The Classic Picture Books Every Kid Should Read

Oge Mora’s stories and vibrantly collaged illustrations have drawn critical acclaim and a dedicated following among young readers. Her 2018 book, Thank You, Omu! — featured on this list of the greatest children’s picture books — was a Caldecott Honoree as well as a recipient of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award and the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. Both Thank You, Omu! and her 2019 follow-up Saturday were selected as the best of the books of the year by reviewers and librarians nationwide.

‘Chicka Chicka Boom Boom’ by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert (1989)

One of my favorite memories as a kid was my mother reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to me and my sister. Since my sister’s name is Chika, my mom’s version was titled “Chika Chika Boom Boom” and it was equally hilarious and delightful. The vivid collages by Lois Ehlert perfectly complement the bouncy rhythm of Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault’s text. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (or in my case “Chika Chika Boom Boom”) was — and remains — the perfect read aloud.

‘The Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)

Like so many around the world, I too was taken in by Keats’ classic tale as a child. From the bright red of Peter’s snowsuit to the playful pinks and blue that paint the snow, in The Snowy Day Keats masterfully reveals the simple joys of childhood.

‘Tar Beach’ by Faith Ringgold (1991)

As a young girl, I related so much to Cassie, the protagonist of this book. She lives in a city, I lived in a city. She has brown skin, I have brown skin. And we both would love to fly all across our neighborhood, carried by stars. In this book, Cassie does just that and discovers the magic of her neighborhood below. Just thinking of this beautiful colorful book makes my heart soar.

‘The Lion and the Mouse’ by Jerry Pinkney (2009)

It’s hard to choose one book by Jerry Pinkney because so much of his work could be on this list, but for me, The Lion and the Mouse exemplifies why his work is so beloved. Pinkney’s rich and meticulous watercolor paintings breathe new life into the classic fable. Every time I look at this nearly wordless book, I am not only captivated by the majestic lion on the cover, but also by Pinkney’s ability to let the images speak what words cannot.

‘Strega Nona’ by Tomie DePaola (1975)

Tomie DePaola is one of my favorite illustrators of all time and has had a large impact on my writing and work. There is a warmth to his world and characters that I have always endeavored to convey in my own stories. In this particular tale, Strega Nona, an elderly woman, has a magic pasta pot that gets her helper Big Anthony in a bit of trouble with the neighborhood. But as she always does, Strega Nona has the perfect solution. Any book you read by Tomie DePaola is guaranteed to make you laugh or at least crack a smile, and Strega Nona exemplifies this in spades (of pasta).

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