Picture Books: They Don’t Have to be Pre-WWII to Have a Message Worth Sharing

by | Feb 21, 2013 | Movie and Book Reviews, Parenting | 10 comments

As a homeschool Mom who follows a Classical Catholic Curriculum, I do not lack for excellent recommendations for lovely old-timey picture books.  Someday, I will do a post on those, in case you don’t have access to the same.  But today I want to talk about NEW picture books.  
We go to the library almost every week and come home with upwards of thirty books each time.  And at least two thirds of those are picture books.  I let the kids choose their own books.  Usually they get to choose three each, and I will have reserved a few ahead of time that I’m interested in for them.
Story time with Aunt Brie and Uncle Pat!

I often don’t have the luxury of reading through all the books before we check them out.  (I have been asked to leave the library as well as the adoration chapel because of a particular baby <cough FRANKIE>.)  So I weed through them at home and take out the super-sassy ones, the ones where folks hate stuff and complain a lot, the ones with potty humor, and any others that I find objectionable.  

This week we actually ended up with a book called The Desert is My Mother at our house.  It is exactly as bad as you are imagining.  Maybe worse.  The husband dropped it in the book drop for me, along with another of Gus’s picks.  I don’t know if it was objectionable, because it was entirely in Spanish.

I think it’s especially important to get it right with picture books, since by the time we return our library books my kids will have heard them seventeen times each and have their words memorized and their messages internalized.

But we always start with enough library books that there are still plenty to enjoy for a week or two even after The Big Sort.


Jack and I are reading this one now.
I’ll let you know what I think once we finish it.

I love the sweetness and tenderness of picture books from generations past.  But, if you’re willing to sift through all the junk (and boy, there is plenty of that) there are really some treasures being published today.  The artwork in modern picture books would have been impossible to print a generation ago and there are some very talented artists working in this format.

And, GET THIS, there are authors out there who are not trying to convince my children to be self-centered brats.  There are authors writing books that encourage children to be brave and friendly and grateful and temperate.  Now, lessons in virtue do tend to be more subtle in newer books.  But they are such a joy to look at that I’ll take it.

All of these books were published in the last year or two, are available from Amazon or most libraries, and were enjoyed by both the boys and the girls in my house.


Big Mean Mike:  My kids cannot get enough of Big Mean Mike.  I’ll hear them chuckling to themselves, “Get off my car, you bunnies!”  It has a lovely message of deciding for yourself who your friends will be. 

Spoon:  A book with adorable illustrations and a message for which I have a great fondness.  Spoon learns to appreciate his own particular gifts and to stop coveting those of his friends.  It also has a sweet portrayal of a loving utensil family.

Oh No, George!
A person might read through this whole book and appreciate it as nothing more than a vibrantly illustrated and amusing tale that kids will love to shout along with.  And that would be fine.  

But if you’re ME, you’ll see it as an incredibly Catholic tale that highlights our fallen nature and our attraction to sin and the noble struggle for virtue that we each must make.  And you’ll see the ending as George’s pivotal moment of conversion.  WHAT WILL HE DO?!  But that’s just me.  The artwork IS super-fun.

This Moose Belongs to Me:  I guess this one is the least obvious as a moral tale.  But the artwork is creative and whimsical and there is a lesson in there that not everything you want belongs to you alone.  And there’s a priest in it!

The Princess and the Pig:  A hilarious story which references many classic fairy tale conventions.  It also features a heroine who prefers to live happy and poor, rather than rich and spoiled.

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?:  Another worthy addition to the family of Pigeon books.  My kids have enjoyed them all.  This one is a Goofus and Gallant-type tale of manners and generosity.

Extra Yarn:  This is a quirky and fun story of cheerfulness and generosity and resisting temptation . . . and an Evil Archduke with a sinister mustache.  The composite illustrations and understated text are fun for kids and grownups alike.

The Monsters’ Monster:  By the creator of the MUTTS comic strip, both the words and drawings in this book are extraordinarily playful and charming.  This is a book about three little monsters who are transformed by the gratitude, generosity, and joie de vivre of their new friend.

So, those have been our favorites recently.  Do you have any titles to add to the list?

* Full disclosure on the Amazon links: clicking on a title from any of my posts will take you to Amazon, if you buy that title (or anything else) after clicking through my blog I get a (very small) percentage.  Awesome!


  1. Monica

    here are a few that we loved at our house and I'm sad they've outgrown

    Actual Size

    Tough Boris

    • Kendra Tierney

      Reading about Actual Size on Amazon made me remember a book we have at Gramma's house called Tootle in which a duck is illustrated as about the size of a tugboat. It always bugged my oldest son. I'm sure he would appreciate Actual Size.

  2. Nanacamille

    I read about 4 of those picture books mentioned to little Tierneys and enjoyed them all…not sure I got as much out of them as mom Kendra did as my favorite is watching the kids' faces as they enjoy a book. Before he could talk after I read a book to Gus he would pick it up and read it back to me saying "doy, doy doy" for each page with different inflections…just the funniest ever.
    At Birthline we received as a donation an entire set of the Dick & Jane Family books about the size of Little Golden Books. I read them all and loved them before giving them out to moms with kids.. highly recommended. Don't know if they are still avbl. so check Amazon and used book stores if you are interested.

  3. Brienne

    Definitely The Monster's Monster… me and Pat are still saying "Dank You" as a nod to the kids!

  4. Micaela Darr

    Wow, Kendra! I have been looking for a book list EXACTLY like this (modern books that aren't garbage) for some time now! Thanks for linking up with my reading list!

  5. Anonymous

    Have you come across King Pig by Nick Bland? Amazing illustrations and a beautiful storyline.

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