple?)


  16. Captain Abdul’s Pirate School.
    Featuring pirates AND school. And a smart girl as main character. I wouldn’t call the illos beautiful, but they are packed with lots of funny details.
    You’ll have to google for the author, as I don’t remember offhand…


  17. On your recommendation, I’m ordering Jenny and the Cat Club for the bookstore. We’ll see how it goes over in Maine.
    Popular here – Mercy Watson, Cowgirl Kate, Clementine and any of the Wimpy Kids books.
    Also, my daughter had a book called “I Have an Aunt on Marlborough Street” by Kathryn Lasky, that she loved.


  18. I would go for William Steig: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Brave Irene, Gorky Rises, and The Amazing Bone, and Dr. DeSoto were some of my favorites long after I could read longer books (they’re good read alouds because they have relatively high level vocabulary. Brave Irene was my family’s favorite).
    Also, there are copies The Wind in the Willows with lots of pictures.
    Also, I loved Miss Rumphius, which is beautiful and is a great story. It is about making things “pretty” but I wouldn’t say that it’s a girly book (it’s about a woman who plants flowers and the story of her life).
    Horrible Harry? I’m not sure if the books have enough pictures but they’re a lot of fun.
    Also, there is an illustrated edition of The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl, but you might have to search for it (I’m not sure if that edition is still in print).
    Strega Nona is a lot of fun too.


  19. How about “Jeremiah in the Dark Woods”, and “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”, both by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, of “Peepo” and “Each Peach Pear Plum” fame. They’re both chapter books, but with lots of beautiful illustrations (as you’d expect from the Ahlbergs). They’re also both adventures — Jeremiah is a sort of muddled up fairy tale, where some tarts get stolen and Jeremiah has to find them — he meets the three bears and the frog prince and a mad hatter and a wolf and a dinosaur along the way. It isn’t scary (in fact, almost nothing really happens except for Jeremia talking to all of these creatures), but it is a lovely fun story. The Dark and Stormy Night one is a little more scary — Antonio is kidnapped by pirates (pirates!) and tries to escape by telling them all stories — his stories are all about bears and bats and monsters living in the moats of castles. Again, very good fun.
    Also, a while back I wrote in with a slightly different problem (very young child wanting chapter books that weren’t scary, and that still had numerous pictures) and someone recommended the “My Father’s Dragon” series, by Ruth Stiles Gannett, which I think might also fit this questioner’s need. They were absolutely devoured in our house: read over and over again. They also have stunning illustrations, at regular enough intervals to satisfy a picture book lover, but have a more complex (and funny and engaging) story than many picture books. (The first story is about a boy who rescues a baby dragon from wild animals by outwitting them through clever use of random things like lollipops and rubber bands and toothbrushes, for anyone who hasn’t come across the series before. The second and third books follow the boy’s and the dragon’s journeys home.)
    Finally, how about Robert Munsch? His books are definitely picture books (and are always illustrated really amazingly) but they are on the more wordy end of the picture book range, and they are fantastic for reading aloud. And also very not girly — full of mud and stinks and squelches and other good stuff like that.


  20. Hi, this is the mom of the kid in question, THANKS SO MUCH to all of you!!! Some of these books we have read, but some a long time ago, and some (Jenny and the Cat Club, Lyle, Dorrie the Witch) we have read one or two but I know there are more, so I will return to them. We’ll try Mercy Watson (and I see they have them on audiobook at my library, which is good for our upcoming 7 hour Thanksgiving car ride!). We are blessed with a library system that will send us books from any of 22 nearby different town libraries, but you have to know what to ask for – and now I know! Thanks for sharing collective wisdom.


  21. Here’s my pick… NEIL GAIMAN!!!
    I have read these books to my Kindergarten class this year and my higher learners LOVE them, AND to my 5th graders last year who LOVED them!!
    The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish is my all time favorite, BT, My 5th graders and some Kindergarteners seemed to like The Wolves in the Walls better!! I think it was my voice!! It was easier to get into character in Wolves in the Walls. Anyway, they are fabulous, and I hope your daughter enjoys them as much as my students did!!
    ALSO: Graeme Base books. My daughter, when she was in Kindergarten, LOVED The Eleventh Hour, The Water Hole, and My Grandmother lives in Gooligulch. Oh, and Animalia. However, my students don’t care for them as much. I think it is because it is more of a book to read one on one. Check them out, they are FABULOUS!! I know he has a new book out right now also, but the name is escaping me!! Hope this helps!!


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