We are all familiar with powerhouse children's books like Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, but there are many other classic picture books which all too frequently get left off "top ten" lists. However, you will not want to miss these forgotten children's books!
I wanted to choose books that you may not be familiar with, but are not so forgotten by everyone they weren't readily available either at the library or at a bookstore. That meant I had to leave my favorite Marigold and the Dragon off the list. (Sniff.) So get to the library to discover some new-to-you books!
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FATHER FOX'S PENNYRHYMES by Clyde Watson, illustrated by Wendy Watson
Find it: Amazon | Your Library
Oh, how I love this collection of poems and cartoon illustrations. It was even a finalist for the National Book Award! I can still recite some of rhymes I read as a child. The book alternates between fun little nursery-rhyme style poems and illustrated comic scenes featuring foxes in amusing domestic situations. The illustrations are so wonderful that your kids will want to look at them for hours, discovering all the secret details hiding in plain sight. Absolutely marvelous. Aged 4 and up.
ANGUS AND THE DUCKS (series) by Marjorie Flack
Modern preschoolers still love this book from the 1930s. Angus is a very curious Scottie dog and one day he escapes the yard by crawling under the hedge. On the other side he discovers some very interesting ducks! Are the ducks friendly? Will Angus get to enjoy his new freedom? You'll have to read it to find out. Ages 3 and up.
JUST US WOMEN by Jeannette Caines, illustrated by Pat Cummings
Even though Just Us Women is a Reading Rainbow book still in print, I've never met another parent who has heard of it! The story follows a girl and her aunt making a road trip, just the two of them. The girl describes the joyful experience of being about to make stops and see the sights on their own schedule. They can buy all the "junk" they want at flea markets, and eat dinner at the restaurant of their choosing. The pace of the book is leisurely and it may just make your kids want to head out on the road. Ages 4 and up.
THE BACKWARD DAY by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Marc Simont
Yes, the famed author of The Carrot Seed also has this delightful story of a boy who gets out of bed one morning and decides to do everything backward. He puts on his clothes backward, goes down the stairs backward, sits at the breakfast table backward... you get the idea. Soon he has his whole family functioning backwards. Luckily, this clever boy has just the solution to get everyone forward-facing again. Ages 4 and up.
THE MAGGIE B. by Irene Haas
Like me, my mom primarily checked out books from the library, but this was one of the few precious picture books she bought. I imagine it was because the girl and her brother reminded her of me and my brother. I loved this book, with its gorgeous watercolors and the story of an imaginary, self-sufficient day on a boat out at sea. After reading this book, living on a tiny boat will seem like the most glorious experience you can possible imagine. Ages 4 and up.
THE BEST-LOVED DOLL by Rebecca Caudill, illustrated by Elliott Gilbert
As an adult reading this book I wish it had a cast of diverse girls at the doll party, but as a kid, I adored this book. Betsy goes to a party where are the girls have been invited to bring their favorite doll and win a prize in one of many "best of" categories. Betsy's doll isn't as fancy as the others. Can you guess which prize she wins? When I was about six I actually convinced my mom to let me throw a party just like the one in the book. Ages 4 and up.
FISH FOR SUPPER by M. B. Goffstein
I have always been in awe of how this little book with line drawings and a non-nonsense story can be so utterly beguiling and that's why I am so delighted that Goffstein's Newbery Honor book Fish for Supper is back in print. I wish I knew where my copy was! The story is simple–a grandmother gets up at 5, goes out to the lake, catches a fish for her supper, cleans, cooks and enjoys eating the fish. The old lady's quiet enjoyment of self-reliance and dedication to her task is captivating. She is a marvel. Ages 3 and up.
TELL ME A MITZI by Lore Segal, illustrated by Harriet Pincus
Find it: Amazon | Your Library
I loved listening to my mom read me Tell Me a Mitzi! The picture book consists of three separate stories. In the first, Mitzi wants to visit grandma but since her parents are asleep, she gets her brother ready all by herself and gets them into a taxi, only to realize she doesn't know that address. The middle story will be familiar to moms everywhere who have to take care of everyone else when they are sick… until she gets sick herself. In the third story, the children and their father turn a presidential motorcade upside down over a piece of gum. Ages 5 and up.
THE ELEPHANT WHO LIKED TO SMASH SMALL CARS by Jean Merrill, illustrated by Ronni Solbert
As the title suggests, a young elephant loves to smash small cars as they pass by. He loves to smash red, yellow, blue cars! But what happens when a car salesman won't put up with the elephant's penchant for destruction? He will need to find a way to temper his smashing enthusiasm. An unusual, but whimsical preschool book that will especially be enjoyed by kids know the pleasure of knocking down block towers and the like! Ages 3 and up.
MORE: Wacky Picture Books
THE COW WHO FELL IN THE CANAL by Phyllis Krasilovsky, illustrated by Peter Spier
Find it: Amazon | Your Library
I was quite in love with this book when I was a girl. I think it was probably the illustrations that appealed to me because upon re-reading it as an adult, I realized I hadn't remembered much about the story, but all the scenes were familiar. The story is about a cow who gets bored and sets off on a raft through city and country, causing a bit of chaos in pursuit of a particularly delicious-looking straw hat. Spier's illustrations are wonderfully detailed and evoke the Dutch landscape with its windmills, markets and canals. Ages 4 and up.