Here're some picture books that are just awesome:
The Soldiers' Night Before Christmas (a big Golden Book) by Trish Holland and Christine Ford and illustrated by John Manders is a wonderful retelling of the classic poem; this version takes place on a base, where "Only sentries were stirring--they guarded the place" and "At the foot of each bunk sat a helmet and boot" to be "fill[ed] up with loot." The soldiers dream of "back home" and our narrator, one of the brave soldiers sleeps "with the letters my family had sent." In place of the more traditional, clad in red velvet suit and hat and shod in shiny black boots, we've got Sergeant McClaus, a cigar-chewing drill-sergeant looking gift-giver. But don't let the rough demeanor fool you; like the other Santa, he's a big old softy whose purpose it is to "Bring Christmas from home to the troops far away!" The story, related in the form of the original poem, is an homage to all soldiers serving, who have served, who will serve. The artwork is on the light-hearted and soft side, and very appealing to the eye. (Christine, we'll continue praying for you son and the countless others in the service to our Nation.)
Also by Trish Holland is Lasso the Moon (another Golden Book, illustrated by Valeria Petrone), a story about tiny cowpokes and wranglers "On the star-dusty trail." They sit by a campfire "In the Milky Way," and "sing / 'Yippee-ki-yi-ay!'" Having lassoed the moon, they set they sights on home where, after having corraled the moon and the stars, the young buckaroos head to bed. The rhythm of the poem is even and the story is good. The artwork by Petrone complements the story. Nice all the way around.
17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore by Jenny Offill (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter): what a funny story Offill tells: the young narrator informs the reader what all she has done and how she is not allowed to do those things anymore: first, "I…staple my brother's hair to his pillow," then, when she's busted by her mom, she says, "I am not allowed to use the stapler any more." It gets even funnier because the girl is unnaturally occupied by beavers, writing a report and dedicating it to them, and close to the end of the book, she even wants to run away to live with them, toting a handsaw, we can imagine, to help with dam building. The artwork, a mix of line drawings filled with a sort of wash and cut-and-pasted-in photographs works really well. (The story behind how I came across this book: my family and I went to TLA last week, and when I took Lukas, my oldest at three and a half, to meet the RH staff manning the booth, AW told him he could pick out a couple of books for himself. He went for a board book of a toddler Grover learning how to tinkle and another title. Then AW asked if he wanted to pick out a book for his baby brother Mikah. What did he care? He had books, and he was already making eyes at CS, the Sticker Lady, his big-big girlfriend, so he pointed at this book without really knowing what he was choosing. He did a great job, and although Mikah can't appreciate Offill's book just yet, he will someday; besides, both Lukas and my night students sure enjoyed it.)
Finally, there's One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II written and illustrated by Lita Judge (which won't be out until June 2007). It's such a touching story of an American family who does what it can to help those left behind in the war-torn Europe. It is told through a young girl's eyes, presumably, Judge's mother's. What they do is collect foot/shoe size tracings, that eventaully number in the thousands, and enlist the help of neighbors near and far to supply folks in Germany and elsewhere with shoes. The story also documents how suffering most often goes well beyond the physical. In the end, One Thousand Tracings is an uplifting and positive story; it is, after all, a tale of healing. Honestly, I was in tears, both happy and sad. What a book that could be used to introduce or accompany a study of this era. And it's not just a book for children either.