I am not a completest and rarely read all books even by favorite authors. I like to leave something in reserve. I like knowing that I still have a new book by a favorite author sitting on my shelf, waiting for that day when I really need it. But there’s an exception to my general preference not to finish entire oeuvres: picture books! With picture books, I delight in being a completest—possibly because the most prolific authors and illustrators may have hundreds of books and it becomes a special challenge to try to track them all down to read. And even if you don’t come close to making it–and I’ll probably never come close to reading Eve Bunting’s 250+ books–here are ten picture book authors and illustrators I’ve read most.
Cynthia Rylant is the author of the only series my son ever wants to reread—Mr Putter and Tabby. I could reread Mr Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea every single day—and probably tear up on the same page every single day too. Every sentence in this series is perfection. I am also partial to When I Was Young in the Mountains and Cat Heaven. Only don’t show it to me–because I’ll start crying.
You knew Mo Willems had to be on this list, right? Multiple Mo books show up on my college students’ Top Ten lists at the end of every semester. We can get into heated debates about which series is best—Pigeon, Knuffle Bunny, or Elephant & Piggie. (I’ll argue for Elephant & Piggie.) But luckily, we get to have ALL of them.
E.B. Lewis is possibly my favorite illustrator of all time. The Negro Speaks of Rivers is my favorite of his books, but I also love the work he does in three of Jacqueline Woodson’s picture books, The Other Side, Coming on Home Soon, and Each Kindness.
James Marshall’s distinctive cartoon style is perfect for the goofy, slightly unhinged stories he writes. It’s hard to know which series I prefer when there are so many good ones—George and Martha, The Stupids, Miss Nelson, the fairy tale retellings, The Cut-ups, Fox—but I think I have to give a slight edge to George and Martha. I loved Marshall’s books when I was a child, and it’s delightful that my son loves them just as much.
Leo Lionni’s books are often deceptively quiet and simple, but they pack huge emotional punches. Pezzettino is my personal favorite, but I think Swimmy, Frederick, and Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse could easily make a list of best picture books of all time.
Surely no picture books have more thoroughly shaped my life and my thinking than Russell Hoban’s. I’m 43 years old, and I still say “I know SMFO” instead of “I know better.” I’m a foodie because of Albert’s amazing lunches. And we talk a lot in my house about the little wandering good feeling that floats around waiting to be caught a la The Little Brute Family.
Eve Bunting has published more than 250 books that cover a wide range of subjects. I appreciate that she can do silly as well as very serious, and it’s definitely the very serious books that are my favorites. I especially love Gleam & Glow, One Green Apple, A Day’s Work, and Smoky Night.
Kadir Nelson’s paintings make me crazy. They are so perfect, so beautiful. If I could only have one of his books, I’d choose We Are the Ship, but I love them all.
Yuyi Morales’s books make me so happy. I want to live in those colors and textures and visual worlds. I can’t pick just one favorite, but I can pick three: Nino Wrestles the World, Viva Frida, and Just a Minute.
Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius is one of the all-time perfect picture books. And so is her work for Emily and Roxaboxen.