From carrots that are terrified of being devoured by fluffy bunnies to a famished owl looking for a treat, there are just some children’s picture books that you can’t live without. These are the types of stories that parents, teachers, and librarians can ham up for kids while trying oh so hard to wear a game face. These are the best children’s picture books that I continue to love, perfect for the spooky fall, Halloween, or any season.
How did I find these titles? A few years back, when I working on my MLIS, I facilitated school-age story time for k-5th graders at a public library. Because of the diverse age of the children served, I always looked for engaging books meant for everyone. In my system, we usually transformed children’s books into full-blown theatrical skits, puppets and all. After five recent years in the libraries, these are my top three favorite picture books:
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Best Children’s Picture Books #1: Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor
The One and Only Master of Disguise
It’s that time of night, and Hoot Owl is starving. What is a hungry owl to do when the food he craves does not want to be eaten? In order to catch the tastiest dinner without it escaping first, Hoot decides to don costumes. If he is a carrot, the sweet bunny will just hop straight into his mouth, right? Or if he becomes, say, a bird bath (totally natural) then that juicy pigeon is all his. …Haha, look there: it didn’t work.
Stumped and grumpy, Hoot reevaluates his situation before perishing from hunger. I would borderline suggest Hoot gets hangry—not that I’d know from experience. Hoot decides to try one more costume, but you have to read the book for yourself to see how it all works out for the poor murderous guy.
If You Are As Obsessed With Owls As Me…
If you are a little worried that children will learn about the cycle of life and want to become vegetarians, you should be. But, I promise you that all ends well…even if there is some red sauce on Hoot’s lips.
Written for pre-k to third grade, Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise is simple in text and illustrations. With bold colors and unpretentious drawings, readers can devour this fast and funny read. As a character, Hoot is melodramatic and endearing, even if deep down we know that he really wants to munch on the entire woodland forest. I should also warn you that I am completely biased over owls—they are my favorite animal. You can find chotskies of the strong bird all over my house. This may be one of my all-time favorite read-aloud books for kids.
Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien (Candlewick, 2015)
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Best Children’s Picture Books #2: Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds
A Plot Of Survival
Jasper Rabbit loves carrots, and he cannot help stopping by Crackenhopper Field each day to eat a few. Addiction can kill: Unfortunately for Jasper, these carrots are alive, and he senses them following him home each day.
Jasper’s mom and dad think creepy carrots are in his imagination, but Jasper is sure that they are everywhere. He devises a plan to keep the orange buggers in their field and builds a fence. Jasper, however, fails to realize that this fence serves a double purpose to protect the carrots. And trust me, Jasper is addicted to carrots like The Uncorked Librarian loves her wine. In the end, we learn that these carrots are not so creepy after all; they just want to survive.
Why This Creepy Tale Is So Worthy/It’s Halloween All Year Round
A 2013 Caldecott Honor Book, Creepy Carrots! does not disappoint. The story is engaging, spooky, and funny all at the same time. A preschool to 3rd grade read, this is a great scary but not too frightening read. I would recommend the title for children who want a little suspense. Readers will fall in love with this paranoid, guilty little bunny.
Even more notable are the clever illustrations that are typical of Peter Brown. Brown has written and illustrated books such as The Wild Robot, My Teacher Is A Monster (No, I Am Not), and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. Brown’s panels overstate or understate the mood and action, reminding me of an old filmstrip. The pencil drawings mixed with digital illustrations are only in shades of black, gray, white, and orange, which creates a Halloween feel. The carrots are also the only bright color in the book, and like magic, Brown masterfully illustrates the pages to match the pace and suspense of the text.
This book deserves praise, as it is seamless in illustrations and plot. This is a great read-aloud and just plain fun.
Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012)
Best Children’s Picture Books #3: Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
A Story of Mistaken Identity
Bruce is a grumpy and hungry bear who goes in search of food in a goose’s nest. He’s rather adorable—even though he’s borderline depressed—with his violet-blue and black coloring. Like Eeyore the donkey from Winnie the Pooh, Bruce doesn’t like anything—sun, rain, and cute animals—except for eggs. With human-like qualities, Bruce does not just eat any ordinary eggs: “…he cooked them into fancy recipes that he found on the Internet.” Let’s hope he wasn’t on Pinterest but based on the outcome: he was. Like some children’s books, this one goes for the adult humor too.
As Bruce begins to boil some recently collected goose eggs, his day goes downhill. The eggs hatch and Bruce loses his appetite (thank goodness). With more adult humor, “Bruce became the victim of mistaken identity.” The hatchlings love their new mommy.
Bruce tries to raise the baby goslings, and readers watch as they come of age. They transition from “annoying baby geese” to “stubborn teenage geese” and “boring adult geese.” Adults can definitely chuckle at the progression. Readers watch as Bruce struggles to be a momma. His attempts are adorable and refute gender boundaries.
Bruce eventually submits to his unconventional family and finds happiness when they all migrate to Miami for the winter. He is a snowbird at heart. As long as he doesn’t try to drive, he can come to my Florida homeland.
Award-Winning For Total Cuteness
With a poignant message about nontraditional families—which is becoming the new, awesomely traditional family—Higgins creates a comedic story with lovable characters and beautiful illustrations. Throughout the seasons, Higgins paints scenic and soft landscapes. The mix of media—color pencil, digital art, and watercolors—paired with the text creates a wholesome story. The colors blend together and have an overall earthy quality that is perfect for animals. The human qualities of the animals are relatable and comical.
There is also a cartoony, comic book feel to the story with handwritten dialog and action squares. For emphasis, Higgins leaves a few pages with blank space and heartfelt images. This technique is extremely effective for communicating and emphasizing emotions.
A beautiful read, Mother Bruce is the winner of the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor award and is a 2016 Kirkus Best Books title. I would recommend this title for preschool-aged children all the way to first and second grade.
Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney-Hyperion, 2015)
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