1. Have well above-average illustrations
2. Have a good story
3. Be one I did not grow up with myself. (But I've written about a few of my childhood favorites before).
I'm calling it Part I because I'm sure I'll think of/discover others to add to my list soon. I really appreciate a good children's book!
1. Philip Booth's Crossing
This one is great for any train-lovers in your life (and I mean small OR large. When my friend was reading this to Sly recently, her husband heard "train words" and eagerly went over to see what the book was!) The rhyming text describes a big old-fashioned steam-engine going by, and the rhythm of the words takes on the rhythm of the train.
"B&M boxcar, boxcar again, Frisco gondola, eight-nine-ten..."
2. Lisa Wheeler's Mammoths on the Move (illustrated by Kurt Cyrus)
We originally checked this one out of the library, and fell in love with it. The illustrations are a beautiful wood-cut style, showing each little tuft of shaggy fur on the mammoths. I like that this book - unlike most wooly mammoth books - doesn't discuss them in terms of their relationship (which was ill-fated) with humans. Rather, it exults them as massively impressive and huge creatures - just tromping through the snow and being mammoths. The text is great for young ears.
"Fourteen thousand years ago
the north was mostly ice and snow.
But wooly mammoths didn't care -
these beasts had comfy coats of hair.
3. Graeme Base's Animalia
"Unruly unicorns upending urns of ultramarine umbrellas"
4. Joan Aiken's The Moon's Revenge (illustrated by Alan Lee)
I'm told this illustrator is famous for his Tolkien drawings. They truly are fantastical and captivating. Even though the story is a bit more dense than the average picture book (probably intended for 2nd grade or so), Sly begged me so much to read the story to him that I finally relented. We had to read in two sessions, and he asked a lot of questions, but we both really enjoyed it. The story follows the formulas of all the old legends, while still being entirely unique. How can you stop reading, when the story opens like this?:
"Once there was a boy called Seppy, and he was the seventh son of a seventh son. This was long ago, in the days when women wore shawls and men wore hoods and long pointed shoes, and the cure for an earache was to put a hot roasted onion in your ear."