There are times when a picture book can say something more simply and beautifully than any 400-page novel. And so I'm of the firm belief that adults should keep some picture books in the house even if they don't have any children or little visiting nieces and nephews. Like Sesame Street and Pixar, some children's books have enough elements for the adults of the world to make them entertaining even if their primary market is children. City Lights definitely knew this with its first children's book ever Rad American Women A-Z.
Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History… and Our Future! is your typical alphabet-learning picture book, but this time, every letter of the alphabet stands for an American woman that has shaped our history and culture. We're talking people varied from Patti Smith to Zora Neale Hurston to the Grimke Sisters. Basically, it is one badass picture book. And let's just be upfront: I want this book, badly, and I am in no way, shape, or form, a child.
But Rad American Women isn't the only picture book adults will love. Contemporary picture books have a lot for adults to love, from just this year to back a few decades. To kickstart your new picture book shelf at home, here are 15 picture books adults will want to own, too.
Rad American Women A-Z, written by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein
We should all already know we're buying this book, but in case you needed a bit more persuasion, here are some of the amazing illustrations:
Me ... Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Before Jane Goodall was the Jane Goodall, she was a young girl named Jane who loved her stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee — at least, that's how Patrick McDonnell envisions it. The picture book is perfectly charming, and it's an inspiration to even grown women to go out find what they love, and make it your life.
Josephine, written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Christian Robinson's illustrations are like works of art that I absolutely need framed on my wall right now.
The portrait of the performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker is clearly very well researched, but that doesn't take away from its upbeat, almost-musical text. And if you don't already know who Baker is, you'll love learning in as fun a way as this.
The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak
While, duh, not technically a picture book, B.J. Novak shows that words can just be as beautiful and exciting as pictures. So yeah, in this book it's as if words are worth a thousand pictures.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This is the book you need to keep on your shelf whenever winter gets you down. (As in, right this second.) Through The Snowy Day, you can remember what that first magical snowfall feels like when you're a kid, and you're not thinking about shoveling out your car to get to work.
Firefly July, written by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Poet Paul B. Janeczko teamed up with the incredible illustrator Melissa Sweet to create 36 very short works of poetry and accompanying images. Frankly, this really should just be an adult book because illustrated poems is such a fantastic idea.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
There's not much I need to say here. It's a classic, and all adults should have a copy — maybe to read when your imagination is feeling a little stunted.
Virginia Wolf, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
That's "wolf" not "Woolf," for the record, but it's probably the most adorable literary pun ever. The picture book is loosely based on Virginia, however, and her relationship with her painter sister Vanessa Bell. In homage to the painter and writer, the book is full of stunning illustrations with poetic words to match, but it delves into tough topics too. The book's depiction of depression is so emotionally poignant, and the healing power of art is a message for any age group.
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Speaking of artists, it's hard to find better subject matter than the unusual, passionate Frida Kahlo. And just like its inspiration, the picture book is totally unusual, too. Don't even take my word for it; look at the incredible artistry it took to create this book:
How To by Julie Morstad
This is one self-help, informational book every adult should have. No, it's not so much about "practical" tasks like fixing a car or canning vegetables, it's about the more expressive, whimsical "how-to" tasks you should probably be making more time for. Do you know to see the breeze? Or that the answer to "how to wash your face" is to look up in the rain?
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, written by by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
As a writer, often the thesaurus is my best friend. But this lyrical children's picture book shows just how that thesaurus was made, pulling together all the expressive words in the world into one place.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
I mean, clearly. Everyone's shelf needs a copy of this book, whether you have kids or not. And add to that each book of Shel Silverstein's poetry to read when you're feeling unimaginative or down.
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
If you can look at the cover of this book and not fall over with how adorable Beekle is, waving at you, then I have no idea who you are as a human. Dan Santat's picture book about an imaginary friend trying to find his human being just took home this year's Caldecott Medal, and it's a friendship story that will hit grown-ups just as hard as children.
Little Red Hood by Marjolaine Leray
The beauty in Little Red Hood, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, is in its simplicity. It isn't overloaded with color or text, and it looks as if someone drew the whole book right on the pages, in one feverish sitting. It's so, so unique and, as an added bonus, our little heroine has the wits to outsmart the crafty wolf.
Bluebird by Bob Staake
If you've ever felt lonely, forgotten, or bullied, you'll be moved by Bluebird, the story of a bluebird who befriends a young boy. I can't even get through it without welling up, and there aren't even any words, just the beautiful geometric, blue-and-gray illustrations.
Images: Amazon.com (3), Melissa Sweet Illustration/Facebook; Dan Santat/Facebook; Amazon.com