The Comfort of Picture Books

Josie Leavitt - July 25, 2016

I know the coloring book craze has taken hold as a way for adults to relieve stress. But I am finding more comfort, as are my friends, by revisiting favorite picture books. I have been struggling with a rare case of insomnia that has me reaching for beloved picture books, both old and new, as the I watch the nighttime hours tick away. There is something lovely about picture books that can not only help with sleeplessness but with many adult stresses. A dear friend is moving to Chicago and we spent much of brunch talking about the impending move and the inherent anxiety around it. She offered that her journal and her picture book collection are helping keep her sane as she prepares to move. 
Here’s the thing about picture books: they are like spending time with old friends. When a child asks to hear the same book over and over they are learning things and spending time with characters they love. When kids get older and request to be read picture books, they are not slipping back into “baby books”; instead they are getting a specific need met. Picture books are friendly, often. They speak to moods, situations, and themes that readers find comfort in. They help puzzle out a mood or a situation that can be hard to articulate.
tootMy friend and I both agree that there is perhaps no more comforting book than the original Toot and Puddle book. Toot and Puddle are best friends who live in the serene world of Woodcock Pocket. Toot travels the world, while Puddle remains home. The postcards of Toot’s adventures out in the big world are how they stay connected. They miss each other, but there is comfort knowing they are still best friends. It helps that Holly Hobbie’s art is so soothing and playful. There is a calmness to the book that delights. And when Toot finally comes home there is a delightful reunion. The underlying message is, it’s all going to be okay. We all need to be reminded of this sometimes, regardless of our age.
One of my other favorite picture books is David Wiesner’s Sector 7.  I just love poring over the complex art looking forsector things I might have missed. The art is delightful and the story is about daring to be yourself, taking risks and trying something different. But mostly the story is about friendship between the cloud and the boy. And just when you think the two will be separated forever, they find a way to be together.
Paperbag Princess is a wonderful reminder that girls are strong and capable of anything. The way the princess handles her encounter with the dragon with grace and good humor is a great reminder to stay true to who are even if you’ve been told that you cannot do something. I love how triumphant the princess is at the end.
Anything by Edward Gorey is fun to revisit. Reading his books as an adult is a very different experience than reading them as a child. Yes, children find amusement in his books, but their subversive nature is pure fun for adults, and can take out of our adult world for a little bit and just laugh.
what peopleLastly, for me one of my most soothing books is What Do People Do All Day? There aren’t big themes here. More like montages of what happens all over town. The text is simple and the characters just go about their day doing whatever their day demands of them. This book fascinated me as a kid. As an adult, spending time with this book somehow reminds me that there the world is full of choices. Do you want to be a librarian, firefighter, or mayor? Sometimes it’s nice to know that anything is possible and there is enormous comfort in seeing that everyone is happy doing their jobs.
So, readers, what picture books do you find comfort in and why?

4 thoughts on “The Comfort of Picture Books

  1. Susan

    We recently had a family wedding and all but one of my nieces and nephews and my kids were able to come, along with their significant others. During the morning after brunch, I took a poll of their favorite childhood picture books. These “20 somethings” are all readers for the most part and it was fun to hear the lively discussion that followed! After watching their faces and listening to their impassioned stories about which books were most important to them, I reached the same conclusion as you do in your post. Now I know what I’m getting each of them for Christmas!

  2. Cresson

    Toot and Puddle is my favorite picture book. Love Hollie Hobbie’s illustrations. My best friend and I adore her books, for obvious reasons. Although, as a Boston native, I often give Make Way for Ducklings as a baby gift, Toot and Puddle books run a close second especially for second children. I gave all my nieces and nephews books for gifts (especially at Christmas). Looking forward to a new generation to buy children’s books and introduce Toot and Puddle as the ultimate story of friendship!

  3. Kathy

    On bimulous nights I pull out When the Sky Is Like Lace by Elinor Lander Horowitz for the beautiful language. It wasn’t until years after I first read it that I realized bimulous was not a word in any dictionary. It so accurately describes a night sky that it should be a word. Also Animalia by Graeme Base for pictures I could look at for hours and How to Live Forever by Colin Thompson for the offbeat story and intricate pictures of imaginary libraries.

  4. Julie Fuller

    Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens. I love the entertainment value of the story. The lesson it has to teach and the illustrations always make me giggle. I love the tie and shoes on the bear.


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