a list of…five more please-don’t-miss-these picturebook classics

Time for another dip back into the Hall-of-Fame picture books, titles that have been tantalizing kids for gobs of years and just don’t wear thin.  If you haven’t met one of these, you really must make a point to get acquainted!

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, illustrations by Robert Lawson

Published in 1936

Ferdinand is a little bull with the soul of a poet who lives “once upon a time” in Spain.  Unlike his pasture-mates, Ferdinand is plum uninterested in racing about exerting himself by butting heads with the other young bulls.  Rather, he has a delightful spot under a cork tree where he likes to just lounge in the shade, breathing in the wonderful aroma of the flowers in the countryside. 

Therefore, when a contingent of men comes up from Madrid to pick the “biggest, fastest, roughest bull” for the bull fights, Ferdinand is utterly unconcerned.  While the other bulls vie for this honor, Ferdinand retires to his shady hillside .


What Ferdinand fails to notice is a bumble bee perched on a clover right smack in the place where he lowers his large rump.   My children always felt so badly for Ferdinand at this point.  But the story says, “Well, if you were a bumble bee and a bull sat on you what would you do?”  Ferdinand leaps and snorts with the surprise and pain of that sting, convincing the gang from Madrid that he is just the one they are looking for.  So off he goes to the bull fights.

How ever will gentle Ferdinand manage the fierce Banderilleros and Picadores and the very proud Matador?   Ah…you’ll have to read to find out the very satisfying ending!

Robert Lawson’s genius pen-and-ink illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this exciting-and-sweet story about a little bull who stays true to himself.  It is said that Munro Leaf whipped up this story in one short afternoon, primarily to give his friend Robert Lawson, unknown at the time,  a chance to get some illustration work.  It actually turned out to be Leaf’s most famous work, while Lawson went on to write and illustrate quite a number of well-received books.  We have loved this story!

Lentil, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey

Published in 1939

Can’t have a classic picture book list without at least one McCloskey title! 

This is the story of Lentil, a pleasant, young, string-bean of a boy from Alto, Ohio, who is happy as a clam except for one thing:  he can’t sing.  Just cannot carry a tune in a bucket.  Nor whistle.  And oh, how he wants to make some music.

So Lentil buys himself a harmonica and practices everywhere he goes, up and down the quiet streets of Alto.  All the good folks in Alto love Lentil and his happy tunes, except for one grumpy old codger named Old Sneep.  Old Sneep’s got a burr in his saddle and doesn’t like much of anything, really.

lentil's statue in harmony, ohio

Meanwhile, news that Colonel Carter, the town’s most famous resident, is coming home for a visit puts the town of Alto in a giant tizzy, and everyone scrambles to plan a grand welcome.  Everyone except Old Sneep.  In his most despicable move yet, Old Sneep positions himself above the crowd gathered at the train depot, and loudly sucks on a lemon! …causing the band members’ cheeks to pucker up…so that when the distinguished colonel steps onto the platform, instead of a rousing marching song, the only sound to be heard is a big ol’ “Shlurp!”

Oh, dear!

Of course, Lentil and his harmonica step in and save the day.  Hurrah!  And the whole town is caught up in a happy homecoming celebration, including, after all, Old Sneep! 

Classic McCloskey, capturing the quaint, small town flavor of the ’30s in word and in his brilliant, trademark pencil drawings.  Buy your kids a plastic harmonica from the dime store and let ’em happily follow in Lentil’s footsteps!

Angus and the Ducks, written and illustrated by Marjorie Flack

Published in 1930

Angus is a little black Scottish Terrier who is very, very curious.  He is curious about many seemingly insignificant, mundane bits and pieces in his world, such as slippers and gentlemen’s suspenders.  But he is even more curious about Things-Outdoors, and the problem is, he can’t explore outdoors very well because he is always on a leash out there. 

There is a quacking noise just the other side of the hedge that has Angus most puzzled of all.

One day, the door is left ajar and Angus manages to get Outdoors without the dreaded leash, and to discover what is making that quacking noise once and for all.  Two ducks!  But Angus’ pleasure of discovery ends abruptly when he learns that those quacking ducks also hiss and nip and flap!  How very disconcerting!!  Angus makes a bee-line for safety.  Phew!

How long do you think this cures his curiosity?  Hint:  not for long.

There are two more stories about Angus, one featuring a little cat and one about Angus lost.  The story line, illustrations, font-sizes, and page lay-outs of these stories are the masterful work of a very gifted author-illustrator who proves in each of these facets how well she knows children.  Angus is an icon.  You really need to know him.

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, story and pictures by Virginia Lee Burton

Published in 1939

This is the story of Mike Mulligan and his wonderful red steam shovel, Mary Anne.  The two of them love their line of work.  They can dig as much in one day as a hundred men can dig in a week, Mike always says, though he has never been completely sure of that.  Together they help dig canals, clear paths for railways and highways, and carve out tremendous pits for the foundations of towering skyscrapers.  All very exciting stuff! 

The trouble comes when the wheels of progress make Mary Anne obsolete.  Steam becomes a thing of the past, and no one will hire the two-some any more.  This is Very Sad.

One day, though, Mike and Mary Anne land a great job, digging a cellar for the new town hall in Popperville.  Henry B. Swap, the not-so-nice guy in charge of getting this cellar dug, shrewdly makes a bargain with Mike:  if Mike can’t dig the cellar in one day, as he claims he can, the town doesn’t have to pay him.  Mike confidently agrees to this…

virginia lee burton

…but will they really be able to do it?!  As the sun makes its steady way across the sky, a crowd gathers to watch the dirt fly and witness the minor miracle of a cellar dug in one day.  Will they make it?!  Will they?! 

When the dust settles, the cellar is dug all right.  But there is a large problem.  Mary Anne is at the bottom of the hole, and they have not left themselves any way out.  Sour old Henry B. Swap argues that the job isn’t finished and they won’t be paid.

How will Mary Anne get out of the cellar?  And will Mike truly not get paid for his fine, hard work?  A very satisfying solution is proposed by a little boy in the crowd, and in the end, Henry and Mike even become great friends.

A timeless story, with the colorful, quaint, drawings by Burton that we know and love.  The solution proposed by the little boy in the book actually was given to Burton by a 12-year-old boy with whom she was discussing the predicament over dinner.

Pierre (A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue), written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Published in 1962

There once was a boy named Pierre who only would say, “I don’t care!”  Read his story my friend, for you’ll find at the end that a suitable moral lies there.

That’s the prologue to this sensational, astonishing, shocking tale! 

Pierre is a little smart-aleck who is sassy, bored by everything, utterly unmoved by his parents’ cajoling, and unfazed when in exasperation they finally leave him at home while they go to town.  When a hungry lion comes to call while his folks are out, and quizzes Pierre about the prospect of eating him up, Pierre still refuses to budge from his I-don’t-care attitude.

So.  The lion eats him.

Pierre’s parents are horrified when they return to find the lion, with their heedless son inside his tummy.  Off they all rush to the doctor who rescues Pierre.  Will this, finally, teach him his lesson?

You know I’m not going to tell you that!  You need to read it to find out.  But I will tell you that the moral of Pierre is: CARE!

Oof, we’ve read this story innumerable times and quote this book to one another a lot in our family!  Sendak’s saucy artwork and the five very, very short chapters (!) give it extra zest.  It is one of four stories in The Nutshell Library — a collection which includes

the tiny nutshell library

Alligators All Around (an alphabet book), One Was Johnny (a counting book), and Chicken Soup with Rice (a book of months.)  All of which are just delightful.  You can get them separately, or you can get all four in the tiny boxed set, which might possibly be the charmingest set of books ever!