Top 10 Picture Books to Inspire Creativity

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Judy recently posted about the need to share picture books with older kids. Christine, a commenter on Judy’s post, writes beautifully about picture books and their importance to her family. These ladies are spot on.

In my family we read picture books aloud long after my kids began reading on their own. It was our family time, a way to wind down and enjoy a good story together before the boys went off to bed (with more picture books to read in bed, of course). Alas, the boys are teens now and our treasured read-alouds have gone the way of Bugs Bunny bandages and OshKosh B’gosh overalls. But I miss picture books. I still stop in the children’s section of the library once in awhile to flip through some picture books, just to see what’s available.

I have to admit, though, I’m kind of a picture book snob. I expect nothing less than fabulous from these books. During our picture book days library trips generally resulted in a stack of mediocre books, with an occasional treasure mixed in. Those treasures were destined to become our favorites, getting checked out again and again, until we finally decided it would be better to own them. As I was compiling this list, it occurred to me that we’ve managed to gather a collection of favorites that inspire creativity and encourage individuality. I like that.

My family thinks these storybooks are the cream of the crop:

 

    1. Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. I have actually accosted moms in the library, insisting that they share this story with their kids. It’s that good. This is a true story of children in Yuma, Arizona who use rocks, discarded materials, and their imagination to create a thriving city complete with City Hall and a cemetery. The final page is a heart warmer, as we realize that Roxaboxen still lives in the hearts of those who played there long ago (and now in the hearts of those who have read the story). I once raved about this storybook to my son’s preschool teacher. Imagine my surprise when she told me she grew up in Yuma, Arizona and had played in the real life Roxaboxen!
    2. Stephanie’s Ponytail by Robert Munsch. I am kind of a non-conformist, so Stephanie is dear to my heart. It is a silly story about individuality and how Stephanie manages to be different in the midst of a classroom full of trendy copycats. Even the teacher succumbs to peer pressure, but Stephanie? She has the last laugh. I love all of Robert Munsch’s books, but this is definitely one of our favorites. Check your library for an audiocassette version of some of Munsch’s stories, too. He is a great storyteller.
    3. Weslandia by Paul Fleischman. Poor Wesley just doesn’t fit in. Unlike the other children at school, he dislikes pizza and soda, and he refuses to cut his hair in the style worn by all of the other boys. He is an outcast, much to the dismay of his parents. Call him a geek, even. Wesley spends his summer vacation creating his own civilization complete with its own alphabet. His pretend world absolutely captivated me, in part because I wanted to live in a world where one single plant from the garden could provide everything necessary for life, and partly because I could really identify with Wesley. As summer draws to a close, Wesley endears himself to the neighborhood children and they accept him for who he is, quirks and all.
    4. LookAlikes by Joan Steiner. The text in this book is just mediocre. Why then am I recommending it?  The pictures are incredible! Author and artist Joan Steiner utilizes everyday objects to create incredible 3D scenes of a miniature world. Bread and crackers become buildings, scissors are transformed into Ferris wheels, and pistachio shells become flowers. This book kept my youngest (who never sat still) enthralled for hours at a time as he pored over the pictures trying to identify all of the hidden surprises.
    5. Old Jake’s Skirts by David Slonim. Jake is an elderly bachelor who lives with his dog.  When they find an old trunk in the middle of the road, they search for its owner to no avail.  When they eventually open it and find calico skirts, they first wonder about it, and then realize that the skirts seem to be bringing good luck. I love that the seemingly gruff Jake shows his soft side.
    6. Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg. When Walter tosses a piece of trash on the ground, he thinks nothing of it. But that night, his bed is transported to scenes from an overcrowded and polluted Earth. Good thing it was just a dream; or was it? The illustrations are fantastic and always inspire conversation.
    7. Sector 7 by David Wiesner.  This wordless treasure (a Caldecott Honor book) offers up an unlikely story about a boy and a cloud.  Just how do all of those amazing cloud shapes get made?? This is a great story for non-readers to “read”. One of our favorite things to do was to sit with this story and a pad of sticky notes. As my kids told the story, I’d write it down and we’d stick their stories on the pages so that I could read it aloud to them later. More than once, I’m sure, the librarians were surprised with our latest version of the story.
    8. The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau. Once upon a time a King believed that money could buy happiness. It takes a wise old woman to prove to him that this is not so. No matter how much the King insists, the quiltmaker refuses to sell him the quilt that he so desperately wants — until he gives away all of his material possessions. The pictures are gorgeous, and we really enjoyed the many different quilt patterns showcased on the inside cover. A book for all humanity.
    9. The Dream House by Pirkko Vainio. Lucas builds his dream house on a tiny island, using an assortment of recycled odds and ends, driftwood, and glass bottles. Though he loves his beautiful house, he is lonely on his secluded island. One day, stormy seas come to the rescue, toppling his dream home which creates a bridge connecting his island to the mainland. The bridge brings the local children to Lucas’s island and he’s lonely no more.
    10. Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present by John Birmingham. One Christmas Eve, Santa falls into bed exhausted after delivering all of his Christmas presents. And then he sees it: A lump in his sack. It’s a present for Harvey Slumfenburger who only gets one present each year, and that from Santa Claus. Harvey lives high atop Roly Poly Mountain far, far away, but Santa is determined to get that present delivered no matter what it takes. Sure, this is a Christmas story, but it’s also about going to the ends of the Earth to do something for another human being. We read this aloud every holiday season and my kids still love the pictures of Santa Claus ziplining, skiing, and ballooning his way to Harvey.

So there you have it. Those are our top ten must-have picture books. Now it’s your turn. What picture books make your family’s list of favorites?


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42 thoughts on “Top 10 Picture Books to Inspire Creativity

  1. Hooray for Stephanie’s Ponytail! I also love Munsch books, I can pretty much tell Purple, Green, and Yellow by heart and loved to read Good Family’s Don’t to my older campers.

  2. Hooray for Stephanie’s Ponytail! I also love Munsch books, I can pretty much tell Purple, Green, and Yellow by heart and loved to read Good Family’s Don’t to my older campers.

  3. I could really identify with this post. Long after my kids had grown up, I would linger in the picture book section of the local bookstore. American picture books were treasured by moms like me, in the 1970s, raising children in France. A favorite was Make Way for Ducklings. Now I look at picture books in view of reading to my granddaughter. Thanks for this list. It will serve me well.

  4. I could really identify with this post. Long after my kids had grown up, I would linger in the picture book section of the local bookstore. American picture books were treasured by moms like me, in the 1970s, raising children in France. A favorite was Make Way for Ducklings. Now I look at picture books in view of reading to my granddaughter. Thanks for this list. It will serve me well.

  5. Love Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

    And straying to kid books, in general, there’s a ton that I still read over and over – the Little House books, the Little Women series, and anything by Rosamond du Jardin and Elizabeth Enright.

  6. Love Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

    And straying to kid books, in general, there’s a ton that I still read over and over – the Little House books, the Little Women series, and anything by Rosamond du Jardin and Elizabeth Enright.

  7. How did I manage to miss so many of these wonderful books when my kids were little? I’ll have to save this list for THEIR kids, I guess. It pays to be a picture book snob – this is quite an impressive list.

  8. How did I manage to miss so many of these wonderful books when my kids were little? I’ll have to save this list for THEIR kids, I guess. It pays to be a picture book snob – this is quite an impressive list.

  9. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems. It’s about a naked mole rat who really wants to wear clothes and he gets picked on, but then convinces the town patriarch that clothes are great. In the end some of the mole rats decide to wear clothes and others decide to stay naked. Hilarious.

  10. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems. It’s about a naked mole rat who really wants to wear clothes and he gets picked on, but then convinces the town patriarch that clothes are great. In the end some of the mole rats decide to wear clothes and others decide to stay naked. Hilarious.

  11. Weslandia is one of my favorite books, despite the fact that I didn’t discover it until 6th grade. Elfwyn’s Saga, A River Ran Wild, and Chipmunk Song are 3 others that I loved growing up, and read regularly even into high school. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was up there too 🙂

  12. Weslandia is one of my favorite books, despite the fact that I didn’t discover it until 6th grade. Elfwyn’s Saga, A River Ran Wild, and Chipmunk Song are 3 others that I loved growing up, and read regularly even into high school. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was up there too 🙂

  13. At my son’s old school (called Awakening Seed) they have Roxaboxens. They were inspired by the book, each class has a play area outside their classroom, and the kids build little houses and have time to play/trade and pretend!

    1. That’s awesome! I love the pretend play that happens when kids start thinking in Roxaboxen style. My kids spent an entire camping trip creating their own Roxaboxen years ago. Fun stuff.

  14. At my son’s old school (called Awakening Seed) they have Roxaboxens. They were inspired by the book, each class has a play area outside their classroom, and the kids build little houses and have time to play/trade and pretend!

    1. That’s awesome! I love the pretend play that happens when kids start thinking in Roxaboxen style. My kids spent an entire camping trip creating their own Roxaboxen years ago. Fun stuff.

  15. Thanks for Weslandia! I thought it would be right up my 5-year-old’s alley. It came today from Amazon and we read it for bedtime story. My son already has big plans for tomorrow to create his own language…

    1. Oh and check out Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters. It’s not only the very best book for explaining how evolution works to a VERY curious three-year-old, it has captivating, vivid illustrations that my kids (and I) love pouring over. We have too many favorite books to list, but this is up there near the top.

  16. Thanks for Weslandia! I thought it would be right up my 5-year-old’s alley. It came today from Amazon and we read it for bedtime story. My son already has big plans for tomorrow to create his own language…

    1. Oh and check out Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters. It’s not only the very best book for explaining how evolution works to a VERY curious three-year-old, it has captivating, vivid illustrations that my kids (and I) love pouring over. We have too many favorite books to list, but this is up there near the top.

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