Monday, August 31, 2009

The Best Picture Book Ever

For a youth services librarianship application, I needed to write an essay identifying the "best picture book I ever read" and describe why. The following is my response.

Recently, I have been volunteering to shelve children’s books with the Savannah’s Live Oak Public Library newest branch. New children’s books have an exciting smell and luster that has yet to be marred with character from loving little hands. As I sort the titles, many are familiar faces from my own childhood or experience, babysitting, or work at Locke Branch. Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, Blueberries for Sal, Alexander and the No Good, Very Bad Day, Where the Wild Things Are, Olivia, Eloise, and an entire case filled with Dr. Seuss. Mrs. Nelson, Amelia Bedilia and all those Froggie books I used to bribe Jonathan into bed time, greet me as old friends. The list of titles suitable for the honor seems endless. Still, my heart will forever remain loyal to one title.

“In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf,” and thus began my childhood obsession with Eric Carle and his The Very Hungry Caterpillar. From my first trip to the local public library (Locke Branch) and every other visit until I graduated to “chapter books,” it remained the coveted prize I would nudge other kids out of the way to grab.Maybe I’ve always been a fan of Carle’s colorful illustrations and the unique “hole”-some page design. Maybe there is some deep, post-modernist interpretation to be gleaned from its glossy pages. I think the most likely reason of all, however, is the thrill of the happy ending revealing that “He was a beautiful butterfly!”

No matter how many times I heard or read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I couldn’t help but become hooked. With exciting onomatopoeia and repetitive phrasing, it is hard not to anticipate what will happen next. These traits make it the perfect book to share with young readers cultivating their curiosity and passion for reading. Additionally, the story lends itself to enrichment and education. One could easily tie in lessons on diet, days of the week, colors and metamorphosis. Of course, that’s not to mention the myriad of caterpillar and butterfly art projects to take home.

I could cite the scholarly literature and reviews I perused in an effort to justify my selection. Yet, with a book as classic and timeless as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, doing so only detracts from the simple elegance of the story. Many children’s titles come and go. There may even come a time when the great Spongebob Square Pants fades from popularity. However, other titles seem to always have been and always will be; they are the core of any public library’s children’s collection. Any children’s collection worth its state budget allotment will forever contain The Very Hungry Caterpillar, earning its deserved place as the best picture book ever.