The best children’s books by cartoonists

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve loved comic strips since I was a kid, so children’s books that had cartoon art in them were the ultimate for me. That love drove me to research and write about the career and life of Jack Kent. Books by cartoonists tend to have the whole package: They tell a story visually, they’re funny, and they use language economically but memorably. The limitations I placed on myself in choosing this list were 1) the creator had to have both written and drawn the book, and 2) they had to have been established as a professional cartoonist before moving into children’s books.


I wrote...

Jack Kent: The Wit, Whimsy, and Wisdom of a Comic Storyteller

By Paul V. Allen,

Book cover of Jack Kent: The Wit, Whimsy, and Wisdom of a Comic Storyteller

What is my book about?

Jack Kent (1920–1985) had two distinct and successful careers. From 1950 to 1965 he wrote and drew King Aroo, a nationally syndicated comic strip beloved by fans for its combination of absurdity, fantasy, wordplay, and wit. Between 1968 and 1985, he published sixty children’s books, including such classics as The Fat Cat and There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon. Kent’s stories for children were funny but often arose from the dark parts of his life.

Jack Kent: The Wit, Whimsy, and Wisdom of a Comic Storyteller draws from archival research, brand-new interviews, and in-depth examinations to illuminate how Kent’s life experiences informed King Aroo and his children’s books. It also includes several King Aroo comics never before published in book form.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Harold's Fairy Tale

Paul V. Allen Why did I love this book?

Crockett Johnson worked as a cartoonist for Collier’s before his strip Barnaby first appeared in newspapers in 1942. He illustrated a couple of children’s books in the 1940s, before writing and drawing his minimalist ode to the power of creativity, Harold and the Purple Crayon.

He’d do six more books about Harold, but for my money the best is the second one, in which Harold visits a castle, and has to do all sorts of creative problem solving to defeat a witch. The ending – in which Harold returns home and asks his mother to read him a story – is a cozy happily ever after.

By Crockett Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Harold's Fairy Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

From the treasured creator of Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson, comes another adventure for Harold and his magical purple crayon.

Unable to fall asleep one night, Harold uses his purple crayon to create his very own bedtime fairy tale, complete with castles, fairies, flying carpets, and an enchanted garden.

“An ingenious and original little picture story in which a small boy out for a walk—happily with a crayon in his hand—draws himself some wonderful adventures.” (The Horn Book)


Book cover of Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems & Drawings

Paul V. Allen Why did I love this book?

Shel Silverstein was both a songwriter (“A Boy Named Sue”) and cartoonist (Playboy) before he applied his talents to children’s books.

His most beloved book is probably The Giving Tree, but my personal favorite is his first book of poems, Where the Sidewalk Ends. I was endlessly amused by this book as a child, and portions of many of the poems – “It’s Dark In Here,” “Jimmy Jet and His TV Set,” “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too,” “Boa Constrictor” – still rattle around in my head.

By Shel Silverstein,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Where the Sidewalk Ends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Shel Silverstein, the New York Times bestselling author of The Giving Tree, A Light in the Attic, Falling Up, and Every Thing On It, has created a poetry collection that is outrageously funny and deeply profound. Come in...for where the sidewalk ends, Shel Silverstein's world begins. This special edition contains 12 extra poems. You'll meet a boy who turns into a TV set, and a girl who eats a whale. The Unicorn and the Bloath live there, and so does Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout who will not take the garbage out. It is a place where you wash your shadow…


Book cover of There's No Such Thing as a Dragon

Paul V. Allen Why did I love this book?

On the surface, There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon seems to be a cute, absurd fantasy about a dragon that won’t stop growing. And it’s an enjoyable book if that’s as far as you go with it.

But if you go deeper you realize it’s got something to say about how behavior is communication, how ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, and how everyone wants to be recognized for who they are.

Kent had a way with a line. My favorite comes when the dragon gets on the breakfast table and Billy’s mother can’t do anything about it: “She had already said there was no such thing as a dragon. And if there’s no such thing, you can’t tell it to get down off the table.”

By Jack Kent,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked There's No Such Thing as a Dragon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

A story for every kid who wants a pet dragon!

When Billy Bixbee finds a tiny dragon in his bedroom, his mom tells him, “There’s no such thing as a dragon!” This only makes the dragon get bigger. He grows, and grows, and grows, until he’s bigger than Billy’s house—and that’s just the beginning!

A funny, madcap story and playful illustrations by beloved author-illustrator Jack Kent pair in a book that will have children wondering if maybe friendly pet dragons do exist after all!


Book cover of The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree

Paul V. Allen Why did I love this book?

A fact lost in their massive success in children’s books is that Stan and Jan Berenstain started as cartoonists.

In the 1940s and 1950s their work appeared in the likes of the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and McCall’s, and they had a series of best-selling “cartoon essay” books. Their famous bears debuted in 1962 as part of Beginner Books, a line created by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, Helen Palmer Geisel, and Phyllis Cerf.

With 1978’s The Spooky Old Tree, The Berenstains created the quintessential early reader, using repetition and predictability, prepositional phrases, rich visuals, and high drama to captivate their young audience (and their parents). “Do they dare? Yes. They dare.”

By Stan Berenstain, Jan Berenstain,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 2, 3, 4, and 5.

What is this book about?

Join the Berenstain Bears on a spooky adventure in this classic children's book perfect for learning to read!

Climb the Spooky Old Tree with the Berenstain Bears! This classic children's book makes great use of rhyming and repetition of phrases to encourage children's reading, and the spooky story will delight young and old!

Bright and Early Books are designed to encourage even 'non-reading' children to read.
Some Bright and Early Books are simple stories, others are hilarious nonsense: both types have been designed to give children confidence and make them want to go on reading. Perfect for both boys and…


Book cover of Shrek!

Paul V. Allen Why did I love this book?

Shrek! was a book before it was ever a wildly successful film franchise, but the book bears almost no resemblance to the movies.

Yes, William Steig’s ogre is both vile and reviled, and he has a donkey for a friend, but the story itself is very straightforward, detailing Shrek’s rampage across the countryside on his way to meet a “stunningly ugly princess” with whom he can live “horribly ever after.”

Steig had been a celebrated New Yorker cartoonist for almost four decades when he produced his first children’s book in 1968. He wrote and drew Shrek! when he was in his early 80s. He breaks the cardinal rule of using simple language, but makes up for it with fun-to-read-aloud choices in vocabulary and sentence structure, such as “The irascible dragon was preparing to separate Shrek from his noggin.”

By William Steig,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shrek! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Read the book that inspired the famous film franchise in this wonderfully funny picture book.

Before Shrek made it big on the silver screen, there was William Steig's SHREK!, a book about an ordinary ogre who leaves his swampy childhood home to go out and see the world. Ordinary, that is, if a foul and hideous being who ends up marrying the most stunningly ugly princess on the planet is what you consider ordinary.


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Totally Turtles!

By Ginjer L. Clarke,

Book cover of Totally Turtles!

Ginjer L. Clarke Author Of Animal Invaders: Creatures Causing Trouble

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

Did you know that leatherback turtles can weigh up to 2,000 pounds? Or that the Florida softshell turtle can breathe through its snout and its skin? Turtles have been around for millions of years, and we’re still learning more about them!

With simple language and vivid photographs, Totally Turtles! is perfect for emerging readers curious about turtles and how they have managed to adapt, survive, and thrive for so long. Learn about the fascinating world of turtles, from sea to land and everywhere in between.

Totally Turtles!

By Ginjer L. Clarke,

What is this book about?

Learn about turtles and their many talents in this nonfiction leveled reader perfect for kids interested in these shelled creatures and their lives on land and in the water!

Did you know that leatherback turtles can weigh up to two thousand pounds? Or that the Florida softshell turtle can breathe through its snout and its skin? Turtles have been around for millions of years and we're still learning more about them!

With simple language and vivid photographs, Totally Turtles! is perfect for emerging readers curious about turtles and how they have managed to adapt, survive, and thrive for so long.


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