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picture books by the decade: 8 books from the 80s

Who knew the 80s were such a great picture book decade? These are my eight faves (all read as an adult), but I want to hear from you too! Were you a child of the eighties and read a certain book? Or a parent of the eighties and read a well-loved book to a child?


Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 3.51.27 PM Friends by  Helme Heine.

My dear friend Anna  sent me this one and it’s super sweet. “Sometimes good friends can’t be together.” But they can still send lovely mail. (Also, the character name “fat Percy,” for a pig, is pretty hilarious.) Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 4.01.03 PMThe Philharmonic Gets Dressed (Reading Rainbow Book) by Karla Kuskin, illustrations by Marc Simont.

As the name may or may not suggest, this literally details how 105 members of the philharmonic get dressed. It’s totally unconventional—we see them get ready to go to work in all their disparate homes and disparate ways. Even bathing and putting on their underwear! And then, finally, they all begin to play!

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 3.40.04 PMI Know a Lady by Charlotte Zolotow, pictures by James Stevenson.

This is a sweet portrait of a single older lady told from the perspective of one of the neighbor kids she befriends. This woman gives the children on her street flowers and berries through all the seasons. I love it for its positive image of seniors, of singles, of intergenerational connections.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 4.36.35 PM Imogene’s Antlers by David Small.

I recently featured this book, so everything I love about it can be found here.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 4.08.17 PM  John Patrick Norman Mchennessy: the Boy Who Was Always Late by John Burningham.

Guys, this one’s bizarre and a little creepy (those illustrations!), but it’s pretty genius too. Some crazy stuff happens to this kid on his way to school, but his teacher never believes him—grownups don’t believe it when kids say they encounter crocodiles. Until of course, one of those crazy things happens to the teacher (aka a gorilla pays a visit!).   Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 4.15.34 PMOwl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr.

An exquisite, still book in which a father and daughter go owling in the woods one winter night. You know it, right? It’s amazing.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 4.19.29 PMLon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young.

This Chinese tale is familiar in its grandmother/wolf elements, but strange, eery, and new. Its pastel-looking illustrations are dark and breathtaking.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 4.24.43 PM For Every Child 1989 by Unicef, illustrated by a variety of artists.

A distillation of the UN Convention’s Rights of a Child. A world that honors these would be a wonderful world indeed.



Now you go. PBs of the 80s…

picture books by the decade / the 70s

thefunnylittlewomanThe Funny Little Woman retold by Arlene Mosel, pictures by Blair Lent. (1972)



This Caldecott winner is a funny one indeed. Bizarrely so, but ultimately entertaining and mysterious.



(Be warned that the underground monsters, called oni, are pretty scary looking.)

My favorite bits are: 1.) the hilarity of the funny little woman’s laugh, “Tee-he-he-he”; 2.) the parallel story told through illustrations of the woman’s house through the seasons and its new visitors while she’s away from it.




streganonaStrega Nona, an old tale retold and illustrated by Tomie de Paola. (1975)

A familiar classic that stands the test of time. Full of interest and suspense and charming illustrations.



And check out that illustration spread before the title page that also concludes the book! Beautiful colors and mise en scene. I also love the page with the townspeople and their forks twirled with pasta, mouths open and ready to eat.




butnameswillneverhurtmeBut Names Will Never Hurt Me by Bernard Waber. (1976)


Told in the second person, Alison Wonderland hears the story of her name. Her name that sounds a lot like the title of a very famous book. (Alis-on Wonderland!)

There are years of history that led to that name, years of conversations between grandparents and parents that are pretty endearing.

Alison has no idea she has a troublesome name until she goes to school. Then she finds out pretty quick. But not to worry! In the end, she grows up and embraces her name, no longer minding its association with white rabbits.

Not to mention that title page illustration that alludes to the problem with Alison’s name. Very clever!



thebigorangesplotThe Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. (1977)


My very very favorite from this decade! After a seagull drops a bucket of orange paint on Mr. Plumbean’s house, things will never be the same on that same same neat neat street!

That big orange splot inspires Mr. Plumbean to paint his house to resemble “a rainbow,” “a jungle,” “and explosion.” One by one, he inspires all the neighbors too.

This book kind of embodies the 70s. Not only that, it’s hilarious for kids and adults. The grownup language and figures of speech Pinkwater uses throughout are a hoot.


And two more 70s faves  I’ve talked about on This Picture Book Life before:

Everybody Needs a Rock (1974)


William’s Doll (1972)


Okay, now you! Any picture books from the 70s to add? 

9 picture books from the 90s


This is my latest installment of picture books by the decade. How great was the 90s for picture books? Seriously great. At least I think so. (Notice I’ve used bubble writing for the years in each picture!)


Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney was on my PBs for summer list as well because it’s quintessentially summer and captures the magic of childhood at the same time. Ah, this book. A favorite. A classic. Perfection.


The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg is dark and clever and deals with (this is Chris Van Allsburg!) magic. A woman, a witch, a broom, what the neighbors think, and the meaning of evil.

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 3.15.00 PM


Pumpkins: A Story for a Field by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Barry Root. I’ve sung this one’s praises here before too. But really it just blows me away. Early Mary Lyn Ray is so so good. (As is later and current!)




Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say is a dear to my heart book about immigration, family, and having two homes. It’s one of the first picture books I loved as an adult.


Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 3.03.36 PM

The Library by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small is a tribute to books and libraries and this lovable nose-in-a-book-character, Elizabeth Brown, who embodies both.



A Special Kind of Love by Stephen Michael King is quite an unusual book. It’s about a father who can’t say the words, “I love you,” to his son, so he shows him through the stuff he makes with his hands.




Night Driving by John Coy, illustrated by Peter McCarthy is another father/son book. It’s slow and quiet like a road trip and full of details for soaking up.



Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 3.20.58 PM

A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jeff Fisher. I do love a heroic  historical lady biography.



Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes is one of my favorite books, period. Wesley is a bullied boy. He’s also an ingenious one. Over summer vacation, he turns his backyard into a veritable civilization by growing one staple crop. It’s strange and brilliant and empowering.



Looking at this list of my faves from the 90s, I’m not sure what conclusions to draw exactly. But I would note the magical realism threaded through this list. Relationships with family members figure into this bunch too, as well as relationships to special places.

Okay, your turn! Please tell me any of your favorite 90s picture books in the comments!

And check out 8 picture books from the 80s too!






5 favorite picture books from the 40s & 50s

The very best picture books stand the test of good old time. They hold memories. They tell truths that last.

My first in a series of PICTURE BOOKS BY THE DECADE, here are my favorites from the 40s & 50s:




Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (1955).

I love the metanarrative of this book and how that tradition still inspires picture books today. And that it’s about Harold’s imagination and ingenuity, but also about bedtime. Where his mind takes him and then the comfort of coming home. It’s a classic for a reason.





A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Maurice Sendak (1952).

Ruth Krauss so knows children. This is a compilation of inventive definitions that are far from dictionary.  Delightful, full of play, and let’s face it, deep!  They’ve been called funny but I find them incredibly heartfelt:
“Hands are to hold.”
“The ground is to make a garden.”
“The sun is to tell you when it’s every day.”

Browse the book here.






The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Crockett Johnson (1945).

Ruth Krauss again. Such a good, simple story ahead of its time: A boy believes his carrot seed will grow when no one else does. To be read when facing a challenge.





The Plant Sitter by Gene Zion, pictures by Margaret Bloy Graham (1959).

While no one would be fooled into thinking this is a current book, it’s still a great read. I admire this industrious little kid who cares for vacationers’ plants, filling up the house with them. His parents’ reactions are hilarious and his eventual winning over everyone to greenery is delightful.




Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry (1942).

For me this one is all about the illustrations. Simply, fluffily exquisite.


Please do add your favorite picture books published in the 40s and 50s to the comments!

señorita mariposa + butterfly clothespin craft

Señorita Mariposa Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G), illustrated by Marcos Almada Rivero (2019).

Autumn means monarch butterflies migrating from Canada to Mexico and this vibrant picture book celebrates the amazing annual occasion with lyrical text in both Spanish and English to read or sing!

In fact, you can listen to the original song that inspired Señorita Mariposa right here.




(click image(s) to enlarge)

Señorita Mariposa does several things all at once. It pays tribute to one monarch butterfly, and the many like it who travel together, pollinating flowers along the way.

It shows the beauty of these magnificent marigold insects dancing through the sky by way of Marcus Almada Rivero‘s lush, crisp, and joyful illustrations.

It captures how those of us in the city or desert (my favorite spread!) or forest get to see this epic event if we look up to the sky in wonder.

And finally, it encourages love and care for the world around us, for these creatures who are part of a vast ecosystem that connects us all. The above spread in particular shows people doing just that through a community garden.


I love the way the text shows the lyrics in both English and Spanish and alternates in terms of which one is sort of singing lead (while always including translated text) on each spread.


A lively book that takes monarchs as its muse to inspire song and sweetness and science!



Big thanks to Penguin for the review copy and images!






Not only that, but this book has also inspired a butterfly clothespin craft!

Kait Walsh is the visionary behind the Zinnia and the Bees pom-poms I’ve made with kids in libraries and bookstores for the last two years AND she devised a yarn bomb for us to do with young artists the week my book launched, so I’m already a big admirer and super grateful to her.

She’s a former teacher and illustrator who makes books for kids—you can check out her latest one, Don’t Cry Duck. She tells stories and facilitates crafts and does art-inspired community projects all over Los Angeles and I’m happy to have her on This Picture Book Life.

Over to Kait!



“Little butterfly you caught my eye” 

This craft was inspired by the beauty of one butterfly and the incredible journey they make when millions of them come together.

Making this with your family? Create butterflies in honor of your relatives and discuss how the butterflies migrate north over three or four generations.

Making this with your class? Use it as a lesson about working together. Have each student make a butterfly, attach the clothespins to yarn or a string, and hang it somewhere in your classroom as a bright and beautiful reminder of connectedness.

Allow your child or students to play and discover new and unique shapes as they paint the wings. But the real fun happens when you clip all the butterflies together in a group, reminiscent of the beautiful illustrations by Marcus Almada Rivero of the Sierra Mountain butterfly hibernation in the oyamel fir trees.

The sky’s the limit! xx







Thank you so much, Kait, for making this little butterfly come to life!



For almost a decade, Kait Walsh taught five and six year-olds in a classroom. Now she spends her days creating art and stories for kids and kids at heart. Her art is a love letter. A letter that has been sketched, painted, cut, carved, stamped, sewn, glued…everything but the kitchen sink! But like all the things she has ever worked on, the real magic happens in the spaces where it interacts with you! Follow Kait on Instagram for more art, more stories and more community.