need a smile?…five fresh looks at some cheery old titles

While we wait for the new 2016 picture books to come into our libraries and book shops, I thought I’d remind you of a few older titles full of happy surprises and smiles.

They come from one classic American author, as well as a few Brits, Swedes, and one Kiwi…

I’ll start with one of Ezra Jack Keats’ lesser known picture books:

hi cat cover image

Hi, Cat! written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
published in 1970 by Viking

Archie and Peter are two brothers with vivid imaginations, and they’ve cooked up a grand surprise for the other kids in the neighborhood. It is quite a show!

hi cat illustration ezra jack keats

Along the way, a little dog named Willie (who pops up in other Keats titles) and a stray cat barge into the performance. Alley oops! Laugh along at the chaos, and wink at the irony on the final page. Pure Keats delight, for ages 2 and up.

down the back of the chair cover image

Down the Back of the Chair, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
published in 2006 by Clarion Books

As we all know, the dreaded depths Underneath the Chair Cushions tend to be an Aladdin’s cave of murky treasures. Usually it’s stray kernels of popcorn, the odd pencil, a Cheerio or three, and a grimy penny.

down the back of the chair illustration polly dunbar

You will never believe what this family finds down the back of their chair as they search for Dad’s car keys! Margaret Mahy’s preposterous humor careens through this story, illustrated with Dunbar’s zoingy, riotous, color and line. A blast for ages 2 and up. 

eat up gemma cover image

Eat Up, Gemma, by Sarah Hayes, illustrated by Jan Ormerod
published in 1988 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Little Gemma has turned into a bit of a finicky eater, tossing breakfast on the floor, squishing her grapes, feeding her cookies, even, to the birds.


But oh, dear! You won’t believe what ends up looking tasty to her!! Or how her clever big brother saves the day. This is one of our family’s all-time favorites. Read it again and again with children 18 months and up.

boo and baa have company cover image

Boo and Baa Have Company, written and illustrated by Olof and Lena Landström, translated from the Swedish by Joan Sandin
first American edition 2006 by R&S Books

Boo and Baa are just trying to rake up the leaves, but their work is snaggled by a stray cat. (How did two troublesome cats sneak onto the list today?!)

boo and baa have company illustration landstrom

From one obstacle to the next, Boo and Baa have quite a muddlesome day. I give them an A+ for effort, but I think after all, the cat wins. There are a number of Boo and Baa stories, though my library has only this one. It’s a delight for ages 2 and up. Maybe you’ll have luck finding some of the others.

alfie wins a prize cover image

Alfie Wins a Prize, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
published in 2004 by The Bodley Head

Finally, I can’t resist urging more of you to find your way to the Alfie stories, if you haven’t already.

In this episode, Alfie and Annie Rose are off to the Harvest Fair, a lovely jumble of cake contests, second-hand toy booths, neighborhood pet show, and most importantly for Alfie, a children’s painting competition.

alfie wins a prize illustration shirley hughes

All our old, dear friends — Bernard, Maureen MacNally, Min — are here enjoying the day. And Alfie, whose big sister Bella has modeled generosity so dearly in the Dogger story, finds a way to win at kindness today, too. All the joy of this multicultural neighborhood and the authentic childish outlook are here, along with Hughes’ brilliant artwork. Ages 3 and up.