Erica S. Perl is the author, most recently, of Dotty, illustrated by the talented Julia Denos. Her other picture books include Chicken Butt!, Ninety-Three in My Family and Chicken Bedtime Is Really Early. Look at her website for more.
In addition to writing for children, Erica works for the national non-profit organization First Book, which has provided over 70 million brand new books to programs and schools serving children in need.
Here she goes:
A List of Twelve of My Favorite Picture Books (Masquerading as a List of Ten):
My favorite picture book of all time is SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE by William Steig. I love everything about this book: the subtle humor, the matter-of-fact dictation of events, the rawness of the emotions, and the riskiness of the premise. But I think Steig’s pacing and his creation of tension more than anything is what is astonishing. When Father and Mother Donkey sit down to have their picnic, even if you know what’s coming next, you can’t help holding your breath.
Arnold Lobel was a genius, and I would certainly have mentioned OWL AT HOME or one of his Frog and Toad books, except I think of them as early readers. GIANT JOHN is a picture book and it is a great one. My favorite pages involve visual depictions of the Giant family’s suffering: the two potato chips in their cupboard, and Ma Giant about to dine on her shoe as John bursts through the door with his bag of gold.
I’m also a huge Russell and Lillian Hoban fan, so I’m going with A BIRTHDAY FOR FRANCES, which introduces the excellent imaginary character “Alice” as well as Frances’ angry creative spelling and the wonderful “Chompo bar” episode.
MAY I BRING A FRIEND by Beatrice Schenk des Regniers, illustrated by Beni Montresor. Bliss. I grew up thinking it was a book about a child’s friendship with animals (which I related to very strongly) and enjoying the unconventional yet beautifully structured meter of the verse (which is sort of like a mobile, with dangling parts that all balance each other). Now, I see it as a book about grandparents and unconditional love. Weird, huh?
Speaking of poems, some of the best picture books are, essentially, poems. For example, Dr. Seuss’ THE SLEEP BOOK (which I think is his best work) and Amy Schwartz’s A TEENY TINY BABY. These two are very different from each other (one lives in the land of fantasy, while the other is rooted in realism), but both treat their subjects with reverence and perfect attention to detail.
Next up: FISH IS FISH by Leo Lionni. I hate “message” books. Good thing this isn’t one. It’s just a great story about cross-cultural friendship, being comfortable with who you are, and cows with wings and feet.
I will always be in awe of ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY, though the Judith Viorst book that I perhaps love the most is THE TENTH GOOD THING ABOUT BARNEY. I practically can’t say the title without starting to sob.
BABAR AND ZEPHIR by Jean de Brunhoff. True story: we had this book on a phonograph record, which included songs. If anyone finds it on eBay, let me know. I love the monkey village and the secret mermaid promises and kidnapped monkey princess (Extra! Extra! Monkey Princess Vanishes!) and the petulant monsters and the bizarre elaborate premise of this book. Not much Babar here, but enough Zephir to make up for it!
THE STUPIDS DIE by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall. Extra points awarded for the title alone. This book and others in the series broke new ground in terms of serious silliness. For which all of us who write, read and appreciate humorous children’s books are extremely grateful.