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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Friday, October 27, 2006 11:03 am
Trying Not to Be Part of the Problem
Posted by: Keir Graff

I’ve been lamenting the rise of the celebrity-authored picture book often and loudly enough to have finally realized that I’m part of the problem. Even if I’m only mentioning these books only in order to criticize them, I’m still contributing in a small way–very, very small–to the media hype.

Jessmonster was the first to answer my call for non-celebrity picture books that deserve a shout-out:

You could talk up My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World. The first subject heading is ‘elephants – juvenile fiction.’ And it’s hilarious.

I haven’t seen it, but I’ll look for it. As for my own nominee, well, Meg Rosoff isn’t exactly an unknown, but as far as I know, she’s neither spiked a ball in the end zone of Texas Stadium nor hosted a late-night chat show. And my two-year-old, my wife, and I all love Meet Wild Boars. It meets both my need for text that allows highly dramatic readings and my two-year-old’s need for the vivid depiction of bodily functions.

(Of course, these things go in phases. Right now he’s more into John Henry: An American Legend, by Ezra Jack Keats. But he’ll be back: what two-year-old can resist a book that ends with a steaming pile of wild-boar poop?)

Asking for recommendations of good picture books that weren’t written by celebrities is pretty broad, I know, but I need help balancing my karma. So help me out, already.

7 Responses to “Trying Not to Be Part of the Problem”
  1. Jennifer Mattson Says:

    As one of BOOKLIST’s Books for Youth editors, it’s appalling that I had never heard of Ruth Krauss’ A VERY SPECIAL HOUSE before a friend sent it in honor of my newborn baby. Not only is it illustrated by Maurice Sendak in a quite wonderful, minimalist style but it has a fantastic, rolling rhythm and reads like a toddler’s free associating self-chat. Oh, and to make my embarrassment about not knowing it worse, it won a Caldecott Honor, way back when. So there’s my two cents.

  2. Stephanie Zvirin Says:

    Although I always have to pause a moment to rid myself of images from Halloween, I think Jaimie Lee Curtis stands out as a celeb picture-book author. She has a good sense of how children really feel and what kinds of books they like. When I Was Little and Tell Me Again about the Night I Was Born are the two I like best Of couse, it certainly helps that her stories are paired with illustrator Laura Cornell’s delightfully wacky pictures, which give stories extra punch.

  3. Ilene Cooper Says:

    Three great picture books from 2006: Kate McMullen’s truck book I’m Dirty, a follow up to her terrific book about a garbage truck, I Stink.
    Tracy Campbell Pearson does a wonderful job of illustrating Stevenson’s poem, The Moon, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal offers life lessons served up sweetly in Cookies.
    One to look for in 07 How to Be A Baby by Me, the Big Sister by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Sue Heap. Fun!

  4. Colleen Says:

    I actually review picture books twice a year for Eclectica Magazine (here’s my current “roundup”: http://www.eclectica.org/v10n4/mondor_picture_06.html).

    I would especially recommend Alpha Oops by Alethea Kontis. It’s a funny look at the order of the alphabet, and allows the letters to have quite the sense of humor. (And the art is amazing.)

    There are a bunch of blogs that follow picture books in the kid litosphere – send me an email if you want to know some places to keep up on this genre.

  5. Carolyn Phelan Says:

    In honor of Halloween, I recommend two picture books in which the main characters cleverly trick Death: the shoemaker in Teresa Bateman’s Keeper of Soles (first U.S. picture book illustrated by Yayo, a Columbian artist now living in Canada) and the grandmother in Yuyi Morales’ Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book.
    For the younger set, try board book Five Little Pumpkins by Dan Yaccarino and Mouse’s First Halloween, written by Lauren Thompson and illustrated by Buket Erdogan.

  6. Keir Says:

    Thanks, everybody! I took the liberty of hyperlinking the titles to their Booklist reviews. I know I plan to follow up on these suggestions…and I think my karma may be getting back in balance.

  7. Melissa Henderson Says:

    Two picture book titles that everyone MUST read, right now…stop what you’re doing and go read “Ain’t Gonna Paint No More” and “Mabel O’Leary Put Peas in Her Ear-y.” Both are excellent for print motivation (books that are fun!) and phonological awareness (books that sound fun).


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