What Makes a Baby: A Playful Illustrated Primer for Every Kind of Family and Every Kind of Kid

An inclusive and imaginative take on reproduction. Benjamin Franklin’s oft-cited proclamation that nothing in the world is certain except death and taxes omits another existential inevitability, and arguably one no less pleasant — the question every parent dreads and no parent ever escapes: where do babies come from? After illustrator Sophie Blackall’s sweet and honest...

Flashlight: A Whimsical Wordless Story about Curiosity and Wonder

Shedding light on the wonderland that unfolds when you simply dare, and care, to look. As an immense lover of smart children’s books and of cleverly deployed die-cut ingenuity, I was instantly taken with Flashlight (public library) by Vermont-based illustrator Lizi Boyd — a wordless story about curiosity and wonder, following a little boy who...

The ABC Bunny: A Sweet and Unusual Alphabet Book from 1934

“X is for eXit — off, away!” In 1934, six years after creating the oldest American picture-book still in print and a year before her brilliant proto-feminist children’s book, pioneering artist, author, illustrator, and translator Wanda Gág released The ABC Bunny (public library). Given my enormous soft spot for alphabet books and my deep admiration...

Parrots Over Puerto Rico: An Illustrated Children’s Book Celebrating the Spirit of Conservation

The heartening story of one of Earth’s most beautiful bird species, an underdog of geopolitics and evolution. Most children’s books are full of animals — as protagonists, as pets, as age-old standbys in fairy tales and alphabet primers alike. But, as Jon Mooallem poignantly observed in his bittersweet love letter to wildlife, by the time...

Migrant: An Alice in Wonderland for the Modern Immigrant Experience

A compassionate chronicle of the laboring nomad’s optimism and wistfulness. Having spent my entire adult life as an immigrant, with all the relocations, bureaucracies, and social strain implied, I have tremendous respect for any effort to capture the complexities of the immigrant experience, its joys and its struggles, without robbing it of dimension. So I...

Love Is Forever: A Children’s Book That Helps Kids Deal with Losing a Loved One

A tender lesson in living with loss from Little Owl. If grief is so gargantuan a struggle even for grownups, how are tiny humans to handle a weight so monumental once it presses down? That’s precisely what writer Casey Rislov, who holds a master’s degree in elementary education and has an intense interest in special...

How a Vintage Children’s Book Illustrated by Lynd Ward Saved New York’s Iconic Little Red Lighthouse

A timeless testament to the power of stirring the collective imagination. In 1880, a little lighthouse was erected on New Jersey’s Sandy Hook to guide arriving ships into New York Harbor. But by 1917, this friendly nocturnal sherpa had become obsolete, so it was dismantled and put in storage. Four years later, it was reassembled...

Mocha Dick: The Story of the Real-Life Whale That Inspired Moby-Dick, Illustrated

“Some men sat stone-faced. Some shook.” In May of 1839, Herman Melville found himself riveted by an article in the New York monthly magazine The Knickerbocker about a “renowned monster, who had come off victorious in a hundred fights with his pursuers” — a formidable albino whale named Mocha Dick, who had been terrorizing whaling...

The Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework: A Proto-Feminist Children’s Book from 1935

A visionary fable about equality delivered through a comic Rube Goldberg machine of domestic disaster. In 1928, nearly a century before the internet cat memes reached their crescendo, pioneering artist, author, illustrator, and translator Wanda Gág won the prestigious Newbery and Lewis Carroll Shelf awards for her children’s book Millions of Cats, the oldest American...

Elementary School Kids Record Adorable Recommendations for Their Favorite Books

A sweet reminder of what algorithms can never give us. “Reading is the work of the alert mind, is demanding,” E.B. White wrote while contemplating the future of reading in 1951, “and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy.” Kafka believed that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside...

Tove Jansson’s Rare Vintage Illustrations for Alice in Wonderland

Down the rabbit-hole, Moomin-style. As a lifelong lover of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, I was thrilled to discover one of its most glorious creative permutations over the past century and a half came from none other than beloved Swedish-speaking Finnish artist Tove Jansson. In 1959, three years before the publication of her gorgeous illustrations...

C.S. Lewis on the Three Ways of Writing for Children and the Key to Authenticity in All Writing

“The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author’s mind.” “I don’t write for children,” the late and great Maurice Sendak said in his final interview. “I write — and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” J.R.R. Tolkien had memorably articulated the same sentiment seven...

Iconic Italian Graphic Artist Bruno Munari’s Rare Vintage “Interactive” Picture-Books

Pioneering visual storytelling that endures as a manifesto for the magic of paper books. In 1968, two years after he published his hugely influential book Design as Art, legendary Italian graphic artist Bruno Munari applied his principles to a different medium — children’s picture-books — with the same boldness of vision and hunger for thoughtful...

The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine: Donald Barthelme’s Irreverent Vintage Children’s Book

“Mysteries are not to be avoided. Rather they are a locus of hope, they enrich and complicate. That is why we have them.” What a wonderful surprise to find out that the great Donald Barthelme, upon turning forty, joined the ranks of award-winning authors of “grown-up” literature who also wrote generally little-known and invariably lovely...

The Pilot and the Little Prince: Beloved Illustrator Peter Sís Captures the Bittersweet Story of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

How an adventurous little boy came to dream up the loveliest children’s book of all time. “The Little Prince will shine upon children with a sidewise gleam. It will strike them in some place that is not the mind and glow there until the time comes for them to comprehend it.” So sang a 1943...

I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo: A Charming Illustrated Ode to Courage and Confidence

Why true heroism feeds on humility. Courage, Seth Godin reminded us in his spectacular conversation with Debbie Millman about vulnerability, is about “dancing with the fear” — not about making the fear ago away. “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs,” Joan Didion...

Children’s Endearing Letters to Judy Blume About Masturbation, and the Beloved Author’s Response

“Dear Judy, I want to ask you a very important question…” In 1879, Mark Twain delivered a brilliant satirical lecture about masturbation, mocking the cultural hypocrisies around a practice so prevalent, so natural, yet so condemned. Nearly 130 years later, science writer extraordinaire Mary Roach traced the perilous religious roots of these hypocrisies. But the...

Lisbeth Zwerger’s Rare and Soulful 1984 Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant”

A bittersweet tale of transformation and self-transcendence through a single act of kindness. From Austrian artist Lisbeth Zwerger — who also gave us those impossibly imaginative illustrations for Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz — comes a rare 1984 illustrated edition of The Selfish Giant (public library), one of the five short stories...

Where Do Babies Come From? A Sweet and Honest Primer on How Reproduction Works by Illustrator Sophie Blackall

How to answer the question that stumps every grownup. Children’s questions have way of being so simple that they spill into the philosophical. And yet one particular question kids ask stumps grown-ups more than any other, hurling us into a cesspool of self-doubt as we struggle for an answer that is neither too age-inappropriate nor...

The Lion and the Bird: A Tender Illustrated Story About Loneliness, Loyalty, and the Gift of Friendship

An ode to life’s moments between the words. Once in a long while, a children’s book comes by that is so gorgeous in sight and spirit, so timelessly and agelessly enchanting, that it takes my breath away. The Lion and the Bird (public library) by French Canadian graphic designer and illustrator Marianne Dubuc is one...