The best picture books about crabby characters

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an author and illustrator who makes books for children and people who used to be children. I have worked as a sign painter, set designer, printer, and art director. After a long career in advertising, I stumbled into the job I was always meant to do, creating children’s books. Seven of my books have been New York Times bestsellers and all are noted for their humor, expressive characters, and rich – sometimes hidden – detail. In my spare time I enjoy riding my bike, eating chocolate, and getting other peoples’ kids all wound up then sending them home.


I wrote...

Book cover of Louis

What is my book about?

Louis is a malcontent teddy bear who’s had enough of being treated like a stuffed animal. He’s been used as a hanky, hung out to dry, and smooshed until his stuffing pops out. When he can bear it no longer, he conspires to run away from home…as soon as he finishes a chocolate cupcake and is done being the star of show-and-tell. Of course, Louis soon realizes how good he has it and stays where there’s a warm bed and lots of love. The book was inspired by my teddy bear, Louis, who sports a permanent crabby face and has channeled my cynical side for many years. There’s something amusing about crabby characters, probably because we see the less desirable part of ourselves in them. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Penguin Problems

Tom Lichtenheld Why did I love this book?

We presume all animals love their habitat and their lot in life; birds love the sky, snakes love the grass, and bears, of course, love the woods. But not so much for the star of this book; a petulant little penguin who seems to have gotten up on the wrong side of the ice floe. He’s crabby about the too-white snow, the too-cold temperature, the too-salty sea, and his too-lookalike colony of penguin pals. Basically, everything makes him crabby, but in a way that’s amusing. After a day of carping, a wise walrus gives him a lecture about appreciating the beauty of his world and the love of his companions. This improves his attitude…for about two pages.

By the end of the book, the little grump is back to his old self, griping about the weather and the early darkness. It’s refreshing to see a character who doesn’t completely transform themselves overnight. Most of us are who we are, and, aside from the adjustments necessary to live happily with ourselves and others, we need to accept ourselves with a smile and, if necessary, a grumble.

By Jory John, Lane Smith (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Penguin Problems 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?

Have you ever thought: I have so many problems and nobody even cares? Well, penguins have problems too! Discover them in this hilarious collaboration from Jory John (All my friends are dead. and Quit Calling Me a Monster!) and Lane Smith (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales).

This penguin has come to tell you that life in Antarctica is no paradise. For starters, it is FREEZING. Also, penguins have a ton of natural predators. Plus, can you imagine trying to find your mom in a big ol' crowd of identical penguins? No, thank you.

It seems there…


Book cover of No Nibbling!

Tom Lichtenheld Why did I love this book?

Derwood the Goat is a fussy farmer who grumpily guards his garden against dandelions, pigweed, crabgrass, sapsuckers, and all manner of invaders, especially rabbits. So, when he catches a cute little bunny named Tabitha nosing around his vegetables, he’s very suspicious, and very crabby. Tabitha has one excuse after another, all delivered in delightfully pun-filled banter with Derwood, who’s having none of it. Tabitha finally offers to weed the garden while the exhausted Derwood dozes off in his rocking chair. When Derwood wakes up, the weeding is done, and he rewards Tabitha by sharing his harvest with her. In the end, everybody gets what they wanted: food, friendship, and nonstop nibbling. I love this story because it shows how humor, conversation, and cooperation can turn adversaries into friends.

By Beth Ferry, A. N. Kang (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Nibbling! 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 New York Times-bestselling author Beth Ferry and illustrator A.N. Kang comes a tale filled with fantastic word play that will have kids laughing and insisting, "No nibbling!"

One warm spring day, Derwood the goat planted a garden and patiently tended it as it grew. On that very same day, he noticed a dandelion puff--it was too early in the season, but Derwood was taking no chances. Growing a garden is risky business, after all. But as Derwood inspected the dandelion, he realized it wasn't a weed. It was a bunny! With Tabitha, a precocious bunny who is very interested…


Book cover of On a Magical Do-Nothing Day

Tom Lichtenheld Why did I love this book?

A little girl must endure a weekend at a cabin with her mom who has to spend the day working remotely. This leaves the girl to her own devices – that being her Game Boy. Bored stiff and crabby, the girl takes her game outside where she happens upon a pond with rocks reminiscent of the digital Martians she’s been fighting. When she jumps on the rocks to destroy the “Martians,” her beloved electronic gadget drops into the drink. Forced to entertain herself in the analog world, she finds magic in the pond and beyond. There are Jell-O soft snails, a mini-forest of mushrooms, and holes full of natural treasures. After rolling down a hill in the rain, she discovers a world that “seemed brand new, as if it had been created right in front of me.” She immerses herself in this world, climbing trees, drinking raindrops, talking to birds, and collecting stones. On her way back to the cabin, she wonders to herself, “Why hadn’t I done these things before?” This book is a beautiful reminder of the redemptive power of nature.  

By Beatrice Alemagna,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked On a Magical Do-Nothing Day 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?

A compelling, magical picture book with whimsical, stunning art and heartfelt, charming text, from award-winning illustrator Beatrice Alemagna. "Hands down, Beatrice Alemagna is my favorite contemporary illustrator," said the Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator of Last Stop on Market Street, Christian Robinson. All I want to do on a rainy day like today is play my game. My mom says it's a waste of time, but without my game, nothing is fun! On the other hand, maybe I'm wrong about that...While reading On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, one gets the sense that the illustrator became lost in her drawings, and as a…


Book cover of Scaredy Squirrel

Tom Lichtenheld Why did I love this book?

I love this book because the character doesn’t completely transform themselves, so it’s easier for us to relate to them. Scaredy Squirrel’s crabbiness comes in the form of fear, and he’s afraid of everything: tarantulas, green Martians, killer bees. You name it, Scaredy is pretty sure it’s right around the corner, so he’s always lugging around a kit full of antibacterial soap, band-aids, and, of course, a parachute. While he conquers his fears to get where he needs to go, it’s just enough to get to the next challenge. He doesn’t change his personality or turn into a superhero. He’s still a little afraid of everything, just like us. 

By Mélanie Watt,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Scaredy Squirrel 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?

The first book in the Scaredy Squirrel series is a comical story of an endearing squirrel who learns what can happen when he’s brave enough to take a risk.


Book cover of The Rabbit Listened

Tom Lichtenheld Why did I love this book?

The protagonist in this lovely book, Taylor, is upset that his stack of blocks has been knocked over, so a host of animals try to help, but they’re more interested in giving advice than comfort. Finally, a rabbit comes by and listens. Just listens. This allows Taylor to explore, process, and surmount his feelings. It’s a great lesson in empathy for kids and adults alike. 

By Cori Doerrfeld,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Rabbit Listened as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With its spare, poignant text and irresistibly sweet illustrations, The Rabbit Listened is a tender meditation on loss. When something terrible happens, Taylor doesn't know where to turn. All the animals are sure they have the answer. The chicken wants to talk it out, but Taylor doesn't feel like chatting. The bear thinks Taylor should get angry, but that's not quite right either. One by one, the animals try to tell Taylor how to process this loss, and one by one they fail. Then the rabbit arrives. All the rabbit does is listen, which is just what Taylor needs. Whether…


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By Jim Brown,

Book cover of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

Jim Brown Author Of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

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Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my entire professional life quietly patrolling the frontiers of understanding human consciousness. I was an early adopter in the burgeoning field of biofeedback, then neurofeedback and neuroscience, plus theory and practices of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, plus steeping myself in systems theory as a context for all these other fields of focus. I hold a MS in psychology from San Francisco State University and a PhD from Saybrook Institute. I live in Mount Shasta CA with Molly, my life partner for over 60 years. We have two sons and two grandchildren.

Jim's book list on brain, mind, and consciousness

What is my book about?

In this thoroughly researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development.

He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind.

Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through lifelong brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.

Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

By Jim Brown,

What is this book about?

In this thoroughly-researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development. He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to truly engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind. Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through life-long brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.


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