Staff Picks Dec. 2017: Silver Anniversary Picture Books

| December 12, 2017

The December Staff Picks collection, Silver Anniversary Picture Books, on the second floor of the Teachers College Gottesman Libraries, showcases a favorite group of picture book authors and illustrators who were active some 25 years ago. Concentrating on this period allows me to highlight books, published prior to 1990, from the closed stacks. More recent books in the exhibition, by the same authors and illustrators, are drawn from the open stacks. Some are parts of series, some stand alone.

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In the 1990s, when my children were small, I discovered my favorite picture book authors and illustrators while exploring our local libraries. My children and I would excitedly return home from the Town of Pelham Public Library to devour huge sacks of picture books. We mined the libraries of other Westchester county towns, as well as Manhattan, for more books by our expanding list of favorites. Most readily available were recently published works from the 1990s and the decade preceding. Some of the more established libraries, in towns such as Mount Vernon, Scarsdale, and White Plains, NY, yielded older collections. Visiting my in-laws in Central Jersey was a special treat because the picture books at the Plainfield Public Libraries extended as far back as the 1950s.

In my opinion, the best picture books offer something to excite the adult reader as well as the child who listens and looks. Sometimes, it is the humor that makes a picture book great. Other times, it is the irony, verisimilitude, wit, or wisdom. A great picture book can surprise with its deep depiction of character. It can move with a simple, but profound, idea. Here’s what makes some of the picture books in the December Staff Picks my favorites:

  • It’s a grandfather’s outrageous and unbelievable tales of his life, long-ago as a boy, in the Grandpa books by James Stevenson.
  • It’s the absurdly roly-poly characters, whimsically described in verse, in the books by Roy Gerrard.
  • It’s the wisdom of a young girl who exchanges something everyone thought she needed for something she wants even more, or the townsfolk who declare ”Dying ain’t important…What matters is how well you do your living,” in the books illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
  • It’s the fierce resentment Lilly feels for her baby brother, Julius, that evolves into an even fiercer love, in the Mouse books by Kevin Henkes.
  • It’s a foolish young badger’s wise conclusion that her “job is to sleep,” or the life lesson her parents serve her as sweetly as jam spooned on bread, in the Frances books written by Russell Hoban.

Great picture books are the ones to which we return not just for the enjoyment of the child who demands, “Again!” but also for our own sheer delight. I invite you to become acquainted, or reacquainted, with my favorite authors and illustrators of the 1990s. Share them with a new generation of children!

Picture books published since 1990 may be found on the 2nd floor of the Gottesman Libraries, in the JUV and CURR sections. Closed stacks books, not available for physical browsing, may be requested through the EDUCAT online catalog.


From the “First-Grade Friends” series by Miriam Cohen (b. 1926) and Lillian Hoban (1925-1998):

  • See You Tomorrow, Charles by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. The first graders learn, from a sight-impaired classmate, to see differently.
  • Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. When a new boy brags to get everyone’s attention, the first graders call him a liar, but only at first.

From the Frances books by Russell Hoban (1925-2011):

  • Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. After her supportive parents supply her with nothing but bread and jam, a young badger finally asks “How do you know what I’ll like if you won’t even try me?”
  • Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Garth Williams. After trying multiple ways of putting off her bedtime, a young badger finally decides that her “job is to sleep.”

The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams (1912-1996)A book by Garth Williams (1912-1996) about the wedding of two rabbits with fur of different colors. Following its 1958 publication, segregationists led by an Alabama state senator sparked a controversy over perceived themes of interracial marriage. Avoiding an outright ban, the Alabama Public Library relegated the book to special shelves in State facilities. Source: Martin, D. (2000, May 29). Emily W. Reed [Obituary]. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Books illustrated by John Steptoe (1950-1989), whose award-winning work concentrates on aspects of the African-American experience:

  • All Us Come Cross the Water by Lucille Clifton, illustrated by John Steptoe. “I say, ‘Some people tell me we wasn’t all slaves.’ He say, ‘Wasn’t none of us free though. All us crossed the water. We one people.’ “
  • She Come Bringing Me that Little Baby Girl by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by John Steptoe. ” ‘I used to be a baby girl,’ she said. I said, ‘You did?’ I looked up at Mama and down at that baby.”

Books by Roy Gerrard (1935-1997), creator of intricately illustrated stories in whimsical verse:

  • Sir Cedric by Roy Gerrard. “The battle began after breakfast, and finished at quarter-to-three, by which time Sir Cedric’s men clearly had won, so they stopped and had afternoon tea.”
  • Wagons West! by Roy Gerrard. “Now and then when things seemed dire, we would sit around the fire, while Dan told us of his feats with wolves and bears. And though everybody knew that his tales weren’t always true, well, they helped us to forget our many cares.”
  • Jocasta Carr, Movie Star by Roy Gerrard. “When young Jocasta reached her teens, both she and Belle were movie queens, whose audiences held their breath as dog and damsel diced with death.”

From the “Max and Ruby” series by Rosemary Wells (b. 1943):

  • Max’s Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells. Max seems unlikely to win the Easter egg hunt when he competes with his bossy older sister, Ruby. 

From the collaborations between author Helen Lester (b. 1936) and illustrator Lynn Munsinger (b. 1951):

  • Me First by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Pinkerton, a pushy pig, learns his lesson.

Books illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (b. 1939), whose award-winning pictures often incorporate African-American motifs:

  • Sam and the Tigers: a New Telling of Little Black Sambo by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. A recasting of Little Black Sambo (published 1899), one of the most controversial books in children’s literature, as the new tale of a clever boy named Sam. 
  • John Henry by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. A retelling, based on a folk ballad, of the life of legendary African-American folk hero, John Henry.
  • The Sunday Outing by Gloria Jean Pinkney, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Ernestine dreams about and plans for the day she’ll make the long journey south on her first train ride.

From the “Grandpa, Mary Ann and Louie” books by James Stevenson (1929-2017):

  • Worse than Willy! by James Stevenson. When Mary Ann and Louie complain about their new baby brother, Willy, Grandpa describes how his baby brother, Wainey, was worse.
  • There’s Nothing to Do! by James Stevenson. When Mary Ann and Louie complain that there’s nothing to do, Grandpa describes the time that he and his little brother, Wainey, were once bored.
  • That’s Exactly the Way It Wasn’t by James Stevenson. When Mary Ann and Louie complain about each other’s arguing, Grandpa and Uncle Wainey describe the time they once had the same problem.

From the collaborations between Virginia Hamilton (1936-2002) and illustrators Leo Dillon (1933-2012) and Diane Dillon (b. 1933):

From the Mouse books by Kevin Henkes (b. 1960):

  • Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes. Nothing can change Lilly’s mind about her little brother Julius. That is, until Cousin Garland has a thing or two to say.
  • Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. Lilly thinks everything about her teacher, Mr. Slinger, is perfect. That is, until he has to take away her purple plastic purse.


  • Starring First Grade by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Even with a small part in the school play, Jim plays a big role when he helps a classmate overcome stage fright.
  • Jim’s Dog Muffins by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Jim grieves over the accidental death of his dog.
  • Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Jim is a shy boy who makes a friend.
  • So What? by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. The new girl from Chicago teaches Jim a thing or two about being himself.
  • Birthday by John Steptoe. A boy in a fantasied rural black community celebrates his eighth birthday.
  • All the Colors of the Race: Poems by Arnold Adoff, illustrated by John Steptoe. Poems told from the perspective of a young girl with a black mother and a white father.
  • Mik’s Mammoth by Roy Gerrard. “For Mik won through on brains and wit, though fortunate, I must admit, to have one priceless benefit – a mammoth for a friend.”
  • Matilda Jane by Jean Gerrard, illustrated by Roy Gerrard. “Goodbye to the pier and the sea and the sand. And the marmalade cat and the jolly brass band. How time seemed to fly with the things that we’ve done and the places we’ve seen – oh, it has been fun!”
  • Max and Ruby’s Midas: Another Greek Myth by Rosemary Wells. As a cure for Max’s sweet tooth, his bossy older sister, Ruby, reads him an altered version of the Greek myth about King Midas.
  • Max Counts His Chickens by Rosemary Wells. Max gets some unexpected help when he competes with his bossy older sister, Ruby, for marshmallow Easter chicks.
  • Listen, Buddy by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Buddy, a young rabbit, finally grows into his beautiful ears.
  • Princess Penelope’s Parrot by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Penelope is a bossy little princess who lets her bird mimic her, with unintended results.
  • Tanya’s Reunion by Valerie Flournoy, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Nothing on the old farm Tanya visits lives up to her expectations, until Grandma helps her see the place differently.
  • Half a Moon and One Whole Star by Crescent Dragonwagon, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. A rich and mysterious world of night unfolds around Susan as she falls asleep.
  • In for Winter, Out for Spring by Arnold Adoff, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Poems, told from a young girl’s perspective, celebrate family life throughout the year.
  • Brrr! by James Stevenson. When Mary Ann and Louie complain about the cold, Grandpa describes a very cold winter day he and Uncle Wainey once experienced.
  • Lilly’s Big Day by Kevin Henkes. Being the flower girl at her teacher’s wedding will be the biggest day of Lilly’s life. That is, until Mr. Slinger sets her straight.
  • Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes. Chester and Wilson are two peas in a pod. That is, until they meet Lilly.
  • Sheila Rae, the Brave by Kevin Henkes. Sheila Rae is the bravest. That is, until her little sister, Louise, surprises them both.
  • A Weekend with Wendell by Kevin Henkes. Wendell’s weekend visit to Sophie is unwelcome. That is, until she starts making the rules.
  • Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes. Being a worrier doesn’t stop Wemberly from making a friend.
  • Owen by Kevin Henkes. Everyone thinks Owen is too old for his blanket, but his mother knows just what to do.
  • Bailey Goes Camping by Kevin Henkes. When his older siblings leave to go camping, Bailey has an at-home adventure.