Monday, October 25, 2010

Travis Jonker's Picture Book List

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian living a stone's throw from the banks of Lake Michigan. Since 2007 he has been writing about, promoting, and giving a hard time to children's literature at 100 Scope Notes. He is the founding member of the "No More Socks on Book Covers" support group and occasionally puts on a suit and combs his hair to review books for School Library Journal.

Here's Travis' list of ten of his favorite picture books: 

10. CURIOUS GEORGE by Margaret and H.A. Rey.

Originally published in 1941, it’s a testament to the enduring appeal of Curious George that this title, and its multitude of subsequent books are still widely circulated, and familiar to young readers. I can see why. Kids can relate to George’s innocently mischievous behavior and his relationship with “The Man With the Yellow Hat”, who acts as parental figure. In a format extended beyond the typical 32 page picture book standard, the simple text and humorous illustrations continue to draw readers in.

9. STREGA NONA by Tomie dePaola.

I must have a thing for bowls that duplicate stuff. Strega Nona in many ways mirrors the 4th title on this list, The Full Belly Bowl. But unlike Aylesworth’s book, Strega Nona focuses on humor to get its point across. dePaola’s 1979 classic takes an original tale and makes it feel timeless – no small feat.

8. ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT by Laurie Keller.

An absurdist masterpiece in both writing and illustration. Our hero goes through a lot in one day: being created, finding a home, avoiding consumption, and eventually welcoming his new role in life as a doughnut dog. Hilarious even after multiple readings with subtle themes of belonging, Arnie the Doughnut (published in 2003) has more personality in its publication page than some picture books have in total.

  7. JUMANJI by Chris Van Allsburg.

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.


Willems wasn’t the first picture book author to break down the “forth wall” and have his characters speak directly to the reader, he’s just proven to be the best at it. When Pigeon debuted in 2003 it became an immediate read aloud smash and reminded everyone that yes, books are entertainment – and that’s a good thing.


Never has there been a more universally loved picture book. While other titles on this list may split audiences, Eric Carle’s 1969 classic is bulletproof. Through its perfect story, wonderful pacing, and inventive illustration, this rep has been earned.

4. THE FULL BELLY BOWL by Jim Ayleswoth, Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin.

Some stories are best read alone, others reach their full potential when shared. Aylesworth’s 1999 tale of an old man who receives a magical gift from a stranger falls squarely in the latter category. A read aloud champion that pulls readers into the story, making them wonder what they would do with a bowl that can duplicate whatever is put inside it – including money.

3. FLOTSAM by David Wiesner.

There is no finer example of unbridled imagination than Wiesner’s 2006 wordless story about a boy who finds amazing things inside old camera washed up on a beach. As the storyline unfolds, the reader discovers that undersea life may be much more sophisticated (and whimsical) than previously thought. A cyclical ending shows the camera washed up again, ready for the next passerby to continue the story.


Books set during Christmas are akin to songs on top 40 radio – tons of people enjoy them, but critics don’t give them much credit. Don’t get it twisted: Seuss’ 1957 Yule time tale deserves all the credit it can get, if for no other reason than the creation of The Grinch, one of the most indelible characters in picture book history.

1. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak.

The evolution of picture books can be broken down into two time periods: Pre-Wild Things and Post-Wild Things. Sendak’s 1963 book was that instrumental in ushering in the modern age of picture books. While tackling themes of anger and loneliness, Sendak created one of the few picture books that still seems fresh after decades in print.

1 comment:

  1. Travis, I met Laurie Keller this afternoon at a bookstore visit she did, and were your ears burning? She mentioned you!

    Great list.