The best picture books about inanimate objects

Scott Santoro Author Of Candy Cane Lane
By Scott Santoro

Who am I?

When I was about ten, my mother brought home our one and only outdoor Christmas decoration, a plastic choir boy. One blustery night, we saw something streak by the living room windows. Rushing outside, we were shocked to see our choirboy lying amongst the shrubbery, his plastic neck broken. My father made several valiant attempts at surgery with various kinds of glue and tape, but the poor little choir boy was never really the same and eventually he was thrown into the trash. This childhood memory inspired me to write Candy Cane Lane and fortunately I was about to give it a much happier ending.

I wrote...

Candy Cane Lane

By Scott Santoro,

Book cover of Candy Cane Lane

What is my book about?

The houses on Candy Cane Lane have some of the most spectacular holiday decorations around, so when a winter storm hits and damages some of the festive lawn ornaments, the residents simply can’t allow the broken figures to ruin their prized displays. Many end up in the trash, including a scuffed choirboy who is sure he’ll never have a chance to bring holiday cheer to the lane again. That is, until a little girl in the only undecorated house on the block saves him and gives him a special spot on her lawn.

But when a misunderstanding the next morning sends the choirboy off to the dump, he’ll have to team up with a plucky group of other discarded lawn ornaments to find his way back to the little girl.

The books I picked & why

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The Little House

By Virginia Lee Burton,

Book cover of The Little House

Why this book?

A Caldecott winner, The Little House was adapted into one of Walt Disney’s most beloved and enduring animated shorts. Both are deeply affecting; it makes one think that a house is not just a thing but its own living being, reborn with each new generation of families that dwell within. Although this is her most profound work Burton very much specialized in stories about inanimate objects, such as Maybelle the Cable Car, Choo Choo, Katy and the Big Snow, and her most well-known, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. This book (and the short) directly inspired my second book.

Little Toot

By Hardie Grammatky,

Book cover of Little Toot

Why this book?

Gramatky had been a Disney artist in the 1930s. Legend has it Walt had passed on his story about a little tugboat that saves the day, but after Gramatky left the studio and the book became popular, Disney then had second thoughts and adapted it into one of the shorts compromising the wartime animated feature Melody TimeThe theme is familiar but potent: being small does not mean you are insignificant, a lesson of encouragement for any child. The illustrations are loose yet beautifully expressive. Gramatky wrote another book about an inanimate object – Homer the Circus Train. Although the story is not as iconic, the illustrations are equally fine. As for Disney, they carried this theme through to other shorts like Susie the Little Blue Coupe, written and boarded by Bill Peet, who wrote many books of his own. It served as one of the inspirations for Pixar’s Cars. "Pedro," a little airplane, was one of the shorts comprising Saludos Amigos. Pedro did have its own book, extremely rare today, with no credit to the author or illustrator. 

Eric, the Wild Car

By John Sheridan, Malcolm Livingstone (illustrator),

Book cover of Eric, the Wild Car

Why this book?

Eric and his herd of wild cars are a newly discovered species of furry cars which roam the prairie and drinking from outcroppings of oil. Its unique, whimsical, and oddball humor inspired me to start thinking of my own ideas for picture books although it took me another ten years or so to make it happen. 

The Magic Bus

By Maurice Dolbier, Tibor Gergely (illustrator),

Book cover of The Magic Bus

Why this book?

This is a unique and unexpected story of a school bus that can take its child passengers anywhere in the world by simply pressing a button on the dashboard. It seems to suggest one can really go anywhere with one’s imagination, particularly when one is absorbed in a book. Gergely illustrated other books about inanimate objects including The Little Red Caboose, Tootle, The Taxi That Hurried, and Scruffy the Tugboat.

The Little Train That Won A Medal

By Darlene Geis, Anton Loeb (illustrator),

Book cover of The Little Train That Won A Medal

Why this book?

This was one of my favorite picture books when I was a child. An insignificant character coming to the rescue of those who are much bigger and important is a tried and true theme but it has a bit of dramatic flair in its own simple way.  Anton Loeb had worked for the Fleischer/Paramount-Famous studios.

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