When my younger son was about ten, he happened by one day when I was struggling with a writing project. I'd write for a bit, get stuck, then turn to a picture book by my side. I'd read a little to get the inspirational juices flowing, then start off writing again. My son watched this happen a number of times and then said, with an eye-roll that I would soon come to know well, "You know, Mom, I really don't think you're supposed to be copying other people's books."
Yes, I guess that's just what it looked like to him. But I often find myself turning to a number of favorite picture books to get unstuck. It's the voices I love. As a nonfiction writer, I find reading a much-loved picture book is especially valuable when I'm starting a new project. That's when I've spent months reading through adult information and I'm struggling to adjust to my kidlit voice again. Reading a great picture book, with a great voice, helps me through. I think of it as cleansing the palate.
So here, in no particular order, are my top ten picture books. (I lied. I do have one all-time favorite. See if you can find it!) And, in the interest of full disclosure, yes, they are all nonfiction picture books. That's just who I am.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordecai Gerstein. This is how I will always choose to remember the twin towers.
The Day-Glo Brothers, By Chris Barton and Tony Persiani. This is the total package, a perfect marriage of great text and simple illustrations with eye-popping color.
Eleanor, by Barbara Cooney. I love the so-sad illustrations of the early Eleanor, and the triumph of her later life.
Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, by M.T. Anderson and Kevin Hawkes. Fresh and a little irreverent, Hallelujah!
Martin's Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier. I can't imaging a more intimidating biography subject than Martin Luther King, but this picture book takes a larger-than-life subject and makes it kid-sized.
Michelangelo, by Diane Stanley. Because I'm a sucker for anything about Michelangelo. Or by Diane Stanley.
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, by Barbara Kerley and Brian Selznick. Who wouldn't love a party in a dinosaur model?
When Marian Sang, The True Recital of Marian Anderson, by Pam Munoz Ryan. Marian's dignity shines through the text and illustrations.
Revolutionary John Adams, by Cheryl Harness. The absolute best for tight writing. So much is packed into both the text and the illustrations, right down to the portrait of Nabby in the Adams' home.
Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian. The one I turn to again and again for a lesson in how to convey time, place, and mood in simple, lyrical language, with perfectly matched artwork.
So there are my favorites. Please share yours with me.