Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Picture Books about Imagination and Play - December 2011/January 2012

Selected and annotated by Lauren Chenevert

Bloom, Suzanne. What about Bear?.  Boyds Mills Press, 2010.  32 p.  Ages 2-5.
Playtime can be fun, but what if someone gets left out?  Bear, Fox, and Goose are about to find out.  In this spare, thoughtful tale, the lively animal trio works through new friends, new games, and new feelings. 

Chabon, Michael. The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man; illus. by Jake Parker. HarperCollins, 2011. 40 p. Ages 4-7.
Awesome Man is a pretty spectacular superhero, complete with cape, mask, and incredible superpowers for fighting evil villains.  He also happens to live entirely in the imagination of our ordinary young protagonist—but that’s no problem!  After feeling clever for figuring out Awesome Man’s secret, readers will enjoy watching this imaginative romp play out, right down to the concluding hug with real-life mom.

Cowell, Cressida. That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown; illus. by Neal Layton. Hyperion, 2007. 32 p. Ages 4-7. 
What horror! The greedy Queen demands Emily Brown fork over her beloved stuffed rabbit, Stanley.  Not so fast, says Emily, with her continuous stubborn rejections of the Queen’s trade offers.  This believable-yet-imagined fantasy will appeal especially to toy-lovers. 

Durand, Hallie. Mitchell’s License; illus. by Tony Fucile. Candlewick, 2011. 40 p. Ages 3-6. 
Mitchell just doesn’t want to go to bed, so Dad suggests one last game as a compromise: Mitchell, pretending his father is a car, can take his dad for one last joyride around the house, and then pull in to bed.  Delightful illustrations of Mitchell perfectly reflect his simultaneous joy and determination in operating this dadmobible, and clever Dad in his plaid pajama pants somehow knows just when to take over steering. 

Fucile, Tony. Let’s Do Nothing!. Candlewick, 2009. 40 p. Ages 4-7. 
Frankie and Sal have already done everything—from sport playing to picture drawing and cookie baking—there is to do in the world.  So, for their next adventure, the boys decide to do nothing at all for ten entire seconds.  Hilarity and mischief ensue in the boys’ imaginary adventures. 

Henkes, Kevin. My Garden. Greenwillow, 2010. 32 p. Ages 3-6. 
For this young female narrator, dreaming of a fantastic backyard garden complete with color-changing flowers, jellybean bushes, and hundreds of butterflies turns the mundane task of helping her mother maintain their real-life backyard garden into a dreamy, paradisiac mental retreat.  Lush, inspired illustrations easily whisk readers into this world of limitless imagination.

Huget, Jennifer LaRue. The Best Birthday Party Ever; illus. by LeUyen Pham. Schwartz & Wade, 2011. 36 p. Ages 5-8. 
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our protagonist’s stellar sixth birthday celebration featured nine thousand balloons, fireworks, a seventeen-layer cake, and a parade to boot?  With an imagination this grand, anything seems possible.  Though her real-life party might not be as dazzling as all that, this fanciful girl still happily enjoys her special day, complete with real-life friends, cake, and pink balloons. 

Jenkins, Emily. Daffodil, Crocodile; illus. by Tomek Bogacki. Foster/Farrar, 2007. 26 p. Ages 3-6. 
Despite her name, identical triplet Daffodil is nothing like her flowery sisters Rose and Violet.  In fact, rambunctious Daffodil considers herself much more fauna than floral, and dons a papier-mâché crocodile head to prove it.  With plenty of convincing growls and teeth-gnashing, Daffodil releases her inner crocodile and will inspire young readers to do the same. 

Joosse, Barbara. Sleepover at Gramma's House; illus. by Jan Jutte. Philomel, 2010. 36 p. Ages 2-5.  
What’s more fun than a sleepover at Gramma’s house?  For this young elephant narrator, nothing beats the tea parties, messy artwork, and thunderstorm-watching fun to be had at her grandmother’s house.  Lively, poetic language elevates this heartwarming tale of family and fun. 

Kvasnosky, Laura McGee. Really Truly Bingo. Candlewick, 2008. 32 p. Ages 5-7.
When Bea’s mother tells her to use her imagination, Bea does just that—and happens to dream up a big, furry, talking dog named Bingo.  Bea and Bingo can’t help wanting to misbehave just a little, so they relish digging holes in the garden, playing in the mud, and picking flowers.  Bea’s imagination might get her in a little trouble, but readers will giggle because really, it was all Mom’s idea. 

Lindgren, Barbro. Oink, Oink Benny; tr. from the Swedish by Elizabeth Kallick Dyssegaard; illus. by Olaf Landström. R&S/Farrar, 2008. 26 p. Ages 4-7. 
Swedish import Benny the pig is back in this rambunctious tale of mud-filled mischief.  Despite being warned by Mom to stay away from the mudhole, Benny, his younger brother, and friends just can’t resist.  With modest, declarative narration and understated illustrations, readers are free to delight in the harmless horseplay of Benny and company. 

Lloyd-Jones, Sally. How to Get a Job—by Me, the Boss; illus. by Sue Heap. Schwartz & Wade, 2011. 36 p. Ages 5-8.  
Having a Job, according to our fanciful, inventive protagonist, means getting money for your family by doing what you’re good at.  She declares you can be anything you want, suggesting the profession of judge for those like banging hammers and deciding things—but you probably shouldn’t be a hairdresser if you don’t know any good hairstyles!  An entertaining, real-world meets make-believe playroom romp. 

McGhee, Alison. Song of Middle C; illus. by Scott Menchin. Candlewick, 2009. 32 p. Ages 5-8.
Why should our protagonist be nervous for her piano recital?  After all, she’s been practicing!  But when some performance jitters get the best of her, she turns to the most inventive musical score she can think of: middle C, over and over again.  Her imaginative improvisational skills lead her to play the chord like thunder, wind, and tiny wood elves—and she just manages to bring down the house.

Menchin, Scott. What If Everything Had Legs?. Candlewick, 2011. 32 p. Ages 5-8.
Really—what if everything had legs?  That’s what this worn-out young female protagonist wants to know as she walks home with her mother.  Mom cleverly runs with the silly idea, and before we know it, everyone’s made it home, weary legs and all.  The story is set off by cleverly juxtaposed illustrations, with illustrated legs peeking out from photographed objects. 

Plecas, Jennifer. Pretend. Philomel, 2011. 32 p. Ages 4-7. 
Persistently creative Jimmy takes Dad along on a exciting adventure of make-believe, from the family room couch to oceans, islands, and mountains.  Luckily, after just a little coaxing, Dad can pretend right along with the best of them, throwing imaginative details and clever plot twists into the escapade.  A warm and appealing father-son story. 

Portis, Antoinette. Princess Super Kitty. Harper/HarperCollins, 2011. 40 p. Ages 4-7.
Why should Maggie pretend to be an ordinary kitty when she can be Princess Super Kitty?  Maggie’s imaginative play escalates from simple meowing to full-blown royal superhero glory.  The illustrations’ sweet colors contrasted with strong, black-crayon outlines effectively complement this story of girlhood fantasy at its finest. 

Sanders-Wells, Linda. Maggie’s Monkeys; illus. by Abby Carter. Candlewick, 2009. 26 p. Ages 6-9. 
Told from the perspective of the firmly grounded-in-reality older brother, this story follows a family who indulges young Maggie’s make-believe family of monkeys, who happen to dwell in the family’s refrigerator.  Big brother may grumble and roll his eyes, but when his friends come over and tease Maggie over these invisible monkeys, the boy has a change of heart and defends his visionary little sister.  A sweet-but-realistic tale of imaginary friends and siblinghood. 

Sarcone-Roach, Julia. The Secret Plan. Knopf, 2009. 34 p. Ages 4-6.
What’s the quickest way to ruin a super-fun marshmallow roast or game of three-cats-in-a-tree?  Bedtime, of course!  Our friends Milo the elephant and his feline neighbors Henry, Harriet, and Hildy decide that bedtime must be stopped—or at least avoided for one magical night.  Though the animal friends eventually succumb to their tiredness, readers will surely relate to the groan-inducing call for “bedtime!”     

Schaefer, Carole Lexa. Dragon Dancing; illus. by Pierr Morgan. Viking, 2007. 32 p. Ages 3-6.
This multicultural cast of kids in Mei Lin’s class have a blast creating a dragon costume for the whole group to enjoy together.  Their collective imaginations take this dragon on fantastic adventures, straight out the classroom door and through the forests, marshes, and meadows of faraway lands.  Luckily for these kids, though, their teacher’s voice calls them back to reality just in time for snack.  A colorful, lighthearted depiction of playtime. 

Shulevitz, Uri. How I Learned Geography. Farrar, 2008. 32 p. Ages 5-8.
A poignant, more somber look at the powers of imagination.  Our young boy narrator is forced to flee his war-ravaged homeland with his parents, and endure the often-painful trials of life in a new country.  But when the boy’s father hangs a large map on the wall, the boy transports himself—through his imagination—to faraway, wonderful places.  A soaring, uplifting autobiographical tale, with sweeping illustrations. 

Spinelli, Eileen. Someday; illus. by Rosie Winstead. Dial, 2007. 32 p. Ages 5-8. 
Straddled between the limitless possibilities of the future and the here-and-now realities of the day, this young girl dreams of what “someday” might look like.  Maybe someday she’ll be an Olympic gymnast, or have lunch with the president—but she’s perfectly satisfied practicing cartwheels in the backyard and having lunch with messy cousin Harry today.  A pleasant balance between fanciful imagination and the joys of living in the moment. 

Thomas, Jan. Can You Make a Scary Face?. Beach Lane/Simon, 2009. 38 p. Ages 2-5.
Our friendly ladybug narrator invites readers to play along in a rousing game of Let’s Pretend.  That bug on readers’ noses just won’t be wriggled away, so progressively silly and scary faces are the next plan of attack.  The bold colors complement the ladybug’s equally assertive habit of speaking directly to the reader in this innovative book-meets-play hybrid. 

Weeks, Sarah. Overboard!; illus. by Sam Williams. Harcourt, 2006. 40 p. Ages 18-36 mos.
The gleeful refrain of this poetic picture book says it all—what’s more fun than tossing toys or snacks over the edge of the crib, bathtub, or highchair, and letting gravity work its magic?  Great for participatory read-alouds, as young listeners will be eager to give their own “Overboard!” experiments a try.