Cathy got me hooked on the idea of sharing picture books I adore. I have to admit to hedging it a bit and sharing some series and authors I love. I don't follow rules well.
First, the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems. I adore Mo and have for many years. When Elephant and Piggie first came out I was highly skeptical. They seemed, to me at least, to be too simple and silly. It didn't take long for me to change my mind. I love reading them and my first graders adore them, win-win! These books are wonderful for reading aloud, emergent readers to read on their own, and for inspiration for writing. You can't go wrong with any of them.
White is for Blueberry by George Shannon and illustrated by Laura Dronzek - I discovered this book when my youngest daughter randomly checked it out from the library. It's a very clever book, turning things on their side a bit. Each color is attributed to something surprising and then explained in a way that makes perfect sense. I love using this book early in the year because it pushes us all to look at things in a completely different way. It goes beautifully with our focus on kids' wonders.
Steve Jenkins' nonfiction books - Finding good nonfiction books is a challenge, in my mind. Many nonfiction books, especially for early readers, are formulaic and pretty dull. Steve Jenkins has created many amazing nonfiction books, mostly about animals. I keep some of these right by my chair throughout the year to pick up when we have a few extra minutes. My students love the books and I learn something new every time I read them.
Emma Kate by Patricia Polacco - Most of Patricia Polacco's books are a bit too challenging for first graders. They are also quite long which often means I don't use them. But, Emma Kate is awesome. It is a story of a girl and an elephant - one is an imaginary friend. One assumes it is the girl with an imaginary elephant friend. However, when you read more closely it is not certain. A friend and I have debated this and changed each others' minds more than once. It's fascinating.
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds - I love all of this man's books, but I'm singling out The Dot because it's the first one I read each year. September 15th is Dot Day so I have to get started on it quickly each year. Reynolds' message is always about believing in oneself and taking risks - messages kids should hear again and again.
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt - Watt's book are hilarious. I read these more for me than for the kids. I think they are pretty sophisticated and a lot of it goes right over the kids' heads. But I love them. Scaredy Squirrel is a brilliant character and Watt plays around with the structure of a narrative and the structure of a book. For those reasons these books would be great fun with older kids.
City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon Muth - I was trying to avoid multiple books by the same author but I couldn't leave this one of the list. When it first came out I was thrilled. I love both this author and illustrator and couldn't wait to see what they did together. Then I read it and was disappointed. It just seemed a bit boring. Then, I read it to kids. That changed everything. I loved it. It's beautiful - both in text and pictures. Plus, it offers a wonderful way to talk about friendships, grief, and seasons.
South by Patrick McDonnell - I start the year off with wordless picture books. It gives us the chance to explore reading the illustrations which opens up many, many books (even with text) to my students. This year I also want to use these books with writing. South is a wonderful example. Many wordless pictures are actually very complex and sophisticated. This makes them challenging for first graders. South has a lot going on but is accessible to first graders.
When Mama Comes Home Tonight by Eileen Spinelli - Eileen Spinelli is another of my favorite authors. Her books are simply beautiful. This book speaks to me as a working mother. It talks about a child and working mother and how they spend their evening. Her prose flows and makes me smile.
Stephanie's Ponytail by Robert Munsch - Munsch amuses me greatly. He writes for kids in a way that few others do. He is most famous for Love You Forever but it is my least favorite of his books. Stephanie's Ponytail is one of my favorites because it has a clear pattern, in the way that his books typically do, but it also has a really strong ending. Munsch sometimes struggles with endings (which I think are really hard). I also like Stephanie's Ponytail because the main character is a strong girl who does what she wants.