The best children’s books that are truly unique tales (as opposed to preachy and moralizing)

Tricia Tusa Author Of Is That You, Eleanor Sue?
By Tricia Tusa

Who am I?

I decided at the age of 5 that I wanted to write and illustrate books for children. That is exactly what I have been doing the last 40 years of my adult life. I find that I walk around seeing and hearing the world as potential stories. It’s fun! I can not imagine doing anything else for a living! I recommended the 5 books that I did because they are a little strange and curious and thought-provoking. The art, as well. Therefore, they feel like they emerged from the author/illustrator from that place within, way down deep, where only authentic expression of self can be found. 

I wrote...

Is That You, Eleanor Sue?

By Tricia Tusa,

Book cover of Is That You, Eleanor Sue?

What is my book about?

Eleanor Sue loves to play dress-up. She decides to ring her own front doorbell to try out these various characters on her mother. Is her mother fooled? Is mom playing along? Hard to know until the reader is pulled into the big surprise. The book confirms the fun of imaginative play and how far it takes us into that realm within. And how satisfying it is to share it with someone you love and trust. And finally, it was fun for me to do a book with a lot of underlying femaleness. An expressive young girl, a willing (and tireless!!) mother, and a grandmother with a dry sense of humor. It was a satisfying feeling when this idea came to me, and equally satisfying to come up with artwork to fill out the words.

The books I picked & why

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Larky Mavis

By Brock Cole,

Book cover of Larky Mavis

Why this book?

This feels like a fairy tale, of sorts. A curious feel to it. It is touching and evocative and strange - in that good and compelling way. Larky Mavis is somehow an endearing outcast in her small village. Is she a gypsy, is she homeless? The village sees her as socially unacceptable. Not “normal.” It would be interesting to hear the child reader’s take. I would guess a child would relate to Larky’s guilelessness - her open heart and her trust in others. Larky finds 3 peanuts. She does not eat the third one because she sees a baby inside. Perhaps a metaphor for seeing the potential in life if one’s heart is open enough. She shares her delightful discovery with others from town.

These individuals feel they are more the expert in knowing what is inside this peanut. One declares it a worm, another a mouse, another a deformed bat/bird, and finally, a dragon. What happens is surprising and breathtaking every time I read the book. Read it. I dare you to not be affected deeply.

Leon and Bob

By Simon James,

Book cover of Leon and Bob

Why this book?

Leon and his mom are new to town. His dad is in the army. Leon shares his new room with his imaginary friend, Bob. Their friendship is as important as it is real, to Leon. A tender and loving relationship. A boy moves in next door. Read the book to see how sweet this deceivingly simple story is. The words are sparse and well-chosen. The artwork is loose and expressive ink linework. Beautiful watercolor washes. The imaginary friend theme is treated in a fresh way. I am always touched by the portrayal of little boys’ natural sweetness - as they really are when allowed to be. 

Little Bear's Friend

By Else Holmelund Minarik, Maurice Sendak (illustrator),

Book cover of Little Bear's Friend

Why this book?

This is a perfect union of a gifted author with a gifted artist. I loved this book as a child and was delighted to witness the same reaction in my daughter. I learned to read with this book and what a feeling that was! It is a book with four short chapters all about love and friendship. Emily and Little Bear encounter one another in the forest. Little Bear introduces his new friend to the world of other animals out in nature doing very human things that kids love to do. Little Bear’s mother is one of those great mothers. Loving and easily amused and strong. So, animals with party hats on, a beautiful doll named Lucy, a perfectly delightful friendship between a young bear and girl, adult bears in clothes - what could be better? This tale is, understandably, a timeless classic, and Sendak at his best. 

Eulalie and the Hopping Head

By David Small,

Book cover of Eulalie and the Hopping Head

Why this book?

This Is David Small’s very first book that he both wrote and illustrated. I came upon this book in my mid-twenties. I have cherished it ever since. Great artwork with a limited palette due to the archaic 4-color printing process used back then. With this book, it works! Beautiful artwork and humorous wording. Mother Lumps and her baby daughter, Eulalia, are frogs. A mother’s favorite thing happens - Mother Lumps encounters another mother claiming her children are perfect and, therefore, she is perfect as a mother. Grrrrr. Walking along, they encounter a doll left behind at a picnic. They think the doll is a real child. Mother Lumps sees her as abandoned and takes her home. It is so adorable how the story unfolds. I tear up every time. A lovely message is conveyed.

Ruby the Copycat

By Peggy Rathmann,

Book cover of Ruby the Copycat

Why this book?

Ruby is new to school as she enters Miss Hart’s class. Ruby’s desk is right behind Angela’s. Angela seems to be a self-possessed, lovely young girl and, right away, Ruby is quite taken with Angela.  She wants to be her friend. Perhaps Ruby wants to be noticed and equally admired by this potential new friend, and so she imitates Angela in every way. It gets old fast. Miss Hart handles the situation admirably well, with utmost respect and sensitivity. (I wish I had encountered more teachers like that as a kid.)  Rathmann captures kids’ innocent foibles, well. The artwork is adorable and expressive and loose. Great humor. Full of humanity. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in friendships, bears, and dolls?

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Friendships Explore 345 books about friendships
Bears Explore 48 books about bears
Dolls Explore 12 books about dolls

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Mouse and Mole, King & Kayla and the Case of Found Fred, and Poppleton in Spring if you like this list.