A List of Children's Books- with commentary (oh lala!!)

In anticipation of the Fall SCBWI conference (Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) this weekend, I thought I'd share a list of books that I've been gathering.  These books were recommended to me as books to check out from various sources-- generally pretty current (within the last 5 years or so), that would give a good sense of the sort of stuff that's being published in today's market.  It took a while, but over the last few months, I've been picking them up from the library, 5-10 at a time, and reading them all with the girls.  It's been a lot of fun, and very instructive. As a starting off point, I thought I'd offer the list to you, with occasional notes from me and my experience with the books.

One of the interesting things I found was that there were a number of "categories" books fell into-- I'll call them Joke, Concept, Character, and Story.

The "Joke" books all had a very simple idea that was played out, and has no real story.  Sort of a one trick pony.  Some came off very well with my daughter and nieces (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or The Biggest Thing in the Ocean for example) largely because of the funny pictures or a simple, clever, wacky idea, while others fell a bit flat for me when reading to a child (It's a Book or Duck Rabbit) because they're essentially written for the adult.

The "Concept" books often had a basic setting, mood, or idea they played with, but have no real story, and sometimes even no main character.  They're like the cousin of the joke book.  They're fueled by charm and wonder.  Chick N' Pug was clearly written with a love of pug dogs in mind (which I found unengaging, personally), whereas Itty Bitty was about a very small animal that gets very small things to live in its very small house (which I found charming).  Bat Night at the Library (one of my favorites from the list) is all about a love of books, and bats going to the library.  There's not much story though in any of them.  Almost nothing really "happens".  There's definitely no character arc or climax.  And either you dig the concept they're playing with or you don't.  Some focus on a character (Chick N' Pug) but I found uninteresting, while others focus on a setting (like Bat Night) and have no central character at all, but I loved them-- which I found really thought provoking as a writer!! A bit of an eye-opener.

These type of books are well known, of course.  Curious George.  Fancy Nancy.  Skippy Jon Jones.  Frog and Toad.  Ah, the culture of personality.  Ladybug Girl at the Beach is a clear example of this, though there wasn't enough to really pull me in, besides the art.  Beautiful Yetta however, IMO, is great-- a wonderfully charming "country chicken in the big city" idea.  LOL.  What's interesting to me about these books is that they often have no real story to them either.  Some do, most don't.  Or it's really very very simple.  Things happen in sequence, but there's no real "arc".  It's all about the character and their antics-- often the mood or setting doesn't really matter either.

What was also surprising to me is how infrequent kid's books really tell "stories" now.  They're around, but it's not that regular.  Perhaps it's the restriction to 30 pages? Or perhaps the frequent focus, IMO, on the graphic content of the work rather than the literary, compared to many children's books from 50 years ago.  Most play with a simple idea (what I'm calling Joke books), on mood or a setting (Concept books), or just run with a character doing stuff (Character books, clearly) with varying results.  Almost all the stories have a main character though, this is one of the things I noticed.  And they have a sort of commonly recognized act structure, with a climax and a coda.  My favorite from this type was easily Children Make Terrible Pets- a funny concept, that actually has a very endearing story.   

For the sake of having an opinion and sharing, I'm putting stars by those I really liked, or were big hits with the girls.  Two stars for those that were awesome, and we'll probably buy.  One for those that we liked, but might not be buying.

**Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus- Mo Willems-- joke
Ladybug Girl at the Beach- David Soman -- character
**Children Make Terrible Pets- Peter Brown-- story
The Little Yellow Leaf- Carin Berger-- mood/story
Flora's Very Windy Day- Jeanne Birdsall-- story/idea
Chick N' Pug- Jennifer Sattler-- concept
**Beautiful Yetta- Daniel Pinkwater-- story, a chicken story, I'm such a sucker for chickens!
Duck! Rabbitt!- Amy Krouse Rosenthall-- joke
It's A Book- Lane Smith-- joke
*What the Ladybug Heard- Julia Donaldson-- story
*Itty Bitty- Cece Bell-- concept
**Bat Night at the Library- Brian Lies-- concept
Maybe I'll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight- Debbie Levy-- poems
**I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean- Kevin Sherry-- very simple concept, though fun
Llama llama Red Pajama- Anna Dewdney
The Quiet Book- Deborah Underwood-- concept
Zen Shorts-Jon J Muth
*Calvin Can't Fly- Jennifer Berne-- story
How Rocket Learned to Read- Tad Hills-- story
A Balloon for Isabel- Deborah Underwood-- story
**In a Blue Room- Jim Averback-- bed time book
*The Book That Eats People-- concept
*Harey and Horsie-- story
Everyone knows what a dragon looks like- Jay Williams-- haven't gotten to it yet  ;P