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The Book That Started It All
As a child growing up in northern California, my favorite activity was visiting nearby Agate Beach to explore the tide pools. And my favorite book was Pagoo, the story of a hermit crab who inhabited that wonderful world. I spent hours poring over the pages, which were full of information about the sea life encountered by the tiny hero. Pagoo was one of the most inspiring books of my youth and provided the foundation for a lifelong love and appreciation of nature. Years later I came across a reissue in the gift shop of the Monterey Aquarium. I picked it up and all the dreamy afternoons I spent following Pagoo resurfaced—I was thrilled to bring it home. I had just as much fun reading it in my 20s as I did when I was 9.
That was the first of many picture books for children that I bought as an adult before I was even thinking of having children. I found many of them in museum gift shops. I came across Henrik Drescher's Simon's Book, about a boy whose drawings come to life after he falls asleep, and Lane Smith's The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales while I was working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once I had kids, I continued to indulge my habit; alongside more traditional purchases like Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? I bought books that pleased my own artistic sensibility, like Calef Brown's Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks and J. Otto Seibold's Mr. Lunch Borrows a Canoe.
Many children's picture books are illustrated by artists who work on a multitude of different projects, including editorial illustrations for magazines with serious subject matter. They bring a level of sophistication to the artwork that appeals to readers of all ages, regardless of the narrative.
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For Those Who Never Get Tired of the Classics
Rockport Publishers' Classics Reimagined series features reissues of old favorites paired with illustrations by contemporary artists. I love Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the best. Andrea D'Aquino's illustrations, which combine collage elements and lush watercolors, are simply stunning. Amazon.com, $25
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For Those Who Appreciate a Rhyme with a Reason
Joohee Yoon's bold, graphic linocut style in The Tiger Who Would Be King is perfectly suited to this anti-war parable originally penned by James Thurber in 1927. Amazon.com, $19
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For Those Who Travel with Pets
A Parisian dog visits New York City in the delightful color pencil sketchbook-style Americanine: A Haute Dog in New York by Yann Kebbi. Amazon.com, $20
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For Those Who Like to Feather Their Nest
Carson Ellis' Home is a childlike and charming exploration of what makes a home. One of the most inspiring books for those who dream of creating the perfect space for themselves. Amazon.com, $17
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For Those Who Are More at Home in the Woods
Yuval Zommer's The Big Blue Thing on the Hill, featuring a 1970s-style VW camper that suddenly appears in a wood and the local wildlife's humorous attempts to get rid of it, is adorable and fun. Amazon.com, $17
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For Those Who Treasure Close Relationships
JiHyeon Lee's Pool, a wordless celebration of friendship and shared discovery, is magically serene. Amazon.com, $17
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For Those Whose Life Is an Open Sketchbook
My Pen by Christopher Myers would be a great gift for any child, but its simple, uplifting message of the power of imagination is appropriate for aspiring artists of any age. Amazon.com, $17
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For Those Who Are Facing a Blank Page
Put Drawing Is Magic by John Hendrix on your list of books to get your creative juices flowing. Amazon.com, $18
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For Those Who Are Always Wondering What Kind of Tree/Bird/Mushroom That Is
Julia Rothman's Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World is a visual guide to exploring the outdoors that will satisfy the inner naturalist. Amazon.com, $17
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For Those Who Just Want to Get Their Hands Dirty
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is a down-to-earth look at your garden and all the critters you share it with. Amazon.com, $17
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For Those Who Love History but Like to Look on the Bright Side
John Hendrix's Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 tells the story of a temporary truce between warring sides in World War I. Amazon.com, $19.
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For Those Who Pride Themselves on Knowing Their State's Flower/Bird/Motto
A large-format atlas of the U.S., The 50 States is chock-full of interesting facts, trivia and history. Amazon.com, $30.
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For Those Who Are Nostalgic About the Past and Yet Modern
Written by Mallory Kasdan and illustrated by Marcos Chin, Ella is an updated version of Kay Thompson's classic Eloise, featuring an African American girl who lives at The Local Hotel in Brooklyn. Amazon.com, $18.