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My Father’s Library: The Best Children’s Books from my Childhood

There’s something special about a good children’s picture book—even as an adult, the books I read with my dad when I was young stay close to my heart. He keeps an extensive collection of the best stories that he read to me and my sisters, and sometimes when I visit, I’ll take a book off the shelf and relive a part of my childhood. We share the belief that good children’s picture books have strong core messages, beautiful illustrations, and the heart to tell a great story, and I always enjoy talking with him about the stories we both love. In honor of National Children’s Picture Book Day and International Children’s Book Day, earlier this month, I’m diving into my dad’s library and recommending six of our favorite children’s picture books. I hope you enjoy reading them with the child in your life and that you find a new favorite together.

Miss Hunnicutt’s Hat by Jeff Brumbeau and Gail de Marcken

On the day everyone in Littleton is preparing for the Queen to pass through, the meek Miss Hunnicutt decides to wear her new hat from Paris—and her hat has a live chicken on top! While the town decides that the hat must go, Miss Hunnicutt stands her ground through a very silly series of events and finds unexpected support. I love how Miss Hunnicutt’s Hat celebrates the act of standing up for yourself and encourages us to embrace how we’re all just a little bit silly. Its intricate, expressive watercolor illustrations are a joy to look at, and I always enjoy tracking the story’s background characters as they move through an eventful day.

Sorry by Jean Van Leeuwen and Brad Sneed

Two brothers, Ebenezer and Obadiah, get into a fight and go their separate ways. The brothers are too proud to apologize, and their falling out creates a familial rift that must be healed generations later by their great-grandchildren. The brothers’ lives are shown through beautifully bold watercolors of farm landscapes, apples, cows, and corn. This book is bittersweet for me. I’m always sad that the brothers miss each other but won’t reconcile, yet the new relationship that their descendants are able to build warms my heart at the end. It shows the importance of making amends and offers the hope that doing so is always possible.

Mr. Maxwell’s Mouse by Frank Asch & Devin Asch

Mr. Maxwell, a well-to-do business cat, orders a live mouse at his favorite restaurant to celebrate his promotion. The mouse, conversational and friendly, manages to stall Mr. Maxwell’s meal and ultimately outsmarts him enough to escape. The book’s somber and dignified digital illustrations are unique, and they left their mark on me as a kid. The mouse’s impending doom may make Mr. Maxwell’s Mouse scary for some readers, but I hope that many will enjoy his cleverness and bravery like I have.

A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

Camila Cream loves lima beans, but she doesn’t eat them because her friends hate them and she wants to fit in. As a result, she comes down with a bad case of rainbow stripes from head to toe. Her appearance changes to match any suggestion by other children and even by doctors, and her case of stripes gets worse and worse until she embraces her love of lima beans. I always enjoy this book’s crazy and colorful illustrations and its message to be yourself no matter what other people think.

Shibumi and the Kitemaker by Mercer Mayer

Princess Shibumi is devastated to find that the city beyond her garden wall is ugly, dirty, and stricken by poverty. She asks a kitemaker to fly her up on a kite from the castle’s highest tower, and she refuses to come down until her father either makes the city as beautiful as the palace or the palace as squalid as the city. My dad and I have always admired Shibumi’s selflessness and determination as well as the gorgeous illustrations.

Lilly’s Big Day by Kevin Henkes

My dad loves any book by Kevin Henkes, but he especially loves Lilly’s Big Day. When Lilly’s teacher tells the class he’s getting married, she decides she’s going to be his flower girl. She’s disappointed when she learns that his niece Ginger will be the flower girl, but she has a chance to shine when Ginger freezes at the wedding. This book stands out because Lilly chooses to be kind and saves the day by helping Ginger instead of taking the spotlight for herself. Henkes’ cartoony style is always lovely to look at, and Lilly’s Big Day is no exception.

The world is full of so many amazing children’s books, and I hope I have introduced some that your family will enjoy as much as mine has. Tell us in the comments what you think after you read them, and let us know what books your family cherishes!