Picture Books Can Enhance Adult Reading

This is an essay by Kendahl Cruver.

I was raised to have a life-long appreciation for so-called children’s picture books. My mom always loved to buy them, and it was clear that these purchases were as much for her as they were for me and my sister. She enjoyed all aspects of these treasured tomes, from the beauty of the illustrations to the poetic grace of the words. It was mesmerizing to listen to her talk about a particular phrase she relished or to watch her hand sweep across the page as she pointed out details in a picture.

As my sister and I grew older, and moved on to novels, my mom continued to occasionally buy picture books that caught her eye. When I started college, I did the same. It was our family tradition.

Favorite Titles

Just like mom, I think it’s a shame that picture books are solely marketed to children, because there are so many that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Anything by the prolific author Mo Willems entertains me, but his “Knuffle Bunny” books also move me personally. This series about a young girl’s love for her stuffed bunny are some of the most beautifully told tales of parenting I’ve ever read. They speak to the routines, frustration and elation of having children in a visceral, loving way. My daughter adores these books, but I feel like they have also been written for me.

“Owl Moon” by Jane Yoder is another skillfully-told tale with rich detail and a delicate sense of suspense. I giggle at the wit in the classic “Madeline” books by Ludwig Bemelmans. The sweet poetry of “Fredrick,” a story by Leo Lionni about a mouse who uses words to comfort his hungry, cold friends inspires me. I’ve got a board book edition of the rhythmically-told tale “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb” by Al Perkins that always gets my blood pumping. It’s all great visual and verbal storytelling, suitable for any age.

The Family Tradition Continues

Now that I have kids of my own, my house is filled with dozens of beautiful picture books. Many of them are from my own childhood, the rest have been gradually accumulated via gifts, hand-me-downs and our own purchases. We also get a new stack of books from the library each week, and there are hundreds more to be explored.

When my daughters move on to more complex books, I will need to make space, but there will always be several favorite picture books on our shelves. These stories are an important part of my life. They started me on the path to more complex, expansive works, but they are much more than a means to an end, and always will be.

I would love it if you would share the titles of your favorite picture books in the comments. Are there any that you still like to read today? Have your children introduced you to new favorites or vice versa?

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Kendahl Cruver is a writer and editor based in the Pacific Northwest. You can read more of her work at her website. Kendahl also writes a blog about classic Hollywood called Classic Movies (she has never had a knack for thinking up creative names).

Photo: Some rights reserved by montereypubliclibrary.

13 Replies to “Picture Books Can Enhance Adult Reading”

  1. As a book reviewer, I enjoy reviewing children’s books because I, too, am captivated in what they offer. Some titles I particularly liked are:

    Miracles Love a Believer By Stacy Manning Casaluci
    10 Valentine Friends By Janet Schulman, Linda David
    A Boy Called Dickens By Deborah Hopkinson
    All for Me and None for All By Helen Lester
    Butterflies By Seymour Simon
    Chippy Chipmunk By Kathy M. Miller
    Little Lucy By Ilene Cooper
    My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart By Angela Farris Watkins, PhD.
    Pumpkin Trouble By Jan Thomas
    The Berenstain Bears’ Computer Trouble By Jan & Mike Berenstain
    The Bunny’s Night Light By Geoffrey Hayes
    What Happens to our Trash? By D.J. Ward

  2. I adore kids books, always have, and still do. Among my favorites are anything Dr. Seuss or Chris Van Allsburg, but my two of my all-time favorites have to be Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Naughty Nigel” by Tony Ross. My favorite illustrations hands-down are from Rose Fyleman’s”A Fairy Went a-Marketing”

  3. Thank you Angie and Chris for sharing your lists. I’ve found several titles I’ll have to check out.

    Lisa–I love that! Yes, they are “everyone” books!

  4. “All the Places to Love” by Patricia MacLachlan is a great book – perhaps it appeals to adults on some levels more than children.

    The humor in “Wings: A Tale of Two Chickens” by James Marshall was sometimes lost on my 4-year-old, but I was quite amused. Drama and suspense too.

    “Chester’s Way” by Kevin Henkes speaks to all ages. Henkes has written lots of books that fall into this category including “Chrysanthemum.” His books often convey accurate insights about humanity and introduce kids to some wonderful vocabulary. Today my son learned the term “lung capacity” from the book “Julius, the Baby of the World.”

  5. I absolutely love everything by Mo Willems. “We Are in a Book” has the reader read about a reader.

    “A Sick Day for Amos McGee” by Phillip C. Stead

    “The Gift of Nothing” by Patrick McDonnell

    “The Falling Raindrop” by Neil Johnson

    And of course “Where the Wild Things Are”

  6. I love “A Sick Day for Amos McGee.” There’s such beautiful detail and emotion in the pictures. They are mesmerizing. Don’t get me started on Mo Willems. He’s just a wonderful human being, let alone author and artist. Thanks for the other titles. Adding them to the list!

  7. If you have time to read just one PB then “The Gift of Nothing” would so deliver value. The sparse words and pictures (the author-illustrator is the creator of the Mutts comic strip) and the clever word play make it a book that both children and adults will enjoy.

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