Julia Rothman’s Favorite Children’s Books

Some of the best memories I have from childhood are of my mother lying in bed with me and reading me stories. I can remember way back when books like Pat the Bunny and Goodnight Moon were appropriate, so we’re talking decades. We had a few greatest hits, Elouise and The Chronicles of Narnia being frontrunners. That time together was pretty indelible. I’m always looking for great books I may not know about to read to my kids. We’ve put together some recommendations that are worth checking out.


An Awesome Book by Dallas Clayton

Artist Dallas Clayton published this hardcover book himself and sold out his first run immediately. The title is true! The book reminds you to dream bigger and let your imagination grow. Instead of dreaming about “matching silverware,” dream about “rocket powered unicorns.” Dallas has set up a foundation to promote children’s literacy. For every book sold, he donates a book to a school, hospital, library, camp, or shelter.

The Night Life of Trees by Tara Publishing

You might hold your breath while turning the pages of this book because it’s that beautiful! Created by hand and illustrated by tribal artists of India, each page tells folklore of a different tree. The tree artwork is silkscreened onto black paper, creating vibrant palettes and images that you could imagine cutting out of the book to hang on your walls.

Hubert the Pudge: A Vegetarian Tale by Henrik Drescher

In this cute story, Hubert, a funny looking pig/elephant hybrid with horns, escapes his fate of becoming another greasy dinner by climbing through a tiny hole in the fence at Farmer Jake’s Processing Plant. He meets some friends in the jungle before planning a rescue mission to save all the other “pudges” and persuades the farmer to open a tofu dog factory instead. This book is a great way to teach kids about vegetarianism plus the brightly colored ink illustrations make each page fun to get lost in.

Follow the Line by Laura Ljungkvist

One single line carries you through every spread of the whole book forming the shapes for illustrations along the way. Kids run their finger along the line tracing undersea lands, a forest, a busy neighborhood, and more. This book started a whole series of Follow the Line Books.

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly by Jeremy Holmes

This cleverly designed book takes an old classic and brings it to life. The rectangular book shape becomes the old lady standing up. Her mid-section, where her stomach exists, is the book part. So when flipping the pages you feel like you are looking inside her stomach to see what’s she’s eaten: a fly explorer, a nerdy spider, and so on and so forth. On the last page, she “swallowed a horse. She dies, of course.” As soon as you flip to that last page, the old lady’s eyes shut—a really fun surprise.

Tribal Alphabet by Nan Richardson and Claudia Pearson

Each page of this book is a look at a different indigenous group from around the world. With colorful bright portrait illustrations, the detailed traditional attire steals the spotlight. The endpages have a map to help you locate where these tribes live. A portion of the sales of this book goes to the not-for-profit foundation Cultural Survival.

When You Were Small by Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad

Every night Henry asks his father to tell him about when he was small. His father tells him how he was so small he used to fit in a shirt pocket, wear a thimble for a hat, battle chess pieces, and walk his pet ant. Julie Morstad’s sweet and delicate illustrations enhance this imaginative story.

The Red Shoes by Sun Young Yoo and Gloria Fowler

An adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale, this version of The Red Shoes offers a positive message to young girls instead. The pen and ink illustrations are insanely detailed—every strand of hair is drawn on each character and its waves lead your eye around the page. There is so much gorgeous patterning, you will be so amazed at the craftsmanship.

Kid-O Animal Homes Wooden Book by Kid-O

This wooden baby book has simply designed illustrations showing animals in their habitat—a rabbit in a grassy hole, a puppy in a doghouse, etc. The flat colors are silkscreened directly on the wood so the colors are bright and bold. Perfect for a baby’s first book.


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Julia Rothman is a Brooklyn-based illustrator and pattern designer who blogs about book design on Book by Its Cover. She is also part of a three person design company, called ALSO, with animator Matt Lamothe and designer Jenny Volvovski.