I was having lunch with a friend the other day and the subject of this poll came up. We discussed the process of coming up with your own Top 10 list of picture books and she made a brilliant point. When you’re constructing a list of that sort, there are three different ways you can go. You can vote for the books that were your favorites as a child (or, similarly, are the current favorites of your own children). You can vote for the books that are your favorites as an adult. And you can vote for books that you feel are "worthy" children’s picture book literature, which is to say, the classics. Bing. Bang. Boom.
By and large the list that you’ll see here is a mix of all three. Some people would do all of one kind of book or all of another. But generally you’ll see a mixing of different types. That means that this list isn’t all classics, all kid-favorites, or all adult loves. It’s a healthy jumble of the three, just the way I like it. Of course, once we head towards the Top 20 you’re going to see a definite shift in one direction. Nothing to be done about that, though.
#65: Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann (1995)
20 points (#4, #6, #7, #7)
Together we can accomplish more than we can alone. This book leaves you smiling! – Linda Kranz
This book makes my list because Rathmann intentionally drew illustrations that told the story – the words alone do not. Joyful, fun, and kids LOVE Gloria. – Susan Eley
Only one other out-and-out Caldecott Medal winner has made it onto the list so far, and that was Kitten’s First Full Moon. Now a second Medal winner has joined its ranks. Special Note: Before all is said and done at least eleven other Caldecott Medal winners will make it onto this list. Perhaps I should ask you all to guess what the eleven will be. There are a couple surprises in that list that I suspect some of you might not see coming.
As the Amazon.com summary of this book put it: "Officer Buckle is a roly-poly bloke, dedicated to teaching schoolchildren important safety tips, such as never put anything in your ear and never stand on a swivel chair. The problem is, Officer Buckle’s school assemblies are dull, dull, dull, and the children of Napville just sleep, sleep, sleep. That is, until Gloria the police dog is invited along! Stealthily pantomiming each safety tip behind Officer Buckle’s back, Gloria wins the children’s hearts. Meanwhile Officer Buckle assumes the cheers and laughter are all for him."
Fun Fact: The year that Officer Buckle and Gloria won the Caldecott the New York Public Library employees would still regularly dress up as the winning book when attending the yearly Newbery/Caldecott banquet. For a long time a policeman’s cap sporting a pair of brown ears lived in the Central Children’s Room. I haven’t seen it since our move to our new location, however, so it may well be lost to the sands of time.
Additional Fun Fact: Though this is their only official book, Officer Buckle and Gloria have appeared in at least one other Rathmann title (albeit briefly). Can you name the book?
Publisher’s Weekly said of it, "Rathmann (Good Night, Gorilla) brings a lighter-than-air comic touch to this outstanding, solid-as-a-brick picture book."
School Library Journal: "A five-star performance."
And BookList summed it all up with: "Like Officer Buckle and Gloria, the deadpan humor of the text and slapstick wit of the illustrations make a terrific combination. Large, expressive line drawings illustrate the characters with finesse, and the Kool-Aid-bright washes add energy and pizzazz."
#64: Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner (2003)
21 points (#2, #9, #1)
Another slightly controversial title makes it onto the list. Skippyjon Jones is one of the newer titles to make it onto the Top 100. It’s probably one of the more popular books in my library. The plot involves a small Siamese cat with aspirations of becoming a chihuahua. Children’s Literature summarized the plot like so:
"Skippyjon Jones is not your ordinary Siamese cat. He enjoys being with the birds and much to his mother’s displeasure, he sleeps with them, eats worms and plays in the birdbath. This just is not the type of behavior she expects from her son. Banished to his room, and warned to stay out of his closet, Skippyjon does not seem to be the least bit fazed. He actually ends up on another adventure, and this time he is a masked bandito consorting with a group of dogs—the Chimichangos. The fearless Skippyjon saves them from an awful monster bumblebee named Alfredo Buzzito. It turns out that the bee is actually a birthday piñata and when he punctures it all the goodies come spilling out all over his room. Mama for once is not really upset and the irrepressible Skippyjon is ready for his next adventure."
The problem? Well, in a letter to School Library Journal Ms. Dianne Daucher summarized the controversy surrounding the title:
"I am pretty shocked at the stereotypes of banditos, references to beans, and adding the letter ‘o’ to words to make them sound more Spanish. The part where the dog attempts to emulate a Latin accent with long ‘ees’ is really offensive. It is simply not cute to make fun of the language of any ethnic group or to ascribe characteristics or sayings to that group. Frankly, I don’t know any Mexican Americans who say ‘Holy Guacamole.’ This book is only funny to white Americans who aren’t thinking. Worse yet, it depicts weird stereotypes to children about what Mexicans or Latinos might be like.
How would this book be received if Skippyjon Jones wanted to be a neurotic poodle that happened to be Jewish? If he were saying little stereotypical phrases in Yiddish, how would that sound and look? I don’t think anyone would find that funny at all. It would not be appropriate. It would be racist."
Opinions differ on Skippyjon. It won the E.B. White Award for Best Read Aloud Book in 2003. Various blogs argue that it isn’t racist, just silly. It’s worthy of discussion. I think the best response came from The SurRural Librarian who simply said, "if you write a book where a character adds ‘o’ to the end of words he says ‘with his best Spanish accent’, you’re going to annoy people." Call it the Speedy Gonzalez Effect.
School Library Journal called it, "A good multicultural offering."
Kirkus said, "Colorful, lively illustrations exaggerate the hilarity. No ethnic aspersions intended, just laugh-out-loud humor. Both feline hero and story are full of beans (more Mexican-jumping than pinto) but ay caramba, mucho fun."
#63: “I Can’t,” Said the Ant: A Second Book of Nonsense by Polly Cameron (1961)
21 points (#6, #4, #2)
When rhyming works, it really works. The story is of a teapot that falls to the floor in an extremely well-stocked kitchen. In our house, “’Form a battalion!’ said the scallion” has become a rallying cry. – Farida Dowler
This falls into the category of lost treasures near and dear to the hearts of the people who read them when young.
In this story an ant witnesses a horrifying accident. A teapot has fallen, and who will be its savior? The ant is urged by every possible denizen of the kitchen, from the cutlery to the cooking ingredients to help. In the end, the ant does its best and all is well. This tale is told with a rhyme scheme that some might see as extreme, but that apparently sticks in the brain for years.
This is yet another out-of-print title, but if you look online you will find that it is well remembered and much loved still. A brief printing came out of the book in 2003 by Scholastic. If fan fervor continues at this pace we will have to assume that there will be a second coming of this print run someday.
#62: Traction Man is Here! by Mini Grey (2005)
21 points (4 votes, #5, #3, #8, #8)
This is one my son and I agree on. It had a ton of action and I thought she did such a nice job capturing the mind of an active boy. I love all the knitted socks at Grandma’s house. – Julie Phillipps
I want to go out on a limb here and say that when it comes to picture books about action figures, this book beats ’em all. Admittedly I can’t think of any other books that involve action figures to this extent . . . but the point remains.
My description of the plot from my Amazon review put it thusly: "A boy writes a note to Santa requesting another Traction Man since his old one was involved in what is simply referred to as, ‘the Terrible Parachute Accident’. Santa may not be aware of the boy’s request, but his parents are certainly on the ball because Christmas Day brings a brand new bright and shiny Traction Man (complete with Dazzle-Painted Battler Pants). Thus begin our hero’s adventures. Each time he appears, his new outfit is lovingly described (as in the sentence, ‘Traction Man is crawling through the overgrown shrubbery near the Pond, wearing Jungle Pants, Camouflage Vest and Sweaty Bandanna’). This is all well and good up until the moment the family goes to knit-crazy Granny’s. Traction Man receives an all-in-one knitted green romper suit and matches bonnet. It’s adorable and completely inappropriate for his line of work. Fortunately, Traction Man’s quick thinking sidekick Scrubbing Brush finds a way to solve the romper problem and save some spoons in need."
The funny thing about Traction Man is partly that some Americans don’t get the inherent joke of the name. In Britain there is a character called "Action Man". He’s sort of a G.I. Joe type guy. Ah well.
Said School Library Journal: "Grey has a way of exactly catching the nuances of a child’s ability to turn even the most common object into a friend or looming foe in the never-ending battle between good and evil. This fresh, funny hero and Grey’s celebration of a child’s imagination definitely have traction."
Booklist said: "Setting up the child as the creator of Traction Man’s secondary world and dramatizing his narrative play, Grey portrays with precision and wit the sort of inventive thinking that toys can inspire in children."
And Kirkus concluded with: "An absolutely, hilariously, dead-on perfect celebration of the relationship between child and toy."
And I don’t know how they did it, but full credit to The Bush School for actually knitting a green jumpsuit for a very testy action hero:
#61: The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack (1933)
21 points (#9, #3, #5, #6)
Timeless theme: getting lost and coming back home. – Sherry Early
A couple years ago I got this email from someone who was remembering past visits to my library when it was located at the Donnell: “I remember looking at what must have been the first edition of The Story About Ping, the first book I ever read myself, when I was four. I had seen much later editions, of course, but somehow was dissatisfied with them. When I unwrapped that first edition from its plastic, I realized that my memory had held true over all those decades: the blue of the Yangste River was the deeper blue I remembered, the cormorants more fierce than later versions. It was amazing to learn then that the original plates had been destroyed (perhaps during World War Two) and the illustrations recreated for later editions. This impressed on me once more how deep and even permanent is the impact of books loved in early childhood. My mind had actually retained, for more than 40 years, a shade of blue that I had never once seen in the intervening years.”
We all have that blue in our brains. We just usually aren’t lucky enough to find it again.
There have been some mild accusations of racism and animal cruelty leveled at Ping over the years, but I’m not sure if any of it sticks. The images of the Chinese aren’t the caricatures you’ll find in some of the other children’s titles out there, particularly of the same time period. However, there is some yellowing of the skin at times. As for animal cruelty, Ping gets spanked if he’s last in line. You’ll have to make your own call on this one.
With a publication date of 1933, Ping ties with Babar for Oldest Children’s Book on the List. They will retain this honor until #26 . . . .