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11 Picture Books That Live In My Heart

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Like play, children use pictures books to make sense of the world around them. To give voice to the feelings and experiences they cannot yet articulate. At 43, I still use picture books this way. Here are some of my all time favorites. I return to these again and again, in my classroom and in my reading chair at home.

Tea with Milk by Allen Say

That one human being can write and paint so beautifully, with such nuanced emotion, just astounds me. I could make a “Top Ten” list of just Say books.



The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Oh, sweet Ferdinand. Leaf’s writing is a beautiful example of the economy of language. Not a misplaced word in the (only) 800 that make up this classic.



Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

1964 Caldecott Medal

Sendak was a master*. I could recite this book by heart from the age of five. I so related to Max and still appreciate Sendak’s respect for rebellion.


The Man Who Walked Between The Towers by Mordicai Gersten

2004 Caldecott Medal

I spent 23 years of my early life a New Yorker. Published three years after 9/11, this book helped memories of something other than pain resurface. A beautiful reminder of the magic of my ever-changing home city.


Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

An aspirational story for us all. I knew nothing of this book until I became a teacher. It quickly became a favorite. I love the dimensionality of the Miss Rumphius character. I kind of want to be her.



Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

1992 Caldecott Medal; 1992 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

Another dynamo author/illustrator, Ringgold is a genius at depicting the small moment. Tar Beach is full of imagination, realness and love.


The Day The Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

This book flat out cracks me up. So many authors these days are working the “let’s appeal to the grown-ups” angle. Call me cynical, but that irritates me. This book succeeds in entertaining me and the kids.



When I Was Young In The Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

1983 Caldecott Medal

A book of memories of simpler times. Quiet and sweet.



Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

1994 Caldecott Medal

More gorgeous artwork and words from Allen Say. This one touches me in a new way each time I read it. The mark of an excellent book.


Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

2017 Caldecott Medal

2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

Radiant Child is a new favorite. I’m not an artist. Never have been. But, for some reason, I adore picture books about artists. Reading about their lives and inspirations makes me feel connected to the humanity of creativity in a way that making art never did.

A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams

1983 Caldecott Medal

One of my favorite books for exploring empathy with children. A Chair For My Mother reminds me of all the hard working moms I’ve known in my life.



*If you have 19 minutes, this interview with Maurice Sendak is beyond worth your time.

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