At long last, we’ve made it to the Top 50. From here on in you’re going to see many more familiar names and titles. The standards, if you will, are going to start appearing in droves. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a surprise here and there. In fact today’s list has two surprises on it, in my opinion.
You’re also going to see the effect wrought on certain titles when people like them, but list them low on their Top 10 lists. As I’ve mentioned before, I have had a point system in place for each vote. Your number one pick was 10 points, your number two was 9 points, etc. And today we’ll see a book that made it onto the list by the skin of its teeth, due to the sheer number of low votes it got.
#50: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg (1981)
27 points (4 votes, #7, #3, #2, #5)
Look no further than the cover artwork to witness Van Allsburg’s eerie, draftsman-like precision on full display. Jumanji (published in 1981) takes a story that could have turned out silly and crafts a hauntingly beautiful title through illustrations that speak volumes. – Travis Jonker
For those of you wondering where Mr. Van Allsburg has been hiding all this time, I can now tell you that he’s been lurking about the top of the list. Now this is not going to be Van Allburg’s only appearance in the Top 50. He has at least one other title coming up as well. But it’s satisfying to see him make his appearance. As a kid, Van Allsburg was one of my favorites. I was always drawn to realistic illustrations. I think I was probably most fond of his The Stranger, a book that to my mind doesn’t ever get enough attention. And with this book, a Caldecott Medal winner, the man managed to combine realism with his customary insanity beautifully.
From my review: "Peter and Judy have been left home alone by their opera attending parents and boy are they boredy bored bored. After playing with their toys and making a mess they decide to take a run to the park. Once there, they discover an abandoned board game called Jumanji sitting beneath a tree. On a note taped to the bottom of the box read the words, ‘Free game, fun for some but not for all. P.S. Read instructions carefully.’ The kids don’t know what to expect but they take the game with them anyway. After reading the instructions they find that once a person begins Jumanji they cannot stop until someone has won the game. The first roll of the die leads to a space that reads, ‘Lion attacks, move back two spaces.’ Suddenly there’s a real live lion in the room, and it’s regarding Peter hungrily. The kids realize, to their horror, that whatever happens on the board happens in real life. If they want to finish the game (and remain alive) they’re going to have to continue."
The film adaptation of Jumanji drilled home the fact that it is almost impossible to make a picture book into a decent full length motion picture. Who was in that thing anyway? I remember Robin Williams and Kirsten Dunst . . . wait a sec . . . Bonnie Hunt was in it? Bebe Neuwirth? Wow.
Unmemorable movie. Memorable book. You can read it here if you like.
#49: Black and White by David Macaulay (1990)
28 points (3 votes, #1, #2, #2)
And another Caldecott Medal winner (two in a row!) hits the pavement running. Macaulay is perhaps best known for his non-fiction titles like Pyramid, Cathedral, or Castle, and his best known title The Way Things Work. The man has dabbled more than a couple of times in the realm of the picture book as well, though, and sometimes to his great advantage. I had a patron come into my library once telling me that his Angelo was the book she used to teach her children about death. And The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature was so taken with his book BAAA (published in America in 1985) that they include the full text and illustrations in their book. Oddly enough, Norton does not even mention the fact that Macaulay won this Caldecott in their brief bio of him.
Black and White is best described as the picture book that forces you to think. Here’s how Publishers Weekly described the plot: "At first glance, this is a collection of four unrelated stories, each occupying a quarter of every two-page spread, and each a slight enough tale to seem barely worth a book–a boy on a train, parents in a funny mood, a convict’s escape and a late commuter train. The magic of Black and White comes not from each story, however, but from the mysterious interactions between them that creates a fifth story. Several motifs linking the tales are immediately apparent, such as trains–real and toy–and newspapers. A second or third reading reveals suggestions of the title theme: Holstein cows, prison uniform stripes. Eventually, the stories begin to merge into a surrealistic tale spanning several levels of reality, e.g.: Are characters in one story traveling on the toy train in another? Answers are never provided–this is not a mystery or puzzle book."
Take a look at it here to get a better sense of what they’re saying. Some have called it a postmodern work, and certainly the stories and how they blur and blend into one another are fit for a lot of interpretation and conversation. PW is right, it isn’t a mystery or a puzzle book, but boy does it have that feel.
Publishers Weekly also said of it, ". . . Black and White challenges the reader to use text and pictures in unexpected ways. Although the novelty will wear off quickly for adults, no other writer for adults or children explores this unusual territory the way Macaulay does."
#48: The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Pinkwater (1977)
28 points (5 votes – #4, #3, #10, #9, #1)
It’s probably because I am literally and figuratively Mr. Plumbean. – Candace Ryan
Very funny, with the best last line: “Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.” – Karen Ruelle
Oh, Pinkwater fans. You’ve been so patient until now. Biding your time. Wondering when his name would make the list. What would it be for? The Tooth Gnasher Super Flash? One of his delightful polar bears? Frankenbagel? Now the moment of truth has come and the best known, best beloved, highest rated Pinkwater title on this list is . . . . The Big Orange Splot.
I think Vintage Children’s Books My Kid Loves said it best when they described the plot of this book as, "Mr. Plumbean lived on a street where all the houses were the same. He liked it that way. So did everybody else on Mr. Plumbean’s street. ‘This is a neat street,’ they would say. Then one day… A seagull flew over Mr. Plumbean’s house. He was carrying a can of bright orange paint. (No one knows why.) And he dropped the can (no one knows why) right over Mr. Plumbean’s house. Well, said bucket leaves said big orange splot, and we all know how well something like a big orange splot would go over on a ‘neat street’. The splot inspires Mr. Plumbean and overnight he transforms his home into something of his dreams. Though they balk at first, eventually, the whole street sees the appeal of living your own life and letting your freak flag fly. A wonderful message in a world all too often consumed with appearances."
Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature called it a story that “celebrate[s] nonconformists and dreamers.” Alongside The Araboolies of Liberty Street, Little Rebels says that these tales feature protagonists who “in disregarding the aesthetic norms of the neighborhood, inspire rebelliousness in their neighbors, who in turn repaint their houses in wild colors.”
And is it just me, or did Nickelodeon steal the orange splot icon for their logo long ago?
#47: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff (1985)
28 points (9 votes, #6, #5, #8, #8, #10, #9, #9, #9, #5)
I can probably quote this book word for word by now, having read it so many times to children I’ve babysat and then during storytimes. No matter how many times children (or adults) have heard this one, it is still adorable and still completely giggle-inducing. – Amanda Snow
This is the book I was alluding to at the beginning of this post. Take a gander at the sheer number of votes this puppy got. As of right now, Numeroff’s book leads the way in number of times someone put this book on their Top 10 list. But look at where they ranked it. No one would call it their number one favorite picture book of all time. No one would even call it their number two. No, inevitably If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, if it’s included at all, is one of those books relegated to the #5 and below slot. It’s almost an afterthought. People like it quite a lot, but no one would defend it unto their grave as the best book of all time. As a result, tallying votes for this book was a painful process. Get enough #9 and #10 votes in there and after a while I start worrying whether or not it would make the list AT ALL! Fortunately there was a real push near the end and people sent me their mousey love in droves. Still . . . for a while there this was going to win the Most Votes Without Making It Onto the Top Ten List Award (I won’t tell you what book actually won that award yet).
The plot on Amazon is described as, "Who would ever suspect that a tiny little mouse could wear out an energetic young boy? Well, if you’re going to go around giving an exuberantly bossy rodent a cookie, you’d best be prepared to do one or two more favors for it before your day is through. For example, he’ll certainly need a glass of milk to wash down that cookie, won’t he? And you can’t expect him to drink the milk without a straw, can you? By the time our hero is finished granting all the mouse’s very urgent requests–and cleaning up after him–it’s no wonder his head is becoming a bit heavy."
A hit? You don’t know the half of it. Spawning sequel after sequel, this book is the creme of the mouse/cookie genre.
My favorite crazy Amazon review of this book (can you imagine someone vehemently not liking it?) was, "This story revolves around a mouse who demands ever-increasing amounts of consumer items from an ever-increasingly exasperated boy. Cute pictures hide a terrible message of selfishness and class warfare boiling beneath American society. The whole book devolves into a crude political cartoon, where the boy symbolizes an innocent and hard-working tax payer while the mouse typifies a vile depiction of how the wealthy (or at least those who perceive themselves as wealthy) view the poor and needy. While the boy gives more and more to the mouse the mouse in turn asks more and more of the boy. It paints the situation as unjust and the mouse having little reason to ask for these handouts."
SLJ‘s faint praise was, "A light confection as suited for use in preschool story hours for beginning readers."
Or read it here if you like:
#46: Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt (2006)
31 points (#7, #6, #3, #6, #6, #9, #9)
“a testament to the rewards of risk and adventure.” – Rebecca Bartlett
I consider Scaredy Squirrel to be the only true 21st century picture book on this list. Let me explain. Certainly we’ve a fair amount of author/illustrators out there that have appeared post-2000 to worm their ways into the hearts and minds of children. But Scaredy Squirrel is, to my mind, here today because it became an internet phenomenon.
Should I credit The Cybils? Partly. But word of electronic mouth may really be the reason. I’ve seen Scaredy mentioned on blog after blog after blog. I’ve seen people discuss it via webchats, online reviews, Amazon discussions, and more. Scaredy Squirrel, you may be afraid of everyone and everything out there, but the one thing you are not afraid of is sure-footed viral marketing. Well done, sir.
From my review: "Scaredy Squirrel’s world is straightforward and easy to navigate. His tree is safe and comforting whereas everything else on the planet is ‘the unknown’ and therefore worthy of fear. I mean, consider how dangerous everything is. There’s poison ivy and martians and sharks and germs and all kinds of stuff to watch out for. Scaredy Squirrel, therefore, sees no good reason why he should do anything other than eat, sleep, and look at the view from his tree’s verdant branches all day. He even has an emergency kit near at hand. Then… one day… the unthinkable occurs. Out of nowhere a ‘killer’ bee startles our hero and causes him to drop his kit. Down plunges Scaredy (before remembering the whole don’t-leave-the-tree plan) but rather than crash to the ground he finds that he is capable of something entirely new: gliding. Turns out that Scaredy has been a flying squirrel all along and never knew it. Now Scaredy makes exactly one leap into the unknown every day before playing dead for two hours and going home. And for this little squirrel, that’s a mighty big step to take."
Jen Robinson’s Book Page said of Scaredy, "I already consider him a friend of mine, with his timid, toothy smile, but I’ll be happy to see him make more."
MotherReader called it, "A perfect book."
And in 2006 it won the Cybil for Best Picture Book. He even has his own website. Awww. How can you not love this little guy? Considering the vast hoards of over-protected children out there, Scaredy really is a hero for our times.
Note how the professional reviewers were unable to keep from comparing Scaredy to other books:
Booklist said of it, "Despite the simply drawn cartoons and brief text, this is more sophisticated in tone than Martin Waddell’s Tiny’s Big Adventure (2004), though the message is similar."
Publishers Weekly said, "It’s an indication of how well Watt (Leon the Chameleon) knows her helicopter-parented audience that she’s able to turn the phrase "antibacterial soap" into a bona fide punchline. . . . Youngsters will go nuts over this one." <—- Best. Review. Quote. Ever.
And School Library Journal said, "Like other successful worrywarts before him, such as Kevin Henkes’s Wemberly Worried (HarperCollins, 2000) and Rosemary Wells’s Felix and the Worrier (Candlewick, 2003), Scaredy Squirrel needn’t fret about finding readers to cheer him on."