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There's nothing like a book full of bright, sharp pictures to captivate a newborn – or a toddler. To stock your baby's bookshelf with the best picture books, choose from our delightful dozen below.
Toby, Where Are You?, by William Steig, pictures by Teryl Euvremer
Toby, a kid who is probably a weasel, is hiding again. His good-natured parents, dressed in gay 1890s style, look for him everywhere, while your young reader – all-knowing and superior – can just barely make him out on each page.
A Friend for Minerva Louise, by Janet Morgan Stoeke
Minerva Louise is a wise fool chicken, whose misunderstandings make toddlers and elementary schoolers chortle. This time she's mistaken the baby for a bunny and the stroller for a wheelbarrow! You'll find much artistry in the simple charcoal and pastel illustrations – airy and sweet, like taking a good, deep breath.
Bunny Cakes, by Rosemary Wells
These chunky bunnies are heroes for the red-wagon-and-rompers set. Today, Max wants to make earthworm birthday cake for his grandmother, but his sister Ruby insists on angel surprise cake. Their expressive bunny eyes tell the whole saga of disappointment (broken eggs, can't write real English) and triumph (we're not giving away the happy ending). Wells's best yet.
Young Larry, by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater
Larry is a typical polar bear (his father ate a whole whale one time). But then Larry learns from humans how to love blueberry muffins and eventually becomes a lifeguard at a hotel swimming pool... Lots of tomfoolery, the kind your favorite uncle would come up with, egged on by the sloppy, clever drawings. Once you're four or so, you can probably appreciate Larry.
To Market, To Market, by Anne Miranda, illustrated by Janet Stevens
So what would REALLY happen if a modern-day Aunt Mildred sort went to market, to market, to buy a fat pig, and so forth? "The pig's in the kitchen. The lamb's on the bed. The cow's on the couch. There's a duck on my head!" Think of a Lucy Ricardo routine, with very large, realistic renderings of animals in preposterous situations. Big bad belly laughs.
Little Oh, by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Jim Lamarche
Elegantly detailed paint-and-colored-pencil drawings sweep the reader into this first-time telling of the story of Little Oh, an origami girl who is separated from her mother. Along with the beauty (any page could be framed as art) and drama comes a message about strength in small places: "I may be a paper child ... but I sailed the raging river." Perfect for those who love dolls, good stories, and fine art.
Open Me...I'm a Dog!, by Art Spiegelman
This is the book with a leash that thinks it's a dog. It simply jumps off the shelf to explain about all the folks who got terribly temper-tantrum mad and eventually turned a lovable pup into a, well, don't say that word. The only book that can wag its tail, the only dog that won't mess a carpet...
Flashy Fantastic Rain Forest Frogs, by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
The rain forest frogs live up to their name in these sprawling, bright paintings. Some are poison, some can fly, some have horns. The explicit, straightforward text will satisfy the most curious nature lover.
I Met a Dinosaur, by Jan Wahl, illustrated by Chris Sheban
After a farm girl goes to the natural history museum, she is seeing dinosaurs where before there were only clouds, cows, and lakes. "Fine. Girl. Fine. Have a drink," says her mother, and gives her water from the sink. We can see the splendid, crafty, lovable extinct creatures, too, right in these gorgeous paintings. Dedicated to dinos or poetic thoughts? This is for you.
How It Was With Dooms: A True Story From Africa, by Xan Hopcroft and Carol Cawthra Hopcroft
Imagine having a pet cheetah. Xan Hopcroft did. When Dooms, the cheetah his family raised from a kitten, died, Xan was seven. This book, told in his own words and decorated with his and his mother's art, celebrates the cheetah's life – avoiding baths, getting on the roof, learning to hunt – and shares the sadness of his death. Sharp photos, with a story well done, not overly cutesie, no matter what the author's age.
My Life With the Wave, by Catherine Cowan, illustrated by Mark Buehner, based on the story by Octavio Paz
A boy brings a wave home. His father tries to send her back, "but the wave cried and begged and threatened until he agreed that she could come along." The story is sometimes funny, always understated, even philosophical, and the wave comes alive in each of her moods – the illustrations so serious you almost believe.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Kipling's taut, touching classic brought to life: A mongoose wages war on a couple of cobras, defending his family's honor, "his" garden in India, and the English family who adopted him. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi nickers, pounces, and slinks right into your heart in Pinkney's beautifully realistic watercolors; while battle scenes that include cobras Nag and Nagina will make your heart thud. Perfect for reading aloud, even to teenagers.